Dáil Éireann

26/May/2010

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions

Ceisteanna — Questions

Ethics in Public Office

Consultancy Contracts

Chief State Solicitor’s Office

Northern Ireland Issues

Requests to Move Adjournment of Dáil Under Standing Order 32

Order of Business

Death of Member: Expressions of Sympathy

Order of Business (Resumed)

Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010: Order for Report Stage

Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010: Report and Final Stages

Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)

Priority Questions

World Trade Negotiations

Common Agricultural Policy

Departmental Agencies

Grant Payments

Other Questions

Common Agricultural Policy

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Priority Questions (Resumed)

EU Funding

Other Questions (Resumed)

Common Agricultural Policy

Single Farm Payment Scheme

Forestry Sector

Adjournment Debate Matters

Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)

Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage (Resumed)

Adjournment Debate

Job Creation

Archaeological Sites

Inland Fisheries

Services for Children with Autism

Written Answers

Alternative Farm Enterprises

EU Directives

Animal Diseases

Farm Incomes

Beef Industry

Food Imports

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

Sheep Production

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

Common Agricultural Policy

Trade Negotiations

Food Industry

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

On-farm Investment Schemes

Afforestation Programme

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Common Fisheries Policy

Cereal Sector

Food Industry

Fishing Industry Development

Common Agricultural Policy

Harbours and Piers

Access to Credit

Trade Negotiations

Single Payment Scheme

EU Directives

Food Industry

Dairy Industry

National Laboratory

Oireachtas Committees’ Reports

Marine Institute

Alternative Farm Enterprises

Health and Safety Regulations

Farm Waste Management

Afforestation Programme

Beef Industry

Fisheries Protection

Dairy Industry

Organic Farming

Aquaculture Licences

Irish National Stud

Alternative Farm Enterprises

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

Live Exports

On-farm Investment Schemes

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Alternative Energy Projects

Farm Retirement Scheme

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Economic Competitiveness

Grant Payments

Common Agricultural Policy

Bovine Disease Controls

Domestic Abattoirs

Animal Breeding Regulations

On-farm Investment Schemes

Agri-Food Industry

Grant Payments

Food Labelling

Proposed Legislation

Departmental Agencies

Organic Farming

Beef Industry

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Departmental Agencies

Milk Prices

Departmental Correspondence

Departmental Programmes

EU Funding

Beef Industry

Common Fisheries Policy

Food Industry

Farm Retirement Scheme

Dairy Industry

Grant Payments

Dairy Industry

Health and Safety Regulations

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Grant Payments

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Irish National Stud

Household Medical Expenditure

Employment Rights

Grocery Industry

Pension Provisions

Banking Sector Regulation

Official Engagements

Tax Collection

EU Directives

Tobacco Smuggling

Departmental Properties

Pension Provisions

Local Authority Charges

Proposed Legislation

Pension Provisions

Tax Collection

Youth Services

General Medical Services Scheme

Medical Cards

Hospital Staff

Departmental Investigations

Health Services

Hospital Services

Health Reports

Medical Aids and Appliances

Hospital Services

Hospital Waiting Lists

Child Care Services

Community Care

Medical Cards

Health Services

Rape Crisis Centre

Dental Services

Health Services

Children in Care

Nursing Education

Organ Transplants

Health Service Properties

Health Services

Medical Cards

Children in Care

Departmental Properties

Road Network

Public Transport

Semi-State Bodies

Rural Transport Services

Rail Network

Public Transport

Residency Permits

Crime Levels

Liquor Licensing Laws

Registration of Title

Crime Levels

Deportation Orders

Garda Recruitment

Deportation Orders

Industrial Disputes

Habitual Residency

Public Order Offences

Residency Permits

Gaming Industry

Departmental Staff

Ferry Services

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Code

Social Welfare Benefits

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Housing Aid for the Elderly

Grant Payments

Motor Taxation

Housing Aid for the Elderly

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Homeless Persons

Architectural Heritage

Departmental Procedures

Electricity Generation

Grant Payments

Food Industry

Afforestation Programme

Cereal Sector

Alternative Farm Enterprises

Research and Development

Poultry Industry

Dairy Industry

Pigmeat Sector

Sheep Production

Beef Industry

Fisheries Protection

Grant Payments

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

Grant Payments

Bullying in Schools

Higher Education Grants

School Staffing

Special Educational Needs

Departmental Offices

National Drugs Strategy

Literacy Levels

Departmental Staff

School Transport

Departmental Correspondence

School Accommodation

Bullying in Schools

School Transport

Teaching Council

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Monday of this week marked the third anniversary of the re-election of Fianna Fáil to Government and it has been 13 years in office. During that time the Taoiseach has served in many major ministries, including the Department of Health and Children, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Finance and now as Taoiseach. We are now in a situation where the national debt is of the order of €100 billion, there will be a deficit of €20 billion this year and, in the past few days, some children have been rejected by the State. The Fianna Fáil Party in Government set up the bureaucratic structure that is the Health Service Executive and the members of that party now describe it as a Frankenstein and a monster. This system has not delivered accuracy and clarity in respect of children dying in the care of the State. Yesterday, I asked the Taoiseach the number of children who had died in the care of the State in the past decade. The Taoiseach was not in a position to answer the question.

Just two days ago, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children stated that in his view section 3 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007 allowed for the HSE to transmit the information necessary to determine the numbers of children who died in the care of the State without any legal obstacle.

We were informed yesterday that it was not possible to give this information to a review group set up by the Government to determine the numbers who died in the care of the State in the past ten years without introducing emergency legislation. In view of the fact that he was a central figure in the Governments which set up and oversaw the bureaucracy of the HSE, will the Taoiseach indicate what happened in the past 48 hours which now requires legislation to be introduced to give accuracy to the numbers of children who have died in the care of the State? Does the Taoiseach accept that within the structure of the system set up and supervised by his party in Government something is radically wrong, whereby when children die in the care of our State the facts cannot be known in terms of the numbers involved?

The Taoiseach:  I made the point yesterday that the numbers sought to be validated not only relate to those who died in State care, but were widened to include those people who were brought to the attention of services and who may have passed away subsequently and, also, people who had passed the age of 18 years but who had passed away between that age and 21 years and who may have required after care services. Considering that at any one time there [362]are 5,500 people involved in the provision of these services, whether through foster care, institutional or special care, a further look back must be undertaken.

I have not suggested I am happy with the fact that it is taking some time to provide the figures and validate them but I am bringing the issues to the attention of the House. I refer to the question of the legal issues that arose. In the setting about of the collation of the information, the HSE took legal advice in respect of these matters and informed the Minister on Monday last of difficulties identified which related to section 31 of the Child Care Act 1991, the in camera rule, data protection legislation and the issue of consent to disclosure of personal or confidential information including, as appropriate, the consent of surviving relatives. That information, having been given to the Minister on Monday, was discussed by the Cabinet on Tuesday morning. We decided to bring forward changes in legislation as necessary to deal with that situation to ensure an adequate sharing of information between the HSE and the Department of Health and Children so that those tasked with the job under the review group could get on with that job and, hopefully, do it within the timeframe set out. In the meantime, factual information will be made available to the review group by the HSE by Friday next to enable it to get on with its job.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is well aware that when anyone dies it is a sensitive and tragic matter for those involved. The ways of life are such that when tragic incidents occur in regard to the State, unfortunately, there may well be claims involved. I contend that in asking the Taoiseach the question yesterday as to the numbers of children who died in the care of the State, he should have been in a position to provide the information and I will explain why.

The National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 went through the House during the Taoiseach’s time as Minister of Health and Children and later when he moved ministry. Section 11 of the Act requires that, in adverse incidents where children or persons are involved, the relevant State authority, in this case the HSE, shall report any adverse incidents to the agency as soon as may be. As the Taoiseach is aware, the clinical indemnity scheme is run by the National Treasury Management Agency. Where the scheme may have to deal with a claim, the relevant agency, that is the HSE, is bound by law under section 11 of the Act to report information of adverse incidents to the clinical indemnity scheme, which has a team of qualified risk managers to assess the reasons these things happened.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please ask a question, Deputy.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  This is too important for your intervention now, a Cheann Comhairle.

We are now informed by the Government that legislation will be necessary to transmit the same information from the HSE to the review group, set up by the Government and consisting of Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. I asked the numbers who died in the care of the State. The section of the 2000 Act clearly says the authority shall furnish to the agency, in relation to any such incidents, such information as an authority considers relevant and shall permit the agency or any other person to investigate it if necessary.

In requiring the information about the numbers who died, emergency legislation is not necessary. It is not necessary to have a review group because the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2000 obliges the HSE, in all its areas, to report adverse incidents to the clinical indemnity scheme. The Taoiseach should have been able to inform the House of the numbers who died, because that information would have been transmitted to the clinical indemnity scheme, by law. These powers have existed since 2000.

[363]Either the Taoiseach did not know, and that is incompetence, or he did know, and that amounts to a cover-up. Which is it?

The Taoiseach:  It is neither, because Deputy Kenny’s premise is incorrect. As usual, he brings forward some unrelated section of another Act and suggests that we should do the same in this case, as if all circumstances are the same. The clinical indemnity scheme relates to adverse incidents in hospitals, where clinicians are involved. They have to refer it on to the State Claims Agency. The issues we are dealing with here relate to child care legislation. Not only that, but many cases are the subject of in camera court proceedings where, under court order, those proceedings and the circumstances relating them cannot be made public. That is a totally different issue.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  My question refers to anybody in the care of the HSE.

The Taoiseach:  Yesterday, Deputy Gilmore raised a legitimate query and asked if a section 4 direction would be possible. A direction under the Child Care Act would not be possible because it is not possible to give a ministerial direction contrary to the law.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The question was about numbers.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Which is it?

The Taoiseach:  Other legal provisions impinge upon the privacy of the individual. There are certain consent requirements for guardians, and so on. This is not a simple area of law. It must be dealt with properly.

The best way to give legal certainty and provide the necessary information for the review group is to bring forward a change in the law that would allow for the exchange of information between the HSE and the Department of Health and Children that would enable the group to get on with the work for which it was set up. That is the best way to deal with this matter. The work is under way and will be dealt with as a matter of urgency. I ask Deputy Kenny to accept this.

Clearly, the collation of information has been inadequate in the past. The fact that we have not been able to present the numbers quickly is a matter with which I am just as unhappy as anybody else.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach has been the supervisor of the system for the past ten years.

The Taoiseach:  I must make sure we have the legal means to enable the review group to do the job for which the Minister set it up——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach know the figures?

The Taoiseach:  ——and meanwhile, that we get all necessary information, not just about those who died in State care but also those who were brought to the notification of the services and who subsequently passed away, or those who between 18 and 21, having reached the age of majority, may have required after-care services. That look-back over the past ten years has to take place.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Act of 2000 is there.

[364]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Why does the HSE not answer the question?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I understand the Government has concluded that legislation is required to allow the HSE files of the cases of children who died in care to be handed over to the investigation by Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. Why is the Government still not in a position to say how many children died in the care of the State over the last ten years?

When did the Department ask the HSE to hand over the files to the two investigators? The Taoiseach says the HSE, on Monday last, raised the legal difficulty which the Government then considered. Was that the first response given by the HSE to the request that the files be handed over? What, if any, response was the HSE giving between the time it was first asked for the files and last Monday morning? Has the HSE told the Taoiseach, or the Minister of State with responsibility for children, how many files are involved? It is one thing to say the files cannot be handed over for legal reasons but quite a different thing that we still do not know how many are involved. A Sunday newspaper reported that there may be as many as 200 files. Yesterday, I expressed some surprise at this figure and pointed out that it shows a level of mortality among children in care which is ten to 12 times the rate in the wider child population. That would be an extraordinary state of affairs. What also surprises me is that since that story was published last Sunday, I have not heard anyone, in the HSE or in Government, challenging the figure of 200.

When did the Department ask for the files, how many are there and what response was the HSE giving before last Monday about the numbers involved?

The Taoiseach:  The review group was set up on 8 March and in a subsequent letter to the chair of the HSE on 12 March, the Minister asked him to nominate a HSE employee to liaise with the review group in order to facilitate the work of Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr. Shannon. That person was nominated. The HSE had indicated to the office of the Minister of State with responsibility for children that it had met the review group and that requests for information were being responded to. During the collation of information, the HSE sought its own legal advice, which suggested there were difficulties in passing actual case files to the review group.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It did not want to.

The Taoiseach:  The HSE first shared this legal advice with the Department of Health and Children on Monday of this week. The difficulties identified relate to section 31 of the Child Care Act 1991, the in camera rule, data protection legislation and the issue of consent to the disclosure of personal or confidential information, including, as appropriate, the consent of surviving relatives.

Having discussed the matter, having had discussions with legal advisers to the Department of Health and Children and the HSE and having spoken to the Attorney General’s office yesterday, the Government has decided the more comprehensive solution is to develop proposals for a legislative amendment which would facilitate the exchange of information between the HSE and the Minister of State in cases such as this, to ensure the system could learn from events while, at the same time, protecting the rights of the children involved and, as applicable, their families. It is important that we get the information the people are requiring.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Cover up.

[365]The Taoiseach:  Really, Deputy McCormack’s remark is ridiculous. It is not appropriate to throw out that sort of comment although it is a usual remark from him. I do not know why I reply to him because he should never be taken seriously.

Everyone here is committed to getting the necessary information so that the people can carry on their task. That is why the review group was set up. It was the Minister of State’s initiative that we would look back, learning from the Tracey Fay situation, over the ten years since the Children First guidelines were first brought into being. That is the issue being undertaken at present.

To answer the Deputy’s question, the number identified by the HSE to date is 23. The HSE is validating the figures, and not only of those who died in State care. The remit has been widened to include those who came to the notification of the services and who may have subsequently died while no longer in State care. There is also the question of looking back through all these files and contacts regarding people who may have required after care services beyond the age of 18 and who subsequently died. Those are the categories or circumstances that are now being investigated. The data thereon are being examined and collated. I would like to have the information as soon as practicable and possible so the team can get on with its work. In the meantime, there is available to us information of a general character that does not present a legal difficulty and which is being transferred to the review group personnel before Friday of this week to enable it to begin its work.

That is the full and comprehensive reply to the questions the Deputy asked. If there are other questions, I will answer them.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I still do not understand why the transfer of the files and the consequent legal difficulty are still causing difficulty in identifying how many people are involved. The Taoiseach said the HSE says there are 23 “at present”— I think that was the phrase used by the Taoiseach. I would have believed the actual number of deaths that occurred would have been relatively easy to establish. In any event, it should be known to the HSE already without it having to engage in the process of validating. I do not know what “validating” means.

Why is the option the Government has taken, namely, to introduce legislation, necessary? If Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon were to be appointed to investigate under the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004, there would be no necessity for new legislation. The Act would give investigators the power to overcome any legal difficulties such as those cited by the Taoiseach. Why was that route not taken rather than the introduction of new legislation?

The Government introduced the Coroners Bill 2007 in April 2007. It got as far as Second Stage in the Seanad but has not been heard of since. It would require the reporting to the coroner of any death of a child in care. At least that would have dealt with the circumstances that obtained from 2007 onwards. Why has the Bill not been progressed?

There were two legislative routes open to the Government rather than introducing completely new legislation to deal with this matter. One was to deal with the matter under the Commissions of Investigation Act, which is already the law of the land. If Ms Gibbons and Mr. Shannon were appointed under that Act, they could simply go ahead and override whatever legal difficulties exist. Second, if progress had been made on the Coroners Bill, which has been lying in the Seanad unattended for the past three years, it would not be necessary to introduce new legislation.

The Taoiseach:  On the substance of the Deputy’s arguments, there is a requirement under the nursing homes Acts to notify the coroner in the event of a death of a person in care. There was a provision in the Coroners Bill in that regard also. That would not deal with the look-[366]back situation; it is not retrospective in any event. There has been a new system in place since January. There were 23 deaths up to the end of 2009, according to the HSE, and there were six deaths since then, including that of Mr. McAnaspie. The latter will be dealt with under the new arrangements put in place this year. HIQA is involved and there are three people from the 15-person panel investigating individual cases.

The terms of reference of the national review panel have been drafted. Its role is to review serious incidents, including deaths of children in care, in compliance with the Guidance for the Health Service Executive for the Review of Serious Incidents including Deaths of Children in Care. It sets outs the various instances in which it will report. The six individuals who have, unfortunately, died since the beginning of this year will be dealt with under the new procedures established under the new regime that has been in operation from January of this year.

  11 o’clock

On the question on the Commissions of Investigation Act, the procedure would probably take longer and be more costly than what we are suggesting at present. It would not bring as quick a solution as we are offering. The Minister asked that the process applicable to Mr. Shannon and Ms Gibbons under the review group be time limited. We will be trying to work within the guidelines over the coming months so as to have the full report and look back completed. Obviously, the legal difficulty that has arisen is holding up the exchange of information. Factual information is to be exchanged by the end of this week. Legislation is being prepared and will be before the Cabinet in the next couple of weeks and will be introduced in the House as a matter of urgency to ensure that whatever other information is required will be provided.

We are seeking to achieve the fastest possible resolution to the problem and to ensure the objectives of the review group are met. As I stated, both Mr. Shannon and Ms Gibbons, who are eminent persons in this area, have been apprised of the work to be undertaken and are in favour of it as a way to solve the problem.

Legal issues arise over privacy and consent from guardians. Issues arise under child care legislation and in respect of the provisions pertaining to in camera proceedings in the courts. We want to address these in a way that maintains the privacy of the children while obtaining the information that the authorities require to carry out an effective look back and get a full picture of the circumstances in all relevant cases. That is the purpose of the exercise.

We are doing all we can. The House is not divided in any way in trying to get this matter resolved as quickly as possible. The legal difficulties must be overcome. In this regard, we have proposed a solution and, in the meantime, information of a factual nature can be exchanged. This information should be with the group by the end of this week.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  A record of the cause of death is never private.

  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    his plans to amend the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16300/10]

  2.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    his plans to amend the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18903/10]

[367]

  3.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he plans to amend the code of conduct for office holders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20229/10]

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

The Code of Conduct for Office Holders was drawn up by the Government pursuant to section 10(2) of the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 following consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission, and was published in July 2003. A review of the code will be carried out, in consultation with the Standards in Public Office Commission, after the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill has been enacted.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Is it intended to change the Cabinet handbook so Ministers cannot give false information to the courts?

The Taoiseach:  That is not a matter for the Cabinet handbook; it is a general principle to which we all subscribe.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is a general principle that was breached in the case of a sworn affidavit laid before the court by the former Minister for Defence. Should it not be made perfectly clear to anybody with the privilege of serving in Cabinet that this is beyond any political action? The Cabinet handbook should state that.

The Taoiseach:  The former Minister for Defence explained that in the House and apologised for the issues that arose. As he said, there was no intention on his part to give wrong information.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It happened. All I am asking is whether it is intended to correct or expand the Cabinet handbook to make the matter perfectly clear for every person who will serve in Cabinet over the coming years.

I understand the use of the Government jet must be cleared by the Taoiseach. There was no clearance given by him for the Government jet’s flight to Las Vegas. I pointed out his matter some time ago.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy got a reply in writing about that.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I did.

The Taoiseach:  I refer the Deputy to the correspondence, which confirms that the assertion he makes is nonsense. He needed a clarification, yet he has come into the House to keep this up.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Is the Taoiseach, as one who authorises the use of the Government jet, prepared to write into the Cabinet handbook that the people’s jet can only be used on his authorisation by a Minister and to make it clear, if a situation like Las Vegas were to arise again, the jet could not move without his authorisation?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy has a clarification from me in writing about that matter and he knows there is no basis for his assertion.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is also the case that a former Minister——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not appropriate to raise individual cases at this time.

The Taoiseach:  There is nothing to ask.

[368]Deputy Enda Kenny:  This question relates to the code of conduct and asks the Taoiseach his plans to amend the code of conduct——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Are we going to deal with individual cases continually?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Individual cases are examples of breaches of the code of conduct. I asked the Taoiseach his plans to amend the code of conduct for officeholders and if he would make a statement on the matter. Is it proposed to write into the Cabinet handbook that Ministers should not make false declarations to a court? Will he also write into the handbook that the use of the Government jet should be authorised by the Taoiseach only and it cannot be used outside the code? We have an example of a Minister racking up a charge of €46,000 for delivering Fianna Fáil leaflets. Is this what is involved in Cabinet conduct? These are three examples of where the Taoiseach should amend the Cabinet handbook to make it clear to Ministers and future officeholders that such is the case.

The Taoiseach:  I have answered both questions twice. With regard to the first question, it is a matter for Ministers to act with integrity at all times.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach appointed them.

The Taoiseach:  I have indicated to the Deputy again that there was no intention on the then Minister’s part, as he outlined in his apology to the House in regard to that matter, and he subsequently resigned his office.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  After the Taoiseach voted to keep him in office.

The Taoiseach:  It is not a matter for the Cabinet handbook for a self-evident principle like that to apply.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is.

The Taoiseach:  The second issue the Deputy raised was about the plane.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is a jet.

The Taoiseach:  He comes into the House and he hopes he can get a few tabloid headlines but when I send him the facts of the situation, he comes in two months later and he starts the same craic.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is not craic.

The Taoiseach:  What is the point in giving the Deputy the proper information?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I asked whether the Taoiseach is prepared to amend the Cabinet handbook or not.

The Taoiseach:  There is no breach of the Cabinet handbook guidelines whatsoever in regard to this matter, as the Deputy was told directly. What is the point in giving him that information if he is going to come in and play the old game again? It is the same old story with him the whole time.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is still defending the former Minister for Defence.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  Was there ever a breach?

[369]Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach continues to defend the former Minister for Defence. Before he signed his sworn affidavit, he should have known and could have read the Cabinet handbook, which would have outlined what not to do. That is not the way Ministers should conduct themselves and the Taoiseach knows that.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  These questions are about the possible revision of the code of conduct for officeholders, which the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, has been seeking for some time. The Taoiseach’s response to this is that when the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007 is passed, he will review the code with SIPO. The legislation has been around a long time. It was first announced by the Taoiseach’s predecessor, Deputy Bertie Ahern, and the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell, on the steps of Government Buildings in the autumn of 2006 following the disclosure that the former Taoiseach had received some payments while he was Minister for Finance from friends, associates and so on. It became known as the dig out Bill and it was introduced by the present Taoiseach when he was Minister for Finance.

It is intended under the legislation that if one is an officeholder and somebody offers one a gift, one would go to SIPO to check whether it is all right to accept the gift. The Bill was passed by the Seanad but we have not seen sight of it since, as it was never introduced in this House. When will it be brought into the House? If we have to wait for the review of the code of conduct for officeholders until that Bill is passed, we will be quite a while waiting because it has been going on for four years. What will happen to that legislation? Is it still the Government’s intention to have it enacted? Can he give us some idea when it might be enacted in order that we can get some idea as to when he will consult SIPO about changes to the code of conduct for officeholders?

The Taoiseach:  The reason I suggest it should await this is because the code of conduct cannot impose new requirements which are not legislatively based. It is based on the present legislation and, therefore, one cannot change the code in the absence of legislative amendment. As the Deputy said, the Ethics in Public Office (Amendment) Bill 2007 is available to be enacted. It is a matter for the Whips as to when it can be taken. The Government can discuss that with the Whips. The Bill was proposed to amend the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 to provide that ministerial and parliamentary officeholders and Oireachtas members are not to accept benefits, that is gifts, loans or below cost services, worth in aggregate more than €2,000 from a friend for personal reasons in a period — usually a calendar year — comprehended by an interests statement prepared under the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, unless they have obtained the opinion of the Standards in Public Office Commission that acceptance of the benefit would not be likely to materially influence the recipient in the performance of his or her functions or duties. If offered a benefit on an occasion where it would not be practical to refuse it, the recipient must seek the opinion afterwards and must give up the benefit or its value if the commission is unable to issue such an opinion. That is the purpose and objective of the legislation but we cannot amend or review the code unless we amend the legislation.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What has delayed the legislation? The Taoiseach was responsible for its introduction. I have wondered about the legislation. A gift or benefit of up to €2,000 is sizeable and the idea that somebody given the responsibility of running a Department would not be able to exercise judgement on whether it is appropriate to receive a gift of that size without seeking the opinion of SIPO seems extraordinary. The Bill was announced at the time to provide some political cover, particularly for the then Minister, Michael McDowell, following the emergence of the dig-out money at the tribunal of inquiry. It is a fig leaf for the Taoiseach to say he is waiting for the enactment of the legislation to review the code of conduct for [370]officeholders when it is perfectly clear that the Government has no intention whatever of progressing it.

The Taoiseach:  That is not true.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What is delaying it? It was proposed in 2006, which is four years ago.

The Taoiseach:  Many Bills have been sought by the Opposition over the past 12 months or more and this legislation was not included. The Bill was to be enacted in response to a debate at the time during which it was stated issues such as this should be covered by the Standards in Public Office Act 2001 and the code of conduct subsequently and that we needed a legislative base for it. It was the view of everyone at the time to bring in legislation. Now that we have brought it in, the Deputy is saying it is just political cover for something else. He cannot have it every way. At the time, he was demanding legislation.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Bring it into the House.

The Taoiseach:  There is no problem. It is a matter for the Whips——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Where is it?

The Taoiseach:  ——and it is a matter for the Minister for Finance to bring forward the legislation and finalise it. It is finished in the Seanad.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is a load of nonsense.

The Taoiseach:  It is not.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach knows well it is not a matter for the Whips. The Government Whip orders the business the Government, of which the Taoiseach is the head, decides should be ordered. He or she does not operate as an independent——

The Taoiseach:  He brings some sort of order to the House.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is fine. I have no problem with order in the House and the ordering of its business, but the Government decides what business will be given to the Whip to be put on the Order Paper. Clearly, the Taoiseach has decided, for whatever reason, that he will not progress that Bill.

To say the review of the code of conduct for officeholders is awaiting the passage of legislation amounts to awaiting something the Government has no intention of progressing in the first place. Will the Taoiseach bring it in?

The Taoiseach:  That is Deputy Gilmore’s assertion, but it is not the situation.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a fact.

The Taoiseach:  I am responding to the situation——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a fact. The Government has had four years.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister for Finance has brought in a good deal of important legislation in the House over the past 12 to 18 months. It is not a question of the Minister twiddling his thumbs while there is legislation to be passed. He has done a considerable amount of very [371]important work in that area for the country, the Parliament and the Government. This is another Bill that is required to be completed, and it can be completed. It is a matter for the Minister and the Chief Whip, in the first instance, along with the other Whips, to decide when it can be taken. We did not introduce the Bill so that it would not be implemented. It is a question of going ahead with it. It is a matter of some priority and importance at present.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I want to ask about another matter involving promised legislation. In the Taoiseach’s 2009 Ard-Fheis speech he promised new legislation to regulate political donations, particularly with regard to referendum campaigns. When will we see that legislation?

The Taoiseach:  Again, that will be a matter for the line Minister to bring forward in due course. I believe it would be helpful to bring forward such legislation. In previous referendums we saw substantial funds being applied which were not accounted for in the way that political parties have to be accountable for funds. That was the thinking behind that.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Do I take it the line Minister is the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, in this case?

The Taoiseach:  Yes.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The line Minister moves very slowly. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, told the House last night that he was going to fast-track the appointment of an electoral commission. This was his excuse for having his party vote against the proposal that there should be a time limit on by-elections, as presented by Fine Gael. The proposal to have an electoral commission was promised in the original programme for Government, which the Minister and the Taoiseach concluded three years ago. After three years it is somewhat rich to have the line Minister saying that he is going to fast-track it. I do not have a great deal of confidence that a Minister who is only now talking about fast-tracking something that was promised three years ago is going to introduce the additional legislation the Government promised in 2009.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy raised this two weeks ago and the fact that the Minister is proceeding with it now is something the Deputy does not support either. The issue of the independent electoral commission and the preparation of Green and White Papers on local government reform are all matters the Minister is proceeding with. He indicated to the House yesterday that he is proceeding with that particular issue.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Changes to the code of conduct for officeholders that could be considered would presumably be informed by new situations presenting or by the performance of the existing code. Has any consideration been given in terms of a review of the effectiveness of the existing code, given the increase in the limit from €650 to €2,000 in cash or equivalent value that officeholders are obliged to report? How many such declarations have been made and can the Taoiseach advise where the record of such declarations is held? What is the actual declaration process?

In relation to the responsibility of officeholders to declare any material interest in a given performance consequent on their roles as Minister, Minister of State or whatever, can he indicate the number of declarations since 2003 under the particular heading where an officeholder had a material interest in a specific performance he or she was required to carry out because of the office he or she held? Does the Taoiseach know how many declarations have been made under that particular heading within the code of conduct since 2003? As with the first question, [372]can he advise what the methodology is and say to whom such declarations are made? Where is the record held of such declarations and is it publicly accessible?

The Taoiseach:  These are obligations on individual Members of the House. It is up to those who are officeholders to discharge whatever requirements exist. They are submitted, as the Deputy knows, to the Clerk of the Dáil. They are also submitted, as appropriate, to the Standards in Public Office Commission. That is where they reside and that is where the records appear. These are matters all Deputies and officeholders have to comply with.

I am not aware of the individual issues that arise for Deputies in relation to complying with those requirements. They are statutory requirements for each individual Member to consider and comply with, and I understand this is what happens. If they do not, the Standards in Public Office Commission gets in touch with them about it.

Regarding the previous issue raised by Deputy Gilmore about the amounts, these are all matters of judgment. The threshold of €650 has not increased since the passage of the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995, apart from being changed to take account of a convenient euro equivalent at the time of the currency changeover in 2002. The original figure under the 1995 Act was £500 and this was changed to €650, with effect from 1 January 2002. The thresholds set in the 1995 ethics Act was the first attempt to set thresholds in this area. It is by no means unreasonable for that first attempt to be reviewed 15 years later, in the light of experience, not to mention the need to counterbalance the effects of inflation eroding the original figure over the intervening years. The Bill, when enacted, will be setting this amount after 15 years not just for the present, but for the next period of years. Deputies will be able to make their view about thresholds known when the Bill is debated.

As Minister for Finance I consulted the Select Committee on Members’ Interests of both Houses about the proposals in the Bill before it was published. The Seanad committee agreed with them while the Dáil committee welcomed the proposals, noting that they would further strengthen the accountability of Members of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Am I to understand from the Taoiseach’s reply that in both of the incidences I have highlighted, the Clerk of the Dáil is the appropriate officer to whom officeholders, Ministers and Ministers of State, make their respective declarations both in relation to gifts received and where there are material interests in connection with any given performance they are obliged to carry out? Is that record accessible to the public? Does it have to be accessed under the Freedom of Information Act or is it open to scrutiny? Are all these declarations open, public records?

Will he again note that my question is about whether the performance in relation to the existing code in any way urges or suggests that changes are required in terms of the code of conduct? Is the Taoiseach aware of anything regarding the performance under the existing code which may give rise, in his view, to a need for changes to the existing code?

The Taoiseach:  The code of conduct does not stand in isolation but is part of the wider ethics framework established by the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Act 2001. Section 10(7) of the latter requires office holders to have regard to and be guided by the code. The code cannot impose any new requirements that are not already set out in legislation; it mainly attempts to provide guidance at a level of detail that would be difficult to express in legislation. It can, however, be used by the Standards in Public Office Commission as guidance on whether a complaint made under section 4 of the Act should be investigated. This is the section of the Act under which a complaint of a breach of the ethics Act can be made.

[373]The commission has a supervisory role under the ethics legislation. Its functions include supervising the disclosure of interests and compliance with tax clearance requirements. The commission has specific statutory powers to investigate and make findings about failures of compliance with the Act. The code of conduct, under the ethics Act, is admissible in any investigation of the commission and may be taken into account by it in its determinations. The penalties available to the commission are those specified in the Ethics in Public Office Act 1995; that is, the making of a report under section 24 to the Committee on Members’ Interests of the relevant House. The code is also admissible in any proceedings before a court, tribunal or committee of this or the other House. The code in its own right indicates standards of conduct and integrity for office holders which are not expressly covered by legislation.

That is the role of the code of conduct. With regard to the accessibility of information about declarations made by Members, Members’ interests are published on an annual basis. These provisions remain in place and are not in any way interfered with.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must mention to Deputy Ó Caoláin that declarations in respect of Ministers are publicly available on the website.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the reply to my question to the Taoiseach.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Are they on the website?

  4.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the recent work of the group established in his Department to oversee the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16301/10]

  5.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the operation of procedures put in place in his Department to monitor the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18904/10]

  6.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if the group established to oversee the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers is still operating; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20230/10]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

The Quigley report, which was published in 2005, highlighted the need for special care in cases in which a proposed consultancy comprises an element of direct service to a Minister or Minister of State, particularly in area of public relations or communications, or where a Minister or Minister of State suggests the name of a person or enterprise as being suitable. Following publication of the Quigley report, additional guidelines to be followed in such cases were approved by the Government and are published on my Department’s website. The guidelines were brought to the attention of all Secretaries General, who were asked to implement them and, in future, to bring them to the attention of all newly appointed Ministers and Ministers of State, where relevant, in their Departments or offices.

The guidelines give the Secretary General to the Government and the Government secretariat a role in examining certain procurements. However, there is no special committee in my Department to oversee the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers. Any workload arising from the application of these additional guidelines is handled within existing resources in the Government secretariat.

[374]Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government spent €3 million on public relations contracts in 2009, one of which was the radio advertisements about the designation of seven special areas of conservation on the Dublin coastline. Those radio advertisements cost €23,000 or €25,000. I accept that Departments must advertise their activities to the public. Does the Taoiseach have any information in his brief about this? Is this type of contract approved by the public relations contracts committee? Must the Minister sitting beside the Taoiseach, Deputy Ó Cuív, or anybody else who wants to promote a campaign on behalf of his or her Department, seek approval from the committee first or is the decision made in-house in the Department, based on the budget available, to run advertisements to tell the public how wonderful it is and what it is doing? For example, was the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government obliged to seek approval from the public relations contracts committee before placing these advertisements on radio, on television and in the newspapers?

The Taoiseach:  There is no committee in place. Guidelines were established which set out a procedure that must be followed when a particular set of circumstances arise, that is, a proposed consultancy or any proposed contract for services comprising a significant element of direct service to a Minister, particularly in the PR or communications area, or a suggestion by a Minister of the name of a person or enterprise that might be suitable. In such circumstances the Secretary General of the Department concerned must notify the Secretary General to the Government. Having inquired about any aspects he or she considers relevant, the Secretary General to the Government will then make a recommendation to me as to whether any special conditions should be observed in the procurement process. It is in those specific instances that the procedure is triggered.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Does the Taoiseach have information on the number of public relations contracts that are currently in operation in Departments? Is that something that comes to his attention regularly? Is there freedom, with certain restrictions, for Departments or Ministers to employ new public relations people on a whim or put out information about new campaigns? In other words, is there a figure for the amount being paid out to public relations agencies by Departments? If so, what was the cost of this in 2009?

The Taoiseach:  No. The question is about the procedures that are in place with regard to public relations contracts as they pertain to me, arising from the Quigley report, which was drawn up at a time when an issue arose in a particular Department. It sets out general guidelines, and that is the basis on which I am replying today. I do not have any of that information.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  One of the recommendations of the Quigley report was that consideration should be given to requiring the approval of the Taoiseach for any initiative being pursued by a Minister with regard to a consultancy contract for PR or communications advice, including the provision of advice to the Minister. Was this recommendation ever implemented? If so, on what occasions is the approval of the Taoiseach required?

In the period of time since he has been Taoiseach, how many times has he been asked for approval for the appointment of public relations or communications contracts for Ministers?

The Taoiseach:  Eight cases that came within the terms of the guidelines have been processed so far. In September 2008 I agreed to the appointment by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of a consultant to conduct a facilitation exercise with regard to a consultation paper on next-generation broadband. In 2007 one case was noted by my predecessor following consideration by the Secretary General to the Government; it consisted of an invitation to tender for consultancy work at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and [375]Local Government to scope out a project which would lead to the establishment of an independent electoral commission. I understand the candidate concerned was not subsequently successful in the tender competition. Two cases related to the appointment of an arts adviser at the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism; my predecessor approved one of these in 2005 following appropriate prior consideration by the Secretary General to the Government, and upon the resignation of the original post holder, my predecessor approved the appointment of a successor to the post in 2006.

The four other cases referred to the Secretary General to the Government were, on consideration by him, found not to fall within the scope of the guidelines and did not require consideration or approval. These related to the appointment of IT, PR and communications consultants.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I refer to the group established by the Taoiseach’s Department to deal with the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers. Would the Taoiseach consider extending its remit to include semi-state bodies under the aegis of the Ministers? Is the Taoiseach aware of the recent report about the Dublin Docklands Development Authority which stated that contracts of more than €80,000 were awarded to a business that not a registered company and did not have an identifiable business name? This, as the report clearly showed, does not comply with the requirements in terms of proper performance. I ask because this pertains both to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and to FÁS, whereby different contracts were awarded that were anything but up to the required standards and serious questions must be asked in respect of them all. While the Taoiseach has a team in situ in respect of Departments directly, will he consider extending its remit to include semi-State bodies under the aegis of the respective Ministers and their Departments to ensure that where public moneys are involved, the highest standards apply right across the board? In conclusion, is the Taoiseach aware of the report to which I referred regarding the Dublin Docklands Development Authority prepared by Ray King? Of itself, has that report not prompted consideration of the course of action I now suggest?

The Taoiseach:  As I stated in my primary reply, there is no special committee or group in my Department to oversee the awarding of public relations contracts by Ministers. Any workload arising from the application of the additional guidelines as outlined in the Quigley report is handled within existing resources within the Government’s secretariat. Neither do I have involvement in respect of semi-State or commercial State bodies or otherwise. Guidelines have been set out as to how they should operate and from memory, I believe the line Department with which they are associated is the relevant Department, in the event of a breach being brought to its attention or whatever, to ensure the guidelines are being complied with.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It appears that they are not being adhered to. I refer to contracts being awarded in respect of public relations work by semi-State bodies. While I do not suggest this is the case now, certainly in the past, in the instances I have highlighted and as a recent report has underscored, this has been happening. All the wishful thinking in the world will not change this. In the light of the report by Mr. King into the Dublin Docklands Development Authority’s awarding of contracts in this regard, I understand that the bulk of the awards by the authority were above board. However, I understand that in one instance out of 37, awards were made to a particular business that is neither a registered company nor has a business name to which one can point, registered or otherwise, of the order of €75,000 in one instance and €7,250 in another, that simply do not meet the required criteria. In that light and given the history of questionable awarding of contracts in this area and others by both the DDDA and FÁS, does the Taoiseach not believe there now is a requirement to formally bring [376]the awarding of public relations contracts by all semi-State bodies under the direct aegis of the respective line Ministers and Departments?

The Taoiseach:  I made the point that as the Deputy is aware, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has appointed a chairperson who has a particular expertise in corporate governance to that authority. Reports have been considered by the Minister and will be published in due course. I have every confidence that the new chairperson and board in the Dublin Docklands Development Authority now are putting in place the necessary governance requirements to make it consistent with appropriate corporate governance procedures. The reports and any subsequent issues that may arise will be a matter for debate and consideration as to what lessons are to be learned in the event of there being a lack of, or a deficit in, proper governance procedures in that authority. The Minister has introduced a new chairperson who will report on these governance issues and set out recommendations for the future that I believe will meet the best possible standards in the future. As for what has happened in the past, I cannot comment but I am sure these issues can be dealt with by the chairperson and chief executive as they report to the various committees of the Houses in due course.

  7.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on the implementation of the Nally Report on the reorganisation of the State Solicitor’s Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16302/10]

The Taoiseach:  As previously indicated in reply to similar questions on this matter, the implementation of the recommendations of the Nally report was completed in 2007.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  A full and complete reply.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Before moving on, may I ask how much time remains? Given the import of the remaining questions, it would be unfair——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Six minutes. The Taoiseach should move to the next question.

  8.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the further action he will take on foot of the Barron, McEntee and Oireachtas Justice Committee reports on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings and other fatal acts of collusion in this jurisdiction, as well as the Oireachtas resolution in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16305/10]

  9.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    his contacts with the Northern Ireland Executive since the devolution of policing and justice powers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16565/10]

  10.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the position regarding the implementation of the recommendations of the Barron and McEntee reports into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17727/10]

  11.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his engagement with the First and Deputy First Minister and the British Prime Minister since the transfer of policing and justice powers was agreed by the Assembly and the Justice Minister elected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18795/10]

[377]

  12.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the actions he has taken or plans to take arising from the publication of the Barron, McEntee and Oireachtas Justice Committee reports on the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18905/10]

  13.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on his contacts with the political parties in Northern Ireland since the devolution of policing powers [18906/10]

  14.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    when he plans to next meet the British Prime Minister; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18907/10]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 14, inclusive, together.

I spoke to Prime Minister Cameron by telephone on Wednesday, 11 May and offered him my congratulations. We discussed the importance of maintaining the close relationship between both Governments, in respect of Northern Ireland and other matters of mutual interest, including economic ties and European Union matters. I will meet the Prime Minister in the near future. I also contacted the leaders of the Northern Ireland political parties following the results of the elections.

I offered my congratulations to the Northern Ireland Executive on the successful devolution of policing and justice on 12 April and I wished the Northern Ireland Minister of Justice, David Ford, every success in his new role. I also wish Alex Attwood every success in his new role as Minister for Social Development and to congratulate John Larkin on his appointment as Attorney General.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, met Minister Ford on 16 April, when they discussed co-operation between the Garda Síochána and the PSNI and ongoing criminal justice co-operation matters. I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate the Garda on its recent success in foiling dissident efforts to launch bomb attacks in the North.

I expect to next meet the First and Deputy First Minister and other Ministers from the Executive at the next meeting of the British-Irish Council on 25 June and at the North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on 5 July next. I also will meet delegations from the SDLP and Sinn Féin shortly. I am committed to working with the Northern parties to identify areas in which efficiencies can be introduced and savings made to our mutual benefit.

With regard to the Dublin-Monaghan bombings, the Deputy will be aware that the Clerk of the Dáil received a reply from the Clerk of the House of Commons arising from the Oireachtas resolution of 10 July 2008. As I have stated previously in the House, any future follow-up to this matter should be considered in consultation with the parties and can be raised with the Whips.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  As the Taoiseach is aware, the 36th anniversary of the Dublin-Monaghan bombings occurred last week on 17 May. In the course of the ceremonies in both Dublin and Monaghan, various spokespersons have repeated the appeal to the Government to restore funding to the Justice for the Forgotten group, the work of which is far from concluded. In this regard I include Ms Bernadette McNally, the chairperson for Justice for the Forgotten, who herself is a survivor of the atrocities that were visited on the city in May 1974. Her appeal to the Government was echoed by the Cathaoirleach of Monaghan Town Council, Councillor Seán Conlon, and the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Emer Costello.

[378]Great concern has been expressed in the city of Dublin, in my home town of Monaghan and nationwide regarding the Government’s decision to cease funding——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I remind the Deputy that a limited time remains.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  —— for Justice for the Forgotten. I refer to the attitude here, where there is only one campaigning group, namely, Justice for the Forgotten, for survivors of the atrocities of the previous 30 years. However, there are groups being funded directly by the British Government north of the Border. Can the Taoiseach not find it within his gift to reverse the decision and restore funding to Justice for the Forgotten to allow this campaigning group to proceed with its work, as it is clear that closure has not been reached?

Finally, on the issue the Taoiseach referred to and what I would regard as a most unique, unprecedented and historic decision of this House in July 2008, namely, a unanimous all-party resolution calling on the British Government to make available all original material relating to those atrocities of May 1974 to an independent international inquiry, with respect, I have to put it to the Taoiseach, that he has failed since then to press that decision of this House with the former British Prime Minister over that period. He has never been able to confirm that he had raised the matter with Gordon Brown throughout the entire period of their respective positions in office.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question please, Deputy.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That compares starkly with the greater proactivity on the part of his predecessor, and there are not many things I would have to say are to his credit but that is one. Will the Taoiseach now press that particular matter and restore funding to Justice for the Forgotten?

The Taoiseach:  On the matter raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin, from 2003 to 2008 the Remembrance Commission operated the scheme of acknowledgement, remembrance and assistance for victims in this jurisdiction of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Under the scheme, payments were made to groups offering support services to victims of the conflict and under this element of the scheme, payments were made to Justice for the Forgotten for the purpose of meeting the counselling and other needs of victims or their family members.

During the period of operation of the scheme, Justice for the Forgotten received a total of €1.2 million of the €1.5 million allocated for victim support services and was the only recipient of money under this heading. In addition, the organisation had received more than €890,000 from my Department in the period 2000 to 2003.

The term of appointment of the Remembrance Commission came to an end on 31 October 2008 and funding under the scheme ended at that stage. Nevertheless, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided at that time to grant further funding to Justice for the Forgotten totalling €190,300 to enable it continue to operate while seeking to put alternative funding options in place.

Officials from that Department met with Justice for the Forgotten on a number of occasions and met with them again last June to apprise them of the position and to confirm that our first priority is to ensure that those victims who require ongoing medical treatment for injuries sustained in bombings and other incidents arising from the conflict in Northern Ireland will continue to be provided for.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has made special arrangements to have these costs provided by his Department through the Victims of Crime Office.

[379]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  With respect, that is not a reply. The Taoiseach has read into the record a response that he has already provided in written replies to parliamentary questions in the same vein. He has given no indication of any willingness to even consider the need to continue funding to Justice for the Forgotten, and that is outrageous. This particular group will not be able to sustain its important and valuable work, which is ongoing.

On the other matter regarding a decision of this House in July 2008, which was an important unprecedented, momentous and historic decision that every Member of this House could sign up to, we have never been given an iota of evidence that that decision——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, you will have to find another way to pursue that matter.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——has been pursued in any serious way by the Government representatives of this House. It is an absolute disgrace.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Gilmore for a brief supplementary because we are out of time.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  First, on the question of the Taoiseach’s plans to meet the Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, has a date been set for a meeting or when does the Taoiseach expect to have his first full meeting with the Prime Minister? Second, in the initial contacts that have been made with the new British Government, has the Taoiseach received any assurance or reassurance that Prime Minister Cameron will continue to give the kind of attention to bilateral relations between Ireland and the United Kingdom and, in particular, to matters relating to Northern Ireland that was given by his three predecessors, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and John Major?

The Taoiseach:  First, no date has been fixed for that meeting. Obviously, we intend to try to fix that meeting in the coming weeks. Second, the assurances were given that in his capacity as British Prime Minister, David Cameron will seek to utilise his role as co-guarantor of these agreements to ensure they are fully implemented, both in the spirit and in the letter of thelaw.

On the matter raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin, I made the point in my reply that the question of the further follow-up action that can take place as a result of the parliamentary motion passed in this House on a unanimous basis is a matter that should be considered by the Whips in consultation with the parties concerned.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  First, is the Taoiseach being briefed on a regular basis about the increasing threat of terrorism from the Real IRA and other dissident groups? I assure the Taoiseach of our full support for the efforts the Government is making to eliminate that kind of activity.

Second, in view of the cuts announced for Northern Ireland by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, will the Government prepare its own report on how best it can co-operate with the British Government in the development of the economic entity of the island about which the Taoiseach spoke recently and which is laudable? There are a number of other programmes that may not be cut where issues of a cross-Border nature arise that would be in the interests of the development of both economies North and South. Before the Taoiseach meets with the British Prime Minister, would he request his Department and other Departments to indicate what the Government in the Twenty-six Counties can do in terms of assisting and co-operating with the British Government in the interests of both communities North and South?

[380]The Taoiseach:  I join the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and others in the House in thanking the security services for the find they unveiled in County Louth in the past few days. It is an indication of their determination to thwart in every way possible those who would seek to undermine the express will of the Irish people, North and South, who wish to pursue political progress in this country by exclusively peaceful and democratic means. They speak for no one, represent no one and are engaged in activities which are not supported and are intrinsically evil. The security forces will continue to be provided with all necessary resources to deal with these matters to avoid the possible loss of life or limb or the destruction of property that could ensue were these people to achieve their nefarious objectives.

  12 o’clock

Regarding Deputy Kenny’s questions, we pursue the question of the island of Ireland economy as being an obvious outworking of the agreements we have reached. We seek at all times to persuade people of and confirm the mutual benefit that would be derived North and South and between the two islands were these economic and social issues to be addressed in a way that best benefits taxpayers in both jurisdictions by seeking to improve and protect services, identifying synergies and a more cost effective delivery of services North and South and not be impeded in that effort by the existence of the Border. That is a matter we continue to pursue at all levels and in all respects in a transparent, open and beneficial way for everyone we serve. Our work with the Northern Ireland Executive and the review of the work programmes that have been undertaken regarding where we can go from here, having bedded down the institutions in the past ten years or more, is a matter that should be constructively considered by all sides. We hope the Executive will be able to examine constructively and creatively the various opportunities that are in place and are possible with the goodwill on all sides.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a number of notices under Standing Order 32. I will call Deputies in the order in which they submitted notices to my office.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I wish to seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise an issue of national importance, namely, the need for Dublin City Council to immediately take action to provide funding for Dolphin House flat complex in the south-west inner city to address the serious problems of sewerage and mildew which is causing residents to live in sub-standard conditions. We watched with disgrace the television programme addressing this issue. It is an everyday occurrence, as the Members will be aware. In St. Teresa’s Gardens, Bernard Curtis House, Watling Street — I can go on — considerable health risks are caused through damp flats and mildew, and particularly sewerage seeping up through the kitchen sink.

Before I finish, I would ask the Ceann Comhairle to explain to me as a public representative, because I know at the end of this he will rule the matter out of order, what is of national importance. Is it of national importance that people have the right to live in a home, which is properly ventilated and properly maintained and for which they pay rent?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear. Allow that, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  I wish to seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise an issue of national importance, namely, the proposed loss of a significant number of jobs at the Tullamore plant of Covidien, a medical devices company which is a critical part of the plan to create a smart economy and a focus area for potential job creation, which follows on from the closure of a number of multinational companies in the town over the last few [381]years, and to ask the Government what plans it and IDA Ireland have to ensure that a replacement industry is located in the area, and to counteract the devastating impact this will have on the town and County Offaly.

Deputy James Bannon:  I wish to seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise an issue of local and national importance, namely, the proposed closure of 50% of the beds at St. Joseph’s Care Centre, Longford, which follows on the closure of Loughloe House, Athlone, County Westmeath, and is a direct attack on the elderly in the midlands and across the country.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil to address the following matter of national importance, the need to call a halt to the savage cuts being imposed on services for older people, including people with dementia and Alzheimer’s, who are seeing home help hours reduced, carer’s allowance cut and the closure of care facilities such as Loughloe House in Athlone, the need for the Minister for Health and Children to intervene to prevent the closure of that facility and to ensure the completion of its upgrading to HIQA-approved standards.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Having considered the matters raised, they are not in order under Standing Order 32.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 21, Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 4, Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010 — Second Stage (Resumed).

Private Members’ business shall be No. 36, Electoral Representation (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Second Stage (Resumed), to conclude at 8.30 p.m. if not previously concluded.

I would ask the Ceann Comhairle’s direction as to whether we can make a statement on a deceased Member.

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

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I did not catch what the Taoiseach stated at the end about statements.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Maybe we should put it to the Whips.

The Taoiseach:  I suggest we make a comment now and then resume the Order of Business. Is that in order?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Okay.

The Taoiseach:  We have been saddened by the passing of a friend and colleague in the Oireachtas, the late Senator Kieran Phelan, this morning. Kieran was a well-known, much admired and greatly respected Member of Seanad Éireann. He was a constituency colleague of mine and a lifelong friend, and we will miss him deeply.

He was an unassuming gentleman, kind, easygoing and dependable and he was loyal to his friends. He had a real ability to relate to people and had a keen political sense. He had a strong sense of humour and a strong work ethic.

He leaves behind a legacy of hard work and strong commitment to public service. He was a hugely committed member of our party. He served on Laois County Council from 1991 to 2003 [382]and he was an effective and proud chairman of Laois County Council in 1998 and 1999. He was elected to Seanad Éireann in 2002 and re-elected in 2007. His passing will be mourned right across political life. He is a great loss to public service, to his community and to his many, many friends.

Of course, his loss will be felt most keenly by those who knew him best and loved him most. I want to extend my deepest sympathy to his wife Mary, his five children, Fiona, Martina, Brenda, Aisling and Patrick, and his extended family, many of whom I know well and value as friends.

Fear misniúil, cróga, uasal a bhí ann a sciob an bás uainn go tobann ar maidin. Déanaim comhbhrón pearsanta dá chlann, dá mhuintir agus dá chairde. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I want to express my sympathy to the Taoiseach — the late Senator Kieran Phelan was a personal friend of his — and to the party on this tragic circumstance that happened this morning. I only heard the news before I came down to the Chamber. It is a shock when something like this happens.

I did not know Kieran that well, but I met him in the corridors and around the House here. What can I say except that I express my sympathy to his wife Mary and his children? He was the chairman of Laois County Council, he was very well respected and regarded in the agricultural community and he represented the people of south Laois very ably and competently. This is truly an enormous shock to his wife Mary and to his family, and indeed, to the Members and his colleagues, both in the Fianna Fáil Party and in the Seanad, and to politics in general.

One can never be certain of what the future holds and that news, given to me this morning at 10.20 a.m., was, indeed, a shock. I regret his passing. I want to express my personal sympathy to the Taoiseach, as a friend of Kieran’s, and to his family on behalf of the Fine Gael Party.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I want to join with the Taoiseach and Deputy Kenny in expressing my sympathy and the sympathy of the Labour Party to Mary Phelan and to her family on the death of Senator Kieran Phelan.

I was extremely shocked when I heard the news this morning of Senator Phelan’s very sudden death. He was somebody who we all met and knew around the House here, and talked to, passed various comments with and so on.

In particular, I want to express sympathy with the Taoiseach and, indeed, with his colleagues in the constituency of Laois-Offaly who would obviously have known the late Senator Phelan better than most of us. The loss of a colleague is always a very sad occasion, but the loss of a colleague in such sudden unexpected circumstances is a double blow. I just simply want to express my sympathy with his wife, family, friends and particularly his political colleagues, including the Taoiseach.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On my own behalf and on behalf of the Sinn Féin Deputies and our sole Member in the Upper House, Senator Doherty, I wish to extend our sympathy to the late Senator Kieran Phelan’s wife Mary, to his four daughters and son, and to all his extended family on what is quite clearly for them a terrible morning with news such as this presenting in such a sudden way.

I want to extend our sympathy to the Taoiseach, as a friend and colleague of the late Senator Phelan, and to the Fianna Fáil Party here in this House and in the Seanad, and indeed, to all the Members of the Upper House who have just lost a colleague in that tier of representation.

[383]At this point — I am sure we will have an opportunity again to pay tribute to the late Senator — I would like to join with colleagues in extending once more our sympathy to his grieving family at this time and to his colleagues in the Fianna Fáil Party.

Deputy Seán Fleming:  It is a very sad day. I want to join with the Taoiseach and other colleagues in expressing our shock at this stage and deep sympathy following the news this morning of Kieran’s sad death after a heart attack. I want especially to offer my condolences to his wife Mary, their son in Australia who has been contacted and their four daughters, and also to his mother who is still alive and hale and hearty — it is very hard for a mother to hear news like this — and the large extended family.

Kieran and I served together on Laois County Council from the same electoral area of Borris-in-Ossory. We worked exceptionally well on behalf of the area. There is a shock and a gloom around the Rathdowney and south Laois area in the past couple of hours since the word has spread. I have spoken to his brother, Brendan. His wife, Mary, is obviously distraught. I join with all other Members in our expressions of sympathy at this early stage. I will speak to the family at the first available opportunity.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  As an elected representative of the people of Laois-Offaly and a colleague of Senator Kieran Phelan, I wish to join with the Taoiseach is offering our condolences to his wife, Mary, his family and his brother, Brendan who is currently a member of Laois County Council. Like Deputy Fleming, I served with the late Senator Phelan as a member of Laois County Council and indeed on a number of local representative committees throughout County Laois. He was a kind, decent and generous man who looked after his constituents in an assiduous and dedicated way. I wish to join with the Taoiseach in his offer of condolences to the family. This is a sad day for the people of County Laois.

Deputy Olwyn Enright:  I wish to join with my colleagues and with the Taoiseach in sympathising with the late Senator Kieran Phelan’s family. There is shock and upset here in the House this morning at the news but it is nothing to the shock and upset that will be felt in the wider Rathdowney and Laois area. Unlike my colleagues, I did not have the opportunity of serving on Laois County Council with him but I served on the Midland Regional Authority. Kieran was always a very good-natured, friendly man and always had the interests of his own area at heart. I join in expressing my sympathy to his wife, Mary, his five children, his mother and his brother, Brendan and extended family.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On my own behalf and on behalf of all Members of the House, I wish to join with the expressions of sympathy to the Phelan family on the tragic death of Senator Kieran Phelan this morning.

Members rose.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are no proposals to be put to the House today. I call Deputy Kenny on the Order of Business.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I wish to raise a number of matters on the Order of Business. The Taoiseach and the leaders of other parties have received a letter from the sole member of the Moriarty tribunal. This tribunal was set up by the Oireachtas for a particular purpose. The letter from the sole member indicates he is considering the drafting of an interim report dealing with what is known as the money trail, although he has not made up his mind finally in this regard. In view of the fact that this is a matter of considerable interest to the Oireachtas, could [384]I suggest to the Taoiseach that he call a meeting of the leaders of the parties to consider a response to the letter? It might not be helpful if the leaders of the parties were to have differing responses, in view of the fact the Oireachtas agreed to set up the tribunal.

I note the House has about 18 sitting days left before it rises for the summer recess. Is it the intention of the Government to bring forward the legislation giving effect to an extension of the remit of the elected members of Údarás na Gaeltachta? Elections are due this year and if they are not going to be held, there will have to be an extension of responsibility given to the members. In that case, is it expected this legislation will be brought before the House before the summer recess?

I refer to a matter which I know is of considerable interest to that redoubtable Deputy from Tipperary, Deputy Mattie McGrath. There seems to be some confusion about the bringing forward of the wildlife Bill. The Minister, Deputy Gormley’s people seem to be very anxious to get this Bill through as quickly as possible while others do not. When is the wildlife Bill expected to stalk itself into the House or walk into the House, as the case may be?

In view of the announcement yesterday about the bringing forward of emergency legislation dealing with the number of children who have died in the care of the State, is the Taoiseach in a position to say that this legislation will be introduced during the next couple of weeks to give effect to the transmission of the documentation from the HSE to the review group?

Last week, the Tánaiste said she was of the view that a referendum on children’s rights should be a stand-alone issue. Has the Taoiseach had a report from the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs in the meantime as to the progress on producing the Bill and giving effect to a wording which would be put to the people? Is this work in progress and what progress has been made in the past fortnight?

The Taoiseach:  I brought this matter to the attention of the House last week and there has been no advance on last week with regard to that matter. It is still being considered and work is continuing. On the question of legislation being brought to the House, this was discussed at Leaders’ Questions. It is now being prepared as a matter of urgency. It will be considered by the Government for approval and brought to the House as soon as possible thereafter, in a matter of weeks.

The wildlife Bill has been published. It was discussed at our parliamentary party meeting and the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, will bring back some of the views. We all know the issues in the programme for Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, has heard the views of some of our parliamentary party members and he is reverting to the Minister with regard to those views.

The purpose of the Údarás na Gaeltachta ( Amendment) Bill, which is a short Bill, will be to increase the maximum interval between the elections and this Bill will be brought forward during this term in time for the elections.

We have received correspondence from the sole member of the tribunal, Mr. Justice Moriarty and this will be considered and discussed in due course.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  With regard to the correspondence we have received this morning from the sole member of the Moriarty tribunal, I welcome the fact that this letter has been sent to us. It arises from the suggestion that I made here on 11 May that the House might request Mr. Justice Moriarty to make an interim report to the House. While he draws a distinction between what would constitute an interim report I think he has set out for us some explanation as to why at least some of the delays in the working of the tribunal have taken place. He reminded us of the successive legal actions which were taken, including those by the late [385]Mr. Haughey, which have delayed the progress of the tribunal. He has said he is breaking the remaining matter into two separate reports, one dealing with the money trail and a second dealing with the other matters. He is suggesting he is considering issuing a separate earlier report on the money trail and a later report on the other matters.

A number of points in this letter will need to be considered. Deputy Kenny has suggested to the Taoiseach that there might be a meeting of party leaders to discuss the letter. This is a good suggestion and I recommend it to the Taoiseach. I also think there needs to be a means by which the House itself can consider the letter as it is a letter addressed to the House on the tribunal established by the House and we need some means of addressing it. I appreciate we have just received the letter this morning but it does have to be considered. It is not something we can just simply note and move on.

With regard to the legislation which the Government has promised to allow for the transfer of the files from the HSE to the Gibbons-Shannon investigation, the Taoiseach has said this legislation will be before the House in a matter of weeks. The problem is that the House will only sit for a matter of weeks before the summer recess. Is it the Government’s intention to have that legislation enacted so the investigation is not delayed further? If that legislation is not through before the summer recess, for example, the logic would be that these files cannot be transferred until the autumn and then there will be another delay. Or would the Taoiseach consider the suggestion that I made on Leaders’ Questions that the investigation might be established under the commission of investigations legislation, which would allow it to proceed?

May I ask the Taoiseach about the comments that were made by the Financial Services Ombudsman? The latter is seeking power to exercise discretion to identify financial institutions he is investigating where the public interest so requires. Will the Government consider agreeing to that request in the context of the Central Bank Bill, which is before the House?

The Taoiseach:  As regards the tribunal issues, I have brought to his attention and have at all times kept the member informed of any developments or issues that were being suggested here. I have conveyed that to the member in writing. As regards any further contact, I can keep Deputies informed in addition to whatever consideration I wish to give to the letter before us at the moment.

It is our intention to bring forward that legislation as a matter of urgency during this session and get it enacted before we rise. That is the intention. It is important that the legislation would be brought forward in that way, so we are seeking to achieve that as a matter of urgency.

As regards the Financial Services Ombudsman stating that he should have the power to name institutions where it is in the public interest, that matter has been notified to the Minister for Finance. The Department of Finance has been in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General and the Ombudsman to see in what way that issue can be progressed. The Office of the Attorney General has confirmed that primary legislation would be required if the decision was to proceed along those lines. The matter will have to be considered in more detail in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, following which the Minister can then consider the issues.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Yesterday, the Taoiseach indicated that he was willing to schedule statements and questions on the crisis in child protection. He said this would be facilitated to address the progress being made and the implementation of the recommendations in the Ryan and Monageer reports, as well as the recent report by the Ombudsman for Children. The value of the commitment was lost, however, when the Taoiseach said it would not happen next week or the week after.

[386]An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is drifting. There is a serious overrun on the Order of Business this morning.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  In light of the serious situation that has pertained for a considerable period, when the Taoiseach is ordering business will he allow time in the coming week to address these issues properly on the floor of the House? I ask him not to defer it all into the month of July, as seemed to be the sub-text of his answers yesterday. I am asking him to give that commitment.

On promised legislation, I note that on Monday the Minister of State with responsibility for children, Deputy Barry Andrews, indicated that legislation was not required to compel the release of the necessary information, including reports, to the inquiry team which has now been established concerning the deaths of children in the care of the State.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have detailed statements on inquiries about legislation.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am talking about promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I accept that, but the Deputy should confine his remarks to a brief framework.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I would ask the Ceann Comhairle to apply his rulings equitably. He constantly holds me to particular requirements and standards, but does not apply them to others in this House. That is in evidence every day in this Chamber. I will finish what I have started. Given the fact that the Taoiseach indicated yesterday that legislation would be required, is such legislation now being prepared? Given the seriousness of what is involved, will he ensure that this emergency legislation — as it must now be described — will be accommodated by setting aside other planned work in ordering the Dáil schedule over the coming weeks, so that the legislation can be brought before the House expeditiously and that we can deal with it effectively and speedily?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s co-operation is needed.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  As regards the information that gave rise to the difference of opinion between the Minister of State’s position on Monday and the Taoiseach’s views yesterday, was it the report of the Attorney General that indicated that legislation would now be necessary?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Why has it taken such a time for the Attorney General’s report to be received? If that is not the guidance and steer, will the Taoiseach explain why there is a difference of opinion?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have question time on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am asking about promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is far too much detail.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am asking why on one day this week we were told legislation was unnecessary, but the following day we were told that it was.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can pursue the matter some other way, but not on the Order of Business.

[387]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am trying to get an understanding of the genesis for the change in opinion and attitude by the Minister of State and the Taoiseach over a 24-hour period. Will the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to explain this to the House? Will he speed up the processing of that legislation for the reasons I have outlined? Will he accommodate an opportunity for Members of the House to address progress — although there is a question mark there — on the recommendations contained in a series of reports that I have already mentioned?

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

The Taoiseach:  I am happy to deal with any misrepresentations of the facts through the Deputy’s assertions. I have explained all morning that the Minister was notified of the HSE’s legal concerns on Monday. On Tuesday morning, the Government made a decision as to what would be required. On Tuesday afternoon, there was a meeting between the Attorney General’s office, the HSE and the Minister for Health and Children’s legal officials to decide what could be brought forward or passed in the absence of that in the meantime. There is no question of delay. The minute the matter was brought to our attention, we dealt with the issue.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The inquiry team had been set up.

The Taoiseach:  I am sorry but I have listened to the Deputy and I am now answering the questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputy Ó Caoláin.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is not entitled to interrupt other Deputies when he is getting an answer. He spent ten minutes asking the question and the minute I open my mouth to give an answer he has something to say about it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Not at all.

The Taoiseach:  If he wants factual information, but if he does not like what he is hearing he should take it up somewhere else. He cannot take it up here.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I can take it up here and that is what the Taoiseach does not like. I will continue to take it up here whether or not the Taoiseach likes it or, indeed, his front man in the Chair.

The Taoiseach:  He cannot do so because he is constantly interrupting.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  If the Taoiseach cannot answer----

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy does not have much graciousness.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Ó Caoláin, please.

The Taoiseach:  It is out of order to refer to the Ceann Comhairle in that way.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Taoiseach is not the Ceann Comhairle.

The Taoiseach:  I did not say I was. I am just bringing to the Deputy’s attention that what he had to say was discourteous. Luckily the Ceann Comhairle did not hear it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  If the Taoiseach would answer the questions we would not have these exchanges.

[388]The Taoiseach:  The Ceann Comhairle is a far better man in that position than the Deputy would be in any context, including football and politics. I can assure the Deputy of that. I will proceed with an answer.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am not going to be over-ruled by him.

The Taoiseach:  That is it. Sin é. There is absolutely no point in continuing.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Tá go maith. We will now move on to Deputy Ruairí Quinn.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, the Taoiseach does not have the facility to ignore a Deputy’s question. He is making snide remarks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is completely disorderly. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is what the Taoiseach resorts to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume his seat. He is spreading disorder in the Chamber. I call on Deputy Quinn.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Is it safe to get up?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Mind the crossfire.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  By my calculations we have about six weeks left before the House rises on 9 July. Under normal circumstances, a period of two weeks is given before a Bill is moved on Second Stage in the House. Against that background, when are we likely to see the legislation to provide a proper statutory basis for the community national school model, which is under the patronage of the Minister for Education and Skills? It has been promised for the past two years.

The Taoiseach:  I understand it is expected in two weeks.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Given the presence of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about the tens of thousands of people who are subject to management companies in terms of the homes they are purchasing. What is the position and does the Government have a timeline to bring the Multi-Unit Developments Bill back from the Seanad to complete it? Is there any hope for the tens of thousands of people who are mired in difficulty and must pay very high service charges? Developers are in liquidation and are living in Spain.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Bill is in the Seanad.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Developers are responsible for the management companies and the poor people who bought very expensive homes that are now in negative equity, who have 35 year and 40 year mortgages, have no recourse.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy. We cannot have detailed statements on inquiries about legislation.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is present.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I advise the Deputy that the Bill is in the Seanad. We are awaiting its arrival in this House.

[389]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It has been there for the past year.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Bill has been promised for seven years. Fianna Fáil is 13 years in power today. The Bill was promised by the former Taoiseach and the current Taoiseach.

An Ceann Comhairle:  If other Deputies are out of order on the Order of Business, Deputy Burton will be also if she continues along those lines.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Could the Taoiseach please give us a timeline of when the Bill might be completed in the Seanad and brought to this House? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is present. Does he have a timeline or a time plan for the legislation? People are in desperate situations. We have seen the television programmes about the ghost estates. They are all held by management companies.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please. Could the Taoiseach clarify the position on the legislation?

The Taoiseach:  I understand Report Stage of the Bill will be taken in the Seanad next week. Redrafting of the Bill in many respects has taken place on foot of the good suggestions that were made in the Seanad and elsewhere to try to ensure we get the legislation right. Having progressed in the Seanad the Bill will come into the House as soon as possible. I do not know whether it will be possible to get beyond Second Stage before the term ends. We are all anxious to move the Bill along as quickly as possible.

Deputy James Reilly:  I wish to inquire about a number of pieces of legislation. The Taoiseach has clarified today that he had a meeting yesterday with the Attorney General but there appears to be confusion. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, told us there was no planned legislation but the Taoiseach told us today there would be.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Reilly.

Deputy James Reilly:  I wish to inquire on this important matter which has already been raised by Deputy Gilmore. Deputy Shatter raised the problem in March 2009.

An Ceann Comhairle:  On the Order of Business inquiries about legislation do not provide for long dissertations on the matter.

Deputy James Reilly:  I would be much shorter if I was not interrupted.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy would not be interrupted if he was in order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I urge Deputy Reilly to bring his contribution to a conclusionsoon.

Deputy James Reilly:  I will. I wish to ask the Taoiseach when the legislation will come before the House. Is it really credible that the Health Service Executive, renowned for being full of bean counters, cannot tell us how many children are in its care or have died in its care?

The second question is on Loughloe House which I visited only two days ago. I met a gentleman with the same name as myself who is so stressed out through being coerced into moving out of that institution that he is now in hospital with a serious medical condition.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not an inquiry about legislation.

[390]Deputy James Reilly:  I am inquiring about the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill and whether patients will be protected under the legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are going to find out when the legislation will materialise.

Deputy James Reilly:  If patients do not wish to leave what they consider to be their home, will they be harangued and harassed into ill health in order to remove them?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Reilly. I call on the Taoiseach to respond on promised legislation.

The Taoiseach:  There is no date for the second piece of legislation on which the Deputy inquired. The first piece of legislation is being drafted as a matter of urgency and it should be in the House this session.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  You will be glad, a Cheann Comhairle, to hear that I will be very orderly this morning.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  You always are.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I will not go over the points raised previously other than to ask in the context of the issue raised by all the party leaders and by Deputy Reilly whether the Taoiseach can indicate who in the HSE raised in the first instance the question of legal difficulty in terms of the release of information.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan, we cannot have a debate about promised legislation on the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This will only take a second. It is a simple question. It is relative to the points raised on the Order of Business already and to yesterday’s Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is merely prolonging the debate on the issue.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I would have finished by now if you had not interrupted me. The next part of the question is whether the Taoiseach has been given that information. Were the deaths of the children who died while in care published in the national newspapers at the time? If so, why is there such a difficulty in releasing the information now?

An Ceann Comhairle:  All these questions would be much more appropriate to the line Minister.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  All right.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  The line Minister does not answer questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is totally inappropriate for the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Minister is very reluctant to answer questions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a full-scale debate.

The Taoiseach:  Members are getting away with murder.

[391]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Is it not true that all the information requested has already been compiled and collated within the Health Service Executive going back for as long as is necessary?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call the Taoiseach to reply to the question on promised legislation.

The Taoiseach:  The promised legislation will be in the House in two weeks.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  That is not an answer.

The Taoiseach:  The question was not in order.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A Cheann Comhairle, hold on a second——

The Taoiseach:  Hold on.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please. We cannot have Question Time on the Order of Business. The Deputy is a long time in this House and he knows its rules.

The Taoiseach:  Exactly.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is an issue that affects us all.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We fully accept that but there are other ways of raising it.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  What other ways?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The matter can be raised with the line Minister.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The line Minister does not answer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is entirely inappropriate for the Order of Business. Deputy Durkan should resume his seat please.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A Cheann Comhairle——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is now 12.30 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business. I call on Deputy Durkan to please resume his seat.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am sorry that your attitude——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan is spreading disorder in the House.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is either a House of Parliament or it is not.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It certainly is, but we have Standing Orders.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Let us have information.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The House must be run on the basis of Standing Orders which should be respected.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The information is available——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan should resume his seat, please.

[392]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is the same old story. You need to look at that yourself, a Cheann Comhairle.

Deputy James Bannon:  I note that the publication of the geothermal energy Bill is expected in 2010. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether it is still on course and if it will be taken before the summer recess?

The Taoiseach:  I understand the earliest the Bill will be ready is later in the year.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  Ms Kathleen O’Toole, the head of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate, was reported in the newspaper the other day as saying that the role of Garda Reserve members needed to be expanded. It appears that many members of the Garda Reserve are applying for jobs with the PSNI because of the recruitment embargo in the Garda Síochána. That is one of her suggestions. Does the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform have legislation planned in that regard?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is legislation promised?

The Taoiseach:  No legislation is promised.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  On the issue that was previously raised and the legislation to facilitate the Health Service Executive to provide documentation to the review group, what consideration has been taken to ensure the matter is finally addressed correctly? What consideration is being given in the context of the promised legislation to giving a statutory function to the review group that has been formed to investigate the number of child deaths in care? Has consideration been given to the fact that if information is finally furnished by the Health Service Executive that requires the two individuals, Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons, to conduct inquiries about it, they have no statutory powers and they cannot compel any additional information to come from the Health Service Executive? They cannot require people within a managerial position nor social workers working within the Health Service Executive to clarify anything contained in documents they receive. This inquiry is going to run into obvious difficulty.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on the matter at this stage. Deputy Shatter should be asking a question.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  What I am asking, Sir, is in the context of the legislation that has been promised — the Taoiseach has truthfully told the House that until Monday of this week he was given no indication, nor was the Government given any indication — that there was a difficulty on the part of the Health Service Executive in co-operating with this group. We now know that the Government will be alerting staff on Monday——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to find a different time to raise this matter, not on the Order of Business.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I wish to signpost the Taoiseach that other difficulties will arise. If we are going to get to the root of what occurred, which has resulted in an unspecified number of children dying in care, there will be a necessity to give Norah Gibbons and Geoffrey Shannon a statutory role to ensure that further inquiries they need to make are responded to and we get to the bottom of what has occurred, namely, the scandal within our child care system. Instead of us dealing with this on a piecemeal basis, would the Taoiseach please take this matter back to Government——

[393]An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, we will be teasing out this issue in the House in two weeks.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——because it is quite clear that when Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons were appointed no thought was given to what difficulties——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——might be encountered by them in carrying out the functions——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should please resume his seat.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——with which they have been bestowed?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have been teasing out this issue for weeks here.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  Quite clearly, when Mr. Shannon and Ms Gibbons were appointed, no thought was given to the difficulties they might encounter in carrying out the functions bestowed on them.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is correct.

The Taoiseach:  As I have said, I cannot get into the detail of the legislation now being prepared. I remind the House that the review group has been asked to examine existing information on all deaths of children in care over the past ten years. It will produce an overall report for publication which includes, on an anonymised basis, key summary information regarding each child and the circumstances leading up to his or her death. That is what the review group has been asked to do. We will ensure that amending legislation gives a legal basis to the exchange of information between the HSE and the Department, the sharing of which might otherwise be legally restricted. We will ensure that all the necessary information is available to the review group, so that those who have been asked to carry out this task can do so in a manner that is fit for purpose.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The important thing is——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot debate this matter on the Order of Business.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I am trying to be helpful, rather than obstructive. The important thing is that the review group gets the information.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The inquiry arising from that information needs to get the co-operation of those in managerial positions in the HSE and the social workers who have been involved in individual cases.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Broughan on the Order of Business.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  That is the gap. That is the lacuna that has to be addressed.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I have two brief questions for the Taoiseach. The State Airports Act 2004, which provides for the separation of Cork, Shannon and Dublin airports, has not been implemented. Is it intended that the Act will be implemented? Is new legislation needed in that regard? Will Aer Rianta, which still exists, be restored?

[394]I am a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, which is currently beginning an investigation into the failures of the Department of Finance, the Financial Regulator and the Central Bank in the period from 2002 to 2010. I wonder if the Taoiseach would be available to attend, or interested in attending, a meeting of the committee to brief members on his period as Minister for Finance?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have an inquiry about promised legislation?

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  Is the Taoiseach interested in briefing the committee on the events of that era?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is a great idea.

The Taoiseach:  I look forward to the opportunity.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  If the Taoiseach wants to come down to the committee, he will be very welcome.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a very good idea.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Broughan is sharpening his knives.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I thank the Taoiseach’s office for getting back to me last week on the Adoption Bill 2009. The information was appreciated. On March 22 last, the Minister for Foreign Affairs indicated that he intended to do everything possible to deal with the 40,000 unprocessed passport applications in Molesworth Street.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is entirely inappropriate to the Order of Business.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I will be brief.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is an important issue, but there are other ways of raising it.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I will be succinct.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It should not be raised on the Order of Business.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  As of today——

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, I cannot allow it.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  This is a matter for the Department of Foreign Affairs.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I cannot allow this.

The Taoiseach:  No respect.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  There are 63,000 unprocessed applications in Molesworth Street.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I need to know——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should submit a question to the Minister.

[395]Deputy Joe McHugh:  Those who are about to apply for a passport——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  What does the Minister for Foreign Affairs intend to do? Will he speak to the CPSU? Will he provide additional staff?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, will you resume your seat?

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Will he provide overtime? What will he do about the 23,000 extra unprocessed passports?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is being succinct.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  We are coming into the summer. People are going on their holidays and travelling for commercial reasons.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other ways of raising the matter.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  This morning, a man who was going to Abu Dhabi was turned away.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will be asked to leave the House if he does not resume his seat.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  He was going to Abu Dhabi on business, but he was turned away.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Resume your seat, please.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  There are 63,000 unprocessed applications.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, will you resume your seat?

Deputy Joe McHugh:  A Cheann Comhairle, I am sure you will be going on holiday this summer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am going to ask you to leave the House unless you resume your seat.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I am not leaving. I want to get my message through to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I want to warn those who may be going on holiday this summer that they might not be able to get their passports.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is being disorderly. I ask him to resume his seat.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Even the Taoiseach might want to go on holidays.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  We might as well leave the House open because nobody will be going on any holidays this summer.

The Taoiseach:  So much for succinctness.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is a holiday home.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Passports must be provided.

[396]The Taoiseach:  Dún na nGall.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  The only way the Government can keep people in the country is by stopping them from getting passports.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I think my question relates to the previous issue in some ways. Many people use sunbeds before they go on holidays, to get what they call a base for their tan.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sunbeds are not appropriate to the Order of Business.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I am asking about promised legislation.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  If one goes out an a bog, one will get plenty of sun.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  There is a promise to introduce legislation to control the use of sunbeds and to ban their use by people under the age of 18. Can the Taoiseach tell the House when that legislation will be introduced? Will it be in the House before the summer? It has been proven that sunbeds can cause serious damage, including skin cancer.

The Taoiseach:  There is no date for that legislation at the moment.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Can I raise a second issue? Many other Deputies have spoken about the Government’s belief that special legislation is needed to transfer files to the relevant people, with regard to the number of children who have died in care.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please. We are into serious repetition yet again.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We all want the legislation to be expedited as quickly as possible. The Child Care (Amendment) Bill 2009 is due to come to this Chamber from the Seanad.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have been discussing the introduction of legislation to deal with this general area all morning.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The legislation to which I refer will come here from the Seanad. It might be more expeditious to amend that legislation to provide for what the Government believes is needed. The Bill in question has been passed by the Seanad and is due to come before this House. We all want this legislation to be introduced as quickly as possible. I wonder if the Bill in question could operate as a vehicle to enable the Government to do what it considers necessary, so the entire community can find out how many children died in care and why they died.

The Taoiseach:  We will give consideration to all of these matters and avail of the quickest way of doing it.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Taoiseach’s enthusiasm is really encouraging.

The Taoiseach:  I have been here for two hours.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  On a point of order, I am curious to know why this Bill is being dealt with by the Minister of State with responsibility for older people. She must be busy, in light of [397]recent events. Having watched “Prime Time Investigates” on Monday night, it is obvious that she has a job of her own to do. I would be interested to know why a Minister or Minister of State from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation is not present to deal with the Competition (Amendment) Bill 2010.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  It is obvious that the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, is here in substitution for the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary.

Deputy Áine Brady:  I am here in substitution for the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Yes. It is very strange. We have not seen the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, during the course of this Bill. He was not present for Second Stage or Committee Stage. The Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, dealt with it at one point. I do not think we have seen the Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, at all. There are many Ministers and Ministers of State in the Department. I do not understand how they could all be unavailable. Why is this legislation being dealt with by a Minister of State from the Department of Health and Children? I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  As it is not a matter for the Chair, we will have to move on to Report Stage.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  It seems to me that it is quite disrespectful to the House that a Minister of State from a different Department has been asked to deal with this legislation. We have not been given a proper explanation of why the relevant Cabinet Minister, or one of the two or three Ministers of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, cannot be here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  I am sure that will be noted.

Deputy Áine Brady:  I can inform the House that the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is in Brussels; the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, is in Poland; and the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, is unavailable today. The Minister of State, Deputy Calleary, was due to take this Bill. Unfortunately, he was with Senator Kieran Phelan this morning so I was asked to substitute for him. I would like to express my sympathy to the family of the late Senator Phelan.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following:

“2.—The Principal Act is amended by the substitution of the following for section 35:

“35.—(1) The Membership of the Authority shall consist of—

(a) a Chairperson and such number of other whole-time members, not being less than 2 or more than 4, as the Minister determines and appoints (but that limitation does not affect an appointment under paragraph (b)),

(b) in any case where it appears to the Minister that a member referred to in paragraph (a) is temporarily unable to discharge his or her duties, a whole-time member [398]appointed by the Minister, for all or part of that period of inability, to act in that member’s place,

(c) an appointment made pursuant to paragraph (b) shall not exceed 6 months and the Minister shall cause the vacancy which arises under paragraph (b) to be advertised and appointed in accordance with subsection (2),

(d) such other number of part-time members as the Minister may determine and appoint in accordance with subsections (2) and (9).

(2) The members of the Authority shall be appointed in the following manner:

(a) Where a vacancy arises in the membership of the Authority, the Minister shall submit the names of 7 people to the Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment (which shall be referred to in this section as “the Committee”).

(b) The Minister shall not submit the name of any person who, in the opinion of the Minister, does not possess sufficient expertise in one or more of the following areas, namely competition law or policy, consumer law or policy or utility regulation.

(c) A person to whom paragraph (a) applies shall, on the request of the Committee, give evidence to that Committee on—

(i) his or her suitability for appointment to the position of member of the Competition Authority,

(ii) his or her qualifications for appointment to the position of member of the Competition Authority,

(iii) such other matters pertaining only to the appointment of a member of the Competition Authority.

(d) The Committee shall be required to confirm or decline the nomination of a person under paragraph (a) to the Minister within 7 days of the evidence under paragraph (c) having been completed.

(e) Where the Committee confirms the nomination of a person under paragraph (d) the Minister shall order their appointment by resolution of Dáil Éireann.

(f) Where the Committee declines the nomination of a person under paragraph (d), it shall be required to state to the Minister the reasons for its decision in subsequent private session of the Committee, where requested by the Minister.

(g) Where the Committee declines the nomination of a person under paragraph (d), the Minister shall nominate two persons, who have not already been nominated under this section, for consideration in respect of each outstanding vacancy.

(h) Where the Committee declines the nomination of a person under paragraph (d), and the Minister makes a submission under paragraph (g), the Committee may invoke its powers under paragraph (c) in respect of the alternative nominees.

(i) Where the Committee declines the nomination of a person under paragraph (d), and the Minister makes a submission under paragraph (g), the Committee shall be [399]required to make a recommendation from the alternative candidates submitted under paragraph (g) to fill the remaining vacancies on the Competition Authority.

(j) The Chairperson of the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment shall, with the approval of that Committee, nominate one of the appointed members as Chairperson of the Competition Authority.

(3) Notwithstanding any other act or provision, a person who is a civil servant is not eligible for any appointment to the Authority.

(4) If a person, who is at the time of their appointment to any vacancy to which this section applies a member of staff of the Authority, they shall immediately resign their position as a member of staff of the Authority on appointment under this section.

(5) The term of office of a member of the Authority shall be a period of five years.

(6) An outgoing member of the Authority shall be eligible for reappointment, but shall not be reappointed more than once in any circumstances.

(7) Each member of the Authority shall hold office on such conditions as may be fixed by the Minister after consultation with the Minister for Finance. The Minister shall notify the Committee of such conditions in advance of the appointment being made under subsection (2).

(8) Each member of the Authority may be paid such remuneration, if any, as the Minister with the consent of the Minister for Finance, determines. The Minister shall notify the Committee of such remuneration in advance of the appointment being made under subsection (2).

(9) Sections 15 and 17 of the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956, shall apply, with any necessary modifications, in relation to appointments of members of the Authority as they apply in relation to appointments to positions in the civil service and, accordingly, the Minister shall not appoint a person to be such a member unless the Civil Service Commissioners, after holding a competition under that section 15, have, under that section 17, selected the person for appointment and advised the Minister accordingly.

(10) Subject to subsection (9), the Civil Service Commissioners Act, 1956, and the Civil Service Regulation Acts, 1956 and 1958, shall not apply to the office of a member.

(11) If a member of the Authority is personally interested in a particular matter with which the Authority is dealing, he or she shall inform the Minister accordingly and shall not act as a member during the consideration of the matter.

(12) (a) The Minister may remove from office a member of the Authority who has become incapable through ill-health of performing efficiently his or her duties as such member or whose removal appears to the Minister to be necessary in the interests of the effective and economical performance of the functions of the Authority.

(b) The Minister may not exercise his power under paragraph (a) unless he or she has received approval for such action from the Committee.

(c) Where the Minister removes a member of the Authority from office, he or she shall lay before each House of the Oireachtas a statement in writing of the reasons for such removal.

[400]

(13) A member of the Authority may resign his or her office.”.”.

This amendment, which was discussed on Committee Stage, relates to the proper Oireachtas scrutiny of appointments to the Competition Authority. The Minister of State, Deputy Áine Brady, may be aware that this Bill is necessary to fill some vacancies that have arisen on the Competition Authority. These are ordinarily filled through competition but, for various reasons, it is not possible to fill them in the ordinary way on this occasion. The appointments will be made by the Minister. It is very much a retrograde step that we are going back to direct ministerial appointments rather than a competition. My party believes that the appointments which are made by the Minister should initially be scrutinised by an Oireachtas committee.

If the committee does not accept any of the nominations for a legitimate reason, the Minister can then make two alternatives and the committee can choose from the two.

We have seen some progress in this regard. The positions on the FÁS board were advertised while there was some committee scrutiny of appointments to the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. This is the first example, however, of the Government going backwards, moving away from a competition to ministerial appointment and not allowing any scrutiny of it.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  This was argued for some time on Committee Stage. While it is no use going back over old ground, it is important the principle of Deputy Leo Varadkar’s amendment is recognised by the Government. There is a half toe in the door, so to speak, regarding appointments to the boards of FÁS and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. While this should not be construed as over significant in scrutinising appointments, at least there was an implicit acknowledgement that this was the way to advance in this area.

The proposed scrutiny would not be a prurient charter to investigate into or invigilate upon an appointee’s background or activities. It would examine his or her qualifications and competence to do a particular job. Any news headline information regarding a person’s activities outside their qualifications or competences to function as board members as laid down in the legislation would be of no interest to a committee.

If four board members were to be appointed, it would make sense that seven to ten candidates would be put forward. As the legislation requires the board to cover many professional fields, it should be anticipated that there may be a significant number of candidates with professional experience in competition law. From an economic viewpoint, competition law is important in areas such as mergers and acquisitions. It is important, therefore, the agency’s board comprises members who have the professional background to deal with what is in effect an onerous job.

The Minister of State has indicated she will not accept this amendment. However, the amendment’s principle should be kept in mind. The recent appointments to the FÁS board were a first step in this direction and one which we would advocate building upon for the future.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I support the principle of Deputy Leo Varadkar’s amendment. It is clear there is no glasnost in this area and certainly no Gorbachev to give leadership and open the doors to let some light into the process. As stated on Committee Stage, we are not looking for an interrogation or inquisition but some level of openness where questions can be aired in public, the questions that members of the public who send us to the Oireachtas would like us to ask. It would be a straightforward interview process.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  The Bill is addressing a specific issue that has arisen. Its purpose is to allow the Minister for Enterprise, [401]Trade and Innovation to fill immediate vacancies in the Competition Authority for the duration of the period when the Public Appointments Service competition is being held. Upcoming vacancies would have the effect of reducing membership of the authority below the statutory minimum requirement and impede its proper functioning.

The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is concerned that an improperly constituted authority would be unable to fulfil its statutory obligations and any decisions made by members in such circumstances would be open to legal challenge. Of particular concern are the functions specifically reserved by statute to the authority acting as a decision-making collective body. As he stated on Second Stage, and acknowledged by the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on Committee Stage, the Minister must ensure the authority can function with the requisite statutory membership for the duration of the period when the Public Appointments Service competition is being held. To ensure the persons appointed are suitable for the positions, the Bill, as drafted, provides that appointees to these temporary positions must, in the opinion of the Minister, possess sufficient expertise in or experience of at least law, economics, public administration, consumer affairs or business generally.

The amendment, proposing adding an Oireachtas scrutiny phase, would result in an additional new layer to the selection process and would have the potential to delay the temporary appointments, leaving any decisions made by the authority’s members in such circumstances open to legal challenge.

The Minister intends bringing the draft heads of the consumer and competition Bill to the Government in the forthcoming weeks for approval. The Bill is expected to be published in the autumn and will cater for the merging of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, including its structure. The amendment, therefore, is premature in that context.

For the reasons outlined, I will not accept the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  Amendments Nos. 2 to 4, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 18, to delete “appoint” and substitute “nominate”.

The purpose of this amendment is to have the Minister nominate rather than appoint directors to the authority. This is appropriate as it facilitates the Minister’s say in making an appointment and the nomination can then be interviewed by the Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment. This would not be an interrogation or inquisition but a reasonable question and answer session between the elected representatives of the people and the interviewee. It is worth reiterating that there would be no need to infringe on any personal matters relating to the appointee. It would deal strictly with the competency, or otherwise, of the interviewee to carry out his or her functions in the authority.

This process for the Competition Authority would be a road-test for other public appointments. It is important to remember these appointments would be public interest directors, for want of a better term. The term arose from the Minister for Finance’s appointments to the various banks’ boards to supposedly represent public interest. Some questions arise as to whether this was effective. At least one of those directors in the case of Anglo Irish Bank signed off on the bank’s 2008 accounts in February 2009 which showed a profit of €784 million when months later it was revealed it had lost €12.7 billion.

[402]We need to ensure errors such as this do not happen again. Qualified and all as these appointees may be, there must be a question and answer session which will allow the Oireachtas Members, the representatives of the people of this State, to establish whether they have some level of competency and are willing to exercise it.

This would be an imminently fair and reasonable process, not an interrogation. The Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment would be suitable for such a process because under the stewardship of Deputy Willie Penrose and its broad membership it tends to be the least party political of the committees. The committee is very reasonable when it arrives at conclusions and, I believe, at all times it puts the greater good to the fore. On that basis, I call on the Minister of State to take this on board and disregard the notes she was given, which were clearly signed off by the senior Minister in the Department, and opt for the greater good in this instance and accept the amendments.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Minister of State could make history.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  I broadly support Deputy Morgan’s amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4. They are inter-related amendments in any event. I refer to the Competition Act. Competition is important in terms of the consumer and we all advocate the concept to ensure no cartels or concerted practices evolve in respect of business interests which could be detrimental to consumer interests. Nevertheless, one could have a person appointed who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing and, very often, that is what takes place. If everything in the country were reduced to bottom-line economics where profit is the only thing that matters, then the social and utility values of various matters would be disregarded and the country would be headed to a serious pass.

This is what happened with section 4 of the Competition Act 2002. We took umbrage at the section and it was a major source of disappointment that an amendment was not included in this Bill to address section 4 of the Competition Act 2002. Section 4 gave rise to consequences which were clearly unintended from the perspective of actors, musicians, artists and people deemed to be undertakings for the purpose of that Act. In that case, the Competition Authority was acting on foot of the board’s recommendations and that should not be the case. Someone must have made a recommendation. The director general or chairperson of the Competition Authority must have made a recommendation to the effect that the authority should go to court in respect of Equity, the actors union, at that time and argue that the union had no right to represent freelance actors.

There are some 5,500 of such people, including freelance journalists, actors and others. I believe an attempt was made to undermine their right to collective representation and to sweep the union aside in the name of competition according to that interpretation.

An amendment of section 4 of the Competition Act has been promised. As the Minister of State indicated, the proposed legislation will be a belt, braces and all embracing tranches of legislation. Why does the Competition Authority insist that artists, freelance journalists, musicians and others who, because of the nature of their occupation, do not enjoy collegiate employment are classified as undertakings and denied the right to be represented by a trade union? What was the ideological imperative that drove this agenda? Such questions are important. All these matters can be fleshed out in the context of Deputy Morgan’s contribution. This is about the views people hold. We are not in favour of the all-American approach either but, nevertheless, when appointments are being made sometimes the public there is very aware of the perspective and views held, articulated, promoted and promulgated by particular people [403]who are to be appointed. In the case of members of the US Judiciary and various other bodies, those appointed must go before a representative body.

I am the chairperson of the Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Cyprian Brady, is the Vice Chairman of that committee. I can honestly state that neither Deputy Brady nor myself have ever taken a partisan approach on that committee while in the Chair. We would never allow it to happen because everyone has a view but, ultimately, we try to distil it down to a collective view which represents the best of everything. We all share that objective. We may have different ways of trying to get to the objective but we are all trying to help people, especially in the employment area. The Competition Act has an important role to play in this overall area. We acknowledge the Competition Authority has a very important role but I seek to ensure some of the past decisions taken by the Competition Authority are never again taken in the future.

Deputy Áine Brady:  As I have already stated to Deputy Varadkar, the intent behind this targeted and focused Bill is to deal with a specific issue which has arisen, that is, to allow the Minister to fill immediate vacancies in the Competition Authority for the duration of the period while the Public Appointments Service completion is being held. Upcoming vacancies would have the effect of reducing membership of the authority to below the statutory minimum requirement and would impede the proper functioning of the authority. The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is concerned that an improperly constituted authority would be unable to fulfil its statutory obligations and that any decisions made by members in such circumstances could be open to legal challenge. Of particular concern are those functions specifically reserved by statute for the authority acting as a collective decision-making body.

However, it is important to understand that the temporary appointments provided for in the Bill are not appointments to the board of a public body. The Competition Authority does not have an external board. Rather it has members appointed pursuant to section 35 of the Competition Act 2002 following a Public Appointments Service competition. Given the potential consequences of a move to an Oireachtas scrutiny model for the appointment of members to a State body, it would be more appropriate, on the grounds of good governance, fairness, equity and transparency, that such proposals and any structures put in place are proposed for consideration in terms of their universal application for appointments in all State bodies. The concept should be properly researched and debated to determine if it is an appropriate model.

Deputy Penrose raised the issue of the Towards 2016 commitment in respect of certain classes of vulnerable workers, including voice-over actors, freelance journalists and session musicians, as well as the issue of exemptions from competition law for certain professions. This issue is being considered in the context of developing the consumer and competition Bill, which, it is hoped, will be published later this year. In all cases, any such exemption would have to be consistent with EU competition law. Therefore, I am unable to accept the proposed amendments.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  Is amendment No. 2 being pressed?

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I wish first to reply to the Minister of State. I fully understand why the Minister of State, who was probably asked at very short notice, would rely on the notes given by officials and I have no qualms with that. However, the reply appears to have been constructed by someone swotting over and trying to find gaps or a comma missing in the legislation and to come up with some excuse why the Department could not accept this level of public scrutiny for nominees or appointees. It is grasping at straws to suggest the proposal might not be legal and one could say that about anything. It would be perfectly legal if the [404]House adopted it as would the Fine Gael amendments. They would be within the bounds of the House were there a decision made to accept them.

The previous Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, stated on Committee Stage that at least he would be keen to vigorously contest the Competition Authority. I am keen for the Minister of State to vigorously contest it because the experience to date has been that the Competition Authority has some flaws. It is satisfied to go after the smaller fish while allowing the bigger people to swim freely. That is grossly unfair.

  1 o’clock

Our committee has spent significant amounts of time examining the retail sector. One British-based operation in particular seems to get away with riding a coach and ten through the legislation but the Competition Authority has not gone after that retailer. I do not say as much because it is British-based and I hold anti-British sentiment, but I say so objectively and that is the observation I have made in respect of our examination of the retail sector as a committee and vis-à-vis the Competition Authority’s unenthusiastic pursuit of that sector and some of the larger cartels we would have preferred it to go after.

I do not see much point in delaying the business of the House and I am aware from the Order of Business that there are a substantial number of pressing matters, not least the issue of children’s reports and the allocation of time to discuss those matters. I am not going to delay the House unnecessarily on the issue. I hold a very strong view on it but I also recognise that the Department and the Minister are not for turning in respect of these amendments. That is a huge missed opportunity for the Government to offer some kind of transparency and accountability in these matters. I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, with drawn.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:

“(c) The nominees of the Minister for appointment or reappointment to the Authority shall appear before the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee.

(d) A person to whom paragraph (a) applies shall, on the request of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, give evidence to the Committee on—

(i) his or her suitability for appointment to the position of member of the Authority,

(ii) his or her qualifications for appointment to the position of member of the Authority.

(e) Where the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation approves the nomination of a person under paragraph (c) the Minister shall order their appointment by resolution of Dáil Éireann.

(f) The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Innovation shall, for the purposes of making recommendations to the Minister under this section and making recommendation in respect of any casual vacancies or other vacancies as they arise on the Authority to keep the membership of the Authority at the statutory minimum requirement, may establish a panel, for such duration, and consisting of such number of persons as the Joint Oireachtas Committee thinks proper.

[405]

(g) Persons placed on a panel established under paragraph (f) shall have experience of, and expertise in matters connected with:

(i) the functions of the Authority, and/or

(ii) law, economics, public administration, consumer affairs, or business generally.

(h) The Joint Oireachtas Committee shall have joint responsibility with the Minister for the selection and placing of candidates on a panel established under paragraph (f).”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 10, after “Minister” to insert “and the relevant Joint Oireachtas Committee”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Bill reported without amendment and received for final consideration.

Question proposed: “That the Bill do now pass.”

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  It is important that this Bill be passed by the Oireachtas without undue delay so as to allow the Minister appoint members to the Competition Authority in sufficient time to address a reduction in membership levels below the statutory minimum requirement. I know the Minister is concerned that an improperly constituted authority would be unable to fulfil its statutory obligations and that any decision made would be open to legal challenge.

The Bill has a very specific purpose, as has been outlined. As indicated by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, on Committee Stage and again today, the Minister for Social Protection intends to bring a new and comprehensive consumer and competition Bill to Government for publication in the autumn. The issues raised by Deputies Varadkar, Penrose and Morgan in the course of the debate of this Bill will be considered in that context. That Bill will, among other issues, cater for the merging of the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority and so, the amendments proposed again today are, perhaps, premature in that context.

Following publication of that Bill, Members will have the opportunity to make their views known and consideration will be given to such views at that stage.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Notwithstanding the reservations we have about Oireachtas scrutiny, section 4 and some other matters related to the qualifications of the appointed members, we accept the necessity for the Bill. This is precisely because of the risk that decisions made by the Competition Authority could be challenged in the courts if these appointments are not made.

On that basis, we do not oppose the Bill. However, we look forward to a detailed, long and interesting discussion with, I hope, the relevant Minister when the full Bill is brought to the Dáil.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  This Bill tries to balance the obvious desire of the public to contribute to charity and to individual beggars with public order. Giving to charity is a feature of Irish life. All surveys find that Irish people like to give alms. I understand that more than 30% of the Irish population still do so. The aim of the Bill is to ensure, following the Dillon judgment, that we preserve freedom of speech and the freedoms to come and go, to integrate with the public and to congregate. It will aims to prevent members of the public from being intimidated, bullied or frightened and businesses from being interfered with unnecessarily.

Many shopkeepers and business owners have said to me, particularly in the last four or five years, that they find it an impediment to have people begging on or outside their premises. In most cases this does not cause huge annoyance but sometimes persistent begging can become acute. A certain boldness is coming into the procedure and it is interfering with businesses. This is one of the reasons why the Bill is necessary, although I have big issues with the other end of the Bill, which I will deal with presently.

In New York a number of years ago, there was a proposal to, as they said, clean out the streets. It appears to have worked extremely well. The briefing material we received for this Bill says the city of New York is having a rethink of that measure, but at that time there seems to have been a clean sweep, on the basis that people who are begging should not do so on the public thoroughfare and in places where the public congregate.

Another aspect of begging is the unasked for attention of people who offer, for example, to wash one’s car windscreen. Will this legislation apply to such people? Let us consider a woman with a car full of children who, on stopping at a traffic light, finds someone wiping her windscreen, which she did not ask him to do and which she does not want. This can be quite a problem for people. Will the Bill relate to that problem?

All over the country, and particularly in the cities and towns, beggars hang around ATM machines, banks and post offices. This is fine if the beggar is well known as someone local. There are some places where we expect to find a certain person begging and we know he or she will not intimidate anyone. The public have no problem with a character of that sort. I am sure some Members have been to Shop Street in Galway on a lovely summer day. I always see a man there, who is supposed to be blind, playing his accordion. He has a bowl to collect money and is clearly begging. I hope the legislation will not mean he would have to be moved on, because people like to see him there. He adds to the ambience of the street on a summer day in Galway city. There are such people everywhere but he is the one who comes to my mind. I hope the law, and the enforcement of the law, will distinguish between the person who is acting the maggot on a supermarket campus, creating trouble and interfering with shoppers and someone who is providing a bit of music and gathering a few euro for himself. I hope that distinction can be made in the legislation. I assume the gardaí, who will implement the legislation, will have the good sense to know that anyway. I am sure they will.

The Bill does not interfere with charities doing their normal work under regulation and licence. This is an important aspect of the legislation. When the Minister introduced the Bill, he assured the House that it would not interfere with legitimate charities. I suspect that many charities will welcome parts of the legislation because uncontrolled begging can interfere with their fund-raising.

Begging rings that include children were mentioned to me on a number of occasions although I have no personal information on them. It was suggested to me that there are people using children to beg in an organised fashion as part of begging rings, not only in Dublin but also in [407]bigger provincial towns. I am not sure whether this Bill extends to this activity or whether it can be included at a later stage if enough information materialises. If the Minister has received evidence of it through the Garda, it would be best to examine it. The activity could create havoc if let run wild.

We all know the question of begging has arisen for generations and I will not delay the House by referring to Famine times; suffice it to say begging takes many different forms and changes from generation to generation. When I was a lot younger, the only people I ever saw begging in rural County Galway were what we call the Travellers or tinkers. That is what they did. I remember them coming to our house on several occasions. Every household in our townland, including my mother’s, was only too delighted to give them something. However, that is not the kind of activity we are talking about in respect of this Bill. The kind of begging that occurred in the past has not featured for many years and the Travellers do not engage in it at all today.

I suspect that, over the past five or ten years, a more aggressive type of begging has been taking place. Some assume those responsible are all foreign nationals but this is not the case based on the people I see involved in my town. The begging is more aggressive than it used to be and there is a certain element of intimidation.

I am sure the Minister is well aware, and perhaps more aware than me, that legislation will not work unless there are penalties for non-compliance. While we fully accept that concept, we must consider the kinds of people most likely to engage in begging. Some are homeless for various reasons, sometimes because they have been kicked out of their houses. Some are on drugs or drink, or a combination of both, and some have mental health problems.

My problem is that some of the penalties listed in the Bill include fines as high as €400, or a month in prison. The people I have referred to are the most likely to be sent to prison. The one point of which one can be sure is that they are unlikely to have €400 if fined to this extent. I am not sure that putting them in prison in Castlerea, Limerick, Mountjoy or elsewhere will solve any problem at all. In fact, it will create more problems.

What does one do with offenders? One must be realistic and agree there must be some kind of penalty. I assume it is possible to consider community service as an alternative to a prison sentence. Whether it is practical is another story.

I would like to believe that every effort would be made by the various responsible agencies to connect with and do something for the people in the category to which I refer when they appear before the courts. I am around for long enough to know that these are very difficult circumstances to be in. Jailing a person on drink or drugs, or who has a mental health problem, does not solve any problem for anyone.

Bearing in mind the revolving door concept, I was listening to the former governor of Mountjoy jail some days ago and noted that jail seems to be packed out altogether. I assume that if this legislation, to which it appears all parties are agreeing in principle, is implemented vigorously by an Garda, as it is obliged to do, the number in jail will be higher than at present. If so, we will have more trouble than we envisaged. If it is possible to consider community service rather than jail, it would be better.

I have no doubt but that 90% of the people concerned, if convicted and fined €400 or €200, will most likely not have that amount. One can rest assured they are unlikely to have any friend prepared to bail them out. Unfortunately, it does not happen at that level.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  We have just passed the Fines Bill, which I hope will take care of community service.

[408]Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Is it a feasible proposition?

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  It is if the candidates are suitable for community service. They may not be.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  That is what I am coming to. I was aware of the fines legislation.

Putting people with mental health problems into jail for these offences would be of no benefit. Such people require a kind of help not covered by this Bill, nor could it be included in it in any way.

Something will have to be done by the HSE, the Simon Communities of Ireland and all those who are genuinely doing their level best to help people. I refer to circumstances in the courts where a judge might want to consider all the issues relating to a particular person under sentence. This would be a far more humane way of proceeding than putting the offender in jail.

The principle of this Bill is sound enough. If a garda on the beat has in sight people who are loitering, messing around and generally acting the maggot, he has under the legislation the power to shift them ten metres. Some may say one is only playing with distances and that one may be moved 9 m, 11 m or 12 m. It does not make much difference because the garda has the ability to move people on and get them out of the area in question. One may argue that all one is doing is moving them somewhere else, which is entirely possible, but we must be realistic about the matter.

Consider the circumstances outside places of business. I saw a lot of elderly women leaving a post office recently on a Friday. There was a guy knocking around who was not seen in the area for quite a while. It is not that he was doing anything really wrong but his very presence and intimidating nature certainly upset some of the women. I would like to believe that in such circumstances, a garda could ask the man to move on and get out of the line of fire. I assume this is how the procedure will work. It will be based on legislation and a fair amount of good sense on the part of the enforcers. Failure to comply with a direction to move is liable to arrest and charge, with a maximum fine of €300.

The Bill offers protection to business owners where the behaviour of one or more persons begging near their premises is having a negative effect on trade. If the offenders fail to give their names, they can be fined up to €200.

I assume that problem will arise because some of them will have used false names for years and it will be difficult, for instance, to know where they are the day before or the day after the court hearing. Many of these provisions, as is the case with all legislation, have to be worked through to see whether they will have the desired effect one way or the other. While it is a relatively short Bill, certain aspects will bring a little relief to people.

However, on the other side, we will have to take a humane look at the majority of people who will be caught under this legislation and we will have to consider a different way of handling them. All the various organisations such as the HSE will need to help them because, at the end of the day, that is the only way they will be taken off the streets.

In so far as people going to jail is concerned, which has been echoed by many speakers, there should be room in jail for others who commit much worse offences against the person and against families and there is no great sign of them going to jail. Let us strike a balance with the legislation, which I hope will work out as intended.

Deputy Trevor Sargent:  I wish to share time with Deputy Kenneally.

[409]I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I recognise this is timely legislation, which will fill a vacuum in the law after section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1847, which made begging in a public place an offence, was struck down as unconstitutional in the High Court in 2007. Ireland was different in 1847 and it was a different time. The 1847 legislation was colonial and it was brought in while the trauma of the Famine was still raging. One can only imagine the amount of suffering and the pressure to beg that was apparent everywhere one went at that time. However, the Bill endeavours in a more modern context to strike a balance. It is not always easy but it is important that we strive with every piece of advice, wisdom and reflection at our disposal to meet the needs of those who need help, especially when they feel they need to beg, and also to prevent exploitation of people who might be minded to help those in need or of those who are in need by people begging even when they do not need to, thereby making it difficult for those who need to beg.

Although the Bill is short, a large number of factors need to be taken into account. Comments from the Irish Human Rights Commission are useful and I appreciate the earlier drafting of the offence of persistent begging was not included because of the difficulty of defining “persistent”. It is difficult to be categorical about it from a legal point of view but the bigger question relates to those who are homeless. I acknowledge that not everybody who is homeless begs and not everybody who begs is homeless but, anecdotally, I have spoken to people who beg and many of them say they are homeless and that they could not countenance taking up a bed in the shelters provided because of fear or because of their own mental state which would mean they are not comfortable in that situation. One way or the other, they do not have a home address, which is an issue that needs to be resolved. The last place somebody slept is the best he or she can manage as an address. We need to examine this to see how we can get around the technicality that the fact they are homeless means they do not have an address and if they have not been to a shelter that makes it more difficult still. That matter must be reflected on before Committee Stage.

The concerns raised by Barnardos also need to be examined. However, I hope, for example, if a child is lost in a supermarket as opposed to begging, it will not be unreasonable for him or her to be taken to the manager’s office and a call to be put out looking for the guardian or parent to come and pick up the child. Likewise, there are young people who have just become adults who beg and this could be a form of child abuse. Arresting a child in this circumstance would not be appropriate but taking him or her to a safe place and finding out who are the adults responsible for him or her begging on the street would be a reasonable course of action, which would not contravene the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. To walk past a child is probably more difficult to defend. A duty of care rather than criminalisation is what we are about in the legislation and it needs to be seen in that regard.

I pay tribute to the work of the Leanbh service of the ISPCC. Leanbh was set up in 1997 to address child begging in Dublin and it is a 24-7 service for children and young people who beg or who are at risk of begging on the streets and their parents. It monitors the incidence of child begging, assesses and responds to child protection risks and provides positive parenting programmes, which is an important part of the response, and mentoring support to both parents and children. This is an important service. Leanbh works with young people from the wider Roma and Traveller communities as well as with members of new communities seeking asylum in Ireland. It has the experience we would find useful in framing this legislation and striking the correct balance.

I spoke to Fr. Peter McVerry, who was interviewed earlier on “Morning Ireland”, about this issue recently at a community council AGM in Donabate, County Dublin and he said the most important action in regard to begging is to talk to people. The dignity of people who are forced into this position is low and their self-esteem is severely dented. Whatever else we try to do, [410]we should at least talk to those who beg because to turn the other way will further strip away their sense of dignity, which is low. Engaging with those who are on the street and working with their families and communities, as has been suggested by all the organisations mentioned, will be an important part of our response to this issue.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended at 1.30 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

  27.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    the efforts he has made to oppose the proposed Mercosur trade deal; the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22296/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I conveyed our Government’s serious reservations about the decision to re-engage in negotiations with Mercosur directly to Commissioner Ciolos when I spoke to him on Monday, 17 May. In my discussion with him, I expressed our deep concerns over the decision to relaunch the negotiations and the threat which these negotiations could pose for Irish and European agriculture, at a time of great sensitivity in the context of discussions on the CAP post 2013, and in the context of the significant challenges already facing the sector.

Ireland has been to the forefront in urging caution in relation to the resumption of these talks. Having sought the inclusion of Mercosur as an AOB point for the Agriculture Council, Ireland helped to draft a joint paper which was co-signed by France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Poland, raising concerns on the resumption of the talks, the possible concessions on agriculture that will be required to achieve an agreement and seeking clarification and assurances in relation to any future talks. The concerns expressed in that joint paper were also echoed by many other member states in the Council.

At the Agriculture Council, we highlighted the serious losses for European agriculture and the greater market access concessions that could result from an EU-Mercosur free trade agreement. The importance of agriculture as the largest indigenous manufacturing industry in the context of Ireland’s economic recovery was stressed. The impact such an agreement would have on the beef sector and in particular on the high quality beef cuts market in the EU was detailed in our intervention. I have specifically requested a detailed analysis from the Commission of the social, economic and environmental impacts of the anticipated outcome of these negotiations, a request supported by many member states in the Council.

While the talks have been relaunched, it is in effect a reopening of talks that were originally opened a number of years ago but which were effectively suspended in 2004 after 16 rounds of negotiations, arising from major differences between the two sides in terms of expectations across a range of headings including industrial goods, agriculture, services and intellectual property. Doubts still remain among many member states that there is a sound basis for a positive engagement or outcome in these talks.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Will the Minister agree that the general sense of relief within the Irish agrifood sector when Mr. Peter Mandelson packed his bags in Geneva and the WTO talks [411]collapsed some 18 months ago is now misplaced? This has happened as a result of an internal initiative within the European Union to conduct bilateral trade talks with the Mercosur countries. If there is one thing worse than a bad agreement on tariffs and trade, it is a series of bilateral trade agreements within which it appears that similar to the general agreement on tariffs and trade, GATT, food and agriculture is always the sweetener thrown in to pave the way for consensus in other areas.

I accept the Minister’s bona fides on this issue, but what is the possibility of securing a fair deal in these negotiations where equivalence is the corner stone? In other words, if they want access to our markets, can the Minister insist that the Commission in conducting these negotiations ensures that they meet the same production standards that are critical for Irish and European farmers?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  As Deputy Creed quite rightly says, we are all very concerned about this proposal. It is no secret, and it has been in the public domain, that President Barroso, head of the European Commission, has been the driving force behind this particular initiative to re-open these talks. It is no secret either that there were robust discussions at the college meeting of the Commissioners in early May when this issue arose. It is in the public domain as well that three Commissioners, namely, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, Commissioner for Innovation, Research and Science, Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, and Dacian Ciolos, Commissioner for Agriculture, made particularly strong interventions in opposition to the proposal that was being put forward by President Barroso, and they were supported by the other Members of the Commission as well. Indeed, that is indicated in the meetings of the college on that particular day.

At the recent EU-Latin American Summit in Madrid, the Taoiseach was quoted in one of the newspapers the following day as outlining our concerns in relation to the difficulties that would arise for the beef sector in this country. I believe the points Deputy Creed made earlier are well taken regarding the need to ensure that Europe is not putting more up for offer, with the danger that we could lose even further. I would be very opposed to that in the event.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Has the Minister invoked the help of the Taoiseach to ensure, given the fact that fully fledged negotiations are now under way, any deal is based on the principle of equivalence? In other words, if they want access to our markets, they must meet exactly the same standards under which we operate. Would the Minister accept that the fact that the new Agricultural Commissioner Ciolos was bowled over by the President of the Commission’s commitment to this deal does not augur well for his ability to secure an adequate budget for the CAP?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I would not underestimate the commitment or the capacity of the new Commissioner, who is totally committed to the agriculture sector and to maximising the best possible budget we all want post-2013 towards an adequately resourced CAP. At the Council of Ministers, Ireland, together with France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Poland, submitted a joint paper which was discussed at the Agriculture Council on 17 May. Some 19 member states intervened in that particular debate and most of them echoed the concerns outlined in the paper we co-authored. Commissioner Ciolos reassured member states at the meeting that he was very well aware of their concerns and said he would be vigilant, to say the least, in ensuring that EU agriculture was properly protected. He pointed out that the recent decision was merely to reopen negotiations. The original mandate given by member states had not changed, he said, and there would be further opportunities for them to influence negotiations.

[412]For Deputy Creed’s benefit, this is a Commission initiative and it is within the competence of the Commission to reopen these negotiations. It is not a matter for the Heads of Government, unfortunately.

  28.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    his views on the mechanisms that are needed to address the diversity of production systems and range of risks across the 27 member states in the context of Common Agricultural Policy negotiations; his further views on the need to address increased market volatility and the effective mechanisms that are needed to manage this post 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22117/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The continuation of a strong decoupled direct payments system is of fundamental importance, in my view, to stabilising farm incomes at times of market volatility. Decoupled payments remain the best way of underpinning the incomes of small family farms, while allowing them respond to market opportunities. In this context, it is essential to acknowledge the linkage between the income stabilisation role of direct payments and the market stabilisation role of our current market management measures.

I consider that existing market support tools are appropriate and I believe there is broad agreement on this among member states. The application of intervention and APS in the dairy sector during 2009 illustrated the usefulness of these measures in contributing to market recovery and stabilisation, albeit at very low prices, and the need for them to remain in place. There may be a need for additional flexibility or adjustments, for example, in periods of application and volumes. Nevertheless, these measures are pitched at safety-net level at present and should remain available to us after 2013.

In addition to the current market supports, there is an increasing emphasis on risk management mechanisms such as subsidised insurance and mutual funds. I believe we should look closely at the possibilities offered by such measures. Ireland does not have extensive experience with insurance systems and I would be cautious about the benefits of establishing EU wide insurance regimes. My main concern is that the diversity of production systems and range of risks across the 27 member states are too wide to accommodate a single EU-wide scheme. Therefore, I would like to see a suite of options available to member states to use at their own discretion within funding limits.

There is also a need to address increased market volatility and to have effective mechanisms to manage this. I believe we should consider the potential usefulness of new, additional tools to combat increased market volatility. In that regard, I am open to examining in greater detail the mechanisms used by other countries such as the US, particularly those concerned with underpinning farm revenue or income. I am not suggesting that we immediately adopt similar measures in the EU but I would like us to examine them in greater detail to see whether they would deliver benefits on the EU market.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I welcome the Minister’s response and I am seeking to ascertain definitively whether he is giving any credence to the idea of introducing a de facto minimum income for every farmer so as to buttress against potential market instability in the future. The recent volatility in the dairy sector showed us, along with other factors, just how volatile farm incomes are at present and the fact that there will have to be an EU-wide response to this.

[413]What I am really trying to ascertain is whether the Minister is giving credence to the notion of a minimum payment for farmers and, if so, whether there is EU-wide support for such a measure.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The point made by Deputy Sherlock is that, regardless of the mechanism, we need to have some stability in income. We need to put a floor on farmers’ incomes. The best way this has been achieved to date is through the direct payment system. Allied to the stabilisation of income, we also need to achieve stability through anti-volatility measures. As I have said in the House a number of times, there will be a major effort to retain the budget for CAP. We have all discussed that and agreed that the first priority for CAP post-2013 is to ensure the system is adequately resourced.

There are conflicting views around the table at the Council of Ministers about how payments should be disbursed. We are in favour of retaining the historical model of direct payments and ensuring that pillar 1 of CAP is the prime pillar. There is also the provision of public goods through the wider rural development programme and the environmental pillar. We must try to make the industry more competitive throughout Europe.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  The Minister mentions the historical model of payments, and I acknowledge the speech he gave to the Seanad recently in which he expressed a preference for the retention of this model. What I took from that speech, however, was that the historical model would come under increasing attack and that it is not guaranteed into the future. That is the basis upon which the Minister could state, at least, that there is a degree of stability of income, but it is not necessarily guaranteed to continue if the model changes, unless the Minister states otherwise. If the historical model changes, will that compromise basic incomes to farmers?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Deputy Sherlock makes a valid point about the divergence of opinion. We are much in favour of direct payments, but some within our own country will argue that the reference period should be changed. If we did an analysis of agriculture overall, we would see that not much has changed over a period of eight to ten years in terms of the number of people participating and the types of activity in which they are involved.

What are the options for the single payment? Most member states, including Ireland, are carrying out their own analyses to determine which system would suit us best. Among the potential payment models that are under consideration in the informal process are the historical model, an EU-wide flat rate, or a payment to cover the cost of purchasing power. We have outlined our total opposition to the idea of a flat rate. Other options are a regional or national flat rate, a base flat rate plus tiered additions, upper and lower limits, caps on payments, the application of the single area payment system to the 27 member states, more targeted payments linked to the delivery of public goods, and counter-cyclical payments. Thus, there is a wide range of alternatives to the existing system.

Overall, the existing system needs adjustment in some areas to ensure that young people and farmers who are active today but were not in 2002 are not discriminated against. There is much work to be done and I appreciate the work of the different political parties in bringing a greater awareness to the public at large, be it through regional meetings, conferences in south Tipperary, or whatever. All of that is important in creating a greater awareness of the need for adequate resources.

  29.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    his views on the corporate governance issues which need to be resolved at the National Stud arising from recent information in the public domain regarding expenses paid and legal settlements agreed and contracts awarded without proper tendering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22297/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The Irish National Stud Company Limited, INS, is a commercial State body established in 1946 and is a company registered under the Companies Act. It does not receive grant aid from the State. The INS is operating in a competitive international environment and the international bloodstock industry has not been immune from the consequences of the global economic downturn in recent years.

The board of the INS is responsible for the operations and management of the company. Appointments to the board are made by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food following consultation with the Minister for Finance. Recently, I appointed two new directors to the board of the INS, and a further four appointments will be made as vacancies arise in the coming weeks.

The Government has established a system of corporate governance to ensure State agencies are directed and managed in such a way that they serve the interests of the State. A code of practice for the governance of State bodies was issued in 2001, and an updated version of the code was issued in 2009. The revised code is evidence of the Government’s recognition of the need to adapt to a changing environment, setting out an enhanced system of corporate governance for State agencies for the future. Prior to 2009, State bodies were obliged to adhere to the requirements of the earlier code, published in 2001, and it was this earlier version of the code that was in place when the events to which the Deputy refers took place.

Back in 2001 my predecessor, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, former Deputy Joe Walsh, wrote to the chairman of the INS drawing attention to the introduction of the code and its mandatory nature across all State bodies. In addition to frequent departmental correspondence, I also wrote to the chairman of the INS in November 2008 and again in October 2009 about the board’s responsibilities with regard to corporate governance.

My Department monitors the compliance of the INS with the terms of the code of practice, ensuring that the annual report and audited annual accounts are submitted in a timely manner and, following presentation to Government, are laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is important to distinguish between the role of the board in meeting the requirements of the code and those of the Department in monitoring compliance with the terms of the code. It is not the responsibility of the Department to have in place a parallel system of management to that of the board. Since the introduction of the 2001 code, my Department has received assurances on an annual basis from the chairman of the INS that the company is compliant with the code.

Like the Deputy, I was most concerned when I learned from press reports in September 2009 of certain financial matters affecting the company which had the potential to damage the reputation of the company. I immediately sought and received a full report from the chairman of the INS on the matters raised. The chairman confirmed to me that she was satisfied that the expenses to which the Deputy refers were approved and adjudged to be necessary for the conduct of the business of the company; that international travel is an integral part of the CEO’s functions; that no first-class travel had been incurred by the former CEO; and that the board has since revised its travel policy with a view to achieving greater efficiencies.

[415]Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Excessive and unnecessary expenditure is not acceptable in any Department or State agency, and I have consistently emphasised, both within my own Department and to the agencies under my Department’s aegis, the need to reduce administrative costs, not least in the area of travel, and to achieve the greatest possible efficiencies.

The INS chairman has assured me that the company has complied and will continue to comply with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. I have also had discussions with the chairman and representatives of the company, and emphasised the continuing need for the company to ensure it fully complies with all corporate governance requirements. The chairman and the newly appointed CEO have assured me this will continue to be done. I have also sought a report on the financial position of the company, and the chairman has indicated that this will be provided shortly.

I welcome the acceptance by the INS of the invitation from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to appear before the committee next month. I am sure the representatives will be happy to address the concerns of the committee and deal with the various issues that have been in the public domain recently.

Deputy Michael Creed:  In his reply the Minister indicated that he had written to the board in October 2008 and November 2009 reminding it of its functions and appropriate corporate governance. What was the trigger for that correspondence? Did he follow up on it? When did he first become aware, personally, that there were issues with corporate governance at the INS?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will let the Deputy have some interplay on this, as there are a number of questions mounting up.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  It was in the context of ensuring the best possible value for money in State expenditure that I wrote to all bodies under the aegis of my Department in October 2008 and November 2009. The INS does not receive any grant aid from the Department.

The first time I became aware of the expenses issues was on 18 September 2009, when I wrote to the chairman of the INS asking for a full account of the expenditure items that had been reported in The Irish Times that day. The article highlighted travel expenses incurred by the then CEO. I sought a full report on the matters raised in the article, and I received a reply shortly afterwards from the chairman.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Did the Department’s representative on the board ever raise these issues with the Minister? Notwithstanding the recent appointments of two fine and able people, does the Minister not accept that the cloud hanging over the remainder of the board of the INS requires that the board now tender its resignation? In order to safeguard the interests of this valuable industry, which has a global reach and is one of the few areas in which we distinguish ourselves internationally, and to protect all the associated employment, a new board is required. We need to move on from this. There are issues with regard to expenditure and so on which will need to be teased out, and I understand the INS is to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In order to start with a clean slate, and excluding the two most recent appointments, is it not now time, given the magnitude of the failure of corporate governance, for a new board to be appointed?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I do not accept the Deputy’s contention. The chairman of the Irish National Stud has assured me that the company has in the past and will continue in the future to comply with the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. I emphasised the [416]continuing need for the company to ensure it fully complies with all corporate governance requirements. The chairman and the newly appointed chief executive officer have assured me this will continue to be done. I have also sought a report on the financial position of the company and the chairman has indicated it will be provided shortly. Both the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer were appointed relatively recently. That work was done outside the house by an accounting firm. Recently, on foot of a suggestion I made in view of the new 2009 corporate governance criterion that the audit committee should include a person from outside the board, an eminent external person has been appointed to that position.

Deputy Creed rightly made the point that the Irish National Stud is a body of international repute. It is a small player with a huge international reputation and is a vital component of our important bloodstock industry. It attracts up to 150,000 visitors to Kildare each year and is a useful training school for young people entering the equine industry. We are fortunate to have as chairman a person who is a breeder of international repute whose family also has a notable stud in Normandy. The chairman has trained horses that are well known internationally and have had great success.

The board comprises people of specialist expertise in different areas of the bloodstock and equine industry as well as those with specialist expertise in the financial area. As the Deputy acknowledged, the two newest appointees are a person who has done extremely valuable work in the Irish dairy industry and a person who is a renowned trainer. In the coming weeks, before the end of June, I will be making four new appointments which will include those with expertise in the bloodstock industry and persons with expertise in finance and law.

Deputy Michael Creed:  To clarify, I am not casting aspersions on any individual board member. Rather, I am pointing to a collective failure of corporate governance that has serious implications for the industry and its reputation. That is the context in which I am calling for the appointment of a new board.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We have run out of time for this question.

Deputy Michael Creed:  This is a long-running issue, encompassing more than just the recent FÁS-like expenses regime or the industrial relations issue in regard to accusations of harassment and bullying. A Garda inquiry took place some years ago in respect of the disappearance of cattle from the stud, an investigation which I understand ran into the ground and had no successful conclusion.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to conclude.

Deputy Michael Creed:  All has not been well for some time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot simply ignore the Chair. I must call the next question.

Deputy Michael Creed:  What direct accountability has the board to the Minister and what communication does he have with his nominees?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister may give a very brief reply.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  It is the duty of the board to manage, lead and direct the day-to-day operations of the company. Industrial relations and human resources issues are a matter for the board. I understand some of those issues are before the courts and I will not elaborate on [417]them here. The linkage between any Department and the boards under its remit is through their chairman. It is the chairman of the Irish National Stud who makes contact with me.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Is there not a departmental nominee?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  No. A director of a company——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have given double the allotted time to this matter. We must move on to the next question.

  30.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    his views on the historic basis of direct payment; if he has formulated a view in relation to changing from the current historical model for determining single payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22118/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  My starting point is that I see no compelling reason to change from the current historical model for determining single payments. That model has a distinct advantage in linking the payment with level of farming activity, albeit activity in 2000 to 2002. I have made my views on the benefits of the historic model clear at meetings of the Council of Ministers and in bilateral discussions with other member states and the Commission.

However, it seems Ireland is in a very small minority of member states that hold this view, with many of our partners in Europe now questioning the credibility of this system for determining direct payments. We must, therefore, be open to looking at alternative models that might command the support of a larger number of member states and also be beneficial to Ireland. While I am prepared to look at the alternatives, particularly if other countries move from the “historic camp”, there is a need to find a basis that is acceptable and fair to all member states and that meets Irish objectives of improved competitiveness and sustainability.

There are no concrete proposals as yet on this matter but it is clear that most member states, including Ireland, are carrying out analysis to determine which system best suits their needs. From our analysis so far, we have concluded that Ireland would lose out under a simple European Union-wide flat rate by nearly 20%, based on current EU single payment scheme, SPS, funding levels. We also know that movement to a regional or national flat rate, based on our current national envelope, would broadly have the effect of shifting funding from farmers in the east to the west and from cattle fattening and tillage farms to cattle rearing and sheep farms with little change on dairy farms. It is clear there is a long way to go in this debate. I will be seeking to have the option to maintain our current system and, failing that, to ensure there is a fair and equitable division of funds that supports family farm incomes in Ireland and allows farmers to get on with the business of farming.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  The Minister’s reply is taken directly from a recent speech he gave to the Seanad. The own initiative report on this issue was authored by Mr. George Lyon, MEP, a Liberal Democrat representative for Scotland, whose party is a member of the same group within the European Parliament as Fianna Fáil. Mr. Lyon refers to the desire to go beyond 2020 for phasing in the move from historic to area-based payments and to significant differences in terms of the criteria to be used for the distribution of single farm payments to member states. As far as he is concerned, it is a foregone conclusion that the historical model will be no more. I acknowledge the Minister’s point that there is increasing pressure for that to occur.

[418]If it is a foregone conclusion that the majority of member states will seek to move away from the historical model of payments, then what is the current thinking within the Fianna Fáil group in the European Parliament as to what will be the replacement? Is Mr. Lyon speaking for all Fianna Fáil Members of the European Parliament when he speaks about a movement towards area-based payments?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Minister answers questions on behalf of the Government, not on behalf of any group in the European Parliament.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I did not hear exactly what the Leas-Cheann Comhairle said but I wonder if I can ask——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  By way of explanation, the Minister is answerable to this House on behalf of the Government for its actions; he is not answerable on behalf of his party, either the collective of this House or in any other House.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  Appreciating the latitude the Leas-Cheann Comhairle has already allowed me, I was just about to state that at meetings of the agriculture committee of which Mr. Lyon is a member, Ireland’s position would heretofore have been put forward by the Minister, but that is no longer necessarily the case because of the new structures in place following the ratification of the Lisbon treaty. It is on this basis that I give great credence to what he is saying because it could be reflective of the position of the group within the European Parliament to which he belongs.

  3 o’clock

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Deputy Sherlock has made some interesting points. However, I can envisage that there are views expressed by the socialist group in the European Parliament which Deputy Sherlock would not propagate in Ireland and which his party would not support. We should all be careful in quoting fellow members of our group. I met Mr. Lyon when he visited Ireland along with Irish MEPs from that committee and we had a detailed discussion in which he indicated his agreement with our position on many of the issues contained in our submission. He also met the farming organisations during his visit and I found, when I met the presidents of those organisations that evening on other business, that they were relatively pleased with their discussions with him. In fairness, he was acting as rapporteur for the agriculture committee in drawing up the report to which the Deputy referred and not all of its contents would necessarily represent his own view point. We have been engaging in the co-decision making process, which is a whole new ball game for everybody involved in decision making. It is no longer down to the Council of Ministers on its own. As a Department we have been actively involved in briefing all our MEPs on these important issues.

With regard to the historic camp, more people have moved away from it. There are not many of us steadfastly in support of the historic model. We are doing analysis of the different models in terms of how they would affect us and how we would lose and benefit from different systems. I could offer a briefing to the party spokespersons, on a confidential basis for the moment, as we continue to do in terms of their work on the different models but there are so many variations and proposals put forward and there is huge pressure coming from the 12——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I want to call Deputy Sherlock for a brief supplementary.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I accept what the Minister is saying about the political considerations but I am sure he will acknowledge that George Lyon’s position on this issue will be very [419]influential in terms of the final outcome. I also acknowledge that there are approximately 700 amendments to that particular report currently before the European Parliament.

The key for us at this stage of the process is to try to nail down a more definitive Government position, that is, to ascertain whether the Minister has come to a conclusion regarding the new system for payments for farmers post 2013. If I understand him correctly the Minister is saying that is an ongoing process and if that is the case, I accept that answer.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I outlined our preferred option and I do not believe there will be any disagreement in this House. There was no disagreement in the committee on the occasions I attended. We want direct payments retained. We want adequate and improved market support measures. That reflects the important comment the Deputy made earlier about income stabilisation. We must have adequate anti-volatility measures which are not currently within the European Union. We also want to ensure that pillar 1 is the prime pillar. Pillar 2 is important from the point of view of the environment and the provision of public goods.

I see that in most of the public commentary Commissioner Keolas makes now, whether it is a presentation to the European Parliament or another country. An issue I discussed with him in his first week in office was the need at this time, in advance of the conclusions and the budgetary allocations, to get the message across that CAP is not about farming but is for the benefit of every citizen in the 27 member states. That message has not got out successfully in the past and we would hope that in advance of decisions being made by the Commission, there is a recognition and an awareness of the importance of an adequate and well-resourced CAP. If we do not get off to a good footing in that regard, we will have an even bigger hill to climb.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  What about the breadwinner?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  These are priority questions, as the Deputy well knows. I call Question No. 31 in the name of Deputy Andrew Doyle.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The Minister of State, Deputy Cuffe, is taking that question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Níl sé i láthair.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Can we move on and go back to it?

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

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  This is a bad show on his first opportunity——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Does the Minister have a copy of the answer?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  No.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We will then move on to other questions.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  The bicycle must have broken down.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Ceist 32 in ainm an Teachta——

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  A Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I presume if the Minister graces us with his presence you will come back to the question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Once we proceed beyond priority questions it will not be possible to come back to them. Ceist 32.

[420]Deputy Michael Creed:  That is an insult to the Deputy who has tabled the question.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  Can you do——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I will see if we can facilitate the Deputy.

  32.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    the discussions he has had at EU level regarding reform of the Common Agricultural Policy reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22027/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I apologise to Deputy Doyle on that particular issue but if there is any mix-up I will meet Deputy Doyle following Question Time and give him the exact details.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Does the Minister have any control over his junior Ministers? Is the tail wagging the dog——

Deputy Brendan Smith:  No.

Since the first policy debate took place under the French Presidency in September 2008 on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, I have been fully engaged with the EU Commission and my colleagues in other member states to present the Irish position. I have participated in all policy debates under subsequent Presidencies and I have had informal discussions with a number of my colleagues from other member states. I met the Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, in February last shortly after his appointment and I will have further discussions with him when he visits Ireland later in the year. At official level too, we have had contacts and discussions with our colleagues in other member states and with the Commission and I will have further discussions next Monday and Tuesday also.

Ireland was one of a group of 22 like-minded member states that signed up to a declaration in Paris in December last on the importance of a strong and properly resourced CAP in future. This is my over-arching view and one for which there is good support in the Council.

Although the legal proposals for the future of the Common Agricultural Policy will not be published until mid-2011, I will continue to participate fully in the upcoming discussions. It is at this point in the negotiations that the broad direction of future policy will be set and I intend to be actively involved. I will travel to Spain next week for the meeting of Agriculture Ministers under the Spanish Presidency where the topic for discussion will be the future of EU agricultural policy in the context of the EU2020 strategy. It was at the insistence of Ireland and some other member states that the European Council included a reference in the conclusions on its spring meeting on the need for all common policies, including the CAP, to support the strategy. The conclusions went on to state that “a sustainable, productive and competitive agricultural sector will make an important contribution to the new strategy, considering the growth and employment potential of rural areas while ensuring fair competition”.

The proposed strategy was subsequently discussed by EU Agriculture Ministers and there was unanimous agreement that agriculture had a crucial contribution to make to the strategy in terms of sustainable growth, rural employment, territorial cohesion, mitigating climate change, economic growth, increasing exports and social inclusion.

[421]Deputy Michael Creed:  In the context of the overall debate what significance does the Minister attach to the Commissioner’s repeated assertion that the historical model for payment is indefensible?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  It would be well known that the 12 most recently acceded countries to the European Union have voiced strong opposition to the current system of payments. They regard the current system as being unfair to them. That is their strong view and they have been very vocal in that regard. Some of the member states that would have been supportive of the historic model in the past are not propagating its value at this time either. As I said to Deputy Sherlock earlier, the number of member states that are strong in their support of the historic model is small, unfortunately.

Deputy Michael Creed:  In the context of this debate will the Minister agree there is a danger that we might slip back into a “one size will fit all 27 member states” approach? While the eastern European and new accession states may have a point, that does not necessarily mean their favoured option of a flat rate payment must be imposed on us. If we have to tweak our historical model, the single farm payment, the Minister might cast some light on his view of a rolling reference period of years for payment, for example, rather than the historical model which is based on 2000, 2001 and 2002. Has the Department given some thought to a rolling reference period?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I would have mentioned it previously both in this House and earlier during Question Time that the Department has been doing a great deal of work on different models. Our work is not complete. I can give the spokespersons some access to the particular data on a confidential basis if they can understand where we are coming from in that particular respect.

I have made the point continually and strongly, and I made it directly to the Ministers from the former eastern European countries, that they have a different cost base than us. If they were using our currency a euro would go much further in one of those countries from the point of view of production and income than it would in western European countries. They are not comparing like with like in that particular instance. We are opposed to the flat rate model but we must ensure we have different models in place and that we apprise ourselves of the best systems that can be put to use for our own farmers.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  If we take the three fundamental pillars that will underpin CAP, namely, water management, biodiversity and climate change, an issue will arise regarding the whole pillar of rural development and whether income will be taken from direct payments to farmers and housed in a rural development pillar, which could see it going into an administrative function through various local bodies and development organisations. Does the Minister have a view on that at this stage? Has a clear Government position evolved on that aspect? Would the Minister acknowledge that there are reservations by farm organisations on the matter on the basis that they would not wish to see income being diversified into that area at the risk that it could go down the so-called administrative black hole?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I accept the point Deputy Sherlock made. It is one I have made consistently, that those resources must stay within the farm gate and they are not for rural development. I am very much of the opinion that resources voted to agriculture must remain, in whatever systems are finalised — we know what are our preferences — within the farm gate and not be broadened out into the wider rural economy.

  33.  Deputy John Cregan    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    his views on whether there is a case for reducing livestock numbers as a solution to achieving emissions reductions here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21860/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Seán Connick):  There are compelling environmental and economic reasons why reducing Irish livestock numbers as a means of achieving emissions reductions cannot be justified. In the first instance, such a policy would be counterproductive in terms of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland is a leading exporter of beef and dairy produce and any shortfall of Irish produce, on EU or world markets, arising from a reduction in Irish livestock numbers would be replaced with produce from countries with far less sustainable farming systems than we have here and the replacement produce would have a far greater carbon footprint than the Irish product it displaces.

Our agriculture sector will continue to play a significant role in reducing national greenhouse gas emissions. Ireland’s national target under the Kyoto Protocol is to maintain emissions at a level 13% above 1990 levels, for the Kyoto commitment period 2008 to 2012. The latest projections from the EPA indicate that emissions from the agriculture sector will be, on average, 8.5% below 1990 levels over the commitment period.

Irish farmers have clearly demonstrated a willingness to embrace new technologies and farming methods that are friendly to the environment. Farmers will continue to adapt further, when new cost effective methods to reduce greenhouse gas emissions come on stream. In that context, I remain confident that dedicated research at national level and collaborative research at international level, including research into increasing the carbon sink potential of the sector, particularly the carbon sink potential of soils, will yield new effective, measurable and verifiable means to off-set greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

The economic argument against such a proposal is also compelling. The Government’s view is that not alone is the agrifood sector our most important indigenous industry but the continued success of this industry will be a key element of our economic recovery. The significance of the agrifood sector to the overall well being of the economy cannot be overstated accounting, as it does, for 6.6% of the economy’s gross value added. Over 150,000 people, or some 7.5% of the total workforce, are directly employed in the industry. With a turnover of €24 billion in 2008, agrifood exports represented 10% of our total exports.

According to the United Nations, demand for food will increase by 70% over the next 40 years due to a huge increase in world population. Ireland’s sustainable, low carbon, pasture based production system is well placed to contribute to that extra demand. It would be wrong to forgo these lucrative export opportunities for a short-term gain in terms of national emissions reductions targets, especially when we know that the overall effect of reducing animal numbers in Ireland will be to increase emissions elsewhere.

Deputy John Cregan:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He has allayed some of my fears in putting down the question because I am seriously concerned about a further stock level reduction.

How can the responsibility for dealing with the emissions issue be reconciled with the fact that there is an increasing demand for food throughout the world as there are up to 1 billion people who are hungry? We are making a substantial contribution in that regard in that we have a substantial live cattle export trade and the agrifood sector which, as the Minister of State stated correctly, is hugely important. I realise we must strike a balance but I am inclined to come down in favour of positively discriminating in favour of the food sector and of continu[423]ing our stocking levels. Even the single farm payment, when we take away headage, has contributed to a decline in stocks. We should be working strongly towards ensuring that we can get the balance right and that we can support and, if possible, increase stock levels.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I thank Deputy Cregan for raising this issue and giving us the opportunity to address some of the concerns within the agriculture sector in this regard. As he alluded to, the agrifood sector is of significant systemic importance. “Systemic” is a word used quite liberally in other sectors but in terms of the agriculture sector, this has a turnover of €24 billion and 150,000 employed within the industry.

Deputy Cregan asked about our contribution to the future demand for food. In that regard, over 1 billion people in the world today already are suffering from hunger. The United Nations projections suggest that the world population will rise from the current 6.8 billion to over 9.2 billion by 2050. In order to meet the food requirements of this increase in population, the FOA estimates that demand for food will increase by 70% in that period. It is a considerable increase in demand. We are committed to increasing the agrifood sector’s production in Ireland to meet some of it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There are a number of Deputies offering. I call Deputy Doyle.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I am glad to hear that the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, has shown a level of common sense on this. There has been a simplistic approach by some who suggest that by reducing agriculture in this country, one can deal simply with our carbon emissions. There are many factors supporting why it makes good sense to cultivate the agri-industry and the livestock numbers.

I apologise as I must go to a meeting of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security on energy. However, an interesting presentation from those involved in anaerobic digestion, to both to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, makes the point that——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I will ask the question directly. There is a Cabinet sub-committee on energy security and climate change. If the Minister encourages and incentivises and, instead of using the €50 million to purchase carbon credits as an off-set, provided some of that money as priming money to get initiatives going, one can harvest methane, do away with the nuisance element of it, have an energy source and have a better fertiliser source. Has he any input into the Cabinet sub-committee? I would urge him, on the basis of what he has stated here, to do so.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I thank Deputy Doyle for raising the question. I will be raising the issue in one of the latter questions where we deal with the biomass energy. Anaerobic digestion is a part of that.

In 2006, as part of the national development programme, a commitment was given to the delivery of anaerobic digesters. In 2007, ten projects were given the go-ahead. Unfortunately, none of those projects have moved forward in that sector. I am concerned at that and I am having a look at it to see what, if anything, we can do in that regard because there is potential in that area.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  If one’s solution is to reduce the number of cattle, it is a simplistic way of looking at the problem and one is not looking at the problem of GHGs properly. That is a scientific view.

[424]I would refer the Minister of State to TResearch, which is a Teagasc publication in this regard. Perhaps he might acknowledge that looking at the areas of animal genetics, animal management, animal nutrition and performance stimulants would be a better way to reduce GHGs like methane and that there is a scientific basis for doing that. Would he acknowledge that any proposals to implement the McCarthy report as it pertains to the scientific budget would have an impact on Teagasc’s operations and on reducing methane emissions potentially in the long run? We need to take a more lateral view.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I am astonished Deputy Sherlock has time to read the TResearch magazine. I must try to make a little time to get going at it. At this stage, I think I will have to stay up all night.

I acknowledge the fact that there is a great deal of science going into the agrifood sector in terms of our production, something I welcome. I would be concerned to see any impact on that from a cuts perspective in an area that I have already highlighted as having considerable potential for further food production and a growing market, particularly when the agriculture sector is one of our indigenous industries. I would be keeping a close eye on that particular matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I propose now to revert to Priority Question No. 31. The question is in the name of Deputy Doyle, who is the only Deputy who will be entitled to ask supplementary questions.

  31.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    the reason there has been a delay in processing the claims submitted under the aid scheme for crops damaged by frost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22298/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Ciarán Cuffe):  I apologise to the House and to Deputy Doyle for not being present when the question was called. I apologise to Deputy Doyle and assure him there was no slight intended.

There has been no delay in processing claims submitted under the compensation scheme for crops damaged by frost. As at the closing date of 19 February 2010, some 359 applications which related to potato and-or field vegetable crop losses due to frost damage were received. Following a preliminary desk examination, some 20 claimants were deemed to be ineligible under the EU state aid rules which require that the losses suffered must exceed a 30% threshold in a given production period.

All the remaining 339 applicants who were deemed to be potentially eligible were inspected during February and March. The purpose of these inspections was to verify the areas of the crops affected and the extent of losses being claimed. A total of 255 growers were deemed to be still eligible following these inspections in the context of the relevant terms and conditions of the scheme and in particular in relation to the state aid rules. I apologise for the complexity of the rules.

The principal conditions required by EU state aid rules include: losses for the 2009 harvest must exceed 30% of the average of production in the three previous years, or a three year average of the previous five years, excluding the highest and lowest years; the level of aid must not exceed 80%, 90% in least favoured areas; assistance must be reduced by 50% if the farmer has not taken out insurance to cover 50% of his or her average annual production and losses must be calculated by subtracting the value of the 2009 production from the average of the [425]annual value of production in the three previous years. Application of these rules has made implementation of the scheme quite complex both for the Department and growers. As the Deputy will see, this puts a significant burden on the officials who are processing the claims as speedily as possible.

The current situation is that all 255 growers who met the 30% loss requirement following the inspections were written to and requested to supply documentary evidence to confirm their financial losses. Most of them were given two weeks to reply. Many of the applicants have since requested an extension of the time to enable them to assemble the necessary documentation.

No doubt the good weather in recent weeks has contributed to the delay as many of them would probably much rather be out in the fields. As the documentation is being received, financial losses are being assessed. In some cases it is necessary to visit applicants to seek additional information or to clarify information received. It is expected that payments will commence shortly to growers cleared for payment.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  That answers the first question because nobody has been paid yet. The Minister of State is correct when he says it is a complicated computation which has frustrated people. I wrote to the Minister asking him to take into account that many growers process their crop on the farm which means there are no records but only estimates of yield available. I asked the Minister if this would be allowable. In his reply he stated there is nothing in the scheme preventing growers from processing part of their crop and for this to be taken into account. He stated that average yield data can be applied in the absence of documentary evidence. On the basis of the Minister of State’s reply I do not know if anyone would be able to prepare the amount and compilation of the documentary evidence needed within the designated application period. I urge the Minister to reconsider.

To put the matter into context, €180 million was set aside for the pork recall scheme and up to 5 May there has been an uptake of just under 50%, a total of €87.5 million. The Minister of State referred in his reply to people sowing crops. Some of the people are not able to access working capital this year. I ask him to reconsider the terms of reference of this scheme. If this scheme is meant to be for practical purposes of assisting people who suffer crop damage, we should be able to help them.

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  In fairness to the departmental officials, they are taking a very helpful approach to the processing of payments and they cannot simply wish away the rules coming from the European Union. These rules are fairly clear although they sound complex when read into the record of the House but when broken down they are relatively easy to follow. We are still awaiting documentation from many of the growers. Once this documentation is received, we will proceed the claims as fast as possible. The officials have been fairly helpful. In some cases they have paid return visits to growers. We do not need every last piece of paper in triplicate before we process the claims but the Department has taken a fairly common-sense approach.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I refer to the reply I received to my letter. It stated that average yield data can be applied. The rules as outlined by the Minister of State in his reply today would suggest that is not applicable; he refers to doing away with the highest and the lowest, to a list of items. Research is done every year. Will the Minister of State clarify if this can be accepted in the processing of the claims as opposed to the actual figures outlined in therules?

Deputy Ciarán Cuffe:  I am not an auditor so I do not claim any significant insight into the rules but it has to withstand an audit. I said in my earlier reply that a common sense approach [426]is taken. However, the bottom line is we have to satisfy both the Department of Finance officials and the European Union officials. In my view a good approach has been taken. I expect payments to commence within two or three weeks’ time. That is a bit of good news.

  34.  Deputy Niall Blaney    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    his views on whether decoupled direct payments remain the best way of underpinning the incomes of small family farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21856/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  At a recent special debate in the Seanad on the future of the CAP post-2013, I set out some of my views on the need to ensure security of food supply and to maintain family farming in Europe. It must be borne in mind that negotiations on the future on the CAP post-2013 are taking place against the background of an EU budget review and a new EU financial perspective for the period 2014 to 2020. Ireland will play a central and very active role in these negotiations and will be stressing the importance of a strong and properly resourced CAP in the future. The major issue at present is the amount of funding that will be available for the CAP after 2013, which in turn will put pressure on the share of the EU budget going to agriculture and the share going to Irish agriculture.

With regard to the single farm payment system, I do not see any compelling reason to change from the current historic model for determining single payments. The historical model has a distinct advantage in linking the payment with the level of farming activity, albeit farming activity in 2000 to 2002. I have made my views on the benefits of the historic model clear at meetings of the Council of Ministers and in bilateral discussions with other member states and the Commission. However, Ireland is in a small minority of member states who take this view while I am prepared to look at alternatives, particularly if other countries move from the historic camp. There is a need, however, to find a basis that is acceptable and fair to all member states and one which meets our objectives of improved competitiveness and sustainability.

I consider that maintaining a strong decoupled direct payments system is fundamental to maintaining and stabilising farm incomes, especially at times of increased market volatility. Direct payments remain the best way of underpinning the incomes of small family farms, while allowing them respond to market opportunities. However, there is also a need to retain the capacity and flexibility to react promptly and effectively to market instability and price volatility and therefore to maintain some level of market supports.

The core purpose of rural development policy is to support farmers in developing their productive capacity while securing the environment and ensuring the well-being of the wider rural society. The continuation of a two-pillar system includes the recently revised rural development programme which focuses on competitiveness in the form of targeted investments and sustainability in the form of an agri-environment scheme with benefits for all.

Deputy Niall Blaney:  I thank the Minister for his reply. What timeframe does he envisage for the current CAP negotiations? I ask him to outline Ireland’s role in those discussions. What are the main issues in these negotiations?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  With regard to timing, the Commission is expected to issue a formal communication later this year. Prior to the formation of the new Commission, it was expected [427]during the time of Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel that the communication would issue in the middle of this year. However, the Commission was delayed in being established by a number of months. It was expected to take office in the middle of November but it took office on 15 February, therefore, the timeline has been delayed by a few months. Therefore, we are talking about having a formal communication from the Commission later this year. The formal legal text will follow in mid-2011. Based on previous negotiations, we can be certain that those communications will not be issued in advance of the expected deadlines. They generally run much later.

With regard to the discussions to date, the last four EU Presidencies have held policy debates on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy. France had a general discussion in September 2008 on policy orientation. The Czech Republic focused on the single payment issues, while Sweden dealt with rural development. Meanwhile, Spain — the current holders of the Presidency, up to the end of June — dealt with market management.

Ireland has been active in all the negotiations. In mid-December 2009, we were one of the leading members in putting together a group of 22 member states who signed a declaration in Paris. At that time, we outlined our determination to ensure that the CAP would be adequately resourced. In the meantime, I have had several bilateral discussions with other agriculture Ministers. There will be an important official meeting to discuss those issues in my Department tomorrow, featuring the most senior civil servants from five member states.

Deputy Michael Creed:  The Minister will be aware that 90,000 farmers in Ireland receive a payment of €10,000 or less. For example, last year, the average beef income was approximately €13,000. Therefore, about 75% of income is coming from the single farm payment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is supposed to be asking the question, not answering it.

Deputy Michael Creed:  In that context, has the Minister given any thought to establishing a minimum payment? The Commissioner’s view is that the historical model is unsustainable, which suggests that we at least need to tweak, modify or change the current model in some way. Does the Minister support the principle of a minimum payment to retain as many farmers as possible on the land? What is his view on that?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I share the view that we should be supporting active farmers. Whatever about drawing a minimum, I know where I would draw a maximum line. I am not going to say where, however.

Deputy Michael Creed:  The Minister cannot tease us like that.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I said we would have discussions in regard to models that we have done, so we will let the Deputy in on some of the thinking. However, there are always calls to public representatives’ offices when the figures are published, which include some people with very large payments. I believe there should be a cut-off point and it should be directed more towards active farmers. There is a good case to be made for orienting it towards the lower-income farmer.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  Earlier, the Minister referred to the consultation process and said that the Commission will publish documentation. Can Members of this House be provided with an insight into the views of the Irish permanent representation in Brussels? In that way we could be made aware of how the process is progressing.

[428]Deputy Brendan Smith:  There is absolutely no problem with that. The Irish permanent representation in Brussels will be echoing our views. On both ministerial and official level, the Department has ongoing contacts, including dialogue and briefings, with MEPs of all parties on a weekly basis. In addition, there is interaction between our MEPs and our permanent representatives in Brussels. I understand that our officials provide useful material to all MEPs concerning debates in the European Parliament. That material is readily available.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Does the Minister accept that without the single payment area aid, farmers in constituencies such as ours would have little income, if any? This is an extremely serious issue. The Minister said he has met other EU Ministers for agriculture, but will he make every effort to form a group to guarantee the single premium, rather than some other funding that would not be as beneficial to Irish farmers?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  As I said earlier in response to Deputy Blaney’s question, Ireland was one of the very active members in putting this particular group together, along with France, Germany and Austria. Last December, we got 22 of the 27 member states to sign up to the need for proper CAP resources. Within that group of 22 not everyone shares the same view on the direct payments system, but we are working on this with a number of countries. I mentioned earlier that an official meeting is taking place tomorrow, in which I will be participating. Apart from Council of Ministers meetings, I have had numerous bilateral meetings with other Ministers. Such meetings will continue in June, as well as in July when the Dáil is in recess.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  The Minister will not get all of it.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Neither will the Deputy, but he should.

  35.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    when he will introduce the new dairy hygiene, sheep fencing and water harvesting grant aid funded from unused single farm payment funds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21991/10]

Deputy Brendan Smith:  As part of proposals on the use of unspent single payment scheme and modulation funds and the European economic recovery programme, I announced in 2009 that, subject to the receipt of EU Commission approval, I intended to introduce support for a number of specific categories of farmer, which would be focused on supporting productive investment.

The measures include a scheme for dairy farmers to make the necessary investment to adjust to expanding dairy opportunities and promote the operation of cost-effective commercial operations; aid for sheep fencing and handling facilities to assist sheep farmers in reducing labour input in a vulnerable sector; aid for farmers for water harvesting and conservation equipment, which will reduce water costs on farms; animal welfare grants for pig producers to assist in the conversion to loose housing for sows, and for poultry producers to assist in the conversion to enriched cages, free-range or barn systems.

EU Commission approval for the above-mentioned schemes has recently been received and, due to the relatively short timeframes for completion of the investment works concerned, my priority is to introduce the sow welfare and poultry welfare schemes first. Arrangements will then be made to introduce the three remaining schemes.

Discussions are ongoing with the relevant farming organisations in regard to the terms and conditions of the schemes concerned. These should be completed in the near future and I hope [429]to be in a position to make an announcement regarding the sow welfare and poultry welfare schemes at that stage, which will be very shortly.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  I did not ask about the sows or the poultry, although I am glad to hear there is something in the offing on those points. What is the exact timeframe for the Minister to conclude schemes for dairy hygiene, sheep fencing and water harvesting? On what date will those schemes come into effect?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I introduced the other two schemes because they are the ones with the nearest deadline, which must have their systems changed. That is why I am prioritising those two particular schemes. I hope to launch them before mid-June. We have been involved in discussions with the relevant representative groups and farming organisations to ensure that the technical details of these schemes are as suitable as possible for individual farmers in the pig and poultry sectors. I do not have a date for the commencement of the other measures. There are financial implications, so next year’s Estimates will determine how soon we will be in a position to roll out the other three schemes.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I welcome the fact that the Minister mentioned both the pig and poultry sectors. However, there is a further problem with these sectors that must be dealt with, which is the availability of finance from banking institutions. Some extremely good pig and poultry producers are finding it very difficult to obtain the necessary matching funds to ensure that they can progress.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am not sure if that question is within the Minister’s purview, but he is perfectly entitled to answer it.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  For the information of the House — and I have mentioned this privately to Deputy Crawford — within the last two weeks I met with the chief agricultural advisers of all the main banks, as well as their support staff. I outlined the position regarding the roll-out of these schemes, particular for poultry and pigs. I asked that the relevant credit be put in place to ensure that people who need to upgrade their systems to remain in business will be able to do so. Funding should be put in place to allow them to do that. I think they accepted the point that it is a worthwhile investment and that a good financial package is coming from our point of view as well. I have asked them to give fair and urgent consideration to ensuring that farmers can avail of those two schemes.

  36.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Agriculture; Fisheries and Food    if he will comment on the management of forestry thinning in the private forest sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22045/10]

Deputy Seán Connick:  My Department actively encourages forest owners to thin their crops. Thinning improves the quality of final crop trees and can provide a source of intermediate income for forest owners.

In recent years my Department, in conjunction with COFORD, has funded a number of projects to encourage thinning in the private forestry sector and to develop markets for the small diameter timber produced by thinning, particularly to the renewable energy sector where there is an increasing demand for energy wood in the form of small diameter logs from thinning operations. This demand has stimulated increased management and timber output from private forests.

[430]My Department has also provided start-up funding to a number of forest owner-producer groups to encourage private forest owners to work collectively in the management of their forests and marketing of forest products, with a particular emphasis on thinning operations. In addition, the forest road scheme operated by my Department provides grant aid for the construction of forest roads which will facilitate the extraction of timber from thinnings in private forests in a cost-effective manner. The scheme is now open and applications are currently being processed.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. The management of forestry thinnings in the private forestry sector received a big set-back in the budget this year when there was an 8% reduction in forestry premia.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  The funding was guaranteed to be untouched for 20 years yet the guarantee fell by the wayside.

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

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  The Minister of State referred to the construction of roads to accommodate the thinning of private forests. How soon will the grants be available for the construction of those roads? It is of paramount importance as well that we restore the confidence of the people who got involved in the private forestry sector and that we alleviate the problems that have occurred.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I acknowledge the point the Deputy made in the first instance. We accept there was a cut in that regard. The forest road scheme is now open for grant applications and they are currently being processed. I do not have a date for when the processing of applications will be completed. As the Deputy is aware, there is an increased opportunity for those involved in the forestry sector to use their thinnings for the biomass and other markets such as SmartPly and Medite. Opportunities exist and we hope people will take the opportunity to put in roads and follow through with thinning their forests.

Deputy Michael Creed:  There is a need for joined-up thinking. The Minister of State referred to Medite. If he is not aware yet of concern he will be in the next few days following the announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, about the tariff payable on energy generated from biomass. Coillte is concerned that the thinnings, and for want of a better term the tops and tails of the forestry product, which is now winding its way to Medite may well be redirected into bio-mass, in particular as a replacement fuel in peat burning stations. That has real consequences for the long-term viability of the plant in Clonmel. The law of unintended consequences applies in this case. I urge the Minister of State to be aware of that and to consult with Coillte. It was important that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, made the announcement as we needed an incentive in that regard but this was an unintended consequence and the Department should be aware of the need to address it.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I am aware of it. I spoke as recently as last night to SmartPly. I got the opportunity to visit the plant last week as it is down the road in New Ross in my neighbourhood.

There is a positive and a negative in this instance. It is a good news story for farmers in that it will put a floor on the price of pulp wood, however, there are difficulties in other respects. [431] In my role as Minister of State with responsibility for forestry I am concerned about the possibility of virgin fibre being used. We want trees to go through their full life rather than for forests to be cut down and burnt, which would mean the end of the trees. We would prefer to see trees go through the sawmill process and the timber being used for other products which means add-on value through the process. This is an issue that is of concern to me in the forestry sector. I will keep a close eye on matters. I intend to speak to the Minister, Deputy Ryan, on the matter. I am fully aware of it and I have had a long discussion about it with my Department this morning.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  Can the Minister of State give any indication of when the 8% reduction in the forestry premia will be restored?

Deputy Seán Connick:  No, I cannot. That is a matter for the Department of Finance. I am aware of the issue. I was lobbied on it by people in my constituency following the budget last year. It caused a lot of difficulty for some people who had committed to the forestry scheme.

In the past 40 years forestry in this country has increased from 1% cover to 10% cover. People were very forward thinking in the 1970s and 1980s when they planted many of the existing forests. I am aware of the difficulty the decision caused to some individuals who were reliant on their income in that regard. I will raise the matter with the Minister for Finance but I cannot give any indication of when it is likely to happen.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Mattie McGrath — the proposed regulation changes in credit unions; (2) Deputy Brian O’Shea — the need for a speech and language therapy service at St. Joseph’s special school, Parnell Street, Waterford and at St. Martin’s special school, Kilcohan, Waterford; (3) Deputy Pat Breen — the future education needs of children with special needs in west Clare; (4) Deputy Seymour Crawford — the failure of many farm families and self-employed people to receive essential farm assist or jobseeker’s allowance; (5) Deputy Joe Costello — the plans to resolve the bed and space problems in the accident and emergency unit of the Mater Hospital, Dublin; (6) Deputy Michael D’Arcy — the need to reduce the cost of finger post signs; (7) Deputy James Bannon — the need for a new community college in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath; (8) Deputy Dan Neville — the care of patients with Alzheimer’s disease; (9) Deputy Seán Sherlock — the need to progress the work necessary to ensure that the fish pass at the weir on the Blackwater, Fermoy, County Cork is in compliance with EU law and takes account of other local activities; (10) Deputy Michael McGrath — the need to proceed with the extension to Scoil Nioclais, Frankfield, Douglas, Cork; (11) Deputy Terence Flanagan — the need to provide additional funding to schools to support children who are dyslexic; (12) Deputy Michael Ring — to ask the Minister for Transport if he has met with representatives of multinational companies in the west who have stated that road conditions are threatening the future of their businesses; what plans there are to upgrade the N5 and if he will make a full statement on the matter; (13) Deputy Catherine Byrne — the need for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to address the ongoing maintenance problems in the Dolphin House complex, Dublin, where residents are living in deplorable conditions; (14) Deputy Michael D. Higgins — the disastrous consequences of the breach of faith by Government with regard to unemployed Access workers returning to education, which may lead to the possible discontinuation of courses begun by 50% of those [432]students in GMIT and NUIG; the confusion that has been created between social welfare entitlement and back to education allowance; the urgent need for the matter to be restored to that for which the students had a legitimate expectation; and the urgent need for the Minister for Education and Skills to respond to a recent presentation made at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education and Science; (15) Deputy Thomas Byrne — the Minister’s commitment to the IDA business park, Drogheda, County Meath; (16) Deputy Ciarán Lynch — to ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will consider the restoration of the 10th mainstream teacher for Scoil Barra Naofa Cailíní, roll No. 19232C in view of the changed circumstances and a projected enrolment for 2010 to 2011 of 269 pupils; (17) Deputy Richard Bruton — the provision of services for children with Asperger’s spectrum disorder and autism on the north side of Dublin; (18) Deputy Kieran O’Donnell — to ask the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation what plans he has for funding the recommendations of the mid-west jobs taskforce; (19) Deputy Tom Hayes — in light of reports that ten acute medical beds are to be closed in South Tipperary General Hospital, can the Minister for Health and Children deal with concern over the proposed closure of beds which could lead to the downgrading of services in the hospital; and (20) Deputy Michael Kennedy — the need to have adequate measures in place to prevent vandalism at archaeological sites.

The matters raised by Deputies Thomas Byrne, Michael Kennedy, Seán Sherlock and Richard Bruton have been selected for discussion.

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

Deputy Brendan Kenneally:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on the Bill, which addresses the outcome of the previous High Court judgment that held that part of the Vagrancy Act was unconstitutional. In view of that decision we cannot outlaw begging entirely. I am not sure we would want to do it anyway. The legislation is necessary because begging has become a problem. People are being intimidated by some of those begging. At times, one would wonder why some of them are doing it because in some cases no great need is apparent.

A number of shopkeepers have remarked on the fact that certain gangs of beggars tend to gather outside some retail establishments. The gangs are intimidating by virtue of just being there and are preventing people from going into the shops in question for that reason. I know of cases where the owners of such establishments have tried to move such people on. They might succeed for a short time but then the gangs come back again. There is nothing such people can do about it because the law in the area is not strong enough. The Bill, which is welcome, intends to provide for the deficiencies in the legislation as it has been harming business.

When I left Waterford yesterday to come to Dublin I drove past the GPO in Waterford where I saw a lady outside the front door with a begging cup in her hand. That in itself is intimidating to people who are going in and out of an establishment because the intent is to shame them into giving something to the person begging. I have no way of knowing whether the person needs such support. I have seen the lady in question in that location on more than one occasion which indicates that her activity is almost a job for her at this stage. It is important that we can deal with such situations.

Reference is made in the Bill to the fact that it will be possible to move people on from shop-fronts and also vending machines. One can ask whether a vending machine includes a parking meter. I do not know. There is no definition of “vending machine” in the legislation but I assume parking meters are included. One only has to go out the Merrion Street exit of [433]Leinster House to see people sitting under parking meters staring at people putting money into them to park their cars. That is intimidating in itself. I hope parking meters are covered by the legislation.

Perhaps we are all at fault for subscribing to people who beg on the streets. I am sure many Deputies remember that a number of years ago there was a proliferation of children begging on the streets of this city and other cities and towns throughout the country. At the time, the ISPCC asked people not to give money to children begging on the streets. In many cases, vanloads of children were being distributed by adults in various places throughout Dublin and other urban areas. They were being exploited. The ISPCC’s plea was heeded at that time. One no longer sees children begging on the street, by and large, although there will always be exceptions. It is not as common as it was a number of years ago because people have listened to what the ISPCC said about not giving them money and thereby brought an end to the practice. We could do the same in this instance, if we were to follow the advice we were given on that occasion.

Many of those who are involved in begging are foreigners. Although some of them are Irish, in my experience most of them are foreigners. Many of them come from countries that have a culture of begging. They are bringing that culture to Ireland by continuing to beg here. It is not part of our culture. We need to stamp it out as much as we can. The more money we contribute in these circumstances, the more people we will attract to Ireland to engage in this activity. We will probably be seen as a soft touch. I am not being uncharitable. I am as charitable as the next person. When I subscribe to various charities, as I am quite sure every Member of this House does, I know it will go to a particular cause and be used in the right way. That is how we should contribute in the future.

There is no great need to beg in this country. We have a very good welfare state here. People who might be down on their luck can fall back on jobseeker’s allowance or some other social welfare payment. They may be entitled to medical cards or local authority housing. If they are on a housing waiting list, they can get the rent supplement allowance from the HSE. Plenty of supports are available to people. Many people who beg on the streets do not have a real need to do so, because we look after people fairly well in this country. Some genuine people may be involved in this activity because they are not aware of their entitlements. A girl who came to my constituency office earlier this week had no money. She has applied for jobseeker’s allowance but, naturally, it will take a couple of weeks for that claim to be processed. She did not know what to do in the meantime. She was not aware that she could apply to her local community welfare officer to get some support in the meantime. I directed her to that service. I am sure many other people are not aware of their entitlements. They should get in touch with their local citizens information bureau, which can provide information and support.

No matter what one does, certain people will always abuse the supports that are available within the system. Community welfare officers do a wonderful job, by and large. They sometimes make payments to people who need to furnish local authority houses, for example. If one speaks to those who supply furniture and similar commodities, one will learn that some people refuse certain products or want more money for something better. They could probably have provided for what they needed in the first place. There will be abuses in every situation, regardless of what we do.

I am not sure if door-to-door begging, which was mentioned by Deputy Connaughton earlier in this debate, is covered in the Bill. While it does not happen as much as it used to, that does not mean it will not happen again in the future. A specific sector of our society was very much involved in this activity at one time. It does not generally happen in urban areas. I am afraid that if it is not covered in this legislation, it will return. This form of begging sometimes takes [434]place in rural areas for a particular reason. Those involved in it may want to discover who lives in a particular dwelling, or how that building is laid out. In such circumstances, their ulterior motive may be to return to the location at a later date to commit a robbery. I would like some clarification on the question of whether door-to-door begging, which can be very intimidatory, is covered in this Bill.

The Irish Human Rights Commission has suggested that the levying of fines is ineffective. While it may be right in that regard, there has to be some sort of deterrent. As I argued earlier, the public can act as the biggest deterrent of all. Begging can cause great difficulties in tourism areas, for example. The new Waterford Crystal facility in my home city will open late next month. We hope the Viking triangle development in the old part of the city will become a big tourist attraction. If this legislation cannot deal with any vagrants or beggars who might come into that area, it will not be very helpful. When this legislation is finally passed, I hope it will give the Garda the tools it needs to allow these issues and problems to be addressed.

Deputy John Perry:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of this Bill. This short measure is designed to deal effectively with harassment and pressure on the public by persons engaged in begging. Many aspects of begging represent an unacceptable public nuisance. Begging can entail trespass, give rise to a general breach of the peace and threaten the maintenance of order. The unacceptable aspects of begging must be regulated and controlled by a specific and adequate law. The present gap in the legal powers available to the Garda must be closed. While it may be somewhat sad that we have to consider the measures set out in the Bill to curb this form of anti-social behaviour, the measures in the Bill are necessary and justified.

  4 o’clock

By any measure, Irish people are individually generous, caring and sympathetic to those in need. We are especially charitable in giving considerable financial resources to the Third World and the underprivileged. Such empathy and compassion is crucial to our sense of community and the maintenance of the social fabric. It is important that Irish people are especially generous in volunteering their time and energy to charitable bodies that work to help the deserving and the underprivileged. Now that we are in the middle of a massive economic downturn, the need for everyone to pull together is greater than ever. Many families are enduring uncertainly about their incomes and must adjust to lower income levels. Many others are fearful about the future. It is a very difficult time for many people. It is at a crisis time like this that the benefits of a strong family life and strong voluntary work show the strength of community. The empowerment of community and the voluntary sector must be further acclaimed. Citizens want a society that is compassionate, caring and supportive. In my experience, this time of difficulty is bringing out the best in local communities. Many still give generously to those in need and I acknowledge their generosity and giving of their financial resources and time.

One notable charity in this regard is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. It helps fill the gaps in the income of many families in need in a dignified, compassionate and discreet way.

Most who give to charity prefer to do so on terms of their own choosing. We are perfectly entitled to decide at what time, in what circumstances and in what manner we will give support to worthwhile and charitable causes. We do not wish to be obstructed while we go about our ordinary everyday activities. Most certainly, we do not wish to be hustled and harassed with in-your-face type of demands into giving charity while we are going about our normal day-to-day activities.

There is a fine line between begging and those on the streets with alcohol or drug problems who have no family or social supports but who depend on people’s generosity. An evaluation [435]should be made of those with genuine needs who, through no fault of their own, are forced to beg. Categorising them as beggars needs to be examined in a different light as they should be considered more a social case. Many of those on the streets with alcohol problems have no other supports available to them and find it impossible to access medical services to help deal with their alcohol dependency. It is a real social problem that this legislation may need to consider differently.

I welcome the Bill’s provisions that will end the practice of beggars obstructing access to and from business premises, being about a business premises, public amenity areas and openly begging for money and goods. For many involved in such practices, it is almost a professional activity.

The ending of unacceptable begging behaviour in the vicinity of business premises, cash points, parking meter payment points, retail outlets, restaurants, places of entertainment, tourism and sporting locations will have a positive effect.

Regrettably, there is some evidence that not all begging is closely linked to real need. For some it may be a lifestyle choice, while for others a means to supplement State-provided benefits and supports. There are some examples of what can only be described as professional begging. There is a clear danger that this particular form of begging will become associated with certain social or ethnic groups, leading to damage to the sense of community in the country.

The sensible use of the Bill’s provisions will certainly help deal with this particular practice to everyone’s long-term benefit. In the same way that the media and public education programmes of charitable and voluntary groups keep the need to help others in the public consciousness, the presence of beggars and begging reminds us in a practical way that there are people in need in society, that there is poverty and that there are people without the means to look after themselves.

The Charities Bill 2007, the legislation governing the start-up and running of charitable bodies, updated and strengthened existing legislation. One aspect of the Bill that merits particular attention in the context of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill is that public donations to registered charities are now subject to much better control than in the past. A greater proportion of funds raised will in future go to the direct provision of charitable activities and services.

Charity has become a large business with many costs and the benefit of tax exemptions for donors. It is important that all the accounts of a charity are open and subject to due diligence to show how the recipients have benefited. Furthermore, I suggest the percentage of the total gross take of a charity that should be allowed for administrative costs should be 20% with 80% going to the charity’s cause, beneficiaries and recipients. If any administrative costs go over this percentage, questions must be asked immediately.

I encourage people to continue to give generously to registered charities as the best way to help the needy. This Dáil is preoccupied with introduction of new legislation but often it does not check their outturns. A strict assessment should be carried out on the effectiveness of the Charities Bill’s provisions, its transposition, implementation and successful outcomes.

Regrettably, a good deal of legislation is enacted in Dáil Éireann but there is never any follow through to establish its effectiveness. The outturn should be checked in this case. There should be a report to the House on the success of the Charities Act, the level of compliance, the amount of money collected through it and the amount in the public domain. This should be carried out by the relevant controlling office.

I refer to the enforcement of the provisions of this Bill. I trust the Garda will see it as part of its humanitarian service to advise beggars of the official and voluntary supports and services [436]available to the poor and needy as a practical alternative to begging activities. There is a difference between certain groups and we are aware a significant number of people have fallen on hard times. It can be very intimidating if one is at a low and people are constantly in the vicinity of pay machines. I prefer not to pass anyone on the street because one could be looking at anyone from one’s own family.

It is important the relevant State supports are in place. The Department of Social Protection and other Departments which award benefits should provide information leaflets advising people of their entitlements. For example, such leaflets could advise people of a drop-in service where they could get lunch or overnight accommodation. People should be made aware of their entitlements in a friendly way. The Garda could make available a printed leaflet to apprise people of the alternatives rather than use the heavy hand of the law. If people were educated about the benefits and alternatives available and the supports available and encouraged to avail of them progress could be made.

There are certain people with alcohol addiction on the streets through no fault of their own. They should be given the support of the State and should not be turned away from accident and emergency departments. They should be given supports to deal with their addiction rather than pick up money for drugs or alcohol to feed the need of the habit on the street. If a person has an alcohol addiction it should be treated.

The Bill is very important but there is also a matter of rights and responsibilities as well on behalf of the State. It must ensure people at their most vulnerable time are helped and we must recognise the role of the voluntary sector, which does outstanding work. The charities in this country are outstanding. I refer to the recent earthquake tragedy. The generosity of the people is legendary and we could never be accused of not helping to address the need that arose.

There is a need for certain controls in regard to this Bill but also for a certain education. More important, the State should recognise the role of voluntary organisations in the community which give of their time. Their work, which does not necessarily involve fund-raising all the time, includes people giving of their time to encourage participation in sporting activities and encourage people to come into social halls for other activities.

There was 12 years of boom in the economy and people lost a sense of community. People in housing estates did not know their neighbours two or three doors down. This may change because of the new social charter. A sense of community is very important and education through schools is also very important. It is very important that the younger generation of children are educated. In the past ten or 12 years there was so much money everywhere that a three-tier society was created. It is important that as part of the education system, people are educated about the value of money and how to save it. Unfortunately, that has not emerged from homes. Every possible request was satisfied on demand. There is an obligation on all of us in this regard, but especially through schooling.

One of the most important issues concerns social obligation and responsibility to society. A certain level of anti-social behaviour stems from and eventually ends up in alcohol abuse and associated problems. There is a degree of anti-social behaviour from younger people in housing estates and this can create a sense of nuisance. I refer to the public order laws in this regard. Sometimes people can congregate outside supermarkets intimidating customers who come in. This can take place in hotels and elsewhere where there are people with nothing to do. Such people can intimidate not only from a begging point of view, but by going into a business establishment simply because it is in a particular location. It is important that a sense of obli[437]gation should be brought through the school network and the importance of respect should be imparted. This could help to address the issue of anti-social behaviour.

I do not consider begging to be a problem in rural areas or in the small towns of Ireland. I have seldom experienced the problem in the Sligo-Leitrim constituency. It is not what one could term a major, widespread problem but it is important that it should be regulated.

This debate opens up the nature of the social difficulties that exist and the sense of isolation for people who seem so helpless. Things must be very low for anyone to stand on a street or sit in a footpath to beg. The integrity of such a person should be borne in mind and such people may need a lift. Some very good charitable services are in operation and this is predominately an issue for large urban areas. I refer to the need for information, support, encouragement and dedicated personnel from the State to encourage people to use other means. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul should inform people that support is available.

I am very pleased to speak on this Bill. It is important legislation. There should be a sense of corporate responsibility. We witnessed the time of boom when there was a great deal of money. Unfortunately, the wealthy became wealthier and the poor did not. There is much talk of a recession at the moment but there is a cohort of people who never benefited from the boom and for whom its disappearance has made no difference to their lifestyle. I refer to the 80:20 principle. As we speak, there is a significant number of people on whom the recession has had no effect because they are so wealthy that it makes no difference. However, there are others including people in the poverty trap, on lower incomes, people who are under-privileged people, people who rear big families and single parent families. All such people are affected by the difficulties associated with poverty.

I refer to the need for a sense of community. I am a great believer in the voluntary community ethic. I started my political career working with a community based organisation involved in providing services to the community, including playgrounds, public amenities and job creation. There is a significant entitlement in this regard and the Government must attempt in every sense and at every opportunity to encourage community development. I refer to entrepreneurs in society who give of their time. A significant amount of people have been successful in recent years. They should be encouraged to help in some way. A sense of acknowledgement by the State is very important.

An Ceann Comhairle:  In the next slot we have Deputies Darragh O’Brien and Mattie McGrath who may speak for ten minutes each.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  The previous Deputy mentioned one of the most important points in respect of begging. It is not a question of trying to criminalise people who are in genuine need. Only three weeks ago in Donabate, Fr. Peter McVerry gave a presentation to Donabate Community Council in my constituency. He was discussing the issue of homelessness, especially in respect of younger people and the issue of begging came up. People asked about the best thing to do and whether one should one give money to a person begging. Interestingly, Fr. McVerry said the best thing one can do is to say “Hello” and talk and engage with that person. It is important to remember a person’s dignity and desperation at such times. For the vast majority of people, it must be the case that they are at their lowest ebb to feel it necessary to go on the streets. I get off the train each morning at Pearse Street Station and I then walk past the same three people begging every morning as I walk up to the Dáil. When dealing with legislation such as this, which is important in controlling the intimidatory aspects of begging and the professional begging industry, we should not forget the genuine people who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on hard times. It is important to remember that those who are on the streets are people like all of us. They have families and feelings and deserve a small [438]bit of recognition from us as we walk past. We can say “hello”, ask how they are and see if assistance can be given in other ways.

The Bill is sensible legislation. I have heard complaints in my constituency about begging outside shops and houses and on our main streets and about people feeling intimidated by it. It is important that the gardaí are given powers to deal with this. The legislation will prohibit begging within ten metres of an ATM, a dwelling or the entrance to a business premises. The gardaí will have the power to move people on from those locations if they consider the begging and the manner it is being done to be intimidating people. That does happen from time to time.

It did not surprise me to learn that the previous Act governing this activity is the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847, enacted in probably one of the worst times in the history of the country during the great famine. It was probably introduced by the powers that be to sweep the problems of the country under the carpet and get starving people off the streets. Thankfully, we are not in that position, or anything close to it, today. I was not surprised that, in the case of Dillon v DPP, the 1847 Act was judged unconstitutional. This presented the Government with the need to bring forward the Bill.

The Bill takes a commonsense approach. It brings balance between those who are genuinely needy and those who are not. There are organised gangs of beggars, because begging can be a lucrative industry. Children are sent by their fathers and mothers to beg in our cities and throughout the country. This must be dealt with, and I know this matter falls within the remit of social services. Children should not be made to sit on the street in all kinds of weather and collect money, sometimes to feed their parents’ habits or to raise money for them. I would like to see this problem addressed. I hope it is within the powers of the Bill to allow the gardaí more leeway in dealing with this issue.

The Bill does not criminalise any individual. Penalties under the Bill are capped at a fine of €300 for someone who refuses to move on if requested by a member of the Garda. The fine for a person who refuses to give a name or address or gives false information to the gardaí is capped at €200. We are dealing with a sad reality of life that goes back to the beginning of time. That is, that people sometimes feel it necessary, because of the situation in which they find themselves, to seek assistance from others.

Although State and voluntary agencies do magnificent work throughout the country and we have made massive strides in the area of homelessness, this issue needs to be addressed constantly. People who are living on the streets must be given proper information about their entitlements and where they can seek assistance. I refer to Father Peter McVerry, who is an expert in this field and who has established hostels for young homeless people. Hostels are not the best place for young adults aged between 16 and 18, particularly as they can be a gateway to drug misuse and alcohol abuse. Some of the centres are in such bad shape that it would be difficult to send young people to them, where they could be led down a road they would not otherwise have taken.

While talking about the Bill and what it might do, we cannot forget our responsibility to look at the causes of this problem and to provide early intervention, ideally at a family level and in the family unit. It is a symptom of modern society in the last ten or 15 years that the family unit has broken down somewhat. Parental guidance and time spent with children seem to have lost their importance. I know it is difficult to gauge how successful early intervention will be but the fewer homeless people who are begging on the streets the better. Broader society needs to be educated about the people who are on the streets. No one makes a conscious choice to be in that situation. It is up to us, as Government and Opposition legislators together, [439]to make sure this is always at the top of the agenda. This is a battle we will never win, but child poverty and homelessness must remain a priority for all of us.

The Bill takes a sensible approach and the penalties are clearly outlined. There is a feeling among the public that there are criminal elements behind some begging rings. This is true. Deputy Kenneally referred to sections of our community who are receiving State assistance or seeking refuge in the country. Someone who is being supported by the State and is receiving State benefit and housing has no need to beg. Is it possible that such a person is handing the proceeds of begging to someone above them? That area must be criminalised. It is akin to slavery, and I do not use that term lightly. People are running gangs of children and young men and women who are made to sit out for 12 or 14 hours a day and hand up what they get to someone who controls them.

I welcome the Bill. It represents a sensible approach and I am glad to hear there is broad support for it.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I too am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. Begging is a sensitive issue, especially in the hard times we face at present. It is important to balance the need for law and order with an appropriate response to a human and societal problem. The Bill achieves this balance, in that it does not criminalise begging itself but leaves only aggressive begging as a crime. It is important to distinguish between both. The offence of begging arises only where it is accompanied by threats, intimidation, violence or obstruction. The offence carries a penalty of one month imprisonment and/or a fine of up to €400. The Bill also proposes a new power that would permit a member of the Garda to direct persons who are begging to move on from key public places, for example, the vicinity of an ATM or the entrance to a home or business premises.

I totally understand that when an individual or family are forced go out to beg their self worth and lives are at a very low pitch. They would not do it unless they had hit very hard times, fallen off the wagon and were forced into the situation. We must differentiate this activity from organised begging, often involving small children accompanying adults on the streets in all kinds of weather. It is very hard for passers by to see them in such circumstances. I accept totally that if people want to contribute in such cases, they are free to do so. However, I would be very concerned if I thought the begging was organised and that children were being misused or abused in this regard. They are normally found in very sensitive areas and I am delighted, therefore, that the Garda has the power to move them a certain distance from such areas.

Most Irish people want to share because of their history. In penal and Famine times, people did not have enough to eat and were forced to flee the land in awful circumstances to foreign shores. Many died all over the country, in workhouses, poorhouses and God knows where else. Since then, many organisations, some voluntary, have been providing shelter, sustenance and basic requirements. They were overrun during the dark period in our history to which I refer. Since then, the Irish have been caring and interested in the livelihoods of their neighbours, friends and newcomers to our shores. Over recent decades, there have been many newcomers and we welcome them with open arms. It reflects badly on us all if there is an abuse of generosity and if begging is carried out in a business-like fashion that forces people to solicit money, food or other goods, including through activities on the streets or by calling to houses or businesses.

It is important that we legislate for the greater good and, in so doing, eliminate opportunities for a tiny minority to tarnish the reputation of the vast majority. Unfortunately, it is hard to legislate for everybody at once because a one-size-fits-all solution never can be applied easily.

[440]The provisions in the Bill are valid and are to protect the public from intimidation and harassment. They will have an effect on related on-street activities, including drinking and drug taking, that represent a danger or threat to the public. While this aspect of the law is beneficial to society at large, it should not be seen in any way as brushing the problems of homelessness and begging under the carpet. It is very important all Members respect the fact that the legislation is not intended to do so in any way.

On a human level, I am sympathetic to those forced into the circumstances I have described. The Government should be considering preventive policies, such as family support and community intervention, that might provide a longer-term solution required by individuals and the broader community.

After the tsunami and other desperate events such as earthquakes and serious famines, from which, we are glad, our little country is protected, the Irish, both young and old, proved to be very generous. Moneys have been raised through no-uniform days in schools, arts initiatives and other means. Considerable sums of money and other goods are collected to be sent abroad. People mobilise and demonstrate their goodness when tragedies are beamed into their homes by the media. While we condemn the media at times, their bringing of such pictures into our sitting rooms reminds us of the plight of less-fortunate mortals. We have come to the aid of many all over the world and have been pioneering. We have missionaries all over the world.

I am glad the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs responsible for overseas aid, Deputy Peter Power, has joined us, along with the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary White. The Minister of State, Deputy Power, has witnessed some of the circumstances I describe. I have not although the pictures I have seen are enough to move anybody, unless one has a heart of stone.

The public will accept this Bill as an effort to eliminate malpractice and the misuse of people, including by gangs. People will understand it and will not have reasons to criticise or oppose it.

The failure to comply with a direction of the Garda will result in a fine of €300. It is a lot of money to the destitute or if one is begging. However, the fine is not aimed at the destitute but at those who are begging as a business. The provision will protect members of the public in locations where begging activity can be particularly intimidating and compromise one’s privacy. It is very important that there be free movement and that people have a right to contribute in whatever way they want to charity without being coerced or having their arms twisted.

It will be an offence to fail to give a name or address to a garda, or to give false details to a garda, and this offence will attract a fine of up to €200. This is important. Every citizen should be traceable. I believe and want to believe, as is right, that all people have certain entitlements.

I thank the charities combating homelessness. In this regard, I must mention the work of my neighbour and friend from Tipperary, Alice Leahy, in Dublin. I am involved in many charities, some very closely. I do not want to be critical of charities because they are set up for the best of reasons. If I have any criticism, it is that they sometimes become so immersed in what they are doing that they do not see the wood for the trees and lose sight of their objectives. Bureaucracy can creep in and have an effect. Sometimes too much of the money donated freely by the people is spent on administration and meeting costs. We should not be afraid to say this and examine it. It can happen all committees and organisations. Most of our voluntary bodies are limited by guarantee but sometimes can get caught up in bureaucracy and lose sight of their objectives.

I referred to Ms Alice Leahy because her organisation is very small and local and meets the homeless in the morning and at times of great vulnerability. In saying this, I am not taking [441]from any of the other charities. When walking to work, I normally meet people in the street and usually feel I want to give them something. Having listened to other speakers today, I may stop for a cúpla focal with the homeless with a view to understanding them better. Perhaps I will learn something tomorrow, in spite of my being a little afraid of the language barrier, for example. It is a bad day on which we do not learn something.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010. I am not so sure this is the title I would give to a Bill if the intention were to discourage people from begging in certain sensitive areas. They are to be discouraged for very good reasons in many cases. For example, it can be very intimidating to those at an ATM machine or at a facility on a public thoroughfare if they are surrounded by people who seem to be organised. One may be intimidating unwittingly. It is important that we have legislation to deal with that.

When people are begging, I always want to know whether they are in receipt of their due entitlements under the social welfare code. I am not so certain they are in all cases. We must be conscious, particularly at present, that some people may be driven to extremes to supplement their income, particularly if they have been the victim of an application on which a decision has been delayed for a considerable time. I had a call from a constituent in my office a few minutes ago about a person who had waited almost nine months for a decision on a social welfare claim. That should not be but, in certain vulnerable cases, people may be forced to beg on the street. It is humiliating and it is an awful drop down for the unfortunate person who finds himself or herself in that position. I do not wish to justify begging or those who upset or intimidate the public but it is important to ensure we balance the way we apply our laws and that we have a reasonable indication that social welfare entitlements are being made available to applicants.

In the past I have asked people who were begging what were their circumstances and, in some cases, they had given up on obtaining a social welfare payment because they were turned down for one reason or another, including failure to make an application from their normal address or to qualify under another heading. I am a little worried that we are being encouraged to introduce legislation of this nature, which is draconian, to deal with this issue.

In the current economic climate, more people find themselves being squeezed on a daily basis. They have fewer resources and they are desperate and find themselves having to resort to extraordinary means to generate an income. Before the terms of the legislation are enforced and a crime is determined by the authorities, it would be helpful if it were possible to ascertain from the individuals concerned whether, for example, they have an income, a social welfare entitlement, where they normally live and their history. In certain circumstances it may be possible to give further attention to the person’s case. Members should not forget the justifiable furore over the past few days about children in care. Some people in care have been on the streets begging. That is a fact of life, regardless of whether we like it. There are implications for society if the only action we can take is to outlaw something that happens by virtue of circumstances outside the control of the individuals involved, many of whom are vulnerable and have had no opportunity to do anything other than the nearest thing to come to hand in trying to eke out an existence.

In those circumstances, we need to be compassionate in the application of the law and this has been echoed by previous speakers. It is extraordinary in the times in which we live that so much appears to be in need of rectification and there is a such a need for retribution by the State regarding people who failed to do their job or did it improperly. It is sad that in our society no retribution will be taken against them while, at the same time, the Government has quickly taken action against the weak and the vulnerable. There are circumstances that need [442]to be investigated but the arbitrary tone of the legislation is a little worrying. I hope its remit is not extended beyond what is suggested but even what is suggested could be intimidatory in certain circumstances, given we cannot be expected to know, on the introduction of the legislation, what the circumstances are in individual cases of people who might be fined or subject to other sanction under it.

Section 1(2) states:

For the purposes of this Act, a person begs if—

(a) without lawful authority, he or she requests or solicits money or goods from another person or other persons, and does not offer any money, goods or services in consideration therefor, or

(b) while in a private place without the consent of the owner or occupier of the private place, he or she requests or solicits money or goods from another person or other persons, and does not offer any money, goods or services...

The person thereby commits an offence. I hope there are no circumstances — reference has been made to this — where a legitimate charity might fall foul of the legislation by not having a lawful authority. I presume a “lawful authority” means a permit from the Garda. One does not know what would be the likely interpretation of that but that is my presumption.

Section 2(a) states: “A person who, while begging in any place harasses, intimidates, assaults or threatens any other person or persons,”. Intimidation, harassment and assault can take place for no reason at all near vending or ATM machines or other facilities, which have nothing to do with begging. We have all come across these incidents in our constituencies and it is not always determined that an offence was committed. I would like this provision to be applied in a way that has due regard not only for the incident, but also the circumstances surrounding it, which may be maliciously intended or may be the result of necessity.

Section 2(b) provides that a person who “obstructs the passage of persons or vehicles, is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €400 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or both”. I am not sure what this means but it could have wide implications and it is a harsh sanction. Serious offences have been committed in this State with huge implications for large cohorts of the population but no action will be taken for one reason or another. The section is arbitrary and I am a little concerned. I would like the Minister to elaborate on this in his closing contribution, as that is a wide definition of an offence. Does “obstruction” mean hovering in the vicinity, deliberating walking in front of someone, intercepting or holding out a hat for coins? For example, does it mean a person playing a musical instrument on the footpath would be deemed to be obstructing the passage of persons or vehicles? I would again like to hear what the Minister of State has to say about this aspect.

I would again like to hear what the Minister of State has to say about this aspect. All our towns have people who sit on street corners and who have traditionally done this for years. Buskers make a profession of it and I do not believe they do any damage. The definition here has serious implications and could be much more far-reaching than it would appear. It says “or” rather than “and” as regards a person who “harasses, intimidates, assaults or threatens”. I would like to hear the Minister of State’s evaluation of that proposal and the interpretation and definition of the offence. It would be a sorry day if we were to put people in prison for allegedly obstructing the footpath because of the introduction of this legislation.

[443]In some cases there are people of no nationality, without a passport, even from within the European Union. I have had great difficulty in trying to find out what exactly the Minister intends to do in such cases. There are such people from within the European Union who do not qualify for a passport, and they may have lived here for several years. I wonder what the interpretation of the law will be in so far as they are concerned because there seems to be an undercurrent at present to the effect that such people have no right to exist anywhere and should be somewhere else. This is not a good side to society at any time, and is potentially very dangerous, particularly at present.

Section 3(1) states:

A member of the Garda Síochána may direct a person who is begging in any place and whom the member believes, upon reasonable grounds, to be acting or to have acted in a manner that—

(a) constitutes an offence under section 2, or

(b) gives rise to a reasonable apprehension for the safety of persons or property or for the maintenance of the public peace,

to desist from acting in such manner and to leave the vicinity of that place in a peaceable and orderly manner.

The section goes on to deal with begging within 10 m of the entrance to a business premises. Any obstruction in the vicinity of a business premises may cause problems in some cases but it all comes down to the degree to which the offence is determined and defined and the extent of the penalty being proposed. Again, I ask that this be borne in mind in these circumstances. That is as regards the power of a member of the Garda Síochána.

With regard to the power of arrest the Bill states in section 4(1): “A member of the Garda Síochána may arrest without warrant any person whom he or she suspects, upon reasonable ground, of having committed an offence under section 2 or 3.” This is the section about which I have the most concern. There are many people in this country about whom it is well known they have committed offences, or who may be suspected of committing serious offences and nobody has the power to arrest them. Is that not an extraordinary contradiction in our modern society? There are such people, well-known organised criminals. I congratulate the Garda and the international police forces who combined in the recent sting to bring some of these people to justice, and I hope that continues, but it is extraordinary that we have to be very careful how we deal with such people who are well-versed in the law. They are well-versed in crime and make it their business. They go out on a daily basis to make money from crime and succeed in this, evading justice interminably it seems. They tend to know the law better than the law itself, the courts and the law enforcers. It appears we as a society are afraid to arrest them.

We have had several incidences, for example, where criminal legislation was introduced in this House in 2009, some elements of which were never written into law because of lack of direction and regulations for whatever reasons. I can never understand that because if the real intention was to come to grips with the hardened criminals that now roam the land in this country then there should have been no backing off.

At least the same resolution and force that is being proposed to apply to people begging should be applied to those involved in organised crime and criminal gangs who are responsible for murder, rape and pillage, often committing such crimes while on bail, sometimes more than once. We need to rearrange our sense of perspective. While on the one hand it is a nuisance to have people begging, obstructing the footpath or where someone steps in front of the car to [444]wash the windscreen or whatever, it is a far greater nuisance if people can intimidate society and thumb their noses at the Garda and the courts, where they can walk in one door and out the other, coming back again and again, using and abusing the State’s time, money and resources in a continuous maze focused on pursuing their own lucrative careers, showing contempt for the law and society and everything it stands for.

I and others have raised these issues, as the Ceann Comhairle is aware, over a number of years. When legislation of this nature is introduced into this House where there is a clear intention to, perhaps correctly, apply the law in particular circumstances, it is relatively easy to find groups to intimidate. However, when it comes to applying that law to those who are not so easily intimidated we are shallow in our response and how we go about our business. By saying “we”, I mean whoever introduces the legislation and brings it before the House. It should be well known in advance that members of the public are aware of the way the law seems to apply to protect, or fail to protect them, as the case may be.

How many times have we seen blatant lawlessness, abuse, threatening behaviour, intimidation, violence, stabbing, shooting on a regular basis over the last ten years by people who are organised, almost an alternative army? They arm and suit themselves to achieve their ends at any given time and we are very slow to come to grips with that, notwithstanding the success achieved through the co-operation of the international police forces over the past number of days.

I would like to hear a response from the Minister of State to the points that I raised. I hope other Members will, as has previously been indicated, express some concerns as well.

  5 o’clock

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  Tááthas orm labhairt ar son an Bille seo inniu, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010. It is an important Bill and sends the right signal from the Oireachtas that it wants to act in a constitutional manner and that it wants to show its disapproval of begging where this is accompanied by disruptive behaviour such as harassment, intimidation or any type of public order assaults or threats on the individual. This is very important because all too often when one queues at an ATM machine, one sees someone begging adjacent to it. I do not mind, normally, and often I drop in some money, as we all do from time to time but it is, nonetheless, intimidating, particularly for women, at night and for younger people as well. Something must be done about it. As a more learned person than me said, “The poor you will always have with you.” That certainly applies, and many beggars are very poor. However, there are also professional beggars who make a living from begging. I am not saying these are a majority — they are not — but there is an element of this. These people are the most aggressive, threatening and demanding.

The previous legislation, the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847, simply banned begging. Nowadays, because we have a social welfare system and what should be a system of protection for homeless people, although we do not always measure up in this respect, there should be no reason for begging. Again, however, the biblical phrase applies. The Vagrancy (Ireland) Act was passed by the Parliament in Westminster in 1847, or “Black ‘47”, one of the most terrible years in our history. The intention was to clamp down on Irish people ag lorg déirce, or asking for alms. This was found unconstitutional, but I am glad it will now be off the Statute Book because of the intentions behind the Act and the history of our country around that time. It was not just a public order issue but a clampdown on poor Irish people. The High Court found the Act unconstitutional and the Government has reacted in a measured and appropriate way. While we are often accused here of doing things that are unconstitutional, the Government is doing something worthwhile.

[445]This is a short Bill and does not ban begging altogether, which is appropriate. People should be allowed to go out ag lorg déirce. However, it does prohibit begging in certain cases, such as where there is intimidation, violence, obstruction or threats; this is appropriate. We cannot ban begging because of the right to free expression and communication in Article 40 of the Constitution. Citizens can go around and talk to other people if they want to, and it is important that we uphold this, even though it means begging must be allowed under the Constitution. However, begging cannot be allowed where it goes beyond this. The Minister made it clear when he spoke yesterday that the High Court decision does allow begging to be regulated. The Government can regulate almost anything, in fact. However, there must be certainty to the law, and in this case begging must be accompanied by something else in order to be prohibited. That is what is provided for in the Bill, which I support.

The legislation does not change the position whereby it is unlawful to force a child to beg under section 247 of the Children Act 2001. Begging by children is a particular problem around the city of Dublin and, it must be said, among certain ethnic groups. That is a controversial thing to say, but it is a fact. Children are being abused, day in day out, by being forced to go out and beg on the streets, and their plight is pitiful. There is no doubt those children are living in considerable distress. I am sure the last place they want to be is out begging. The only way in which we can show societal disapproval of this practice is to criminalise the people responsible for it, but in addition, we can personally refuse to give money. That is a terrible thing to say and to do, but there is no other way of preventing this abuse of children. They are certainly not begging for themselves, and they should not be.

Under the Bill, members of the Garda are given the power to move people on, and a garda is entitled to give a direction to a person who is begging if he or she believes the person is acting in a manner which constitutes an offence or gives rise to a reasonable apprehension about the safety of persons or property or the maintenance of public order. This can include begging at junctions or on roadways, which is a feature of life in the city of Dublin, although I do not see it as a particular problem in my own constituency of Meath East. Begging at roadways and roundabouts poses a danger to the beggars, to the vehicles and drivers and to general public safety.

The Garda will also have new powers under section 3 of the Bill to move a person along where he or she is begging within 10 m of a dwelling, an ATM or a vending machine. This is appropriate and necessary for the maintenance of public order. People can beg on the street when they are not outside the entrance to a house or business premises or near an ATM or parking meter, which is reasonable, because they are less likely to be intimidating or threatening or to make people fearful if they are not at those locations.

The Bill is reasonable and does not go too far and, because of this, I am assuming it has the support of all sides of the House. Concerns were raised by the Irish Human Rights Commission and Barnardos in their submissions as the Bill was going through a regulatory impact analysis. Barnardos published an observation paper on the general scheme of the Bill, while the IHRC published an observation paper in December 2008. These organisations had some concerns, but they were marginal. Given that the poor are with us always, a social response is demanded from the State, and this necessitates our large welfare state, which should be able to cover the basic requirements of all people.

We must regulate begging, yet at the same time we must consider the reasons people go out to beg. For some it is a profession; for children, it is because they are forced to, and there is separate legislation to ban child begging. However, for many, the cause is poverty, which is being addressed through another Department in the form of the national anti-poverty strategy.

[446]Although it is not directly relevant to the legislation, I must point out that while various groups were asked to put forward their views on this Bill, including tourism and business interests, Barnardos and the IHRC, no such consultation process has taken place with regard to the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, which was published recently. The Government would do well to engage in such a process for the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill, as it has done with the Bill under discussion. All stakeholders, for and against, should be asked their views on the legislation; if this had been done, such mistakes as have been noted in the Bill might not have arisen. I encourage the Government to send the Wildlife (Amendment) Bill out for consultation to the various stakeholders in the community in County Meath, as was done with the Bill before the House.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I ask the Ceann Comhairle to allow me to preface my remarks by expressing my sadness at the passing this morning of my colleague, Senator Kieran Phelan, who has been a friend of mine for a long time. It is a little-known fact that he used to live in Newcastle, near the Naas Road, when it was part of my constituency, and we have known each other for many years. I feel the need to express my sympathy and state how sorry I am at his passing. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to do this.

I am pleased to make a brief contribution on this important Bill, the Criminal Justice (Public Order) (Amendment) Bill 2010, which creates a new public order offence of begging, but only when it takes place in a particularly sensitive location or is accompanied by particularly intimidating or offensive behaviour. The Bill seeks to address the situation which arose following the 2007 High Court judgment in Dillon v. the Director of Public Prosecutions, which found that the law on begging, as it stood, was unconstitutional.

Like my colleagues, I started out with mixed views about this Bill. This is no criticism of the Minister, but I wonder about its Title. However, that is its Title and I certainly support the Bill. The presence of the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, and my friend and colleague from Clare, Deputy Pat Breen, reminds me of a few remarks that were made earlier on.

I am sorry; the Minister of State is also my friend. I thought that was a given.

Deputy Peter Power:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I thought he was Deputy Peter Power.

Deputy Charlie O’Connor:  I heard my colleague from Tipperary, Deputy Mattie McGrath, referring to Africa. I have visited that continent on a few occasions as a representative of AWEPA and as an interested person.

Deputy Breen and I were on a mission in March on the invitation of the AIDS organisation, IAVI, to visit Entebbe in Uganda and Nairobi in Kenya. One comes home from that type of trip with a different perspective on poverty and a greater understanding of the issues. That experience colours my view of this Bill which I welcome as an attempt to deal with those who take advantage of the law and of their community. On the other hand, it should not penalise those in genuine need.

I was stopped some time ago on the street by a person asking for money to buy a sandwich. After giving him whatever coins I had in my pocket, he looked at them and asked whether I was the local Deputy. When I confirmed that I was he asked if I did not have any notes. I sometimes find myself challenged when people approach me in this way because it is difficult to know whether one is doing good or bad by giving. I am always pleased to give but I have [447]had plenty of experiences in the past of giving money to people only for them to go to the nearest pub.

I did not hear his interview on “Morning Ireland” this morning but I understand Fr. Peter McVerry, for whom I have great respect, made the simple but important point that there are different categories of people begging, including professional beggars, those who beg because their social welfare payment is delayed and they have no money and those who are homeless and will not go into a hostel because of the drug culture.

I hope the Garda and the civil authorities will implement this legislation in a common sense way. We must target the professional beggars who make a business out of begging and upset and intimidate people at ATMs and so on, but we must be careful that we do not stop giving to those who are fully deserving.

One of the organisations in which I am involved in my local constituency is the Tallaght Homeless Advice Unit where we try hard to look after those who find themselves homeless and in genuine need of support. It is often the case that those in greatest need are not the ones standing on the street begging, for all sorts of reasons. I was born in Dublin’s inner city and I remember as a small child seeing people who had no choice but to beg. Their need was far more genuine than that of some of the people I see on the streets today. One must be careful in talking about these issues. At a meeting some weeks ago in Buswell’s Hotel with fellow members of the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, the chairman of the group, a Conservative MP, told me that on a short walk in the vicinity of the hotel that Sunday afternoon he was surprised to be approached by 12 people begging. He was not convinced these people were not genuine. Nor am I and that is the basis of my view on the Bill.

Like other colleagues, I noted that in the case of Dillon v. the DPP, the High Court held that section 3 of the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 was unconstitutional due to its vagueness and lack of imprecision and that it interfered to too great an extent with the freedom to communicate which is encompassed by the freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. My constituency colleague, Deputy Rabbitte, made an excellent contribution on this matter last night. I understand the general scheme of this Bill was approved by the Government in November 2008. It takes account of several suggestions made by the Irish Human Rights Commission, such as taking into account that some who are begging do not have a permanent address.

The Bill applies to both adults and children. However, it does not alter section 247 of the Children Act 2001 which makes it an offence to cause a child to beg or to procure or to have charge of a child for that purpose. I was born and bred in this city and I know all the streets very well. I am honoured to represent my constituency in the Dáil, which requires me to spend three days per week in the city. I would be just as happy to spend all my time in Tallaght but I take my parliamentary responsibilities seriously. Whenever I have an opportunity, depending on Dáil business, I like to ramble around the city streets to clear my head. One sees many people, including children, begging and it is a question of trying to judge whether they are in genuine need or are part of a business. That is the quandary.

The Minister, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is right to grasp the nettle. There have been suggestions that at a time when a great deal of legislation on many different issues is required, this should not be a priority. However, I support the Minister and am an admirer of his work in all justice matters. I would be delighted if he could persuade the Office of Public Works to build a new Garda station in Tallaght, but that is for another day. Every week the Minister makes a significant contribution in regard to law, public order and the entire criminal justice agenda. Although this is not a lengthy Bill, having only five sections, it contains important provisions. [448] I am pleased it is receiving support from Members. I never object when colleagues across the floor attempt to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

This is legislation that will be welcomed in communities throughout the State, by people who find themselves challenged at ATMs, going to church on Sundays, coming out of supermarkets and so on. I hope those charged with policing its provisions will do so in a common sense way. I look forward to supporting the Bill.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I begin by joining Deputy O’Connor in expressing my sadness on the sudden death of Senator Phelan. For several years now he and I have stayed in the same hotel in Dublin and I found him a very decent, honourable and hard-working Senator. I offer my sympathies to his family. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.

I take this opportunity, as we are dealing with a criminal justice Bill, to congratulate the Garda Commissioner, his team of detectives and the relevant members of the force, together with their counterparts in Spain and the United Kingdom, on their excellent work on Operation Shovel. I hope it will help alleviate the hardship caused by the menace of drugs affecting this country.

I welcome an opportunity to speak in the debate on the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill 2010. The name of the Bill would suggest we are debating a different issue but it is an important Bill in that it creates a new public order offence of begging when it takes place in a particularly sensitive location or is accompanied by intimidating or offensive behaviour. As other speakers have said, the Bill seeks to address the position which arose following the 2007 High Court judgment in Dylan v. the DPP which found that the law on begging as it stood was unconstitutional.

The object of the Bill is to crack down on begging gangs and associated anti-social behaviour. Previous speakers mentioned professional begging and people who need to beg, and it is important that we distinguish between both. There has been a broad welcome for the legislation from the retail community, newsagents, the Garda Síochána in particular, shopkeepers, business people and, more important, tourism interests. Tourist numbers have fallen dramatically but many of us who have travelled to foreign countries have been plagued by people begging on the streets which is offputting, offensive and intimidating. It would make one decide not to return to particular countries.

I am aware the Dublin Chamber of Commerce and the various other tourism groups throughout the country are very concerned about the high number of incidents of begging, particularly in the capital city but also in urban areas, which puts people off and is a real problem.

Persistent begging is a major cause of concern. People do not mind the genuine cases, as other speakers have said, but the problem arises when people going about their daily business are constantly harassed. This legislation is designed to deal with that problem.

We have all heard stories and have seen examples of people who were intimidated by people begging. I was talking to a man in Limerick during the week, a Clare man, who needed to get money from an ATM. It was 8 o’clock at night. Three times during the process of making the transaction a beggar came up behind him and started tapping him looking for money. He was fearful that he might be attacked or that the beggar may have had accomplices and he left without finishing the transaction. He was frightened.

I am aware of another case where a young woman in a similar situation got so frightened that she left the money, which was about €100, in the machine. It had not come out of the ATM and she left it behind it because she was so fearful of the situation.

[449]I have heard of other cases of people going into funeral homes being pestered by beggars on a number of occasions. People can be very upset by those type of incidents. They must be stamped out because there are many people caught in the poverty trap who have no alternative but to look for help on the streets. That is a sad reflection on society.

Penalties are imposed for this offence. Section 3 of the Bill provides for a member of the Garda Síochána to direct persons who are begging to desist and move on from the certain locations, the obvious one being 10 m from an ATM or vending machine but also 10 m from the entrance to a dwelling or a business premises that is open for trade or transaction with members of the public or if the Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that due to the person’s behaviour and the number of persons begging at or near those premises, a member of the public is likely to be deterred from entering this premises. That is important and it is the reason many of the business groups have welcomed this legislation.

We have all noticed the increase in the number of people begging on our streets since the recession. In particular we see people begging in and around churches and cathedrals. It is a common place for people to beg and can be intimidating, particularly for elderly people who go to the church to pray but find these people are around the church looking for moneyand harassing people. It is important we have legislation in place to stop that type ofactivity.

It is unfortunate that a consequence of the downturn in the economy is that more people find themselves with nowhere to go other than to try to survive on the streets. Every night when I walk back to my hotel I notice people sleeping on the streets and people begging for money. Those are genuine people and it is a sad reflection on society that despite the number of houses we built during the Celtic tiger years, many people found it difficult to get on the property ladder. The waiting list for social housing has doubled and to compound the problem many people have lost their jobs and find it impossible to pay their mortgages. For many people the sad reality is that they are losing their homes. At any one time approximately 5,000 people are homeless in this country and there are almost 100,000 people on local authority social housing waiting lists, with 93,000 households in receipt of rent supplements.

In my own constituency of County Clare there are 2,464 families and individuals on the social housing list. It is a pity the Government does not show the necessary commitment to deal with poverty in this country. That is important. My colleague, Deputy Flanagan, outlined that in his contribution when he said that we cannot deal with the problem of vagrancy through the criminal justice system alone because begging is inextricably linked to poverty, homelessness and access to social services. He further stated that the Government needs to address the reasons we have a begging issue. That is an important statement and this problem is something all of us in this House should be addressing.

The words of the founder of Focus Ireland, Sr. Stanislaus Kennedy, reflect the position very well. She stated: “How can it be that Ireland managed to build in the region of 250,000 homes that were not needed during the boom years, yet we have still failed to provide enough homes for those who need them most?”

In general terms, and other speakers referred to this, Irish people are very disposed towards contributing to charity organisations. A recent survey compiled by the Irish Charity Engagement Monitor shows that three out of every four people in this country donate to charity but levels are falling because of the recession. For example, the number of Irish people donating to charity fell by 75% in November 2009 compared to 83% in March 2008. Of course, charities are very dependent on on-street cash fundraising and it is important that they can continue to raise funds in this manner without any disruption.

[450]The Irish Human Rights Commission expects that the number of people who are forced onto the streets with no alternative but to beg is likely to increase over the next number of years because of the economic situation. The commission is very critical of the fact that this legislation will not be effective in addressing the root cause of this problem. The need to tackle poverty in this country is something about which many have spoken in this House.

That is also supported by Barnardos. It claims that this legislation alone will not address the problem of begging, which stems from the societal failure to care for and protect vulnerable people, including children. We all will be aware that children are often used by beggars on the streets. It is a sad reflection on society, considering what has been happening over the past number of days, to see our children forced onto the streets to beg, accompanied by their mothers.

Approximately 400 children have gone missing in this country from the care of the HSE. Yesterday, we heard from the Minister of State with responsibility for children and youth affairs, who was frustrated at the failure of the HSE to confirm the number of children who died in its care over the past decade. The official figure is 23 but, unfortunately, this figure could be much higher. We must wait and see when we get the exact figure at the end of June.

Many children have gone missing and nobody has an idea where they are. This country has an appalling record of taking care of children under its care. Many of these children end up on our streets and they have no choice but to go out to beg to survive. Barnardos also points out that the imprisonment powers under this Bill will disproportionately impact on very vulnerable groups, particularly children.

The international experience shows that when similar legislation was introduced in the UK, for example, to deal with aggressive begging, and when it became a recordable or summary offence, areas in Nottingham and Birmingham credited the sanctions with a drop in the number of such incidents. However, some academics strongly opposed the measures taken by the Labour Government. In Australia, for example, begging in many areas is completely banned and in the State of Victoria the question of aggravated begging does not apply as people who beg at all face a 12 month prison sentence.

In this country, between 2003 and 2007, some 793 adults prosecuted for begging were convicted and the average number of convictions during this period was 176. Based on these figures, it is estimated that the average cost of keeping a prisoner in custody was approximately €91,700 in 2006 and €97,700 in 2007. Taking 176 as the average number of convictions per year and the 2007 figure in terms of the cost of imprisonment, and given that the courts would hand down the maximum custodial sentence of one month’s imprisonment in each case, it would cost approximately €1,432,816. That is a great deal of money, which would go a long way in helping those entrapped in real poverty.

As I stated earlier, there is a broad welcome among the business groups and tourism interests for this legislation and I very much support the need to stamp out aggressive begging, particularly of tourists. It is something that would turn one off, as is evident from our own experience of visiting other countries. I am concerned that there is no real commitment to deal with the underlying problem of poverty which is driving ever more people on to our streets for help.

The famous Indian politician, Mahatma Gandi, stated: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.” There is a great deal in those words. There is a growing culture in this country of violence which has child poverty at its roots. In 2007, a UNICEF report highlighted a study that showed Ireland is one of three countries where child poverty is still at 15%. Children who [451]grow up in poverty are much more vulnerable and the Government needs to show the same urgency in dealing with poverty as it shows in dealing with the beggars on our streets.

I wonder how effective the fines imposed in the Bill will be. The financial penalties proposed originally in the heads of the Bill have been reduced by more than half in the Bill itself. Originally, the fine was €700 and it has now been reduced to €300 or one month in jail. I do not know how somebody who is begging will find €300 when he or she does not have the money and, as I stated previously, the cost of keeping somebody like that in jail is high, even for a period of one month. That is why it is extremely important that the Government deals with the root cause of begging, namely poverty, which might prevent much of what is happening on our streets.

Some of my colleagues raised a number of issues on the area of obstruction on the streets and the fact that it carries a penalty of one month’s imprisonment or a fine of €400. A matter that needs to be looked at is how one defines obstruction, threats and intimidation.

Overall, let us hope that this Bill will address the problem of begging. It gives additional powers to the Garda Síochána. However, it is extremely important that we deal with the problem of poverty in this country because it is a real problem.

Deputy Cyprian Brady:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Peter Kelly.

I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate on this particularly timely and important piece of legislation. From my own bitter experience in the constituency of Dublin Central, begging has been for a long time an issue in certain parts and on certain streets in the city centre.

I spend a lot of time around the business district and on numerous occasions I have observed very aggressive begging which is very intimidating for the elderly, young people and even adults. I welcome the introduction of this legislation because for too long there has been confusion and frustration regarding this matter. The confusion arose because over time the nature of begging has changed. Different elements of begging, in particular the use of children, has been dealt with over time. The Children Act 2001 made it illegal to use a child for the purpose of begging or to force a child to beg.

I remember the time when young Traveller children used to sit on O’Connell Bridge in the depths of winter. This issue was dealt with sensitively and effectively. This Bill will ensure the changes in begging will be dealt with adequately, sensitively and fairly. It is not making begging illegal but rather ensuring that where there is an element of intimidation and aggression, the Garda Síochána has the ability to deal with such situations immediately. In my experience, many cases of intimidation are not being reported to the Garda. People may have an element of sympathy for the person begging or it may be a case of intimidation or assault which prevents them from reporting. Underreporting is significant in my experience.

Gardaí, members of the public, business people and shopkeepers were frustrated because there was no method or mechanism for dealing with difficult situations such as persistent begging. This Bill will ensure a fair way of dealing with the situation and it strikes a balance between passive begging, something that has always existed in this country with the previous legislation dating from the 1800s, and dealing with a very aggressive approach. Previous speakers have referred to organised begging rings using women and children, teenagers and adults on a semi-professional basis, to procure money at various locations around the city. This is not confined to being an urban problem. There is an issue in the suburbs of people calling to doors sometimes pretending to be from a charity but who are begging. It is not a uniquely urban problem.

[452]Previous speakers have also referred to the underlying reasons a person is forced to beg. I was a member of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government which met the representatives of the agency dealing with the homeless on a number of occasions. There is a myriad of reasons people find themselves homeless and are unable to afford basic food or accommodation and find themselves forced to beg. Drug and alcohol addiction play a significant part as do psychological disorders.

There has been significant progress in dealing with homelessness because this was an issue in the late 1990s and early 2000s, both in Dublin city and in the country in general. This issue was tackled comprehensively over the following years. Progress has been made in dealing with the underlying causes of homelessness and begging. This momentum must be continued. Addiction to alcohol or drugs leads to chaos in people’s lives, for the victims, their immediate families and their communities and it is extremely damaging. Within a relatively short period of time, an individual can find him or her self without recourse to their families or to services, purely as a result of addiction. This legislation is only one element in tackling those conditions and situations in which people find themselves begging.

The Bill provides that the offence of begging arises where begging is accompanied by threats, intimidation, violence or obstruction. I have witnessed incidents where violence and intimidation are being used. It is a serious and worrying situation for anyone going about his or her daily business to be intimidated when shopping or using an ATM. People working in town in shops have been intimidated and assaulted. The Garda Síochána finds its hands are tied to a certain extent but this Bill will ensure it will have the power to act immediately.

I refer to the issue of begging in the vicinity of ATMs and the scams that are used to part people from their money, ranging from hidden cameras to looking over a person’s shoulder to get the person’s PIN. Begging or coercion may happen at the end of a transaction. The Bill provides that the Garda Síochána can ensure the areas surrounding ATMs are kept clear. It provides to keep clear from begging an area of 10 m in the vicinity of a private dwelling and from any point within 10 m of the entrance of a business premises where a member of the public may, due to the person’s behaviour and the number of persons begging at or near those premises and where a member of the public is being or is likely to be deterred from entering the premises. Deputy O’Connor said he hoped the Garda Síochána will ensure enforcement of the provisions of this Bill will be done with a degree of common sense. From having spoken to Garda management as well as gardaí on the beat, I know that an element of common sense is always used when it comes to dealing with such incidents involving people who are begging. Gardaí tend to give such people the benefit of the doubt.

The Bill also gives gardaí the power to direct a person who is begging to move on, when their presence or behaviour gives rise to a reasonable apprehension for the safety of persons or property, or for the maintenance of public peace. Regardless of whether they involve violence, such incidents tend to have a wider effect on people, and not just on the individual at the centre of an incident. People passing by, including school children can also be affected, so the Bill takes that into account.

Other speakers have referred to the nature of the fines involved and how they will be collected. If someone is begging on the street it is safe to assume that, in the vast majority of cases, they do not have access to funds. As the Minister said earlier, a situation like that will be dealt with in the Fines Bill, which is currently going through the House.

I welcome the Bill before us, which will clear up some of the fears and apprehensions of the wider public. It will also ensure that homeless people who have to beg will be afforded some kind of recognition.

[453]Deputy Peter Kelly:  The purpose of the Bill is to reform the law on begging. Many members of the public have complained about begging and will welcome this measure. The current law dates back to 1847 and was deemed to be unconstitutional by the High Court. The Bill before us will outlaw begging accompanied by threats, intimidation, violence or obstruction. It makes begging an offence and carries a penalty of a fine or imprisonment. However, we hope that common sense will prevail and that, apart from extreme circumstances, a custodial sentence will not be necessary.

The Garda Síochána is being given new powers to direct persons who are begging to desist and move on from certain key locations, including ATM machines. Nobody has a surplus of money nowadays and it is wrong that people cannot visit an ATM machine without being interrupted. The specified locations will also include entrances to houses or business premises.

The Bill will protect members of the public from begging activity both by adults and children. There have been some reports of children begging from other children with threats being used. The current law is not clear enough in this regard and its provisions are too general.

Some local areas have gone to a lot of effort to create facilities for the general good of the community. If people are begging in these locations, however, it puts people off, so they shy away from such places. It is wrong for adults to use children to beg. It is sad to see people begging. It is bad for the beggar and the public. It is hard to know if people would stop begging if they were not supported, but why do people beg? Begging should be controlled by law, but should only be an offence when it is carried out in a threatening manner. Begging interferes with people who are doing their best to go about their normal lives while minding their own business.

Charity collections are not affected by the legislation. The provisions of the Bill will be applied to public and private places. People must be allowed to go about their business and live their lives without undue interference.

While the Bible asserts that the world will always include poor people, it has relatively little to say about beggars. Most of the stories about beggars are to be found in the New Testament. The Old Testament’s verses about begging are mostly philosophical in nature. The Old Testament considers begging to be bad. Jesus told a story about a beggar called Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus had begged daily in front of a rich man’s house, but the latter never gave him anything. When both men died, the beggar found himself in comfort with Abraham, but the rich man was in agony in a burning fire. He was thirsty so he asked Abraham to send the beggar to give him a drop of water to cool his tongue. Abraham reminded the rich man that he was reaping what he had sown in the way he had treated the beggar when they were both alive. He refused his request.

Like all human beings, beggars should be treated with dignity and respect. Just because they beg it does not mean that we can dismiss them or fail to treat them with dignity. Beggars who threaten, abuse or intimidate, however, should never be tolerated.

We have good social services at the moment and community welfare officers do a good job in every county. People should be informed that this is their port of call. Many voluntary organisations, such as the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Simon Community are doing Trojan work in helping people out. Genuine beggars should be spoken to, helped and encouraged to give it up. Begging is bad for a person’s morale and their general health. Beggars who threaten, however, should be stamped out.

I do not have too many details about those who beg in a menacing way, but they are out there and the Bill aims to stop their activities. They should be moved on by members of the Garda Síochána.

[454]Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  It is interesting that we are spending this time, late on a Wednesday afternoon, making arrangements to fine people who beg in a adverse fashion, or if they do not pay their fine they will be imprisoned. This is happening at a time when our economy and financial system have been brought into what is regarded as daily peril by a group of well-heeled people who probably never walked past a beggar.

I note that previous speakers paid tribute to our social services and to the Minister. However, there was no reference to the calls that students received from banks, in the midst of our greatest excess, to tell them that they were under-borrowed. There was no reference either to those poor families now in negative equity who, when they went to borrow the price of a house, were asked “Are you sure you don’t want to take an extra €15,000 or €20,000 for a car?” People are still illegally ringing up to undertake cold selling on the telephone, asking people to get into debt. All of that is regarded as respectable.

  6 o’clock

It is also acceptable and respectable to lurk abroad while people are looking for one and looking for one’s accounts to establish if one had been putting false information on the balance sheet of one’s company and arranging with another person to accommodate one by shifting money between the month of November and the month of January. All of that will no doubt be discussed in time and with great respectability. I am not in favour of people being intimidated for contributions in the street or anywhere else but it is quite extraordinary that due to the absence of any response by way of urgency to those who have been guilty of fraud, those who have absconded while the allegation of fraud hangs around them or those who have put pressure on people to enter into debt in an intimidatory way are walking free.

I know a bit about the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847. Its origin is not in 1847; vagrancy legislation goes back to the 17th century and earlier. It is closely associated with the enclosure movement in Britain, for example, which drove hundreds of thousands of people from their smallholdings towards London. That is the origin of the term “vagrant”. I do not have time to develop the point but the rounding up of vagrants was a major source of manpower for the colonies in the Caribbean for the sugar industry, for example. People were picked up from the prisons, as were those who were ill or vagrant and they were shipped off to the Caribbean often without knowing where they were going. That is the origin of vagrancy.

The idea of vagrancy is that one is not insulated by having property. Thus in this Bill, for example, one will be at risk if one is not able to say where one lives — if one does not have an address. At present, a number of State institutions refuse to deal with a person who has an address at a hostel for immigrants or refugees. Likewise, some State agencies do not regard Simon hostels as an acceptable address. Many people who are on the street are homeless. I have listened to two contributions that suggested what wonderful social services we have. If that is the case, why then in July 2008 did the Health Service Executive retreat from providing two houses that were looking after young people aged between 12 and 18? The Labour Party will seek to change the Bill on Committee Stage, but the legislation applies to children. The congratulatory group who rise late in the afternoon and talk about what a wonderful country it is, how we have done so much and who say we are looking after everyone so well, these are the people associated with the missing bankers and the disgraceful record of fraud. These are the people whom they supported and who then suggest that it is wonderful that we are cleaning up all of this now. Are they not heroic?

I do not want anyone to intimidate anyone, not only within 10 m of an ATM machine or adjacent to a place of business, but I would like to think we have a sense of proportion in terms of what we regard as urgent. I worked as a sociologist for more than 30 years. I am curiously in the area of the sociology of criminal law and deviant behaviour. In those days we [455]used to look for evidence. I have looked at the report of the Law Reform Commission and other reports. Where is the empirical evidence that this is a serious criminal issue or even that it is in the top rank of the ten most serious issues? We are told it was urgent to deal with the matter because the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847 was struck down so we must do something. I am sure the legislation will be regarded as a real achievement.

The previous two speakers stressed the social services we have and what a wonderful country it is. Contributions get more pompous as one gets closer to the evening. There is no 24-hour nationwide social work service for children. I referred to the two residential centres for children between 12 years and 18 years. The Health Service Executive announced a funding freeze on services dealing with homelessness in July 2008. What can one say to those people? The deconstruction of the language of the Bill is that if one is begging and homeless, or if no services are available, then one should just remember to be polite. The important thing is not to upset anyone. That is where the law is at its worst.

There is a history of child abuse in this country. The practice was to press a coin into the hands of children who were not being looked after by their parents so that they could be accused of begging and then they could be rammed into an institution. They were in then out of the rain and the cold but they needed the coin pressed into their hands to get them inside the door.

I have listened to debate in this area for a long time. I was on the MacBride commission on prisons. After that came the Whittaker commission and several other commissions on prisons. How can one justify such a process in 2010? If a person who may be suffering from drug abuse, is intoxicated or is in the withdrawal stages of intoxication, strays within the forbidden 10 m zone, he or she is already in line for a likely fine of €200 unless he or she gives a name and address when requested to do so. Next, the person is brought to the Garda station and he or she is told there may be a €400 fine. This is a person begging in the circumstances I have described. Then the person faces a month in prison. In spite of debating other legislation in which it was agreed by all sides of the House that one should not have people in prison for whom it is not the best option, it is being suggested that it is socially progressive in 2010 to introduce the Bill before the House. Now we are creating the opportunity to send people to prison in this way.

My colleague, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, suggested that the Labour Party will not oppose the legislation on Second Stage but that we will have amendments to offer on Committee Stage. Indeed we will. I would go a bit further. I find the assumptions made in the speeches to which I listened quite extraordinary. Deputy Grealish, who was on holidays in the United States, ran into an FBI man and he had dinner with him in the evening. They discovered that there was a millionaire with one leg who was earning $500,000 a year. All I can say is that is wonderful. At least he did not ask him to contribute to the Progressive Democrats because it was bereft. Perhaps he should have gone on his holidays earlier. That is the kind of facetious comment that is made in the context of the Bill.

The notion as well is that people begging are a blot on the landscape and get in the way of tourism. The next stage is that when one has all of those attitudes oneself, one can then say there are wonderful organisations that do great things. Simon provides soup. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul offers good quality second-hand clothes and does great work. When I was working as a sociologist, I found it interesting how few people ever stopped to talk to the people involved. That is a clue to what I have to say next. How can one conclude what is the intention of the person who is accused of begging, such as the one-legged man in America to whom Deputy Grealish referred in his extraordinary speech, who is driving an enormously expensive car with his one leg, apart from the €500,000 house he owns? When one reads the [456]speech one will know why the Progressive Democrats came and went. That is all I have to say on the matter.

I hope people will look carefully at Deputy Grealish’s speech and what he has to say. Following the jurisprudence section of his speech, in which he referred to the Dillon case, Deputy Grealish argued that “a key aspect of the new legislation is clarity” and suggested that gardaí may have problems in ascertaining whether a person is 10 m or 11 m from an ATM. What if a person staggered within the forbidden area? Is it not marvellous?

I believe that intimidation is wrong, particularly in the circumstances to which people have referred. People should be free to use the public space. All of us in the public space should show a certain degree of compassion. If a child is begging, that is an indictment of the society in which we live. In such a case, there should be a referral service to which the child can be sent. If there is no 24-hour referral service, that is an indictment of the state of the Government. If one believes somebody is being manipulated or forced to beg — it has been suggested that some groups engage in such activity — one should identify the source of that pressure and address it. One does not need to drag an address out of the person in question, or to send them to jail, in order to address the matter.

I wish to refer to another issue that arises in the Bill, purely as a piece of law. I recently attended a meeting of the community policing initiative committee in Galway. I find that a couple of councillors make it a specialty. One of Deputy Grealish’s colleagues does not like to talk about legislation, or anything like that, but prefers to talk about those who are present and those who are not. During the course of the meeting, I asked a question about an interesting aspect of the issue of begging. The decent superintendent who was in attendance said that it was in a bit of a limbo at the present time. Deputy Grealish spoke about clarity earlier in this debate. If a garda suggests to a person that he or she should move on, then asks the person for his or her address, and on it goes, how is that clear? None of this is clear. None of it is reasonably operable for a garda who is trying to do his or her best. Issues of discretion are being left entirely unbalanced. How can one reasonably defend oneself from an accusation of begging in a way that contravenes this law? I cannot see it. I suggest that the Bill is drafted in a manner that takes refuge in the fact that such a person is unlikely seek to vindicate before the courts his or her right to beg properly. Deputy Grealish made the interesting suggestion that these restrictions should apply to “the surrounds of churches”. Perhaps the suggestion can be linked to the departure of the Progressive Democrats, in so far as it would ensure we are relieved from Progressive Democrat collections, at least, if such collections continue after the winding-up of that party.

There is another interesting point to be made about the country in which we are living. I do not want to comment on the other pillars of our State. I remember when the President said we no longer needed to be second to anybody. She suggested that we were up there with the best of them. Were we not wonderful? There are hungry people begging and sleeping rough on our streets because there is no place for them to go. There was a time when we used to go around the world asking other countries if they would like to know how we did it. Those who used to ask people to come here and find out how we did it are the kind of people who would not be happy with one house, or 12 houses. They would have to have 14 houses in Ireland and a few more abroad and to be travelling regularly. We had more than a fake tan society; we had a fake moral society. Our first response to the demise of that society — at a time when many bankers are on the run and many people are slowly trying to search for documents in banks — is to go after the people who are embarrassingly begging. It tells us a great deal.

This Bill raises a serious issue with regard to children, in the context of Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. One cannot haul a child into [457]a station, but that is what this legislation would do. My views about youngsters who are in trouble might be very unfashionable at the moment. When I was a student at Manchester University, Barbara Castle published a magnificent document, Children in Trouble, for the British Labour Party. A great deal of children are in trouble or are offending many people, for example, by drinking in bushes or in the open, but there is nowhere else for them to go. These youngsters may have all sorts of personal difficulties. If they could walk into some kind of centre to talk to someone, their needs might be identified at an early stage. If squad cars brought children home, if they have homes, or to some place where they feel safe, it would be better than introducing them to the criminal process, as this legislation proposes.

According to section 2(b) of the Bill before the House, a person who, while begging in any place, “obstructs the passage of persons or vehicles, is guilty of an offence and is liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding €400 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding one month or both”. Another human rights issue — the notion of imposing a sanction which cannot be met — arises in that context. In the old-fashioned jurisprudence, the thinking was that one should not impose a fine without there being a capacity to pay it. In this case, it is proposed to impose a fine of €400 on a person who is begging. If they cannot pay it, they will face a month in jail. There seems to be a belief that if we look after someone for a month in jail, we will cure them of their impertinence for life. I suppose everything will go on happily, as before. No one will be slowed down. No four wheel drives will even have to slow down either. Everything will be just as it always was.

When I attended an international conference on economic development in Brazil, all the youngsters on the streets were rounded up. They used to be called the rats of the street. They were all moved out of the way so the dignitaries and the television cameras would not have to see them. It was the usual old thing we have had here, with helicopters everywhere. It is interesting that Ireland had the biggest waiting list for helicopters. We had more Mercedes cars, per head of population, than Germany. Although we have the highest number of golf courses in the world, we are terribly worried about people begging on the streets. I hope sanity will break out on Committee Stage. The Second Stage debate on this Bill has been useful because it has revealed the assumptions of many of the speakers on the Government side. We know who they will not go after as a matter of urgency in the short term, and we know who they regard as easy targets for a cheap piece of populism.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this Bill, as it has been proposed. However, it is leading us into a great deal of confusion, in certain ways. We need to try to reconcile the creation in this legislation of a new public order offence of begging with the suggestion that begging, of itself, will not necessarily be deemed to be an offence under the Bill.

It is an offence only if it takes place in a particular location accompanied by offensive or intimidating behaviour. While this is fine, we have been told this legislation is a result of the High Court judgment in the Niall Dillon case. Until now, begging has been dealt with by the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847. Deputy Michael D. Higgins outlined the historical background to this, namely that in 1847 Ireland was in the depths of famine with homeless and hungry people forced to beg out of necessity for food, clothing and cover.

I welcome this legislation as it deals with those beggars who intimidate people. Such intimidation not only happens in urban environments but across rural areas. Some groups are intent on terrorising people in rural areas to get money; they are not begging in the same way as those simply and quietly sitting on sidewalks or in doorways in urban areas.

One does not have to walk far from this House to see homeless persons and children begging on the streets. Our society has turned its back on them. Homelessness in Dublin city alone [458]must be the highest comparatively among all European capital cities. Children are often sent out by parents or older siblings to beg for money. No sooner have they a few coins in their begging bowls than their elders take the proceeds.

Various Departments have failed to recognise these children are being pushed into begging. These problems would be much greater if it were not for groups like the Simon Community and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul which have eliminated the need for some disadvantaged people to go out to beg. This legislation will only be effective, however, if the Government also makes a genuine effort to respond to the needs of those forced to beg.

The media has made much publicity out of attacks of individuals by beggars besides ATMs and so forth. This is a horrible experience for those affected, particularly the elderly. However, not many in the media have taken up the case of those who are homeless in Dublin and other towns and cities.

Remedying the reasons why people resort to begging will only make this legislation effective. It is widely reported that more people than ever are begging on the streets even after the economic boom. While many commentators point to those who have run into trouble by being misled by banking institutions, at least they had choice. Those forced to beg never had a choice or the opportunity of getting credit. It is the social deprivation of this group that we need to remedy.

In the past in rural areas it was regular for certain sections of the community to go door to door to request food, clothing or otherwise. They always received willingly from many families which shared what they had to relieve hunger and lack of clothing. The Traveller community, for example, of the past were responded to positively. They were no hindrance, never intimidating anyone or causing disturbances then. This is unlike some of the behaviour these days where people purport to be collecting for a charity with false documentation asking for money.

It is far more important that this practice is eliminated by the Garda rather than it asking a child or homeless person to move on. The Bill provides for the Garda, which will have to implement the legislation, to ask people to move on. However, the vagueness of many of the Bill’s provisions leaves it open for the heavy hand of the law to be used. This could lead to overreaction to, say, a person reported as a regular nuisance in a particular area when it is not the case.

Gardaí can use their judgment in a discretionary way to ask these people to move on. How can they do so on a frosty, cold, winter night, as they pass along Molesworth Street, Kildare Street or any other street? How can they ask the people in cardboard boxes to get up, get on and move away. This is an example of where our system has failed in so far as other Departments or agencies of Government have certain responsibilities. The responsibility and blame should be placed firmly in their place and they have a responsibility to do something for those people, but this has not happened.

I refer to the list of begging statistics from 2003 to 2007. In 2003, there were 729 proceedings, 274 convictions and some 76 non-convictions. The figures from that point up to 2006 were largely within the same statistical range. However, in 2007 the figures decreased substantially to 64 proceedings, 14 convictions with 20 cases pending and 11 non-convictions. That was as a result of the High Court decision. Let us lead on from there to determine what the situation will be as a result of this legislation and the response to it.

In his summing up on Second Stage, I call on the Minister to indicate what he believes might be the result of this legislation. I refer to the greater number of people in the current climate seeking help by begging deemed not of the intimidatory kind. Will they simply be asked to move on and will no legal action be taken? I refer to the remarks of Deputy Michael D. Higgins [459]earlier. Would it not be a serious situation and totally against human rights if the Garda were to take a child and bring him or her into a Garda station? It is unthinkable that such an event or occurrence could happen in Ireland in 2010 and beyond.

The Minister stated in respect of the proposed legislation that under the new public order offence, begging will be an offence where it is accompanied by unacceptable behaviour such as harassment, obstruction or intimidation. He further stated that the law will recognise that circumstances can arise where asking for help is not to be regarded as begging. This could lead to an apparent contradiction because begging of itself is not an offence unless it is accompanied by these activities. I refer to the example of a young person who does not have money to pay for his or her bus fare late at night. It would be wrong to criminalise a person who asked for assistance in such a case, providing there is no harassment or intimidation for those from whom help is sought. Cases may have arisen for a person where, late at night in the city of Dublin or any other city in the country, he or she missed the last bus and sought a fare for a taxi out of the city. While there might be a genuine aspect in some cases, the reality is, in parallel, the majority of cases involve people who will approach, usually from a crowd, rush along, ask quickly and maybe disappear if he or she believes there will not be a positive response. However, there are legitimate cases which do not constitute begging. If a person requests or pleads the need to get from O’Connell Street to Dundalk or somewhere else, it may not fit into the begging bowl attitude which has been mentioned. However, the provision is peculiar and it forms part of the contradiction I observe in the legislation.

What constitutes a good or service is not defined in the Bill. Will the Minister explain or clarify this? This could, potentially, lead to exploitation by a beggar, who may offer a token good or service in return for money received, thereby evading the provisions of the Bill. The legislation refers to the removal of buskers, hawkers or magazine sellers from the ambit of legislation. There was a time in recent years when, at the notorious intersection near the Red Cow Inn, magazine sellers and windscreen washers worked. That was an example not only of intimidation, but of a situation where the lives of those involved and the safety of traffic coming and going in the area were under threat. I have never seen a garda or member of the traffic corps asking such people to move on or to change location even if there is a suggestion of their causing intimidation at such a junction. These are examples of begging which do not fit into the usual idea of begging we have held in the past.

Section 3 permits a garda who has reasonable apprehension for the safety of others or of properly maintaining public peace to move a beggar on. This is an example of where the safety of others as well as the safety of the person in question is involved. If the legislation involves eliminating such a situation it would be welcome. I refer to a situation in which a garda may direct a person begging in a private place or within 10 m of an entrance to a dwelling, an ATM or a vending machine to desist and leave the vicinity, regardless of whether his or her conduct falls within the category of intimidation or otherwise. A garda may also direct a person begging to desist and leave the area. I am unsure whether such language may be fully interpreted by a garda presented with a difficulty or who suspects a person of begging in a given area. It is very vague.

I believe many amendments will be introduced on Committee Stage and I trust the Minister will respond in a very meaningful, understanding and sympathetic way to what is about us in society today. I refer in particular to children forced to beg by peers or parents. Such children are sent out to earn money. I trust the Minister’s colleagues in Government will respond to the needs of people who are homeless and hungry. Poverty is a key factor in many of these cases and I trust the Government and responsible agencies will respond positively to such situations.

[460]Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Bill this evening. Public order is very important. While I appreciate that an important aspect of the Bill is to rectify the legislation on begging, I would like to mention a number of other public order issues, at least in passing.

If it were not for the Simon communities, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and people like them we would have many more beggars on the streets in our current situation. There are often delays in social welfare payments and people can have difficulty getting social welfare payments although they are entitled to them. A situation now exists which has not done for many years.

The legal action taken regarding the Dillon case made it essential to update the law, but it is important that we not only update the law, but make sure we give the gardaí the personnel and wherewithal to deal with what is happening.

The previous speaker mentioned magazine sellers and people collecting at dangerous junctions. That is something I would like to see controlled and curtailed. If the law is not already sufficient to deal with it, I hope this Bill will do so.

The purpose of the Bill is to provide a legal mechanism to control and deter begging. Businesses and tourism interests have welcomed the Bill, particularly citing the evidence of the visible increase in the number of people begging on our streets since the decision in the Dillon case. The Minister heralded the Bill as a modern and reasonable solution to a problem we cannot ignore. However, it is important that we recognise that problems such as this are often caused by poverty. We cannot ignore that either. The Bill will give the Garda a new direction. Gardaí will be able to make sure people move on from ATM points, dwellings and business premises. Begging near to business premises can be very annoying and wrong. It is extremely important that people, especially the elderly, can move about the streets freely when they are shopping in towns and do not feel under pressure, intimidated or forced to give money they cannot afford.

When I saw the Bill on the Clár, I seized the opportunity to mention an issue which was raised at a joint policing committee in Clones, a place where I went to school and which I know extremely well. Clones is normally a quiet wee place but it now has a major social problem. People are gathering in the Diamond, drinking and begging at the same time. This is not acceptable and cannot be allowed to continue. I hope the Bill has sufficient power to see it does not happen. We held a public meeting of the joint policing group in Clones some weeks ago. It was difficult to listen to some of the stories told by local people who had been the victims of the situation. Problems are arising not just late at night, but during the day and at weekends. There is a public order problem and we need to ensure it is controlled.

I wish to speak about another important issue. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform lives close to the Border, as I do. Public order can be affected by what is happening among dissidents. Today, we heard a report from the national monitoring committee that groups are actively recruiting young people. They are making bombs. We had proof of that outside Dundalk this week, if we did not know it before. In this context, I congratulate the gardaí who, working with the PSNI and others, ensured that two of the people involved are now behind bars. This may send out a message that this sort of public order offence will not be allowed to continue. I emphasise to the Minister the need to ensure that there are sufficient gardaí, whether to enforce public order in Clones or to deal with the curtailment of dissidents.

We have had major problems with public order on the roads around Clones and on the road between Clones and Cavan, which runs north and south of the Border. Again, I congratulate the Garda and the PSNI, who have done tremendous work in bringing that area under some control. It is not an easy situation. I know the area extremely well, as my uncle lived there [461]until his death a short time ago and I still have family members there. Moving in the district, one is in and out of the North like a yo-yo. People from all over the country got to know about it as an area they could use for all sorts of wrong behaviour. I congratulate the Garda and PSNI on their work there.

When we go out onto the streets of this city at night, it is difficult to understand why so many people are lying in doorways, begging and unable to look after themselves. Having come through ten or 15 years of reasonable wealth, it is unacceptable that this situation persists. I think of my own home town of Monaghan. Many years ago, we had a busy St. Davnet’s hospital which had a unit for the treatment of alcoholics. It was run by the county council and later inherited by the health board, which kept it going for a long time. The unit dealt successfully with people who had difficulties with alcohol. We must go to the source of the problem. There is no point in simply arresting beggars and throwing them into jail. We must find out why they are there and what is causing them to beg. If their difficulties stem from the abuse of alcohol or drugs, it is in our best interest to ensure the facilities exist to deal with those problems. I urge that this be looked at by the Government, because the Bill, in itself, will not solve these issues.

The use of children for begging is the most distasteful thing possible. I know Barnados and other organisations are extremely worried about how children will be treated under the Bill. Children are being put out to act as beggars while their parents and their colleagues collect the children’s takings to spend on alcohol, drugs or whatever else. We must ensure that children are not the victims, either of the Bill or of the situation.

Begging will not go away because of this Bill. It has been there since the start of the world. An earlier speaker remarked that it is mentioned several times in the Bible. The Lord was quicker to forgive the beggar than the wealthy man. We need not think we will do away with begging. What we need to do is control it and do our very best to deal with it in a structured and proper way.

It is not just in Dublin that there are homeless people because they are all over the country. There have never been more houses lying vacant. The Government has clearly failed to utilise these houses, which are of extremely fine quality, and to ensure people are housed in the best possible way.

I welcome the Bill and the laws in place to ensure the Garda has the power to control begging. There was a barracks in Clones when I was at school there. The Garda barracks was replaced with a brand new building. Unfortunately, there is a green box on the door of it every night. If we are to control the problems in the town and many similar towns, we will have to re-examine how we deploy gardaí and provide them with the services needed to protect citizens and ensure begging and more serious crimes are controlled.

I ask the Minister to consider how the system is working or, in some cases, not working. I know the gardaí in Monaghan better than most and talk to them regularly. They certainly want to do their best but are curtailed by the structures now in place. We need to see them on the beat as much as possible. There is no point in having this law in place if there are no gardaí to prevent a beggar who is in the wrong place at the wrong time from remaining there for as long as he likes because he has no need to worry that a garda will appear.

I support the Minister on this Bill but beg him to ensure that, irrespective of the other problems in the country, the gardaí will be plentiful on the Border considering the current circumstances. Those gardaí who are not needed for administrative purposes should be on the ground such that we will see a very visible Garda force working with the people to ensure those who commit themselves to it are safe and sound.

[462]Deputy Deirdre Clune:  I am glad to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. It is a small Bill but has led to much discussion. I have been following the debate. The purpose of the Bill is to control begging and make a new public order offence of begging, but only when it takes place within a particularly sensitive location or where it is accompanied by particularly intimidating or offensive behaviour. Most people accept that, where begging is accompanied by harassment or intimidation, it is right that it be controlled. If begging is intimidating at ATMs or places of business, gardaí will have the power to move the beggars on.

It is interesting to note that begging in Ireland was outlawed from 1847 to 2007 by the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847. It was introduced at the time of the Famine, at which time many people were begging on the streets. Ten days ago, on a Sunday afternoon, there were a number of Famine commemoration events across the country. I was in the small Famine plot in St. Joseph’s graveyard in Cork. The plot is classified as a paupers’ grave. There is one cross to mark the plot but it is reckoned there are approximately 8,000 bodies buried there without headstones. A local historian speaking at the event quoted an eyewitness of the Famine who counted 130 beggars one day while walking down Princes Street. Not all of them could have been dealt with by the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847.

There has been much commentary on the Law Reform Commission’s recommendation that begging should be punishable by a fine and by imprisonment. The recommendations were mostly ignored, except for some provisions introduced under the Children Act 2001. The case of Dillon v. the DPP, taken in the High Court in 2007, has left us with virtually no control over begging. It found that the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act would be unconstitutional in that it represented a disproportionate interference with the right to freedom of expression. At the time, Mr. Justice de Valera made a statement that it did not rule out future anti-begging legislation. Since 2007, there has been a lack of legislation to control begging.

This Bill states begging will be legal if it is not accompanied by aggravating factors, and that if harassment, obstruction or intimidation occur, a fine of €400 or a prison sentence of up to one month will be imposed. It is acknowledged that if one offers a token service in return for money, one can avoid the provisions of the Bill. This recognises the existence of buskers, hawkers and others. These are part of our culture and if they operate in a non-intimidating way, such that individuals can refuse to make a donation or avail of the service on offer, they are free to do so. Most people accept this. It is part of street culture and street life.

A very useful service was once offered at the Luas stop at Heuston Station. The ticket purchase machine was quite difficult to operate if one was not used to it. Those who were not used to it included people coming from the country by train. A very innovative beggar helped individuals to purchase their tickets on the system and gratefully received any contributions in return, such as change from the machine. The service was very worthwhile and useful.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  He was an entrepreneur.

Deputy Deirdre Clune:  He was an innovator. He certainly provided a very useful service and therefore does not fall under the provisions of the Act.

I listened to many comments on the reasons for begging. Some excellent research supports our discussions on this Bill. It concludes that most begging is carried out by people who need to supplement their incomes. They need to do so for various reasons. The homeless are such people. They are in a vicious circle and it becomes difficult to gain access to welfare payments. Children or young people may be sent out to beg by parents.

Debate adjourned.

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

  7 o’clock

Deputy Joe Costello:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to the debate. I compliment Fine Gael and Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan, my constituency colleague, on bringing the legislation forward. I read the contribution of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and it was incredibly self-serving. He has gone totally Fianna Fáil native. He stated he was “giving consideration to establishing an electoral commission on a non-statutory basis to report on the electoral reform agenda set out in the renewed programme for Government”. I always thought a programme for Government was reasonably specific about what was intended by the partners who put it together but he will only give consideration to the possibility of setting up an electoral commission. That might be on a statutory or non-statutory basis and he will still have to think about all of that. He will then only talk about the agenda and not about the implementation. He certainly has gone native and even Fianna Fáil would admire that powerful kick to touch by the Minister last night. The great green giants of democracy from whom we heard so often on this side of the House will not precipitate a general election. Principles were all right when Green Party Members were in opposition but now that they are in the Fianna Fáil tent, they are like Groucho Marx, as they have access to a different set of principles entirely.

The Bill proposes simply to amend the Electoral Act 1992 in order that by-elections would take place within six months of a vacancy arising, which is a reasonable and modest proposal. It is intolerable that any government should refuse to hold a by-election because it knows it will not win. It is a cynical response from the Government, which has lost direction, leadership and ideas, and which knows it will almost lose its majority if it loses the three by-elections. The only thing on the Government’s mind is to avoid the evil day of an election and to creep by all means possible to the magic date of May 2012, which will give it an additional two years in office and allow it to run its full term. However, while that is what the Government is seeking, that does not represent democracy for the people of Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal South-West who have been left without their constitutional entitlement to representation in Dáil Éireann.

It is almost 12 months since the European Parliament elections were held on 5 June 2009, as a result of which Donegal South-West has been without representation in the House. If the Government manages to struggle on to 2012, the people of that constituency will have been without representation in the House for three years while the people of Dublin South and Waterford will have been without the same for almost two and a half years but the Government parties have no intention of budging unless they are forced to do so.

There is a precedent for forcing a Government to budge. In 1993, Dr. John O’Connell resigned his seat in Dublin South-Central and there was no move by the then Government for 14 months to hold a by-election. A student took a High Court action to assert his constitutional entitlement to vote in common law, by statute and under the Constitution. His application was upheld by Mr. Justice Geoghegan who said there was a reasonable case to be answered and that judicial review proceedings should be instituted. The Government moved urgently having seen the writing on the wall and it caved in and conceded the holding of the by-election, which it lost.

[464]However, that is the position we are likely to find ourselves in with the current Government parties. They will not concede unless they are compelled by the Judiciary to do so and that is not satisfactory in a democracy. Given the principle of the separation of powers, the Judiciary should not be responsible for ensuring the Houses of the Oireachtas, which are the central institutions of democracy, make a decision to ensure democracy is upheld and I hope it will not come to that. The Government should accede to the legislation. The decision of Mr. Justice Geoghegan, who now serves on the Supreme Court, has been approved by the eminent constitutional lawyer, Dr. Gerard Hogan, and, therefore, the writing is on the wall for the Government in this respect and it cannot keep the evil day away. I hope this will happen sooner rather than later and judicial review proceedings will not have to be instituted to establish the citizens’ right to democracy against the Government’s attempt to deny it.

There is an alternative scenario, which I do not greatly favour. Members of the European Parliament are elected in Ireland and other member states. Substitutes for those elected are also named in advance and if an MEP has to step down or resign, the substitute steps into their place and there is no need for a by-election. Similarly, no by-elections are held for local authority seats if a member step downs. It varies from place to place but generally the political party that holds the seat when the vacancy occurs nominates somebody who is then accepted, although that does not always happen. No by-elections are held for Seanad vacancies. Members of both Houses of the Oireachtas choose the replacement Senator. The full electoral process only applies to vacancies in the Dáil and that is proper, given the pre-eminence of the House over all the other democratic institutions of the State. We should hold onto that.

A by-election is an important mechanism to ensure the public have an opportunity of exercising their mandate by electing whom they wish at all times to serve in the House. I strongly urge the Government parties to accept that they cannot deny democracy and that the Constitution makes provision for the election of Deputies. It does not make specific provision for by-elections but a reasonable interpretation is that the intention is that a replacement Member should be elected in a by-election within a reasonable time. That is what is proposed in the legislation and the Government should agree to this. I urge it to do so before it is compelled to do so.

Deputy Seán Power:  It is ironic that we are discussing a matter on Private Members’ time in regard to by-elections when a further by-election has been flagged today following the death of our colleague, Senator Kieran Phelan. Other Members of the House have offered their condolences to his wife, Mary, and the family on his sudden death and I should like to be associated with those expressions of sympathy. Kieran was a very popular Member of the Seanad and of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party and he will be sadly missed.

Debates on Private Members’ Bills, like most other debates, have become very predictable in many respects. The Opposition propose, the Government highlights its reservations and then decides to oppose. Regardless of the issue or the Minister’s involvement, week in and out, this has consistently been the approach adopted in this House. I believe we have to become more mature in the way we do our business here and accept that wisdom does not reside on any particular side of the House. There are 166 Members each of whom has his or her own particular experience. There is merit in any proposal that is made here in the House and we should not continue to rubbish something just because it has come from the Opposition. Unfortunately, since I became a Member very few Private Members’ Bills have been accepted by the Government, irrespective of which Administration is in place. If we looked on the Opposition proposing a Bill as being helpful in some regard, while we might not like the thrust of the proposed legislation or certain aspects to it, there is generally some merit in what is being [465]proposed here in the Dáil. Rather than highlighting and dwelling on the negative aspects of a particular Bill, it would be more productive for us to deal with them in a more positive light.

This Bill proposes to amend the Electoral Act and provide for the holding of a by-election not less than six months after a vacancy occurs in Dáil Éireann. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, in his contribution last night referred to the Joint Committee on the Constitution and the fact that it is due to report very soon on the election of Members of the Dáil. He also spoke of the Government’s proposed electoral reform, which includes Oireachtas reform. We would all accept that is badly needed. The Minister expressed the view that the Fine Gael approach was very much piecemeal and argued that this Bill deals with the single issue and that the proposal only serves to diminish the role of the national Parliament.

I very much welcome the publication of the Bill, the debate last night and again here tonight. Members have indicated how we might fill vacancies in the future. Deputy Costello mentioned how they are filled in the European Parliament and in local authorities. Mention was made last night as to how it was being done in other countries. Different approaches are adopted in individual countries and it was queried last night as to how democratic by-elections are, given the changes they can make to a Parliament. However, we must focus on the system we operate. If we are honest about by-elections, we would have to concede that Governments and Opposition have sought to hold them at a time that is most advantageous for the individual political parties.

It seemed rather strange last week to see Fine Gael moving the writ for the by-election in Waterford, without any mention of Dublin South where George Lee had been the representative. It has been the normal practice in this House for the party of the former Member to move the writ. In this case Fine Gael decided to move the writ for the Waterford by-election, while Sinn Féin, somewhat earlier, moved the writ for the by-election in Donegal South-West. Fine Gael was keen to have the by-election in Waterford because it believes it has a very strong chance of winning that seat and perhaps that is right. The Government is not that keen to have a by-election because historically, sitting Administrations find it very difficult to win by-elections. I am sure one could get good odds against Fianna Fáil winning a seat in any of the three by-elections.

We are very much into a numbers game, and it is important that the Government is taking tough decisions that are in the best interests of Ireland. It is medicine that is not going down very well in the country, however. We are very keen to stay in Government for the full term to implement our plans, as presented not just to the people but to Europe as well. At the same time we have to be conscious of the fact that we are living in a democracy and people are entitled to representation. That is something we cannot continue to deny to the people of Donegal, Dublin or Waterford.

I believe that the present system undermines and diminishes the role of this Parliament. In theory, the Dáil will decide when the by-elections are held but in reality it is the Taoiseach who makes that call. That is not just the case now. The system has always operated in that fashion. People talk about the need for reform but it will not take place that quickly. However, this is one area that needs our attention and if the majority of people in the House were honest with themselves, they would agree that change is necessary.

I see merit in the Fine Gael proposal before the House. Rather than dismiss it out of hand it might be more prudent to see how we might improve on it. There is much to be said for guaranteeing a by-election within six months of a vacancy occurring. However, if a referendum was fixed for a week or two later, people would argue that it would be more efficient to have the two held on the same day. Therefore, there needs to be more flexibility than what Fine [466]Gael is proposing here. The situation we have has to be changed, however. If we compare the Dáil with the Seanad, we can see the vacancies in the Upper House are filled much more quickly than they are in this House. Vacancies arose there through the deaths of the late Senators Tony Kett and Peter Callanan, in April and November, respectively, last year and both have been filled.

As Deputies are aware, in the European Parliament elections a Member was elected from each of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The vacancy that has arisen as a result of Senator Alan Kelly being elected was filled in December, yet in this House the vacancy following the election of Pat the Cope Gallagher, MEP, remains. can understand the Government’s thinking and the necessity to keep the numbers right and have a majority but there is a limit to how far this can be carried, and we cannot continue to deny the people of Donegal their rightful representation.

I want to refer to an item the Minister raised last night in regard to the regional mayors. Deputy Gormley mentioned that the Green Party had proposed a regional mayor for Dublin and it was his intention to hold an election for the mayor’s office this year. When that idea was first mooted it sounded good but those were different times and I question the benefit of holding a mayoral election this year. I am not clear as to what the powers of that office would be, or what role the mayor would play and I do not believe we have put the proper foundations in place. It is akin to buying a plasma screen and then discovering one has no wall to hang it on. We should tread this road with some caution and perhaps pause a little before holding that election. I am not aware of any burning desire among the people of Dublin to elect a mayor. It is a luxury we can ill afford during these difficult times. I am not aware of any burning desire among the people of Dublin to elect their own mayor. It is a luxury we can ill afford during these difficult times.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this proposed Bill. The Bill would amend section 39 of the Electoral Act 1992 to provide for the holding of a by-election not later than six months after a vacancy occurs in Dáil Éireann.

I apologise, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle; I wish to be associated with the vote of sympathy on the death of our colleague Senator Kieran Phelan this morning, and I extend my sympathy to his family also, as we are talking about by-elections caused by the fact that people have resigned or are deceased.

The legislative amendment proposed by Fine Gael would remove the discretion of the Dáil to determine the timeframe for a by-election. The Dáil would not be allowed to take account of unforeseen events or circumstances that could be problematic in a particular timeframe. I have a problem with this because we have given away many of our powers by appointing quangos — so-called agencies — to carry out functions on behalf of the Oireachtas. It would be a further retrograde step to take from the House the power and discretion to call by-elections.

Section 39 of the Electoral Act provides that the Chairman of the Dáil shall direct the Clerk of the Dáil to issue a writ to the relevant returning officer to fill a casual vacancy in a constituency, but no timeframe is specified. I appreciate the rights of the electorates in the constituencies in Donegal, Dublin and Waterford. I know many people in my neighbouring county of Waterford and I accept there is a deficit there; however, the colleagues in that constituency are doing their best to fill it. Notwithstanding this, however, if by-elections were held at this point they would be a distraction from the serious work of the Government and all parties in the House in getting the economy back on track. We know how serious the situation is and we have seen the situations that pertain in other countries. The holding of by-elections now would be a total distraction. Many of us would have to be in Donegal, Dublin or Waterford doing the [467]footwork that would be expected of us in support of our party candidates. To become involved in such campaigns would cause us to take our eyes off the ball.

Be that as it may, it is important that we consider such an amendment in the wider context of local electoral reform. The programme for Government has committed to the establishment of an electoral commission to which a range of tasks would be assigned. The examination and making of recommendations for changes to the electoral system for Dáil elections, including the number of Deputies and their means of election, is one of those tasks. The programme for Government also commits to considering options for the timing of elections for local authorities, the Dáil, the Seanad and the European Parliament, and states this should include the possibility of mid-term elections and the running of some elections on a staggered or rolling basis so elections do not fall on the same date for every candidate or chamber.

The report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Constitution examining the system for the election of Members to Dáil Éireann is expected next month and will also inform this work. While these reports are being compiled, it would be inopportune to proceed with by-elections. Accordingly, this issue will be dealt with through the appropriate procedures that are already in place. I oppose the Bill as an opportunistic and unnecessary distraction on the part of the proposers. I say this because of the serious work that is going on in this country. We must portray an image abroad, including to international lenders, that we are serious about the job in hand and we will deal with the other issues when we have got our house in order.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  I am glad to have the opportunity of speaking on this motion. I understand the motivation of the Opposition in tabling this Bill for the Wednesday night vote. They must think up the issues each week and we in turn must respond to them. I do not have any notion that the proposers of the Bill are wrong to have done so; they have every right to table whatever they wish.

When the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, spoke last night, he went through the various points of reform of the Houses of the Oireachtas. I wish to speak briefly on the issue of Seanad reform; I am not straying off the point, as it was mentioned in the Minister’s speech. In 2004 we published proposals for reform of the Seanad, very nicely bound together, which had taken 12 months to produce, during which time we took numerous depositions. I do not agree with the abolition of the Seanad; it would be an incorrect move. I suppose it will not come about, but at least those who came forward with the proposal had something to say for themselves. They were putting forward an idea, although it is to my mind an incorrect idea.

On that subject, I must mention, as Leader of that House for five years, how sad I was to hear of the passing of Kieran Phelan. He was a brilliant colleague in Seanad Éireann; a great attender, a great voter and a great worker. It is very sad. The Seanad would well merit proper reform as proposed by the then Senators Brian Hayes and John Dardis, Senator Joe O’Toole and myself. Most of the points have been put forward again in other documents.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  Six years later.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  I was invited to the first meeting of the consultative group set up by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and I went to it because of my interest in Seanad reform. Then I never heard from the group again. I presume it continues to meet, but I do not know. I was not invited a second time, although I did think I made an input.

The Minister stated in his speech last night that the electoral registers should be prepared on a rolling basis; I fully agree with this. We all get agitated once every four or five years when it comes to election time and everybody is trying to cram people onto the electoral register by [468]a set date. Speaking to people in local government in Northern Ireland recently, I found they have an ongoing electoral register; it is not just a frantic burst of activity once every five years. This merits examination.

The case was also made in the Minister’s speech that when the people have voted in a general election, they have decided on the Parliament they want. It seems a bit unfair that those in one constituency, representing perhaps 2% of the electorate, could unbalance the whole political structure in a by-election.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy has one minute left.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  I know the face the Leas-Cheann Comhairle makes when I have one minute left; I was expecting it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Excellent; I do not need to speak at all.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  No, it is a very nice face, actually.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Thank you.

Deputy Mary O’Rourke:  It could unbalance the whole democratic nature of the country. This is something that should be considered carefully. Why should we allow what was a democratic decision to be upset by 2% of the electorate who would be voting in a by-election?

If it has galvanised the review of the electoral system and the establishment of an electoral commission, this debate has been well merited.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Bill. However, I wish first to express my sympathies to the family of Kieran Phelan: his wife and children, his brothers and sisters and, in particular, his mother. It is difficult to talk about by-elections when one has been caused in the Seanad today. I was elected to the Seanad on the same day as Senator Phelan. Having served with him for five years, I also shared an office with him. It is difficult to deal with the sudden and untimely death of someone who was so decent and hard-working. He was a family man — quiet and unassuming in so many respects, but a phenomenal politician. Politics was the blood that flowed in Kieran’s veins. His death is a huge loss to the Fianna Fáil Party and to the democratic system. Above all, it is a loss not just to his family but also to his community in Laois which he served with considerable distinction at both local and national level. It is difficult to talk about electoral reform on a day when we find ourselves grieving for such a fantastic parliamentarian and politician.

The Bill before us was put forward by the Opposition, as is its right, and there is an element of politicking, as is only to be expected. Deputy O’Rourke made the important point that because of the tight voting situation that often pertains in our Parliament, even a small shift could have an impact on the capacity of the Government to operate cohesively. For many years the Fine Gael Party, which did not control a large number of local authorities through recent history, sought to change the process by which casual vacancies on councils were filled. The party was of the view that it was not the best approach for the majority within a local authority to decide on how a casual vacancy should be filled.

That situation was subsequently changed in legislation which sought to provide a replacement from within the party of the person who had vacated the position. I strongly urge the Minister, through the establishment of an independent electoral commission, that strong consideration be given to the replacement of a casual vacancy in either the Dáil or Seanad from within the party of the departing Member. The existing system of by-elections is ultimately a breach of [469]the proportional representation system because it allows for elections on the basis of a single constituency. A far better way to fill a casual vacancy is to provide a mechanism similar to what we have identified at local authority level. That would retain the balance and would obviate many of the issues we are discussing.

For that reason, I strongly oppose the Fine Gael proposal. It is vital that we retain stability at this time. We see shifts in opinion polls from week to week and for some to suggest that the Government does not have the support of the people and that these vacancies offer an opportunity to bring about a change of government does not bode well for the confidence that is required and the capacity of the Administration to make difficult decisions. We see what is happening in Greece where the Government is struggling to take the action necessary to deal with the economic crisis. We must be true to our democracy rather than to our own political concerns. It may not be long before the Opposition finds itself in a similar position and would benefit from a system where casual vacancies are replaced from within the relevant party’s ranks until the next election. That would be a much truer reflection of the purity of the proportional representation system. I hope this will be taken into account by the electoral commission.

Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Mary Alexandra White):  On behalf of the Green Party, I take this opportunity to express our devastation at the sudden death of our colleague, Senator Kieran Phelan. His loss fixes our minds clearly on the issues to be considered in regard to by-elections and selection processes.

I do not accept Fine Gael’s proposal as the best way to deal with the situation.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  What a surprise.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I agree with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, that amending section 39 of the Electoral Act 1992, as proposed, will only offer a mechanistic solution. I would have more time for this proposal if I were not certain that it is motivated almost solely by short-term political gamesmanship. Fine Gael was in Government for a large part of the 1980s and more recently in the 1990s, but it offered no bright, breezy ideas on electoral reform during that time. It did nothing — a big zero. It recently attempted to move the writ for a by-election in Waterford, not the longer-standing vacancy in Dublin South. Could it be that the party has a candidate in Waterford but not in Dublin South?

Deputy John Perry:  We have plenty of candidates.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I merely pose the question.

Unlike Fine Gael, I propose to deal with the business in hand by addressing some of the important underlying principles involved in this issue. This proposal is flawed because it fails to take account of emergency situations such as a foot and mouth or flu epidemic when it would be downright dangerous to summon people to the polling booths.

Deputy John Perry:  The Minister of State forgot to mention avian flu.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  What about attacks by aliens?

Deputy Alan Shatter:  We must not forget the volcano.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputies must allow the Minister of State to continue without interruption. Everybody is entitled to be heard, it is a democratic House of debate.

[470]Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Members opposite will say that such eventualities can be taken account of by a simple amendment or addition, but I see a more fundamental difficulty. Setting a fixed time limit for the holding of by-elections would remove the current discretion of the House, democratically elected by the people, to order its own affairs. The best way to deal with this and the many related issues on electoral reform is to take them on together. That is why I welcome the Minister’s decision, announced here last night, to move towards fast-tracking the electoral commission by setting it up first on a non-statutory basis. That is a good idea. Good work has already been done in this regard in a scoping exercise carried out by the UCD expert group. The commission can move ahead with work already agreed under the renewed programme for Government — the negotiations for which I had the honour of participating in — and advance the cause of electoral reform more generally.

There are various arguments, some of which were touched upon by the Minister last night, about the pros and cons of by-elections, and there is little point in rehearsing them tonight. I note that one virtue of the current system of by-elections to fill vacancies is that the people are familiar with them and that the system, by and large, works. However, there are grounds for considering in a more dispassionate fashion the adoption of practices used in the European Parliament elections of naming potential replacements at the time of the general election. Other options include co-options on one basis or another. Discussions of these and related matters must be held in a more calm and considered environment when immediate party interests are not so much to the fore. We could also usefully incorporate into our deliberations the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution which is due shortly. It would be wrong and dangerous to rush to accept this Fine Gael proposal because it has not been given sufficient consideration and the party has not consulted widely.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I propose to share time with Deputies McHugh, McGinley, Mitchell, Perry and O’Mahony.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is agreed.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I will begin by doing something unusual. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, deserves the congratulations of the House on his contribution last night to the debate on this Bill. I proffer similar congratulations to the Minister of State, Deputy White, who simply recycled that speech. The Minister showed an imaginative approach in inventing a justification for the Green Party’s opposition to the Bill. When in opposition, the Minister and his Green Party colleagues masqueraded as a party committed to electoral and Dáil reform.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  There was no masquerade.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  During its period in office the Green Party has tried to maintain this image by engaging in what could best be described as a game of political charades in which it attempts to maintain the perception of a reformist zeal but fails utterly to take any meaningful action when given the right opportunity. The truth is the Green chameleon has readily adapted to the Fianna Fáil ethos and Green Party Ministers and Oireachtas Members are indistinguishable from their Fianna Fáil colleagues in Government. In a parliamentary democracy, on the death or resignation of a Member of Parliament there should be fixed rules with which Government should not interfere for the filling of a vacant parliamentary seat to protect the rights of the electorate. Such provision has for too long been absent from our laws so this Bill, introduced by my Front Bench colleague, Deputy Phil Hogan, on behalf of Fine Gael, contains a reasonable and common-sense measure which should be supported by all sides in this House. [471] No Government or Opposition party should fear going before the electorate in a by-election——

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  We do not.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  ——and each should welcome the opportunity to explain actions taken and policies proposed, and to seek electoral support.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  We do.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  If a Government has lost the support of the people and if losing a by-election in one or more constituencies ends a Government’s majority in parliament, that is an exercise of the democratic will of the people which is the very foundation stone of parliamentary democracy.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, told the truth in one statement he made last night. He made reference to the fact that “by-elections can and do change the balance of parliament, bring down governments and precipitate general elections”. That he gave voice to this thought clearly revealed the fear of the electorate that is now wrapped around the political soul of every Green Party Member in this House.

Deputy Mary Alexandra White:  Deputy Shatter had his chance.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Members will not interrupt.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  However, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, disingenuously gave as his main reason for opposing this Bill the fact that it requires the holding of a by-election within six months after a vacancy occurs and makes no provision for unforeseen events which could disrupt a by-election. The Minister of State, Deputy White, repeated that particular mantra tonight. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, gave examples of what he described as “two emergency health situations in recent years — swine flu and foot and mouth disease”.

There is nothing to prevent the Government accepting this Bill in principle and tabling a simple amendment on Committee Stage to facilitate the postponement of a by-election in exceptional circumstances or where there is a national emergency. However, I do not believe that anyone would regard the speech of the Minister, Deputy Gormley, as credible. I am not convinced it is even credible to him. I assume in this, as in other matters, he is acting at the behest of his Fianna Fáil masters and motivated by a dominant personal desire to hold onto office at all costs. Should he change his mind and support the Bill this evening, I would like to suggest the following green related natural disasters that he may wish to propose be referenced in the Bill as sound grounds for postponing by-elections. All of these are as credible as the two examples given by him of unforeseen events that the Bill should address.

The ones I am suggesting for the Minister, Deputy Gormley, are the following: a coup by a green army of garden gnomes; a volcanic eruption on Achill Island; a plague of locusts; Ireland struck by a meteorite; a Martian or other extra-terrestrial landing; or the commencement in Ireland of an annual hurricane season. All of these might afford an opportunity to postpone a by-election or possibly a general election in the context of a Bill of this nature being accepted and the Minister, Deputy Gormley, applying his thought process to tabling appropriate amendments.

There is a fundamental defect in the Bill which I am sure my colleague, Deputy Hogan, may wish to acknowledge. It is the absence of any provision to prescribe an appropriate course of action should a by-election be held and one’s pet dog in the polling station unexpectedly eats one’s ballot paper. Sadly, even in the context of general elections, we do not have a solution [472]to that particular problem. It is surprising, however, that that was not another defect the Minister, Deputy Gormley, alleged.

The truth is that the Green Party and the Fianna Fáil Party have no interest in electoral reform or Dáil reform. If they had, this Bill would be supported across party lines in this House and passed through Second Stage this evening.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The 18th century Irish philosopher and parliamentarian, Edmund Burke, formulated and enunciated two models of parliamentary representation. The first was a trustee model of parliamentary representation where constituents elect representatives as trustees. This trustee has sufficient autonomy to deliberate and act in favour of the greater common good and national interest, even if it means going against the short-term interests of the constituency that elects the representatives.

The second model enunciated by Edmund Burke was a delegate model of representation whereby constituents elect representatives as constituency delegates. The delegate acts as a spokesperson for the wishes of the constituency and has no independence from the constituency. This model does not provide representatives with the luxury of acting in conscience. Instead, the representative acts as the voice of constituents who are literally not present.

Mr. Burke, an Irishman, was speaking in a different time of a different parliament with different traditions in a different country. Historians of Irish politics sometimes point to the Confederacy of Kilkenny, 1642 to 1652, as the genesis of parliamentary democracy in this country. It is significant that our colleague, Deputy Hogan, has initiated this amending legislation. It would do the Minister of State, Deputy White, well to look at this as a starting point in her argument rather than the hypothesis she put forward earlier.

This House’s legislative foundation dates from the 1920s, and this Fine Gael Bill seeks to amend an Act that is relevant only to the model of representation citizens of this State have developed over the past 89 years. This is a uniquely Irish model that borrows from both of Edmund Burke’s prototypes but mirrors neither. In matters of legislation, Members of Dáil Éireann are somewhat entrusted by constituents, but are predominantly delegated.

In matters of legislation, constituents elect Deputies to work as part of parliamentary parties. In that regard, Deputies are often derided for lack of originality. There is additionally a significant extra legislative role. I refer to constituency work, which is not always legislative but is nevertheless inherently parliamentary as Irish people understand it. That service is something the Irish constituent demands and rewards, although some high profile columnists and intellectuals deride this model of representation as post-colonial, parish pump and gombeen.

Some of these matters interface with the legislative process. Others do not, but all are part of the Irish political process as Irish people understand it and participate in it. These are the matters that are important to the Irish people. In legislative matters, Deputies serve as trustees and delegates for constituents. When frustrated in dealings with the State and State agencies, constituents turn to Deputies to make representations for them.

Ultimately, our parliamentary democracy is based on access. Through his or her Deputy, the citizen feels part of the legislative process and is confident that he or she has a representative in his or her dealings. We are legislative and representative intermediaries. The Deputies who provide these services are the ones who receive the largest mandates at election time.

I have outlined the role of parliamentary representative as I, a practitioner, and the Donegal North-East electors, the participants, understand it. The voters of Donegal South-West, Waterford and Dublin South are currently denied access. They do not have the same intermediary service available to voters in other constituencies. These intermediary services are part of the functioning of the State. This Bill seeks to ensure that citizens are not denied this service, which citizens have designed over 89 years ago, for more than six months.

[473]Deputy Dinny McGinley:  Once more I have the opportunity of speaking on this subject. It is probably the fourth time it has come up in the Chamber. I believe it was last July when it was first mooted by Sinn Féin that the writ for the Donegal South-West by-election should be moved. It was raised again before Christmas. Some weeks ago we had it in regard to Waterford, and now this Bill is before the House.

This is a simple, straightforward and short Bill. All it seeks is an amendment to the 1992 Electoral Act that will compel the Government of the day to hold a by-election within six months of the vacancy arising. That is not too much to ask. We have had a vacancy in Donegal South-West for almost a year, since 5 June last. In Dublin South I believe it goes back to last February and in Waterford to last March.

We are told this Government could go on till May or June 2012 but the question I would ask, and the Minister might enlighten us in his reply, is whether the Government intends leaving the three seats vacant until the general election in two years’ time. That is unthinkable. Like the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, I have been a Member of the House for quite a few years and I do not remember three vacancies at the same time. I recall two vacancies, and the elections were held in due course, but I have never heard of three constituencies being disenfranchised of their proper constitutional representation.

I represent Donegal South-West and have a particular interest in that constituency. It is a big constituency. I said in the Dáil some weeks ago that almost 70,000 people live there and I understand the constitutional requirement is that the Dáil Deputy represents between 20,000 and 30,000 people. The two remaining Deputies in Donegal South-West, the Tánaiste and myself, each represent approximately 35,000 people, which is outside the guidelines of the Constitution, and if someone took the courage and went to the High Court, the court probably would find in his or her favour. I do not know how many times this will come up between now and 2012. Is it the Government’s intention not to hold them at all? It is undemocratic.

As I stated previously, Donegal South-West is a scattered constituency. We have many problems there and we need every voice we have in this House on the Government and the Opposition sides to articulate the needs of the county. Our present difficulties include economic and social difficulties. The unemployment rate is twice the national average, factories are closing in our indigenous industries, and fishing, agriculture and tourism are in crisis. It would be an opportunity for the Government to go to Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford to see for itself the situation.

Of course, the Government’s mandate is questionable. As has been stated by previous speakers, the configuration of the Government is not what went before the electorate and is something that was cobbled together afterwards.

I am confident that if the people of Donegal South-West, the people of Dublin South and the people of Waterford were given the opportunity, the Government would get the message, as they did last year in the case of Dublin South. Ultimately, we are looking not for by-elections, but for a general election so that we will have a new Government that will have a mandate to do what is needed in this country and put the economy right.

We are discussing it once more. I have a fair idea that we will not get the Government’s support on this Bill, as has been indicated already by the Minister who spoke last night. Obviously, the people of Donegal South-West, Dublin South and Waterford will be left in the lurch without adequate representation for the duration of this Government, even if it goes to 2012. It is scandalous. It never happened in this country previously and I do not think it ever happened in any other civilised country either.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  Last night listening to the Minister, for the first time I felt sorry for Ministers when I realised they were so bereft of any argument against this proposal that they were forced to resort to criticising it on the basis that we had not provided for human or [474]animal pandemics. It is true, we never thought of that. We did not think of dealing with floods, earthquakes, volcanos or anything like that. When I went to look at the Constitution today to see whether it dealt with these matters in the case of a general election, I found that it did not. Once an election is called, it must be held within 30 days. Even if we are attacked by aliens in the meanwhile, one must go ahead with it or deal with it in some way. It would be laughable if it was not so serious.

Then we heard the argument that in Dublin South my party did not have a candidate. I can assure the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, and I am sure my colleague Deputy Shatter would assure him, the problem is we have a surfeit of candidates in Dublin South, not that we have none.

The Government really has been reduced to the most ludicrous red herrings because it is totally bereft of any real argument. It is not that they do not have reasons to reject it. Of course, they have, but they are neither valid nor acceptable reasons and they certainly could not come in here and articulate what they are.

The truth is, no matter who is in government, there may always be the tendency given a particular electoral situation or a political situation where a Government, if it had any choice, would choose not to have a by-election. It is precisely for that reason, no matter who is in Government, that we feel that this decision should not be within the Government’s remit and we should deal with it by legislation. The current lack of legislation in the area makes it much too prone to party political considerations.

The Constitution, as my colleague stated, is clear on the matter of the level of representation to which the public is entitled — not less than one Deputy per 30,000 and not more than one per 20,000 of population. It clearly states that all elections, including the filling of casual vacancies, shall be subject to this provision.

In my constituency we are just within the level of tolerance but Donegal South-West, as Deputy McGinley stated, is far outside it — by approximately 5,500 people. If I lived in Donegal South-West and I had been without the correct number of TDs for 12 months, and given the disadvantage of Donegal due to its peripherality, I would be mad as hell and on the streets demanding my proper representation.

I believe the Government is now in conflict with the Constitution by not calling a by-election in Donegal South-West and certainly in conflict with the spirit of the Constitution by not calling all three.

The overwhelming argument and most compelling case for a by-election is that the Government has no mandate for the measures it is taking. The Government got elected on the basis that it was a safe pair of hands and that it was the only Government that could ensure the continued economic growth. How far is that from what the people got? Instead, it is presiding over the biggest economic mess we have ever seen, pursuing banking policies that repeatedly prove not only that they were not working but that they are forcing us down a path of almost inevitable catastrophe. The Government is now on a path of continuous and escalating bailout of Anglo Irish Bank and is so hung up on this path that it now feels it cannot diverge from it because it realises it would have to admit that it was wrong from the beginning.

The only way the country can be saved is if there is a change of Government and a complete policy change while there is still something to save in this country. Any Government that had any decency and any sense of shame, knowing that it no longer had a mandate, no matter what the economic circumstances, would step down and let an election take place. Remaining in power without a mandate to pursue policies with such enormous and far-reaching consequences for every person in this country, and possibly for the next generation as well, shows the most unbelievable arrogance and is a complete betrayal of our democracy.

[475]If the Government really believes it has a mandate, given that according to the arguments Government Deputies were making they seem to believe or at least had the nerve to state that it would destabilise the country if we had an election, not having an election is destabilising the country day in, day out and it is getting worse every day. If the Government really believes it has a mandate, it has nothing to lose by putting that mandate to the test in by-elections. I can tell the House that the Government would get a very clear answer to that question.

Deputy John Perry:  I thank Deputy Hogan for bringing this simple and necessary Bill onto the floor of the House and I thank Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan, Finian McGrath and Behan for their support.

The Bill requires that a by-election be held no sooner than three months and no later than six months after the date on which a Dáil vacancy occurs. It is simple, it is direct and it addresses the needs of representative democracy. Most of all, it provides for a reasonable period of reflection after a vacancy occurs. It also provides that no constituency in the country will be without a full quota of representatives for an endless extended period.

The other practical effect of the Bill will be to immediately trigger the holding of three outstanding by-elections in Donegal South-West, Waterford and Dublin South. There is no good reason the voters of Donegal South-West, Waterford and Dublin South should be under represented in the Dáil. Citizens are without full representation in Donegal South-West for over 11 months, in Dublin South for three months and in Waterford for over two months. At a time of economic crisis, the constituencies need to have all of their representatives working on their behalf.

This Bill is partly a response to the recent voting down by the Government side of a motion calling for the dates for individual by-elections to be set. To criticise the Fine Gael motion as political opportunism is a major double-standard statement when the Government itself is guilty of naked opportunism in evading the issue of holding a by-election. The Government’s claim that it must focus all its time and attention on doing something to fix the economy and get the country out of the recession rings somewhat hollow in light of the fact that there is no real improvement in the economy. Looking at the Government agenda for the past few months, very little of its focus and attention has been devoted to the real economic improvement. Evading the issue of a by-election has nothing to do with time and attention being focused on the economy.

There is no valid reason for avoiding by-elections for such an extended period of time. The only reason that makes sense is that the Government is afraid to ask the people of the three constituencies to vote. If they fear that they might lose all three by-elections, that, indeed, would be a political reason but it would not be a democracy in action.

  8 o’clock

The point of politics is to elect governments. Ultimately, political organisations are judged by the quality of government they deliver. We tell the citizens that democracy makes them masters of politicians but citizens now find out they are powerless when it comes to by-elections. What we have now is the Fianna Fáil version of democracy that is aimed at holding on to power whatever the cost to democracy. Democracy rests on the active participation by citizens but the citizens of these three constituencies are denied their right to exercise their electoral power. This Fianna Fáil led Government is doing a remarkably effective job of insulting the voters of the three constituencies. This Fianna Fáil-led erosion of democratic rights in the name of political expediency is regrettable and counter-productive.

I call on Fianna Fáil to put the democratic requirement for the people of the three constituencies at the top of its priorities. This Bill will prevent the present and all future Governments from blocking the filling of vacant Dáil Éireann seats as a cynical tactic to protect its own narrow majority. What the country needs most of all is a full general election. The present [476]Fianna Fáil and Green Government was elected on the basis of a mandate that is so for away from the reality of the present economic disaster as is possible. This Fianna Fáil and Green Government has no electoral mandate for the wrong-headed actions now being inflicted on the country and the economy and the appalling situation for business. The present disastrous situation in which the country finds itself is exclusively of Fianna Fáil’s making.

Everyone in this country is willing to play a part in turning Ireland’s fortunes around but our citizens need to be led by a capable Government, elected for that purpose and not haunted by the ghosts and mistakes of the past. It is time the citizens of Ireland had a say as to what happens in their country and who they want to lead them out of this recession. The people should be asked in an election to cast their votes on how the country is being run and who should run it. The first step in this process is to hold the three by-elections. The results of the by-elections will provide a clear marker for where the country stands on which party should lead for the future.

This is a very important issue. The country is in need of representation at every level. The situation affecting the economy is appalling. Despite the spin being put on it by certain economists about an improvement it is far from real on the ground. We must have political representation. The Government should announce the holding of these by-elections now.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  I am pleased to contribute to the debate and I commend and thank Deputy Hogan for bringing forward this Bill. There has been much talk in recent months and years about Dáil reform and the need to reconfigure the number of Deputies. However, it is vital to implement the system that is legislated for and this is not being done. Let us call a spade a spade. The simple fact of the matter is that the policy of the present Government seems to be to hold onto power at all costs. Politics and politicians have taken a fair battering in the past number of years and particularly in the recent two years, as a result of the mismanagement by the Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats Government and the way in which it has dealt with the economic crisis. Following the 2007 election, we saw how the Government wanted to hold on to power by doing sweetheart deals with some Independent Deputies while at the same time, hundreds of people were on hospital trolleys in hospitals throughout the country. The public cannot understand how the people are being taken for a ride, time and time again, by the policies of this Government. It will not hold these by-elections because it does not wish to be given the results of an opinion poll from the people on how the country is being run.

I have listened to some of the Government Deputies arguing that if a by-election were to be held, they would have to travel to Donegal or Waterford and therefore, it could mean they would have to take their eyes off the ball. The eye has been off the ball for a long number of years. The ball has been hidden away and passed around among the high rolling bankers and high society figures. There is much talk in another area about the illegal hand pass. I can assure the House that ball has been hidden away and there is no reason for saying a by-election would be a distraction.

What is needed is a full general election so that the real mandate can be given to this shambles of an Administration. At least this Bill ensures that the holding or not holding of a by-election cannot be used as a device to hold the Government in power when it is crystal clear that the will of the people is to see the end of the present Administration. It would help to restore credibility to the political system and make the Government in some way accountable for its mismanagement and incompetence.

The mixed messages and ducking and diving by the junior partner, the Green Party, on this issue, is a further example of how it will go to any lengths to cling to power. In pronouncements [477]outside the House, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, said that he thinks these by-elections should be held before the end of the year in the autumn. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, last night put forward unforeseen events such as swine flu and foot and mouth disease. He talked about commissioning reports on what should be done. Surely all of the above reasons are nothing more than red herrings, delaying tactics, lame excuses, for not supporting something that makes a lot of sense and takes the decision on holding by-elections out of the hands of all Government parties, whoever they may be. God be with the days when the Greens had some principles and a little bit of bottle.

The first question all of us are being asked on the doorsteps is when will there be a general election. Is the present Government of Fianna Fáil and the Greens so desperate to cling on to power that it will not even put its toe in the water and support the thrust of this Bill that would bring some sense of democracy to this country? The anger is welling up as we have seen in recent weeks. Let us give some power back to the people by voting for this Bill.

I commend Deputy Hogan and I thank Deputies Maureen O’Sullivan, Finian McGrath and Behan, for their initiatives and support of this Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  Members will agree that this has been an interesting debate and I thank Deputies on all sides of the House for their contributions which add to the wider electoral reform debate. The point was well made by the Minister, Deputy Gormley, last night that the Fine Gael Bill removes the discretion of elected Members to determine when by-elections should be held and in doing so actually diminishes the role of the National Parliament. This approach undermines democracy. I agree we must allow the elected Members the flexibility to exercise their own judgment regarding the timing of by-elections. None of us can anticipate the future and we must be in a position to respond appropriately, having regard to the circumstances at the time. For this reason I think the Bill is overly prescriptive. It was interesting to note the Labour Party saw the Bill as a simple and immediate measure to control the timing of by-elections. From my understanding of the debate last night, that view was shared by other members of the Opposition. However, as the Minister, Deputy Gormley said, the question of timing of by-elections should not be dealt with in such a piecemeal and isolated way. The Government’s current electoral reform agenda is comprehensive and wide-ranging and it is appropriate that by-elections should be dealt with as part of the wider review of the electoral system. In any event, it would not seem to make sense to move on this issue in advance of the report of the Joint Committee on the Constitution. Its detailed examination of the systems used for the election of Members of Dáil Éireann is directly relevant to this debate. It should help inform and be part of our wider electoral reform considerations.

I will conclude with a few brief words on the electoral commission.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I advise the Minister of State he has a further five minutes speaking time should he wish to take it.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  The electoral commission is a key aspect of the Government’s electoral reform agenda. The Minister, Deputy Gormley spoke at some length in the debate about the commission and outlined the significant challenges in its establishment, including the extensive legislative change. However, the Government is keen to make progress on electoral reform and with this in mind the Minister has undertaken to give consideration to establishing a commission on a non-statutory basis. This work, together with many issues on which the Government has already delivered a Green Paper on local government, statutory controls on spending and donations at local elections, the Dublin Mayor Bill, general scheme published for consultation. This is all a testament to the Government’s commitment to electoral reform. [478] There will be more in the coming months, including the publication and enactment of the Dublin mayor Bill and the White Paper on local government reform. It is against this background that the Government disagrees with the Fine Gael approach to dealing with by-elections in isolation. Therefore, it does not accept the Fine Gael Private Members’ Bill.

Deputy James Bannon:  I wish to share time with Deputies Hogan and Ring.

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

Deputy James Bannon:  This Government has played politics for the past 13 years. Government by numbers has come to represent our democracy. In so many cases, legislation has been passed against popular opinion due to the weight of numbers. When I think of NAMA and the bank bailouts a shiver goes down my spine.

This is where the problem arises. We are faced with the conflict between the numbers required by Fianna Fáil and the Greens, which they know they will not get by holding the disputed by-elections, and the representation that the people of Donegal South-West, Waterford and Dublin South are entitled to. It is a massive abuse of power by the Fianna Fáil-Green Government to withhold the electoral process aimed at giving the electorate their democratic rights.

Aristotle tells us in Politics that a person may be appointed to office, or participate in the election of others, setting an early precedent for democracy. However, he failed to anticipate the measures that a dying Government is prepared to take to ensure the pendulum would not fall to far towards the Opposition side.

The colour green has certainly faded and is now replaced by a sickly yellow. I do not see any Green Party Members in the Chamber for the conclusion of this important debate. The Minister, Deputy Gormley, made his position clear yesterday when he said by-elections can, and do, change the balance of Parliament, bring down Governments and precipitate general elections. I can see the fear in his eyes, and those of other Green Party members who have been hiding in the corridors rather than facing the music in this debate.

The Minister also said there are strong arguments in principle against having by-elections at all, in a situation where Parliament is elected by proportional representation. That is rubbish, however, and he knows it. Either we have proportional representation or we do not. He cannot decide to change the system or bring it into question when the potential outcome is not likely to be to his taste.

It is a disgrace that the Government of the day should seek to pervert the course of democracy. The independence of the electoral system should be taken for granted and no party, whether in government or in opposition, should seek to interfere in the electoral process.

In order to prevent a repetition of the attack on democracy we are now witnessing, an independent electoral commission must be established urgently. I am glad to see the Minister is coming around to that idea, albeit somewhat belatedly.

Following the review carried out by the Fine Gael Party on the future of the electoral register and related electoral matters, the need for a single independent body to foster integrity and public confidence in the democratic process was highlighted. For example, we currently have an appalling situation whereby disabled people have to re-register annually as postal voters. It must be possible to put some less labour-intensive system in place. I want to see that happen before the next general election, if there is time to do so.

An Agreed Programme for Government 2007-12 contained a commitment to establish an electoral commission to take responsibility for electoral administration, implement modern [479]and efficient electoral practices, revise constituency boundaries, compile a new national rolling electoral register, take over the functions of the Standards in Public Office Commission on electoral spending, and examine the issues involved in financing the political system. There has been little follow up by the Government on these matters, however.

So far, we have seen the publication and passing of the Electoral Amendment Bill 2009. The scope of this legislation merely extends to election posters and the welcome limitations on local election spending. However, the setting up of the promised electoral commission has failed to take place. The Minister promised this again yesterday, but no time-scale has been put in place. Given the Minister’s worrying disregard for the norms of electoral procedure, it is time to put in place the safeguard of an independent electoral commission.

Now, more than ever, it is essential that we secure the integrity of the electoral process. If a Third World country refused to hold democratic elections, there would be an outcry. While we know to our cost that the current Government is hell bent on retaining power by any means, an attack on our democracy that sees a section of our population deprived of representation shows how far it is prepared to go to put its interests ahead of the public interest.

It is a major omission that the Electoral Act 1992 contains no limitation on the time within which a by-election should be held following the death or resignation of a sitting Deputy. In the manner of one not wishing to be cornered, the Minister saw the imposition of a six-month time-scale as a weakness in the Fine Gael Bill. This is far from the truth, however. The Minister talked about emergencies preventing the holding of elections within such a timeframe, but I do not have to tell him that emergencies can be accommodated. It is hard to see the loss of three seats to the Government as such an emergency.

The track record of the current Government is based on the numbers game. The Minister’s reference to substitutes, in the manner of a sports team, would suit his current predicament very well. In yesterday’s debate, it was blatantly obvious that he will do anything to avoid upsetting the balance of power.

The Taoiseach’s answer to calls for the by-elections has been a dismissive “Don’t worry about it”. While that may be the Taoiseach’s answer, I have to tell him that we do worry about it. I worry about the exercise and practice of democracy, and do not take kindly to his dismissive remark. In the interests of democracy I will be watching carefully to see how my constituency colleagues on the Government side will vote on this Bill and what importance they place on the rights to representation.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I compliment my colleague, Deputy Hogan, for bringing this Bill before the House. Deputy Hogan, who will be the next Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, is a far-thinking man who has brought many policies before this House.

We need to deal with the by-election issue once and for all. By-elections should not be the right of the Government to call. It is the right of the people to elect the person they want to sit in this House. In recent years, however, democracy has been taken away from the people. During election campaigns, politicians preach that they believe in democracy, yet when they come here they do the opposite. I will cite two or three examples.

I became a Member of this House in 1994 following a by-election. It took the Government 18 months to move the writ for that election. I thank the Government for that because what happened is that I spent 18 months on the road, especially, as the Minister of State, Deputy Michael Finneran well knows, in areas that I would probably not have been let into, and have not been let into since but they still remember me, thanks be to God. I canvassed widely in certain areas and if the Government held the by-election in 1994 when it should have been held, it would probably have won it. Instead, it gave the people an opportunity to let me loose, [480]and by God I got loose. Thanks be to God the people have elected me to this House in every election since then.

I wish to return to what has happened in the House in recent days. A serious issue has arisen in regard to children in this country. The Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney, sat where the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, is sitting. She has not opened her mouth for three or four days because she says it is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley, sits on the Government benches and he says certain matters are not his responsibility, but the responsibility of the National Roads Authority. When the Ministers are finished with that excuse, they say they have no responsibility in the matter, it is the officials in the Department who are causing the trouble. The people in this country elect politicians to take responsibility for Departments if they get into ministerial office. We are sick and tired of Governments handing over the powers of this House.

Last night, we heard that Fianna Fáil is now getting rid of town councils. If the party had its way it would get rid of county councils and elections. It does not want referenda, by-elections, general elections or elections to Údarás na Gaeltachta. What it wants is a dictatorship. If Fianna Fáil had its way, we would have a dictatorship in this country because that is the way we are heading with this Government. I say to the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, that the day will come — it is not far away, it could be next week, next month or next year — but the people are waiting in the long grass for Fianna Fáil. The Green Party Members will be left in the green grass of this country. They will never put their heads up above the grass again because they will not be on the Government side of the House and they will not be on the Opposition side of the House.

I referred to what by-elections mean and what happens as a result. In 1994, I was elected on the same day as a man called Eric Byrne was elected for Democratic Left. A couple of months later Fine Gael was in government. Those two seats helped to strengthen the Government. I say to Deputy Hogan that if I had not won the by-election for Fine Gael, the party would not have been able to go into government. I have made a small bit of history in the Fine Gael Party.

Deputy Michael Finneran:  Deputy Ring did not get much thanks for it since.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I am delighted, given that it was probably the best Government since the foundation of the State.

To return to Deputy Hogan’s proposal, the Government should stop the dictatorship and give the people an opportunity to have by-elections in the three constituencies. If the Government does not want to hold the by-elections, let us go before the people and let them adjudicate on the Government for getting us into the greatest mess.

I put the Leas-Chathaoirleach on notice that tomorrow morning I will have something to say about the disgraceful way the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government treats Deputies. I will leave that until tomorrow. This is not a democracy; it is dictatorship, but I will deal with that tomorrow morning when I deal with the Department. I will have a few words with the Ceann Comhairle or the Leas-Cheann Comhairle on the matter.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  I acknowledge that Deputy Ring knows all about elections and by-elections. I will make representations to the other Members of the party in Mayo to ensure that he is allowed into all parishes and not banned as he alleges is the case.

I thank all speakers who have contributed to the debate, which is an important one in terms of a modest electoral reform. I thank the speakers from the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and the [481]Independents who are supporting the Bill. It is clear for a considerable period, not long after the previous election, that the Government has no mandate to govern. The policies that have been implemented since September 2007 bear no resemblance to the mandates and programmes that were put forward by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party. In fact, the Green Party indicated it would have nothing to do with Fianna Fáil before the 2007 general election but we know what happened shortly afterwards.

The Green Party is finding out that it is not easy to be partners in government with Fianna Fáil. The revised programme for Government and the original programme for Government from 2007 promised a lot in terms of electoral reform. It makes for interesting reading to look back on those programmes and to see how far advanced the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and his party is in terms of the implementation of those promises. A common denominator with the Minister and his policy on electoral reform is that he announces many things and speaks about many objectives, but he has very little to show in terms of implementation, approval and achievement to date. He has lined up a considerable amount of promised legislation in the queue for the remainder of the year in the area of electoral reform, such as the Bill to elect a mayor in Dublin and the establishment of an independent electoral commission, but they must come second to other pieces of legislation that are exercising him and his party members such as the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill, the animal welfare Bill and the planning and development Bill. From listening to the most recent pronouncements of the Minister on electoral reform, it appears that we will have a busy time. However, he is unlikely to achieve the objectives he has set out in spite of his statements and his best intentions.

The modest proposal Fine Gael has put forward is to take the decision of when by-elections should be held out of party politics. All parties would have a view on that so why not exercise some discretion in favour of the people who under the Constitution are sovereign, not Parliament? We are in the House because the people elected us to be here. Every constituency is entitled to have full representation based on the tolerance levels that are enshrined in the Constitution and in law. We must give people an opportunity through the only mechanism they have at the moment to put people into this House arising from a casual vacancy, namely, a by-election. We suggest by-elections should be held within six months.

I offered the Minister an opportunity to say what he thought about the timescale but he chose, as the original champion of electoral reform, to deny any opportunity to express a view on whether it was a good or bad idea. He came up with an important reason that he could not support a by-election, namely, it could not be achieved or implemented because of national emergencies or perhaps it was natural disasters. The only national emergency that could occur politically for the Minister, Deputy Gormley, and his partners in government at the moment is that we would have an election. That would be a disaster and a national emergency. That is what the Minister is referring to because he does not want an election, as Deputy Ring has eloquently pointed out. That is the last thing he wants. I suggest that the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, would be in agreement with the Minister, because Fianna Fáil would not want too many elections no more than anyone would like an election. Nevertheless, the people in Donegal South-West, Waterford and Dublin South are entitled to full representation. That is why we are giving an opportunity to ensure that a by-election would be held within a certain defined timeframe.

The contribution of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, last night was pathetic. He could not bring himself to say the Bill was worth considering and that he would bring forward his own proposals. He talked about a speech he made three years ago on electoral reform to set up an independent electoral commission and how we would manage political parties, fund them, monitor elections and compile a register of electors. That is all he had to say. He said by-elections were bad because they could change [482]the balance of Parliament and cause a general election. That is his view of democracy and the democratic representation in each constituency. The Minister’s bluff on electoral reform has been called. He has been found out at last. He has no policy. He has no legislation or no timeframe for the implementation of any proposal and he has no agreement with the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party on electoral reform. His programme for Government, therefore, is meaningless. His revised programme for Government is also meaningless and the contents of the programme for Government have no mandate from the people.

I was interested to see what the Green Party said before it went into government. I found an interesting reference to ethics in public office. “Action is badly needed to restore public confidence in a political system that is widely seen to be operating on the basis of ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’”. We now know that the Minister is prepared to scratch the back of his partners in government if they will scratch his.

Deputy Michael Ring:  That is all he will have to do.

Deputy Phil Hogan:  That will be the yardstick by which both parties will be judged whenever there is an election, be it a by-election or a general election. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 68; Níl, 72.

 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Behan, Joe.
 Breen, Pat.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burke, Ulick.
 Burton, Joan.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Connaughton, Paul.
 Coonan, Noel J.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  D’Arcy, Michael.
 Deasy, John.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McHugh, Joe.  McManus, Liz.
 Mitchell, Olivia.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Noonan, Michael.
 Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.  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.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  Sheehan, P.J.
 Sherlock, Seán.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Stagg, Emmet.  Stanton, David.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  Wall, Jack.



[483]Níl
 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kenneally, Brendan.  Kennedy, Michael.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kitt, Michael P.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McDaid, James.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Peter.  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 Emmet Stagg; Níl, Deputies John Curran and John Cregan.

Question declared lost.

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  I was perturbed to read in this morning’s Drogheda Independent a statement by a senior official of IDA Ireland that the agency would be open to considering the possible sale of lands at its Drogheda business park, located in County Meath in the Meath East constituency, and possibly replace them with lands located in County Louth. People in County Meath were also disheartened by this report.

The business park in Donore Road is ideally located in County Meath, adjacent to the large town of Drogheda and on the motorway roundabout for the M1 at Donore roundabout. At approximately 25 minutes from Dublin Airport, it is strategically located.

However, the possibility the lands could be sold and replaced in County Louth gives a strong impression IDA Ireland lacks a commitment to County Meath. The agency should treat every [484]part of the country equally while giving due regard to job blackspots and particular local problems.

The impression given today, however, would be a huge turn off to investors. If IDA Ireland is not prepared to commit to County Meath, why should outside investors? The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is aware of several companies with which I am working to attract to County Meath.

While the lack of Border, midland and western regional grants is a disadvantage, the county has many advantages including its excellent motorway network, its people and Meath County Council’s efforts to attract business there.

Apart from the obvious benefits, Meath desperately needs an increased rates base. I know the Minister and the Government’s commitment to my county but that needs to be reflected in the public comments of representatives of State bodies charged with attracting business to the country. County Meath wants fairness, equity and its share.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Conor Lenihan):  IDA Ireland is fully committed to continuing its work in actively marketing the IDA business park in Drogheda for appropriate industrial investment. The agency has no plans to sell the business park as a whole.

IDA Ireland completed the development of a 63-acre site in Drogheda during 2006 and construction of the first office building of approximately 23,000 sq. ft. on the park was completed in July 2006. This building is now occupied by IFS, International Fund Services, which operates a fund administration business employing over 200 people.

County Louth has a large concentration of IDA-supported companies with 1,637 permanent employees in 22 companies.

Through its network of overseas offices, IDA Ireland is actively marketing both Meath and Louth for new inward investment. In line with the national spatial strategy, IDA Ireland is concentrating its efforts on the gateway towns of Dundalk and Drogheda. However, a final decision on where to locate is taken by the company involved and not by IDA Ireland.

The type of investments which IDA Ireland now seeks to attract require a concentration of highly qualified and educated workers, supporting infrastructure and high level business services. Frequently, competition for foreign direct investment, FDI, comes from city regions with populations in excess of 1 million people. Dublin is the only recognised city region of scale in Ireland. If FDI is to continue to contribute to balanced regional development, the other regions must be promoted as regions of scale with urban centres that provide the range of infrastructure and services that high value investment projects demand. We need to think regionally, not locally.

One of the high level goals set out in the recently launched IDA Ireland strategy document, entitled, Horizon 2020, is that from 2010 to 2014, 50% of FDI projects will be located outside of Dublin and Cork. Building on existing regional strengths to ensure Ireland’s economic development and optimising regional spread in overseas investments is central to IDA Ireland’s core activities. Future mobile investment will be attracted not as much by financial incentives, but a business-friendly and efficient operating environment with good education facilities, quality access infrastructure and a pro-business public policy. Foreign investors will be drawn to locations because of the positive pull of the individual location rather than being pushed there by financial incentives.

The grant rates that apply in the different regions of Ireland are decided by the EU Commission on the basis of objective criteria. Ireland’ s current regional aid map for 2007 to 2013, [485]which sets out the current grant rates in Ireland, was approved by the Commission in October 2006 and permits regional aid to areas covering 50% of the population. One EU requirement is that the areas selected are relatively more in need of economic development. The more developed given areas are deemed to be under GDP and employment indicators, the lower are the permitted aid rates.

Under the map, all of the Border, midlands and west region, which includes Louth, but not Meath, is classified as an economic development region and qualifies for regional aid throughout the 2007-13 programme. The south-east sub-region, which comprises Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow and Tipperary South, also qualifies for regional aid throughout 2007-13 on the basis of unemployment criteria specified by the European Commission.

While the Dublin and mid-east sub-region of Meath, Wicklow and Kildare are not entitled to regional aid, they continue to qualify for other forms of State aid, including aid for small and medium-sized enterprises, research and development, training aid and environmental protection aid, which are available in all areas.

The IDA will continue its work in actively marketing the IDA business park in Drogheda for appropriate industrial investment. My priority is to ensure the business environment is supportive of Irish enterprise and export growth and that we continue to attract high-value foreign investment.

Deputy Michael Kennedy:  I refer to this very important issue and, in particular, to the issue of the Drumanagh archaeological site in Loughshinny, north County Dublin, along the coastline. This area is reckoned to be a Roman fort according to some experts and academics. There is a national monument and it has a Martello tower, built in 1803, which is a protected structure. What action can the Minister of State take to prevent vandalism of the site, in particular by motor cycle riders who are destroying the land and, worse still, people using metal detectors? It is a very serious issue and one local resident and the local historical society, the Loughshinny & Rush Historical Society is very concerned about it.

How can access be blocked off from the bikers who are coming on site? How can these fortifications be fenced off? What warning signs can the national monuments service erect and how can fines be applied to offenders? The State should acquire this land, but in the short term we must take action to stop the vandals on bikes and those using metal detectors. I put it to the Minister of State that we need urgent action on the matter.

Deputy Conor Lenihan:  The heritage services of the Office of Public Works is responsible for managing and maintaining more than 750 national monuments in State care and providing full interpretative facilities and guide services at 60 sites, which attract more than 2.5 million fee-paying visitors annually. Our built heritage is, therefore, a source of great pride and inspiration for all our citizens, who rightly demand that we protect and celebrate it. The job of the OPW is to ensure that through its work of conservation, protection and interpretation, this heritage survives to be passed on to future generations.

Public access to heritage attractions has a high priority and much effort has been made to improve access and information at all built heritage sites. Visitors’ first-hand experience of sites fosters an appreciation of their special qualities. The presentation programmes appeal to a wide range of visitors, young and old. The approach to providing visitor facilities at sites is founded on a conservation ethos. Management of areas of national importance for heritage, including visitor access, is underpinned by the overall objective of conservation. Besides the provision of a guide service at major sites to protect these monuments, caretakers are employed [486]at other sites, especially in urban environments or where there are issues of access. These caretakers report any vandalism to the district organisation. All other monuments in State care are inspected on a regular basis and basic works programmes of maintenance and conservation are drawn up on the basis of such regular inspections.

The district organisation is operated on a geographical basis. The country is divided into six regions. The bulk of the conservation and restoration work undertaken at national monuments in State care is carried out by a direct labour force operating from the six regional depots at Athenry, Dromahair, Trim, Kilkenny, Mallow, and Killarney. Each region has a depot, which is managed by a works manager who reports to the senior architect for the region. The works manager is in charge of a team of industrial staff.

Of the 14,000 national monuments in Ireland, approximately 750 are in State ownership or guardianship and are under the care and management of the OPW. Separate to the heritage services of the Office of Public Works, the national monuments service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government plays a key role in the protection of our archaeological heritage.

The national monuments service is responsible for identifying and designating monuments; implementing legislative provisions in respect of protection of monuments; implementing protective and regulatory controls, including licensing of excavations and issuing of ministerial directions and consents under the National Monuments Acts; and providing heritage advice to planning and other consent authorities in respect of individual planning and other development applications, projects and plans. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible for the protection of our archaeological heritage, including the licensing of archaeological excavations, through the exercise of powers under the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2004. Monuments are protected under the National Monuments Acts in a number of ways including national monuments which are subject to a preservation order, historic monuments or archaeological areas recorded in the register of historic monuments, and monuments recorded in the record of monuments and places. When the owner or occupier of a property or any other person proposes to carry out, or to cause, or to permit the carrying out of any work at or in respect of a recorded monument, he or she is required to give notice in writing to the Minister two months before commencing that work. This is to allow the national monuments service time consider the proposed works and how best to proceed to further the protection of the monument.

In 2009, there were more than 100 reports to the national monuments service, which investigates reports it receives of damage to archaeological monuments and any possible offences under the relevant Acts arising from such damage. Each verified report results in an inspection and report on the condition of the monument and, where appropriate, the landowner or other interested parties are contacted in respect of appropriate follow up action. However, in the case of national monuments in the care of the Office of Public Works, it is open to the OPW to restrict temporarily unsupervised public access to monuments where vandalism or other hazards are a recurring problem, although this is always regrettable, to protect the structure or visitors to it and to allow reinforced precautionary measures, where available, to be put in place. For national monuments in the ownership or guardianship of the Minister or a local authority or which are subject to a preservation order, the prior written consent of the Minister is required for any works at or in proximity to the monument.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  This issue boils down to some simple facts. Fermoy Town Council has been instructed to fix a fish pass on the River Blackwater in Fermoy to adhere to an edict [487]from the European Commission handed down on foot of a complaint by persons or bodies unknown on the matter of the impediment to fish swimming up river west of Fermoy. The local council does not have the means to pay for the repair of the fish pass, which is protected and which the council owns. The estimated cost of repair is €100,000. The Department is unwilling to cover the cost of the repairs. Last Christmas, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, gave Fermoy Town Council until the end of 2010 to repair the damaged fish pass at Fermoy weir to become compliant on foot of the complaint to the EU Commission.

  9 o’clock

The Southern Regional Fisheries Board, which may or may not have been the originators of the complaint and which favours the replacement of the weir with a rock ramp pass, when asked through a freedom of information request about its involvement in the matter informed the secretary of the rowing club, Mr. Donal O’Keeffe, that old files were destroyed in a flood in 2009. In the meantime, the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, informed Fermoy Rowing Club last week that he is deeply concerned no progress has been made in the past six months. He went on to indicate that the rock ramp would definitely happen if Fermoy Town Council does not repair the fish pass. When informed that the council has no money to effect these repairs, the Minister of State made it clear it is the duty of Fermoy Town Council, as owners of the weir, a protected structure, to find the money somewhere. The Minister said that he cannot give them money towards the cost of repairs to the fish pass. However, the Government, of which the Minister is a member, is willing spend a multiple of €100,000 in order to install a rock ramp pass at the behest of the Southern Regional Fisheries Board.

Incidentally, there is no indication that the EU Commission has instructed the Government to install a rock ramp pass but it was satisfied that the repair of the fish pass was sufficient. In the meantime, we still do not know how many salmon are moving up river, because there is no fish counter in Fermoy town.

We all want to see fish being caught on the rod, and I do not particularly wish to see the Duke of Devonshire taking the lion’s share of the spoils below in Clondulane weir, but we must ensure that there is a balance struck between ensuring that fish have safe passage and guarding the future of the rowing club.

Let the Government assist with the cost of the repair of the fish pass and install a fish counter in Fermoy. Let common sense prevail.

Deputy Conor Lenihan:  I welcome the Deputy raising this evening the impact of fish migration at the weir in Fermoy, which is in the ownership of Fermoy Town Council. The Deputy’s acknowledgement of the need to ensure adequate fish passage on the River Blackwater, in order to comply with our obligations under European law, is also to be welcomed.

The council, which acquired the weir some years ago, is responsible, as are other weir owners, for the maintenance and upkeep of the weir. Following a complaint to the European Commission and the technical investigations undertaken subsequently, the town council was directed to reduce the barrier effect of the weir on the migration of certain protected fish species, in order to ensure compliance with the EU habitats directive. The council was also directed to ensure that the activities of the local rowing club were not adversely affected by the works necessary to ensure the passage of migratory fish.

On taking up responsibility for the inland fisheries brief, I reviewed the approach to resolving the barrier to fish passage at Fermoy. I was aware of the importance of making progress to deal with problems of fish passage and was anxious to avoid any further delays in this regard. Accordingly, I actively engaged with the town council and the local rowing club on the matter, [488]in terms of how they considered their needs could also be met. I listened carefully to the arguments of the council and local rowing club and their strong view that an alternative to the rock ramp proposal would provide a viable solution to the issue of fish passage at Fermoy.

While the advice available to me differs from this position, having listened to the arguments of the council and rowing club, I agreed to afford the council, the owner of the weir, an opportunity to implement its preferred solution of repairing the existing fish passes on the weir. I have made huge efforts to go towards the council, the rowing club and other interests in Fermoy, including local Deputies, so that I can accommodate their obvious concerns in this area. I now urge them to continue to do and complete the works as directed. I would add that I also made it abundantly clear that if that solution did not work, then I would have no alternative, indeed no hesitation, in requiring the rock ramp proposal to proceed.

To give practical effect to my decision, I revoked the original 2006 direction and issued a new direction in December 2009 to the Fermoy Town Council under section 116 of the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959. That direction required the council to undertake immediate repairs to the existing damaged fish passes in the weir in order to reduce the barrier effect of the weir on migratory fish species.

In light of my discussions with the European Commission authorities, having listened to the council and the rowing club and having had the advice of the Attorney General, as the chief law officer to the Government, I came to the conclusion that affording the council an opportunity to explore its preferred solution of the repair of the existing fish passes was the appropriate immediate action. That was not an easy decision for me to make in the light of the technical and scientific advice I was being given by my Department. I have given the council every opportunity to act immediately and with speed to repair and make the relatively minor works envisaged by the repair of the existing fish pass.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  What about the cost arguments?

Deputy Conor Lenihan:  If that is done, there is every chance the rowing club and all of the local interests, political and otherwise, can and will be satisfied. If people do not move quickly, I, given my EU obligations, will have no option but to act in the other direction, which is where the technical and scientific advice is leading me.

All parties involved must, however, recognise the conservation imperative here in our management of salmon stocks and appreciate that Ireland is a committed member of the European Union. We are equally dedicated to meeting our responsibilities under EC law. I have created an opportunity for the council to demonstrate that its preferred solution of repair to the fish passes offers a viable solution to the issue of fish passage at Fermoy.

I flew directly to Brussels to consult with the EU Commission on this matter. I am satisfied, given the advice I have received from the Commission and the Attorney General, that we have an opportunity here. The council’s most favoured option, and that of many local interests, to repair the fish pass can and should be executed but it should be executed quickly. Further delay will not be helpful. It is now a matter for Fermoy Town Council, the owners of the weir, to implement its proposals in 2010 and monitor their effectiveness. In creating this opportunity, I would stress that there is no dilution of Ireland’s commitment to meeting its obligations in relation to protected species under the habitats directive.

The effect of the repairs proposed on fish migration will be closely monitored and if the required improvement in fish migration is not achieved, I have made it clear that I will not [489]hesitate to direct the town council to undertake further major works. I will be seeking a progress report from the town council on this matter.

I have always made it clear that the work was to be undertaken without delay and have urged the council to seize the opportunity that I have presented, as further delays in addressing this issue will not be acceptable. I am acutely aware of Ireland’s obligations under the habitats directive and our reliance on the town council to provide the for improved fish passage on the River Blackwater. I am anxious that the repair works should be carried out as soon as possible in 2010.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter again. Whatever about the protestations and claims of not having resources, the town council should go ahead with the relatively minor works. The other works are extremely expensive.

Deputy Seán Sherlock:  Even minor works are unaffordable to the town council. The Minister of State’s response is wholly inadequate and quite disingenuous.

Deputy Conor Lenihan:  I must respond to that. I have moved hugely and extraordinarily to assist the people in Fermoy. I have spoken to them directly. It is now up to them to deliver.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  I am sure the Minister of State is as much aware of this sort of problem as I am. On the north side of Dublin we have a problem with primary schools getting services for the support of autistic children. However, what is most distressing is that when children have secured those services, after waiting, and make progress through the education system with the support of appropriate services, they then move to second level where the whole support structure falls away. In my constituency, St. Joseph’s post-primary school in Fairview has 17 children in need of autism services. Only eight of them have the support services of speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, psychological support and psychiatric service, as one would normally expect. Of the other nine, five are on a waiting list and the others are getting no service.

Is that good enough? These children are in the system. There is no question of people not knowing about them. However, when this was questioned the service provider, Beechpark, said it did not know of the existence of some of the designated children and they thought there only six children and not 13. Where was the Department of Education and Skills in keeping track of children and the service provider and in making sure Beechpark knew about them?

The children were told enrolment was not a matter for them, so that if children were enrolled it was not a matter for them and being enrolled did not guarantee them access to needed support services. How can one say a child who makes progress and has support at primary level has no right to continuing support at second level, other than joining the end of a queue? That is what seems to be happening. I cannot understand how the Department can stand over the lack of what it calls a demand-led scheme in the case of children who have been in primary education and are moving on to secondary education, as any child should. The system does not anticipate their need. This leaves the service provider, Beechpark, in an impossible position in that it must turn to the school and say it cannot support the children and that they must be put on a waiting list. There is no prospect of the children of the waiting list getting help this year.

The school is in an impossible position. What is to happen if there is an emergency requiring the children to have psychological or psychiatric support? There is none available to them. How is the school supposed to continue to cope with that?

[490]Some of the children are subject to what the Department calls a transferral period, whereby they receive support for six months before being put on the waiting list. There is a worry that, at the end of the six months, they will just disappear into the ether and that there will be no continuing commitment.

This is a huge issue. The House passed the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act so every child would have support provided according to his needs. In the case in question the Department is allowing the whole structure to fall apart where a child moving from primary to secondary education, as is natural. This is not good enough in St. Joseph’s in Fairview. Apart from the nine children in question, there are 66 children in the wider catchment in Dublin North-East in the same boat.

This is a chronic problem. I am sure the Minister of State is aware of the problem from his constituency experience and I ask him to talk to the Minister about it. Something must be done to crack it. Children with special needs of the kind outlined must not be abandoned after so much was put into their development. The Department is risking a falling apart of the system for want of continuing support services.

There is a lack of joined-up thinking in the Department of Education and Skills. It delegates responsibility to the Department of Health and Children, which is equally bizarre, and the child is left swinging. The Minister of State needs to take a hard look at this issue. If he cannot address it tonight, will he consider it further to determine whether a solution can be found?

Deputy Conor Lenihan:  I thank Deputy Richard Bruton for raising this matter and I am pleased to take this opportunity to outline to him the position on the provision of services for children in the autistic or Asperger’s range on the north side of Dublin.

Government policy and best practice recognise that clients and service users need to be at the centre of service delivery. On an ongoing basis, we are examining the way in which services are delivered to ensure people with disabilities are provided with the best possible services in an efficient and appropriate manner.

Progress has been facilitated in a number of areas in recent years by close co-operation between the health and education sectors, in particular the cross-sectoral team established by my Department and the Department of Education and Science in 2006.

Two legislative elements of the national disability strategy are the Disability Act 2005 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004. Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005 commenced for children aged less than five years with effect from 1 June 2007. This prioritisation reflects the importance of intervention early in life, which can have a significant impact on the disabling effects of a condition or impairment.

In light of the current financial circumstances, it has become necessary to defer further implementation of the Disability Act and of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act.

The Government has put considerable resources into schools to enable them to meet the needs of children with special educational needs. Over €1 billion was spent within the education system for this purpose alone last year. Students with disabilities will continue to receive support as they have for the past ten years. The Deputy is fully aware that the Department of Education and Skills has prioritised the provision of special education supports to schools. This is a key Government policy.

[491]The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, is responsible for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within the criteria of the Department of Education and Skills in allocating such support. The NCSE is independent in the making and issuing of its decisions relating to the allocation of such supports.

The NCSE has advised that it is actively identifying and meeting the demand for places for children with Asperger’s syndrome and autism in north County Dublin. The NCSE will continue to engage with schools in the area with a view to establishing further autism classes, as required.

On the matter of support services raised by the Deputy, the HSE provides services for individuals with autism spectrum disorders from childhood to adulthood, either directly or indirectly by both statutory and non-statutory service providers. These services include assessment, diagnosis and ongoing treatment and intervention supports. Ongoing interventions and supports may include home support services, respite services and multidisciplinary team supports.

As the name of the school has not been provided, the HSE has assumed that the Deputy is referring to St. Joseph’s school in Fairview. Beechpark, as a HSE service, provides clinical supports for children with a specific diagnosis of autistic spectrum disorder, who do not have a significant developmental delay, up to 18 years of age who attend designated special schools, outreach preschools and outreach classes and a number of ABA/ABACAS facilities in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow.

The Beechpark north-side outreach service provides the clinical supports for children attending schools on the north side of Dublin. This service is not a demand-led service and must operate within a defined allocation of resources. There is currently a capacity issue regarding the number of children Beechpark can support across the Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow areas.

The HSE understands there are four pupils moving from St. Joseph’s national school into the post-primary school in September. These children are being wait-listed for support services, but as with all pupils from outreach classes who complete primary education, a six month transition support program is available from the clinical team to ensure a smooth transition to the next level.

Beechpark has a number of children wait-listed for multidisciplinary support services arising from the volume of new classes that have been established across the Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow areas. These children are in preschool, primary and post-primary education. In Dublin’s north-eastern region, there are 11 new classes with an overall capacity of approximately 66 children, including those transferring from the St. Joseph’s school in Fairview, who may require supports in September 2010.

The provision of supports to these new classes requires additional resource capacity which is not being made available to Beechpark services in 2010. The resources currently available to the four children currently in St. Joseph’s primary school do not transfer into post-primary education as there are children on the waiting list to take up the places vacated within the primary school.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  They lose the support. How can the Department stand over that?

[492]Deputy Conor Lenihan:  The HSE is currently carrying out a national review of autism services. This review, which is due to be completed by September of this year, will identify the core principles of service delivery and standards of practice that will guide national autism services. The issues concerning services to children with autism spectrum disorders, in addition to those relating to services to adults with autism spectrum disorders, are being examined.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  How can the Minister of State stand over abandoning them when they move from primary to secondary education? It does not make sense.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.20 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 27 May 2010.

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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 14, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 15 to 26, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 27 to 36, inclusive, answered orally.

  37.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he acknowledges that the use of bio-energy provides an opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions originating from both the energy and the agricultural sectors; his views on whether Ireland is in a unique position possessing a large agricultural area relative to its population size of just over 4.2 million people; if he acknowledges that miscanthus has much to offer in this Irish context, being a renewable source of energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21972/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The bio-energy market is an important segment of the renewable energy sector. Important and challenging EU and National targets now exist to develop renewable energy in response to concerns about climate change and energy security. Two key policy documents have been published in Ireland to increase renewable energy output. The White Paper on Energy “Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland”sets out the framework for energy policy to 2020 to ensure security of supply, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness in the energy sector. A ‘National Bioenergy Action Plan’ is also in place to increase deployment of Ireland’s Bioenergy resources in the transport, heat and electricity markets.

Bio-energy crops can make a contribution to emissions reduction in the agriculture sector through the provision of low or carbon neutral indigenous fuels. Both willow and miscanthus are carbon neutral fuels as the carbon dioxide released on combustion is equal to that taken from the atmosphere by the plant during its lifetime. My Department has been providing support to farmers through a Bio Energy Scheme since 2007. A pilot Bio Energy Schemewas launchedin 2007 to support the planting of miscanthus and willow by giving farmers a grant to cover 50% of establishment costs. Grants were paid in two instalments: 75% following [494]establishment of the crop and 25% in the year after establishment. The pilot Scheme supported 364 farmers in the planting of some 2,500 hectares (2,100 miscanthus and 360 willow) to the end of 2009 at a cost of some €2.9 million.

A new Bioenergy Scheme, co-funded by the EU under the Rural Development Programme, was launched in February 2010 to build on the progress made during the pilot phase. Under this Scheme farmers receive a grant up to a maximum of €1,300 per hectare to cover 50% establishment costs. It is expected that up to a further 700 hectares will be planted (320 miscanthus and 370 willow) in 2010 under the Scheme.

Ireland’s climatic and soil conditions are very suitable for both miscanthus and willow production and offer a new rural economic activity and entry for agriculture to a large expanding energy market. These crops can also deliver positive outcomes in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and potentially deliver extra sources of income for rural communities. A vibrant non-food crops industry here would certainly provide farmers with added income streams. Given a favourable environment for development, Irish farmers can make a substantial contribution towards meeting Government targets and policies in the bioenergy and non-food crop sector.

  38.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will detail the discussions he has had relating to the recent communications from the European Union regarding Ireland’s compliance with an EU directive on fish farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22014/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  This concerns a Letter of Formal Notice received from the Commission on 5th May 2010 indicating that Ireland has not adequately implemented measures necessary to comply with the judgement of the European Court of Justice in case C-66/06, Commission v Ireland. Specifically, the Commission wants Ireland to apply the criteria in Annex 3 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) to the consideration by my Department of aquaculture licence applications. The requirement is for my Department to apply the criteria in Annex 3 of the 1985 Directive when deciding whether an Environmental Impact Assessment is required on a case-by-case basis.

Ireland is committed to the full implementation of all measures necessary to comply with the European Court of Justice judgement as it affects aquaculture licensing. A draft Statutory Instrument amending the aquaculture regulations to meet the requirements of the Letter of Formal Notice is being finalised. This will meet the requirements of the Commission in its letter of Formal Notice.

  39.  Deputy Trevor Sargent    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the measures in place to tackle bovine viral diarrhoea; the role he sees in this context for a national vaccination scheme; if he is familiar with the Irish manufactured and Irish Medicines Board licensed homoeopathic veterinary remedy for BVD now available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21844/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD) is caused by a viral infection of cattle. The virus is called Bovine Viral Diarrhoea Virus. It is not a notifiable disease under the Diseases of Animals Act. Where individual prob[495]lems occur, whether in relation to notifiable or non-notifiable diseases, as they do from time to time on farms, the Veterinary Laboratory Service of my Department is available to support local veterinary practitioners and their clients. In this context, samples from animals may be submitted for testing to my Department’s Central Veterinary Laboratory or Regional Veterinary Laboratories at the discretion of a private veterinary practitioner or upon request by a herdowner through his or her private veterinary practitioner.

There are no zoonotic implications with regard to BVD. BVD vaccines are available and vaccination programmes are an essential part of prevention and control measures. As regards the choice of vaccine to be used in specific cases, there are a number of products authorised by the Irish Medicines Board for the Irish market and it is a matter for the farmer, in consultation with his private veterinary practitioner, to determine which product to use on his/her herd.

There are no plans to introduce a national vaccination programme for BVD. In January 2009 I launched Animal Health Ireland, which operates, independently of my Department and has as one of its main aims, the identification and prioritisation of non-regulated disease conditions such as BVD. Animal Health Ireland is a company limited by guarantee with its own Board of Directors and Chief Executive. It is part financed by my Department and by industry and is responsible for the distribution of information to stakeholders in relation to its programme of activities and has already begun to address the problem of BVD on Irish farms. Information on BVD is available on the Animal Health Ireland website.

  40.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will comment on the disparity between the fall in Irish farm income in the past year when compared to other EU countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22038/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  EUROSTAT report that agricultural income per annual work unit fell by 11.6% in the EU in 2009. This figure varied from –32.2% in Hungary to +7.8% in Malta. Ireland was one of 21 Member States that reported a decrease in income per annual work units, while only six counties reported an increase in income. The fall in factor income in 2009 was mainly attributed to a sharp fall (-10.5%) in output value at basic prices, which was due almost exclusively to lower prices (-9.7%). There was a relatively small fall in volume (-0.9%). Some of the drop in the output value was off-set by a decline in the value of intermediate consumption which fell by 9.2% which was due to a combination of falling prices (-6.7%) and lower volume (-2.7%).

This was the general trend across EU Member States. In Ireland the situation was exacerbated by a number of factors including our dependence on a number of key commodities, dairy in particular, as well as unfavourable exchange rate movements with sterling. The dairy sector faced particularly difficult trading conditions in 2009, with the output value of the dairy sector down 32.5% in Ireland. Output value for most of the other livestock sectors also declined. This was a common trend across EU Member States with 25 countries recording lower values for animal output in 2009. Due to Ireland’s dependence on these commodities the impact on output was more dramatic here. Also a weak sterling resulted in a loss in export value as well as increased competitive pressures on export markets which all would have put downward pressure on domestic prices.

During 2009 the reactivation of a range of support measures, including public intervention, private storage and export refunds, helped to stabilise the market later in the year. The dairy market situation has improved considerably since the autumn and more recently has shown [496]signs of a robust recovery with increased commodity prices on world and EU markets, and a consequent rise in milk prices.

  41.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will comment on the decline in beef calf numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22048/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department publishes statistics each year on the national cattle population in the annual AIM Bovine Statistics report. The report for 2009 has recently been published and contains detailed information on many aspects of the beef and dairy herd. The total number of calf births in the country has been relatively stable over the last number of years, at just over 2 million calves each year, indicating a relative stability in the number of calves born annually. In 2009 there was a drop in the number of beef calves born when compared to 2008. However, this was largely compensated for by an increase in the proportion of dairy calves born, and is as a result of dairy farmers using more dairy bulls in their herds, to breed more replacement heifers for use in the dairy herd in anticipation of milk quotas being abolished.

The global economic downturn has meant that the beef sector, like other sectors, is at present operating in a challenging trading environment. Exchange rate developments have also been significant, particularly in the UK, our largest single market. I am committed to working with the beef sector to respond to the evolving challenges and to providing a sound framework for the development of the industry. To this end, a number of policy initiatives have, over recent years, been developed or enhanced. These include, the Suckler Cow Scheme, Bord Bia’s promotional work and its Quality Assurance Scheme, Breed Improvement Programmes and the Beef and Sheepmeat Capital Investment Scheme.

At farm level, my Department has made direct payments of some €33 million to beef farmers in 2009 through the Suckler Cow Welfare Scheme. On breed improvement my Department, together with Teagasc and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, are collaborating on a number of initiatives. Ongoing research and development in areas as diverse as grassland management and utilisation, animal breeding, animal health and feeding and cost control remain essential if we are to develop new and better animal production practices. Only in this way can we expect to increase returns for producers and assist the sector in continuing to supply high quality meat into ever more competitive markets. Furthermore, my Department will be completing its investment of more than €1 billion in farm waste infrastructure on Irish farms in 2011, and of course many of the 34,000 applicants receiving assistance under this scheme are beef farmers.

At processing level, the Capital Investment Scheme for the beef and sheepmeat processing sectors will provide some €69 million in grant aid, to assist the structural changes necessary in primary processing and in supporting the expansion of added value processing. The projects it is expected to underpin will make an important contribution to supporting incomes, sales, exports and employment.

I should also mention the ongoing marketing and promotion of Irish produce abroad. Our marketing efforts in this area are based on the overriding principles of differentiating and repositioning Irish beef in a variety of international settings. The good work being done by Bord Bia continues to focus on the key characteristics of Irish beef, particularly with regard to traceability and quality assurance. Currently over 99% of our exports go to the high value EU markets. This compares to some 50% a decade ago. On the issue of beef quality generally, I believe that the new Quality Payment System introduced last December will contribute signifi[497]cantly to an overall improvement in the quality of carcases produced here, as well as providing more animals for the high-priced EU markets, and underpinning Bord Bia’s marketing and promotional strategies.

Finally, I would mention the 2020 Committee, which I recently established. This includes senior and respected figures from a range of stakeholders in the agri food sector. The group’s remit is to prepare a strategy for the agri-food and fisheries sector for the coming decade. This process is well advanced and I believe that the output from this exercise will be important in setting a clear path forward for the beef sector. These initiatives complement the actions being undertaken by Teagasc, and other State Agencies, and together are important in underpinning the production, quality and marketing of Irish beef and the overall viability of the sector.

  42.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will comment on the level of food and drink imports from the UK in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22035/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Based on CSO provisional statistics, Bord Bia estimate that the value of food imports (excluding live animals) from the UK declined by six per cent in 2009 from €2.4billion euro to €2.3billion euro, by contrast with an increase in 2008 of almost 20%. In volume terms, imports did increase in 2009, primarily due to the weakness of sterling. Almost half of these imports would be classified as “prepared foods” by Bord Bia, which together with beverages principally contain processed foods ready for retail sale, in contrast to some of the other categories where the imports are for further processing here. Beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) accounted for €369 million of imports in 2009, showing a decline of eight per cent in euro terms. This followed considerable growth in 2008, and the level of imports remains at a higher level than in 2007.

These figures do not include imports by smaller traders who are not obliged to report their imports or by households who might have purchased groceries for personal consumption in Northern Ireland. On the export side, while the UK remains Ireland’s largest trading partner and recent currency development are more conducive to this trade, diversification of food and drink exports, including expansion of exports to eurozone countries, has improved. For example, markets for Irish beef are being established in the major premium supermarket chains in the EU and new marketing initiatives, including the Bord Bia Marketing Fellowships and Marketplace Ireland 2010, are identifying opportunities for companies to do more business within the eurozone.

  43.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of applications received for the agri-environment options scheme; the consequences for any EU funds allocated but not drawn down under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22016/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There has been significant interest in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme since it opened for applications on 30 March 2010. The closing date for receipt of applications was Monday 17 May 2010 and at close of business on that day some 4,400 applications had been submitted to my Department’s office at Johnstown Castle Estate in Wexford. However, given the short time frame for submitting applications, and in order to facilitate farmers, applications were also accepted in my Department’s local offices. These applications are currently being forwarded to be processed [498]centrally in Wexford. Current indications are that the total number of applications will be close to 8,000, but the actual figure cannot be ascertained until all applications have been received and recorded in Wexford.

EU funding for the Scheme comes from the modulation funding which I secured during the CAP Health Check and from the European Economic Recovery Programme. Given the response to the scheme in the numbers of applications submitted, I am satisfied that all EU funding provided for the scheme will be drawn down.

  44.  Deputy Bobby Aylward    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the funding that is being allocated to the new grassland sheep scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21864/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The sheep sector is a valuable part of the economy with two-thirds of its product destined for export and its future dependant on its ability to meet the needs of the market. I have always acknowledged this fact and have developed a strategy to provide specific supports to the sector.

Last year, on a once-off basis, I introduced the Uplands Sheep Payment, worth €7 million, availing of funds the National Reserve of the 2009 Single Payment Scheme. Subsequently, earlier this year, I launched a three-year, €54 million Grassland Sheep Scheme, the funding for which comes from unused Single Payment funds. Its main objective is to provide a much-needed boost to sheep farmers’ incomes, building on the additional support provided by the Uplands Sheep Payment. As the Scheme focuses on flocks with breeding ewes, it should also provide an incentive to farmers to maintain their production levels, which is vital for the future of a viable sheep industry in Ireland.

I decided that an income support measure should be introduced to assist sheep farmers, in view of the continuing decline of the sector. The opportunity arose when, as a result of the Health Check negotiations, a provision was introduced in the SPS Regulations, which enabled Member States to utilise unused SPS funds in measures to assist vulnerable sectors and agri-environmental Schemes. It was necessary to decide whether the income support in the sheep sector should be in the form of a headage payment or a grassland area payment. Both options were examined but the general consensus was that it was not practical to introduce a headage scheme for sheep. All farming organisations and the sheep farmers concur with this view.

The Scheme has been kept administratively simple, which will facilitate the Department in making payments very shortly after the commencement date of 1 December 2010, the earliest date for making payments under this Scheme in accordance with the provisions of the relevant EU Regulations. Farmers will find participating in the Scheme relatively easy, the three requirements being to:

maintain ewes;

complete the Sheep Census return; and

submit the SPS application form by the closing date of 17th May 2010.

Applicants must maintain sheep on an ongoing basis to retain eligibility for the 2011 and 2012 Schemes, i.e. he or she has to have sheep to declare in their 2011 and 2012 Sheep Census Sheep Returns. Applicants must also submit an SPS application each year to be eligible for the Scheme.

  45.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when the agri-environment options scheme plans will commence; the amount of money that will be awarded in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21989/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There has been significant interest in the Scheme since it opened for applications on 30 March 2010. The closing date for receipt of applications was Monday 17 May 2010 and at close of business on that day some 4,400 applications had been submitted to my Department’s office at Johnstown Castle Estate in Wexford. However, given the short time frame for submitting applications, and in order to facilitate farmers, applications were also accepted in my Department’s local offices. These applications are currently being forwarded to be processed centrally in Wexford. Current indications are that the total number of applications will be close to 8,000, but the actual figure and the potential level of payments cannot be ascertained until all applications have been received and recorded in Wexford. Expenditure under the scheme will depend on the actual number of applicants and the nature of the measures undertaken by them. The maximum annual payment to applicants under the scheme is €5,000.

Under EU Regulations, payments can not be made until all applications received have been subjected to a rigorous administrative check, including an area cross-check with the declarations made under the Single Payment Scheme. It is not possible, at this early stage, to anticipate how long this process will take but my objective is to ensure that it is completed and that payments issue as quickly as possible.

  46.  Deputy Noel Treacy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if, in the context of the forthcoming negotiations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy, he believes in the continuation of the two-pillar structure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21857/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I support the continuation of a two-pillar structure. My view is that the core purpose of pillar 1 funding is to provide income support to farmers to allow them to maintain family farming and to produce food competitively in an environmentally sustainable manner. In this context, there is a direct link between the income stabilisation role of direct payments and the market stabilisation role of our current market management measures. Rural development policy, on the other hand, supports farmers in developing their productive capacity while securing the environment and ensuring the well being of the wider rural society. I believe that funding from both pillars is critical to the future of Irish and European farming and should be maintained and enhanced.

  47.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the Mercosur and EU trade deal talks trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21994/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I conveyed our Government’s serious reservations about the decision to re-engage in negotiations with Mercosur directly to Commissioner Ciolos when I spoke to him on Monday, 17 May. In my discussion with him, I expressed our deep concerns over the decision to re launch the negotiations and the threat which these negotiations could pose for Irish and European agriculture, at a time of [500]great sensitivity in the context of discussions on the CAP post 2013, and in the context of the significant challenges already facing the sector.

Ireland has been to the forefront in urging caution in relation to the resumption of these talks. Having sought the inclusion of Mercosor as an AOB point for the Agriculture Council, Ireland helped to draft a joint paper which was co-signed by France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Poland, raising concerns on the resumption of the talks, the possible concessions on agriculture that will be required to achieve an agreement and seeking clarification and assurances in relation to any future talks. The concerns expressed in that joint paper were also echoed by many other member states in the Council.

At the Agriculture Council, we highlighted the serious losses for European agriculture and the greater market access concessions that could result from an EU/Mercusor Free Trade Agreement. The importance of agriculture as the largest indigenous manufacturing industry in the context of Ireland’s economic recovery was stressed. The impact such an agreement would have on the beef sector and in particular on the high quality beef cuts market in the EU was detailed in our intervention. I have specifically requested a detailed analysis from the Commission of the social, economic and environmental impacts of the anticipated outcome of these negotiations, a request supported by many Member States in the Council.

While the talks have been re-launched, it is in effect a reopening of talks that were originally opened a number of years ago but which were effectively suspended in 2004 after 16 rounds of negotiations, arising from major differences between the two sides in terms of expectations across a range of headings including industrial goods, agriculture, services and intellectual property. Doubts still remain among many Member States that there is a sound basis for a positive engagement or outcome in these talks.

  48.  Deputy Máire Hoctor    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the contribution that he believes the recent Bord Bia food and drink summit can make to the forthcoming 2020 strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21849/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Bord Bia hosted the recent Food and Drink Summit —“Building Ireland’s largest indigenous industry”— at Farmleigh House on Thursday, 6th May. The summit marked the culmination of a process whereby Bord Bia, in co-operation with Harvard Business School, had engaged with the leaders of the Irish food and drink industry to develop proposals to inform the 2020 agri-food sector strategy process. Harvard conducted a series of one-to-one interviews with 16 of the leading figures in the food and drink sector and collected responses from a further 29 chief executives throughout the industry via questionnaire. Access was also provided to relevant reports and studies relating to the sector and to the wider economy. The findings were presented at the Food and Drink Summit.

As the deputy will know, Harvard Business School identified three broad themes for further consideration. Firstly, they highlighted a need for greater co-operation within the Irish food and drink industry given our small size relative to the global food market. This involves collaboration between companies in the supply chain, and between supply chains themselves in areas such as tourism, pharmaceuticals and health. Secondly, a culture of innovation based on new science and new ways to solve customer needs will be a fundamental part of differentiating Irish product and delivering value to the customer. Thirdly, Harvard emphasised the importance of branding, and establishing a reputation that builds customer loyalty and commands a price premium.

[501]Building further on these three themes, the creation of an umbrella brand for Irish food and drink was central to the Harvard proposal, bringing together as it does the key aspects of collaboration, innovation and branding. While the exact configuration of such a brand would need to be based on further market analysis, it would undoubtedly be linked to Ireland’s reputation for green and sustainable production, and would need to be underpinned by a strong science base.

I know that Bord Bia is already pursuing the various proposals presented at the summit. Amongst other things, Bord Bia has undertaken to develop an inventory of relevant collaborative activity at home and abroad to guide companies on best practice in this area. The work of Bord Bia in the area of sustainability and its linkage with existing quality assurance schemes will also be advanced. Furthermore, Bord Bia will support innovation and dynamism in the industry by enhancing the human capital available to it through the Marketing Fellowship Programme.

However, the extent to which the Harvard proposals are brought to fruition will depend on the appetite of industry for their implementation and I expect this will be reflected by the recommendations in the 2020 Agri-food Strategy. The Committee charged with developing this strategy, most of whom attended the summit, have indicated their support for many aspects of the Harvard proposals. Indeed, I am told that the need for greater co-ordination along the supply chain, an emphasis on innovation, and the importance of Ireland’s reputation for environmentally sustainable production have been central to much of the Committee’s deliberations over the last number of months. As such, I believe the Harvard proposals will form an important strand of the 2020 Strategy.

  49.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding changes to the agri-environment options scheme specifications on species rich grassland and the increase in the natura payment from €75 to €150 per hectare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21990/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department has submitted proposals to the European Commission for a number of amendments to the provisions for the Agri-Environment Options/Natura Scheme under the revised Rural Development Programme, 2007–13. The proposals are being pursued as a matter of urgency but, in accordance with regulatory procedures, the Commission is permitted a period of four months in which to deliberate and reply. The proposed amendments are:

Revision to Natura 2000:

To increase the rate of payment from €75 to €150 per hectare, subject to the payment limits of the scheme.

Revision to the Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS):

To provide for the inclusion of tree whips under the “Tree Planting and Management” option.

To remove the prohibition on the application of any fertiliser and to allow for the application of 30kgs of fertiliser per hectare under the “Species Rich Grassland” option.

My officials will remain in contact with the Commission to secure an early response to these issues.

  50.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when the measures announced in July 2009 using unspent Common Agricultural Policy funds will be delivered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22057/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Under the final agreement on the Health Check of the CAP Ireland secured access to additional funds of €25 million annually from unspent CAP funds for three year from 2010. Following wide consultation with interested stakeholders and having regard to the provisions of the Regulations, I decided to allocate the funds to three schemes, details of which I announced over the last number of months. The schemes are:

A Dairy Efficiency Programme which involves the payment of €6million per annum over the next three years to eligible dairy farmers who actively participate in the programme with a view to achieving significant efficiency gains on their farms.

A Grassland Sheep Scheme involving the payment of €18million per annum to sheep farmers for each of the three years 2010, 2011 and 2012,and

The Burren Life — Farming for Conservation Programme providing €1million each year for the next three years to support high environmental value farming in the Burren which is one of Ireland’s outstanding landscapes and is world renowned.

The dairy sector faces many challenges as it prepares for quota abolition and the realities of competing in a global market place. The Dairy Efficiency Programme, with its main focus on cost reduction and greater efficiencies, further reinforces the initiatives which I have undertaken to help the dairy industry to look to the future with optimism. The Grassland Sheep Scheme provides much needed support to the sheep sector and will act a real incentive to farmers to maintain their production levels, which are essential for the future of the sheep industry in this country. The Burren Life Programme is a continuation and mainstreaming of the pilot scheme known as the Burren Life project. It is a voluntary scheme open to farmers who farm in the Burren region in north Clare and south Galway and will provide an important boost to the traditional farming methods employed in this unique karst landscape.

My Department has now implemented all three schemes. Under EU regulations payments under the three schemes can only commence on 1 December 2010. I am confident that the bulk of the payments under the Grassland Sheep Scheme will be made in early December. It is expected that payments under the other two schemes will commence early in 2011 when the participants have completed their obligations under each scheme.

  51.  Deputy P. J. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will state the strategic implications of the cuts to forest premia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22008/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Supplementary Budget introduced by the Minister for Finance in April 2009 reduced the funding available for the Forestry programme in 2009 and difficult decisions were taken by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to make the maximum use of these funds. Maintaining an active afforestation programme was an important consideration in this decision-making process given its employment potential. However, this necessitated a reduction in other parts of the forestry programme. It was decided, therefore, to reduce by 8% the annual forestry premium that is paid to landowners following the successful establishment of their plantations.

[503]With the continued availability of grants to cover establishment costs the overall planting package still provides an attractive land-use option for farmers. Provision has been included in the 2010 Budget for 7,000 hectares of new planting, an increase of over 5% on the level achieved in 2009. Evidence of the continued interest in forestry, despite the reduction in premium, is the increase to date in 2010 compared to the same period in 2009 by 26% in the number of applications for approval to plant (from 649 to 817).

  52.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the progress that is being made on the REP scheme payments especially in counties Cavan and Monaghan; the number of payments that are still outstanding; when these outstanding files will be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21870/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  A total of 29,376 applications were received for participation in REPS 4 for payment in 2009. The acceptance of REPS 4 applications is governed by EU Regulations which require exhaustive administrative checks and on-the-spot inspections. In a significant number of the applications received, the administrative checks raised issues and queries which required further detailed examination. My Department’s staff have been working to resolve these as quickly as possible. Many of these cases required the applicants’ planners to amend the farm plans that were submitted originally. The applicants concerned were made aware of the position and the applications are being further processed without delay on receipt of amended plans. So far, 24,023 applicants have received full payment for 2009 and work is continuing to process the remainder as quickly as possible.

A total of 1,101 applications were received from Co Cavan of which 852 have been paid in full. A further 903 applications were received from Co Monaghan of which 765 have been paid in full. My Department is continuing to process the balances of 249 and 138 applications respectively with a view to payment as quickly as possible.

  53.  Deputy Christy O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his priorities for the new Common Fisheries Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21848/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The European Commission issued a Green Paper on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in April 2009 and sought responses to their proposals. Minister Killeen, who had responsibility for the Fisheries portfolio at that time, appointed Dr. Noel Cawley to chair a nationwide public consultation process. The result of these consultations contributed in no small way to Ireland’s response to the Green Paper which issued on the 23rd of February. Our submission on the CFP reform sets down a number of informed recommendations which we believe must be incorporated into the new Common Fisheries Policy. They take a pragmatic approach, which promote measures that collectively take account of economic, social, environmental and sustainability factors. The report in its entirety and all formal submissions received during the public consultation process are available on www.fishingnet.ie.

Ireland’s priorities for the new CFP are set out clearly in the submission. Central to those priorities are:

New focus on addressing discarding of fish at sea with a complete ban being introduced for stocks in a depleted state;

[504]The retention of a management system based on national quotas supported by increased flexibility and a rejection of the mandatory privatisation of fish quotas or the introduction of international trading of fish quotas;

Access to coastal waters to be re-examined with a view to an extension of the coastal limit to 20 miles with new management arrangements in place to strengthen coastal communities dependant on inshore coastal fisheries;

New measures to strengthen the market for EU producers and increase quay side prices;

Reinvigoration of European aquaculture with continued structural support and a roadmap that establishes a route for growth in harmony with Community environmental law.

New regional structure to decision making at EU level with increasing industry responsibility and the development of a culture of compliance.

Minister of State Sean Connick, T.D. attended a bilateral meeting with the Maria Damanaki, the new EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, on the 29th of March 2010. This meeting was arranged at his request to discuss the Report on “Ireland’s Response” to the Commissions Green Paper on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and to set out clearly Ireland’s National position on the CFP reform. At this meeting many areas where we have common ground with the EU Commission were discussed, however, he made it quite clear that Ireland does not support the Commission’s ideas expressed in the Green Paper which would allow our national fish quotas to be privatised and traded away to large European fishing companies. He stressed that Ireland’s main objective in the Reform Process will be to protect the national fish quotas as a public resource to be used for the benefit of our family owned fleet and to support our coastal communities.

The Informal Meeting of Fisheries Ministers in Vigo, Spain at the start of this month was attended by Minister of State, Sean Connick TD. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), including a summary of the consultation process which was published by the Commission. During the informal meeting, Minister Connick set out Ireland’s position for his Ministerial colleagues and heard their thoughts and the reasons for the approaches they are proposing. Minister Connick also availed of the opportunity to meet with Ministers that hold similar views on aspects of the reform in order to form alliances that will strengthen our case in the upcoming intensive negotiations on the CFP reform.

It is now clear that there are some divergent views on aspects of the reform process, but we are confident that we can work with our Ministerial colleagues and the EU Commission to produce a practical and effective policy for fisheries into the future. It is anticipated that a working document concerning reform options will be prepared by the Commission and presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council scheduled for the 28th/29th June 2010. Nationally, I intend to continue my close collaboration with the Federation of Irish Fishermen and the other stakeholders to put Ireland’s case forward during the review, to vigorously defend Ireland’s maritime interests, and to convince our Member State colleagues and the Commission to strengthen the current policy in line with Ireland’s submission on the reform of the CFP.

  54.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the steps he is taking to encourage forward selling in the grain market and thereby reduce dependency on prices in the market at harvest time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22052/10]

[505]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  It is important that producers and merchants continue to explore ways in which harvest prices can be determined in advance to allow for cost-effective forward planning by all sectors of the industry. Grain prices are strongly influenced by both the world and EU markets and indeed Ireland accounts for around only 1% or so of the EU market.

The maintenance of an efficient and viable crops sector in Ireland is very important to the well being of the agri-food industry. Indigenous production of cereals is of course, an important part of primary agriculture production. In addition to generating an income for our tillage farmers, the cereals sector is a key source of grain for the milling and malting industry and feedingstuffs for the livestock sector. Annual cereals production in Ireland has fluctuated around 2 million tonnes in recent years. It is desirable to try to sustain this level of production in order to avoid over-dependence on imported cereals.

My Department operates a range of services aimed at improving the efficiency, quality and viability of cereal production. These services include seed certification, seed testing, variety testing and publication of recommended lists of varieties. In addition, Teagasc provides research, training and advisory services for cereal producers. The value of all these support services is reflected in the fact that Irish cereal producers have consistently achieved some of the highest yields in the world. In February of this year I launched a major initiative to draw up a long-term strategy for the agri-food, forestry and fisheries sector. The important role of the cereals sector as part of this long-term strategy will be fully examined.

  55.  Deputy Catherine Byrne    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will give details of the discussions he has had regarding the timeframe for the introduction of the code of conduct for the retail sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22028/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Renewed Programme for Government contains a specific commitment to “implement a Code of Practice for doing business in the Grocery Goods sector to develop a fair trading relationship between retailers and their suppliers” and “to review progress of the Code and if necessary to put in place a mandatory code”. The Government will give effect to this commitment by including a specific provision in the legislation, currently being prepared by my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, which will allow for the introduction of statutory Codes of Practice in areas such as the grocery goods sector. Minister O’ Keeffe expects to publish this legislation later this year. In the interim period until the legislation is enacted, the possibilities of agreeing a Voluntary Code, which would respect the interests of all parties is being explored with all the relevant stakeholders.

The Government is strongly committed to ensuring that Ireland continues to have vibrant agri food and retail sectors, particularly given the importance of these sectors to the national economy. The Government considers it important, therefore, that there is balance and transparency in the relationship between the various players in the grocery goods sector. The introduction of a Code of Practice, as provided for in the Programme for Government, is intended to achieve such a balance taking into account the interests of all stakeholders in the grocery goods sector including the interests of the consumer.

  56.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the capital [506]funding that he has put in place for the development of small fish processing businesses for 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22087/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Under the National Seafood Development Operational Programme 2007-2013 capital funding of €1.5m has been allocated for fish processing. However a delay has been experienced in the adoption of the Programme due to concerns raised by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources regarding environmental issues relating to compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and sea lice control on salmon farms. I am working to address the concerns of these Departments and consider a way forward with a view to the adoption of the Operational Programme without further delay.

  57.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the cost of administering the Common Agricultural Policy here as a percentage of the CAP funds allocated to Ireland; the way this compares with EU norms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22042/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Commission has developed a template for calculating the costs of implementing EU funded schemes under the Common Agricultural Policy for the purposes of showing comparisons between Member States. The comparison shows that the administrative costs in Ireland are significantly lower than the EU average. The latest data submitted for the purposes of the EU comparison shows that the cost to the Department in 2008 of administering EAGF funded schemes (market supports and direct payments) amounted to 2.79% of expenditure under the schemes and for the EAFRD (rural development measures) the cost of administration was to 2.61%. The details are set out in the tabular statement below. The overall EU average cost in the EU 25 Member States was 4.15% in 2007 which is the most recent data available.

2008: expenditure and administrative costs

Expenditure Administrative costs Admin cost as % of expenditure
€m €m
EAGF 1,452 40.5 2.79%
EAFRD* 614 16.0 2.61%

  58.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when he intends to visit Cromane pier, County Kerry; if he will indicate a date for his proposed visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22082/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Kerry County Council proposes to construct a new pier at Cromane. The proposed pier will be the property of that Local Authority who will be responsible for its development, maintenance and repair. No arrangements have been put in place for a visit to Cromane in the near future.

  59.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the progress that has been made between the banks and those representing pig farmers in particular; his views on whether many of these farmers are continuing under severe pressure for working capital and every day living; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21869/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I recently met with representatives of the Irish Banking Federation and impressed upon them the credit requirements of the agri-food sector, including the pig sector. While it is reported that there has been some easing of the restrictions on the flow of credit, there are still individual cases of difficulty. Therefore I will continue my dialogue with the banks on the issue. Following the establishment, under the NAMA legislation, of the Credit Review Office, SMEs, sole traders and farmers may now get a review of a refusal or withdrawal of business credit.

As with those in many sectors, pig producers have been operating in a more difficult trading environment as a result of the global economic downturn and an unhelpful Sterling/Euro exchange rate. Nonetheless, pork is the most consumed meat product globally and I believe that there is significant potential for growth in the sector.

My Department is at present working with the Agri 2020 Committee to develop a medium term strategy for the Agri Food Sector, including the pig sector and I expect this exercise to be concluded shortly. In the meantime my department and its agencies will continue to work with the industry to ensure the optimal framework for its development, inter alia by ensuring the Irish pigmeat sector has access to the maximum number of third country markets, through the provision in the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013, of capital funding for investment in sow housing, by investing in consumer promotions at retail level and education programmes at food service level to promote Quality Assurance and by funding marketing initiatives at home and overseas.

Following constructive engagement with the Chinese authorities and a meeting last week in Beijing between myself and the Chinese Minister for Agriculture, Mr Han Changfu, and the Minister for Quality, Supervision and Inspection, Mr Wang Yong the Chinese market has been fully reopened to Irish pigmeat. I believe there will be the immediate potential for €20 million in trade, and this can be built on significantly in the years ahead.

  60.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he has been in contact with the EU Agriculture Commissioner regarding the decision by the Commission to re-open negotiations with the Mercosur group of South American countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21853/10]

  100.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the way he has conveyed his concerns about the possible impact of the forthcoming negotiations between the EU Commission and the Mercosur group of countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21854/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 100 together.

I conveyed our Government’s serious reservations about the decision to re-engage in negotiations with Mercosur directly to Commissioner Ciolos when I spoke to him on Monday, 17 May. In my discussion with him, I expressed our deep concerns over the decision to re launch [508]the negotiations and the threat which these negotiations could pose for Irish and European agriculture, at a time of great sensitivity in the context of discussions on the CAP post 2013, and in the context of the significant challenges already facing the sector.

Ireland has been to the forefront in urging caution in relation to the resumption of these talks. Having sought the inclusion of Mercosor as an AOB point for the Agriculture Council, Ireland helped to draft a joint paper which was co-signed by France, Austria, Finland, Greece, Hungary and Poland, raising concerns on the resumption of the talks, the possible concessions on agriculture that will be required to achieve an agreement and seeking clarification and assurances in relation to any future talks. The concerns expressed in that joint paper were also echoed by many other member states in the Council.

At the Agriculture Council, we highlighted the serious losses for European agriculture and the greater market access concessions that could result from an EU/Mercusor Free Trade Agreement. The importance of agriculture as the largest indigenous manufacturing industry in the context of Ireland’s economic recovery was stressed. The impact such an agreement would have on the beef sector and in particular on the high quality beef cuts market in the EU was detailed in our intervention. I have specifically requested a detailed analysis from the Commission of the social, economic and environmental impacts of the anticipated outcome of these negotiations, a request supported by many Member States in the Council.

While the talks have been re-launched, it is in effect a reopening of talks that were originally opened a number of years ago but which were effectively suspended in 2004 after 16 rounds of negotiations, arising from major differences between the two sides in terms of expectations across a range of headings including industrial goods, agriculture, services and intellectual property. Doubts still remain among many Member States that there is a sound basis for a positive engagement or outcome in these talks.

  61.  Deputy Niall Blaney    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on whether there is a compelling case to change the current historical model of determining single payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21855/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My starting point is that I see no compelling reason to change from the current historical model for determining single payments. I believe that the historical model has a distinct advantage in linking the payment with level of farming activity, albeit activity in 2000-2002. I have made my views on the benefits of the historic model clear at meetings of the Council of Ministers and in bilateral discussions with other member states and the Commission.

That having been said, it would appear that Ireland is in a very small minority of Member States that hold this view. Many of our partners in Europe are now questioning the credibility of this system for determining direct payments. We need, therefore, to be open to looking at alternative models that might command the support of a larger number of Member States, but would be beneficial to Ireland. While I am prepared to look at the alternatives, particularly if other countries move from the “historic camp”, there is a need to find a basis that is acceptable and fair to all Member States and that meets Irish objectives of improved competitiveness and sustainability.

There are no concrete proposals as yet on this matter but it is clear that most Member States, including ourselves, are carrying out analysis to determine which system might suit us best. From our analysis so far, we know that Ireland would lose out under a simple EU-wide flat [509]rate by nearly 20%, based on current EU SPS funding levels. We also know that movement to a regional or national flat rate in Ireland, based on our current national envelope, would broadly have the effect of shifting funding from farmers in the east to the west and from cattle fattening and tillage farms to cattle rearing and sheep farms with little change on dairy farms. It is clear that there is a long way to go in this debate. I will be seeking to have the option to maintain our current system and, failing that, to ensure that there is a fair and equitable division of funds that supports family farm incomes in Ireland and allows our farmers to get on with the business of farming.

  62.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will give details of the discussions he has had relating to the recent communication from the European Union regarding Ireland’s compliance with an EU directive on fish farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22070/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  This concerns a Letter of Formal Notice received from the Commission on 5th May 2010 indicating that Ireland has not adequately implemented measures necessary to comply with the judgement of the European Court of Justice in case C-66/06, Commission v Ireland. Specifically, the Commission wants Ireland to apply the criteria in Annex 3 of the Environmental Impact Assessment Directive (85/337/EEC) to the consideration by my Department of aquaculture licence applications. The requirement is for my Department to apply the criteria in Annex 3 of the 1985 Directive when deciding whether an Environmental Impact Assessment is required on a case-by-case basis.

Ireland is committed to the full implementation of all measures necessary to comply with the European Court of Justice judgement as it affects aquaculture licensing. A draft Statutory Instrument amending the aquaculture regulations to meet the requirements of the Letter of Formal Notice is being finalised This will meet the requirements of the Commission in its letter of Formal Notice.

  63.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the measures that he is taking to ensure the viability of the artisan farmhouse cheese sector; if he acknowledges that there are about 60 farmhouse cheese manufacturers here, producing about 1,250 tonnes of cheese with a value of about €9 million; if there is further growth potential in this sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21971/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The farmhouse cheese sector makes a valuable contribution to the local food economy, to exports and enhances the local food culture. The sector receives support from my Department and from Agencies under the aegis of my Department. Additional milk quota is provided to support the development of high value and specialist milk products including farmhouse cheese. Specialist advice and support are provided by Teagasc and Bord Bia has consistently championed the sector via national and international trade fairs and competitions. In addition, funding is available under the Bord Bia Marketing Finance Programme and individual farmhouse cheese producers have participated in the Bord Bia Vantage suite of services for small business ( www.bordbiavantage.ie ) and the Marketing Fellowship Programme. The information sought by the Deputy is being collated and will be communicated separately.

  64.  Deputy Edward O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views regarding the continued need for the use of market management measures in the dairy sector, in view of the ongoing fragile nature of the market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21867/10]

  105.  Deputy Edward O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on whether market management measures have a continued role to play in relation to the dairy sector, notwithstanding recent improvements in milk prices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21868/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 105 together.

The EU Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) provides a range of measures that can be used to manage the dairy market, and these were modified in the CAP reforms of 1999 and 2003. In the Health Check negotiations in 2008 there was pressure to remove or weaken the support measures significantly. At that time I fought hard to keep the key market instruments in place and the importance of retaining these support measures was proven last year when the dairy market experienced a dramatic decline. During 2009 I frequently pressed the Commission to take all appropriate measures to deal with the dairy market situation, and there is no doubt that the implementation of a range of support measures helped to stabilise the market in 2009. The dairy market situation has improved considerably since last autumn and more recently has shown signs of a robust recovery with increased commodity prices on world and EU markets, and a consequent rise in milk prices. I will continue to maintain close contact with the EU Commission and the Council to ensure that support measures are activated at levels that will make a real impact on the market.

I am committed to a strong and adequately resourced CAP after 2013 and I believe there is a continued role for existing market measures. The experience of the dairy sector in the past year reinforces this view. Furthermore, there is also a need for new measures which could assist in managing market volatility, and the Commission High Level Group on Milk is considering this issue. The Group was tasked with examining medium and long term ways of stabilising dairy farmers incomes and improving market transparency. It is expected that the Group will present a report by the end of June 2010.

  65.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if the national laboratory at Backweston, Celbridge, County Kildare is now adequately equipped and staffed to meet all possible animal health or food chain checks or tests; if there are any situations in which samples have to be sent out of the country for whatever reason; the nature of such situations; the extent to which a rapid response is now achievable in respect of samples submitted to Backweston; the number of samples tested on a weekly basis at Backweston or elsewhere throughout the country in each of the past five years to date in 2010; the number of such samples sent outside this jurisdiction in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22004/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The vast majority of the buildings of DAFF Laboratories, at Backweston are completely operational and functioning as intended. Amelioration works on some areas of the laboratories are required prior to they coming on stream. These are expected to be completed during 2011. The move to and the [511]concentration of laboratory facilities at Backweston has provided state of the art facilities to DAFF in terms of meeting its requirement for laboratory facilities.

While some tests in the animal health area are referred to laboratories abroad eg for testing for exotic viruses etc. (see below) it is envisaged that the need for such referrals will diminish in the future, as DAFF Laboratories continue to introduce new analytical methods and technologies with the objective of meeting a higher proportion of our needs and thus minimising our dependency on external laboratories. Also, the DAFF Laboratory facilities at Backweston are capable of dealing with DAFF’s analytical requirements to a considerable degree but do not meet all of DAFFs requirements. DAFF still needs to outsource certain elements of its analytical requirements to other national and international laboratory service providers. In particular in times of emergency, such as in the case of the dioxin crisis, samples were sent abroad for analysis to ensure the problem was fully quantified and brought to a conclusion as rapidly as possible (DAFF laboratories at Backweston should not be confused with the State Laboratories of the Department of Finance which are also on the Backweston site).

The staff in DAFF laboratories are highly committed and make themselves available for a rapid response even out of hours when necessary. Samples turnaround times vary depending on the complexity of the tests involved and predicted turn around times are complied with in most instances in DAFF laboratories. Computerised data are not yet available for all the divisions receiving samples for testing in DAFF Laboratories. For this reason the exact weekly figures are not readily available and vary per week within and between each year. However, the total mean weekly figures for DAFF’s Regional Laboratories and the divisions at DAFF laboratories Backweston are given below, bearing in mind that many of the samples submitted are subjected to a number of tests within laboratories and divisions.

The mean weekly number of samples tested in the Central and Regional DAFF Laboratories in 2006 was 98,170 samples per week; in 2007 it was 96,797 samples per week, in 2008 it was 93,871 samples per week, in 2009 it was 89,989 samples per week, so far in 2010 the figures are running at approximately 69,000 samples per week.

A number of samples are sent abroad annually for tests which are not carried out at DAFF laboratories eg typing of bacteria, tests for exotic viruses, confirmatory testing, toxin or residue analysis etc. or where the in-house resources are inadequate to carry out testing. This may vary annually depending on circumstances. In 2006 the mean weekly number of samples sent abroad for testing from DAFF laboratories was 17 in 2006 and 2007, it was a mean of 19 samples per week in 2008 and a mean of 18 samples per week in 2009. To date in 2010 the figure is running at approximately 20 samples per week.

There are ongoing discussions between DAFF and the Department of Finance in relation to the recruitment of staff, of which a number will be assigned to laboratory duties. When sanction is received, these staff will be recruited and will contribute to reducing our dependency on external laboratories. Demands on laboratory resources are however, expected to increase further due to the introduction of new EU legislation and its associated testing requirements and also the implications of incentivised leave and retirement schemes.

  66.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he has read the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on farming and fishing in the west; and if he plans to implement the proposals recommended by the Oireachtas committee when it considered the report. [21842/10]

[512]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department is considering the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on farming and fishing in the West. It will take account of the report as part of the formulation of agriculture policies for the future.

  67.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the research that is being carried out by the Marine Institute; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22086/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Marine Institute (MI) is the national agency with responsibility for Marine Research, Technology Development and Innovation (RTDI). The Institute was established under the 1991 Marine Institute Act. The role of the MI is to promote the sustainable development of the marine industry through strategic funding programmes and essential scientific services that safeguard the marine environment through research and environmental monitoring. The Institute identifies and updates marine research and development priorities and gap areas on an on-going basis. The Marine Institute’s current priority research activities are set out below.

Advice on Fish Stocks

Through the compilation of the annual Stock Book the MI provides fisheries scientific assessments and advice essential to the support of negotiations under the annual fisheries, TAC and quota negotiations and the upcoming Review of the Common Fisheries Policy. MI researchers are at the leading edge in international scientific activity to incorporate the ecosystem approach to fisheries management as required under new EU environmental legislation.

Seafood Safety & Scientific Monitoring

The MI provides the coast-wide seafood safety and scientific monitoring programmes to certify the safety status of our exports. The MI is also involved in research to improve screening technology and to gain knowledge about the origin and precise nature of key natural toxins in the Irish marine environment.

Sea Change

Through Sea Change— A Marine Knowledge, Research & Innovation Strategy for Ireland 2007-2013, the Institute, as implementing body, brings together industry, higher education institutions and government bodies to drive development of the marine sector as a dynamic element of the smart economy. The research initiatives include three major national programmes in the areas of biotechnology, advanced technology research and ocean energy.

SmartBay

The SmartBay project prioritises and facilitates the identification, testing and development of next generation marine and environmental technologies.

INFOMAR

INFOMAR is the national marine mapping programme developed to facilitate planning the sustainable development of Ireland’s 220 million acres underwater.

[513]Natura 2000 Data Collection

On behalf of the DAFF the Marine Institute, in partnership with National Parks and Wildlife (NPDS), has commenced a programme of baseline data collection of Natura 2000 sites. This data will enable the setting of conservation objectives under the Habitats and Birds Directives by NPWS, and will also be used by the Marine Institute to carry out appropriate assessments of aquaculture and inshore fisheries sites.

EU Marine Research Programmes

The Marine Institute operates a European Desk which is aimed at supporting Irish marine researchers (academic and industry) to target significant EU research Grant-aid under the Framework 7 and Interreg Programmes in the marine area.

  68.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of applications that were received and the number accepted under the bioenergy scheme 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22055/10]

  98.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 18 of 11 March 2010, if he will report on the progress of the bioenergy scheme which was launched by his Department in February 2010 and replaced the pilot scheme which ran from 2007 to 2009; the number of applications and the amount of grant aid allocated to date to farmers growing miscanthus and willow; the targets and goals of this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22006/10]

  99.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of applications that were received and the number accepted under the bioenergy scheme 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22010/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 68, 98 and 99 together.

The 2010 Bioenergy Scheme was announced in February 2010 to build on progress made during the pilot phase which ran from 2007-2009. The new Scheme will support miscanthus and willow cultivation to the end of 2010. Under the terms of the new 2010 Bioenergy Scheme, farmers can avail of establishment grants worth €1,300 per hectare to cover 50% of the cost of establishment.

The closing date for receipt of applications under the 2010 Scheme was 31st March 2010. At the closing date, 91 applications had been received, with 53 applicants seeking approval for a total of 477 hectares of miscanthus and 38 applicants seeking approval for a total of 390 hectares of willow. To date, approval has been granted to 63 farmers — 32 to plant approximately 260 hectares of miscanthus and 31 to plant approximately 340 hectares of willow. There are a further 11 cases — 6 applicants for a total of 74 hectares of miscanthus and 5 applicants for a total of 33 hectares of willow, with issues to be resolved prior to approval being granted.

Of the original 91 applicants, 16 have withdrawn their applications, while one applicant was refused as they did not satisfy the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme. Successful applicants under the 2010 scheme will be entitled to their first instalment payment of 75% of the establishment grant from autumn 2010 following the successful establishment of the crop. The pilot [514]Scheme which ran from 2007-2009 supported 364 farmers in the planting of some 2,500 hectares (2,100 miscanthus and 360 willow) to the end of 2009 at a cost of some €2.9 million.

The focus of the Bioenergy Scheme continues to be on supporting the increased production of miscanthus and willow in Ireland. The benefits of this action include increasing the supply of bioenergy crops to meet Government targets and policies in the bioenergy and non-food crop sector, contributing to the reduction in GHG emissions, and providing farmers with additional income streams.

  69.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if any publicity campaign is planned to highlight the importance of health and safety practices on farms over the summer months in view of the fact that already 11 deaths have occurred on farms here in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21995/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I am deeply concerned with the level of safety on our farms. This year 11 people have already died as a result of accidents on Irish farms. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) is the national body in Ireland that is responsible for the promotion and enforcement of workplace health and safety.

I fully support the efforts made by the HSA to promote the importance of health and safety practices on farms. The Farm Safety Action Plan 2009-2012, developed by the HSA and Farm Safety Partnership (FSP), identifies 7 goals to prevent farm accidents and fatalities. Goal 1 is to ‘raise national awareness of occupational safety and health in agriculture’. This goal lists 23 Actions to promote and raise awareness of farm health and safety and is it is a sustained campaign by all members of the FSP. As part of this goal, my Department has committed to issuing relevant and timely farm safety press releases. I recently attended a meeting with my colleague Dara Calleary, the Minister for Labour Affairs, and the farm organisations. As a result of this meeting I have given a further commitment to facilitate the HSA to distribute their promotional health and safety mail-shots to farmers.

  70.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when the final instalment of the farm waste management grants will be awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21986/10]

  87.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the amount of interest that is due to farmers who were paid farm waste management grants under the 40/40/20 arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21985/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 87 together.

The arrangements for payment of the remaining grants under the Farm Waste Management Scheme on a phased basis were confirmed in early 2009 with 40 per cent being paid in that year as claims were approved. A further instalment of 40 per cent was paid early in 2010 and the final instalment of 20 per cent will be paid in early 2011. I also announced that a special ex-gratia payment not exceeding 3.5 per cent of the value of the deferred amount would be made to farmers whose Farm Waste Management grants were partially deferred in the manner set out above. This payment will be made in 2011 along with the final instalment.

  71.  Deputy Seán Fleming    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the benefits that will be delivered as a result of the recently announced €3 million grant assistance under the COFORD research programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21862/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  All of the projects supported conform to the broad objectives of the COFORD forest research programme namely, to support sustainable and competitive forestry practices and policies and to contribute to building and maintaining a knowledge economy and scientific research in a vibrant forestry sector. The projects will produce benefits not only for producers but also for the wider rural community. They will also contribute to improved collaboration between various research institutions and to the establishment of critical mass in certain research areas. Three of the projects relate to forest energy which is an area of particular interest due to the environmental advantages of forest-derived fuels, the increasing cost of fossil fuels, and the opportunity for forest owners to develop wood fuel, a traditional forest product, in a way that will contribute to meeting the energy needs of modern society.

  72.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the checks that his Department carry out on weighing machines in meat plants; if he is satisfied regarding their accuracy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21978/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Authorised officers of my Department carry out regular unannounced inspections of meat plants. During these inspections, the officer checks the accuracy of the scales on the kill- line using check weights and the officer also examines the records of factory’s own checks to ensure that the scales are checked by factory personnel prior to each days kill. The officer also re-weighs a number of cold carcases to ensure that the expected reduction in carcase weight has occurred.

  73.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the cod recovery plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22083/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  New rules restricting fishing vessels’ days at sea in the Irish Sea and the waters to the northwest of Ireland and Scotland have been introduced as part of the EU’s revised Cod Recovery Plan set out in Council Regulation (EC) No. 1342/2008 and the TAC and Quota Council Regulation for 2010, 53/2010.

The plan has introduced a new system of effort management that sets effort ceilings (expressed in kilowatt-days) for groups of vessels or fleet segments. The management of these ceilings has been devolved to the national level. Member States have received annual allocations of fishing effort for the areas covered by the Plan, which include the Irish Sea (ICES area VIIa) and the waters to the northwest of Ireland and Scotland (ICES area VIa). The effort allocation levels were established by the EU Fisheries Council on the basis of an EU Commission proposal. They were calculated by averaging the fishing activity levels of each Member State in the areas during a reference period of 2004-2006 or 2005-2007 and then reducing that effort by 25% in respect of 2009 and a further 25% in respect of 2010. This [516]methodology means there is now limited fishing effort available for all Community vessels, including Irish vessels, fishing in the designated areas.

Under the plan, each Member State is required to introduce a licensing regime to manage its effort allocations. Any vessel longer than 10 metres overall must have an authorisation from its Member State in order to operate in one of the designated areas using the fishing gears covered by the plan. Member States can decide on the method of allocating their national pools of fishing effort, which are broken down by fishing gear type.

A Steering Group has been established involving the Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF), The Irish Fishermen’s Organisation (IFO) the Department and agencies to provide support to the industry in relation to the practical implementation of these new measures. This steering group meets regularly to assess and monitor the ongoing implementation of fishing effort in the specified areas. The Steering Group has recommended for each period a system of authorisations and allocations of fishing effort for the following periods:

1 February 2009 to 30 April 2009;

1 May 2009 to 30 October 2009;

1 November 2009 to 31 January 2010;

1 February 2010 to 30 April 2010.

A number of measures have been implemented which are intended to reduce Cod mortality in the areas. Firstly a seasonal closure (1 February 2010 to 31 March 2010 and 1 October 2010 to 31 January 2011) of an area locally known as the Cape in an area off the North West coast is being implemented in 2010; this is an important nursery area for juvenile Cod. Secondly a scheme has been implemented which piloted the use of Cod avoidance fishing gear, the Swedish Grid in the Nephrops (prawn) fishery in the Irish Sea. This gear has been tested by Bord Iascaigh Mhara in conjunction with vessel owners and has proven effective in reducing cod as a by-catch when targeting other species. These measures allow Ireland to “buy back” fishing effort for its fleet for 2010 under Article 13 of the Council Regulation.

In addition, an application has been made under Article 11 of the Council Regulation to exclude vessels with a track record of using the Swedish grid in the Nephrops fishery from the effort restrictions going forward. Ireland’s application in this regard is being evaluated by the EU Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF). Vessel owners are encouraged to use the separator panel and the Swedish Grid as it is particularly effective in the avoidance of cod catches in the Nephrops fishery.

I will continue to work closely with industry representatives to ensure that the management arrangements for fishing effort put in place are best suited to the situation of the Irish fleet. I remain positive that these measures, which are significantly reducing fishing activity on cod stocks both in a directed fishery and where cod is found as a by-catch in other fisheries, will be effective in rebuilding cod stocks in both the Irish Sea and the north west.

  74.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the reopening of the bass fishery to commercial fishermen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22073/10]

[517]

  82.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the reopening of the bass fishery to commercial fishermen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22015/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 74 and 82 together.

The Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) has made a proposal to my Department concerning a limited Sea Bass fishery in the Celtic Sea. In the proposal, the FIF have stated that they will take a “precautionary approach to avoid any fishing whatsoever of the Irish inshore stock”. The FIF has specifically proposed that vessels would be permitted to land only Sea Bass caught south of (51.30’N) in area VII, which is an area approximately 50 KM off the SE coast and adjacent to the SW coast of Ireland, this area extends 375Km south. The FIF proposal, having regard to the scientific advice that is available on the inshore stock, also provides that all fishing for sea bass should be prohibited inside the Irish 12 mile coastal limit until there is further assessment carried out to determine the state of the stock.

Irish vessels are currently precluded from landing Sea Bass under the Bass (Conservation of Stocks) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 230 of 2006) and the Bass (Restriction on Sale) Regulations 2007 (S.I. No. 367 of 2007). The complete ban for the commercial fishing of sea bass applies to Irish fishing vessels in all areas while the vessels of other EU Member States are permitted to fish for sea bass, other than within Ireland’s 6 mile coastal zone where a complete ban applies. These regulations were introduced as a co-ordinated set of measures with the Sea Bass Fishing Conservation bylaws. The regime imposes a bag limit on anglers of two bass in any one period of 24 hours and a ban on angling for bass during the spawning season, from 15th May to 15th June in any given year. The key reasons for the introduction of these measures in 1990 was the dramatic decline of Sea Bass stocks in the 1970s, which together with the relatively late spawning age of Irish Bass meant that future bass stocks were in a poor state.

I recognise that this is a very complex issue which can have significant local and national impacts aside from commercial fishing, such as angling tourism and marine bio-diversity. Indeed, I am also conscious that a large number of continental and UK anglers visit Ireland every year for the sole purpose of Bass fishing. In order to understand the full impacts of this proposal, I have sought and received scientific advice from the Marine Institute in relation to the proposal by the FIF. Additionally I have sought and received the advice of the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority in relation to control implications proposal, from the perspective of the regulation of such a fishery.

In relation to the proposal, Minister Killeen wrote to Minister Lenihan in the Department of Energy, Communications and Natural Resources, who has responsibility for inland fisheries, including Bass angling, seeking his views on this proposal and Minister Lenihan has provided those observations. I am currently considering the proposal together with the advice, observations and submissions made to date, in order to determine whether sufficient information is available in order to reach a determination on the matter.

  75.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding his Department’s checking of milk testing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21979/10]

[518]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  In response to a commitment made by the Government in the Social Partnership Agreement, Towards 2016, my Department extended its monitoring and cross checking of the milk testing regime from 1st April 2008. This followed extensive consultations with the farming organisations and representatives of the milk processing industry. To ensure there is transparency in the milk testing procedures, as guaranteed under the Partnership Agreement, the findings of these inspections are published on the Department’s website. The range of these findings has been very satisfactory to date.

  76.  Deputy Michael P. Kitt    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the level of demand there is for organic food; his views on whether there is potential for this to grow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21852/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Irish organic retail market was estimated to be worth €124 million in 2009 compared to €66 million in 2006 and €38 million in 2003. There are indications that while the value of the market has fallen within the past 12 months to some €100 million, the actual volume of organic sales has fallen to a much smaller extent and is estimated to have reduced by less than 4%.

The trends in relation to the production and consumption of food over the past few years indicate that Ireland has an increasingly health-conscious consumer who also demands quality, convenience and value. The majority of organic produce sold in Ireland is imported and it is clear that there are opportunities for producers to fill that gap and increase the level of home production as opposed to imported organic produce. I believe, therefore, that there has been a growing demand for organic food which is likely to reappear once the current economic difficulties have been overcome.

  77.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of aquaculture licences that are awaiting processing; the number of licence applications that are for first time licences; the number of applications that are for renewal licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22077/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There are 487 aquaculture licence applications awaiting determination — this consists of 259 applications for first time licences and 228 renewal applications. The backlog in the processing of new and renewal licence applications largely arises because the majority of areas for which the licences are sought are designated Special Areas of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive and/or Special Protection Areas under the EU Birds Directive (Natura 2000 sites).

In the case of aquaculture sites located within Natura 2000 areas my Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of these areas. This process is ongoing. The comprehensive data collection programme together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives will enable all new and renewal applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determi[519]nation of all outstanding cases having regard to the complexities of each case and the need to comply fully with all national and EU legislation.

  78.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on whether there is a strong case for amending the law to bring the Irish National Stud under the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General and of the Committee of Public Accounts in order for its accounts to be monitored fully, scrutinised and queried when appropriate; and if he will make a statement on the matter [21957/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Irish National Stud Company Ltd is a commercial company formed under the Companies Act and is limited by shares. The appointment of the auditor is a function of the Board of the Irish National Stud. The Comptroller and Auditor General did audit the Irish National Stud prior to 2003. But following a review by the C & AG it was considered more appropriate having regard to the requirements of company law that the INS be audited by a private auditing firm. This has been the case since then.

  79.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the feed in tariff price for energy from on-farm biomass; the way he proposes to incentivise this area in view of the inadequate price; the representations he has made to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22060/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I welcome the announcement earlier this week by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in relation to guaranteed support prices (REFIT) for bio-energy. The technologies supported include Biomass Combined Heat and Power and Biomass Combustion, including provision for 30% co-firing of biomass in the three peat powered stations, as well as support for Anaerobic Digestion Combined Heat and Power.

These new Government tariffs will foster the development of a robust and sustainable biomass supply sector in Ireland and will drive demand for biomass and support the measures already in place such as the Bioenergy Scheme administered by my Department and also the REHEAT programme which is run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. The fact that the tariffs announced are to be indexed and offered on a 15 year basis provides a degree of long term certainty to underpin the Bioenergy Sector. This development has the very real potential to provide farmers with added income streams and allows Irish farmers to make a substantial contribution towards meeting Government targets and policies in the bioenergy and non-food crop sector. I had been in regular contact with the Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources leading up to the recent announcement.

  80.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of farmers that applied for the agri-environment options scheme in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21988/10]

[520]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There has been significant interest in the Scheme since it opened for applications on 30 March 2010. The closing date for receipt of applications was Monday, 17 May 2010 and at close of business on that day some 4,400 applications had been submitted to my Department’s office at Johnstown Castle Estate in Wexford. However, given the short time frame for submitting applications, and in order to facilitate farmers, applications were also accepted in my Department’s local offices. These applications are currently being forwarded to be processed centrally in Wexford. Current indications are that the total number of applications will be close to 8,000, but the actual figure and the potential level of payments cannot be ascertained until all applications have been received and recorded in Wexford.

  81.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the steps he is taking to support live exports to Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21839/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The live export trade is an important component of our meat and livestock industry and provides a complement to the beef trade. Overall live exports in 2009 increased by 94% on 2008 levels. In the same period, exports to the UK increased by 159%, with those to Great Britain increasing by 440% and those to other destinations by 74%.

Up to the end of week 17 of 2010 live exports were over 60% ahead of the levels achieved during the same period in 2009. Again exports to Great Britain performed very strongly, and significantly above those to other destinations, increasing by some 165%, while those to Northern Ireland increased by 98% and those to other destinations by 56%. Bord Bia continues to work closely with the industry in monitoring and developing emerging opportunities for Irish livestock in the United Kingdom, the Continent and international markets. This includes contact with leading retailers in Britain to establish their interest in cattle born in Ireland and finished in Britain.

Question No. 82 answered with Question No. 74.

  83.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when he expects to be in a position to announce details of on-farm investment schemes for the pig and poultry sectors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21866/10]

  92.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when he expects to be in a position to announce details of the various on-farm investment measures, which will be funded by unspent funds from the single payment scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21865/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 92 together.

My Department recently received EU Commission approval for the various targeted on-farm investment schemes announced by my Department in 2009. Due to the relatively short time-frames for completion of the investment works concerned, my priority is to introduce the Sow Welfare and Poultry Welfare Schemes first. Arrangements will then be made to introduce [521]the three remaining Schemes. Discussions are ongoing with the relevant farming organizations in regard to the terms and conditions of the Schemes concerned. These should be completed in the near future and I hope to be in a position to make an announcement regarding the new Schemes at that stage.

  84.  Deputy Seán Fleming    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the part bioenergy will play in reducing Ireland’s national emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21861/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Bio-energy crops contribute to emissions reduction through the provision of low or carbon neutral fuels. My Department has been providing support to farmers through a Bioenergy Scheme since 2007. A pilot Bioenergy Scheme was launched in 2007 to support the planting of miscanthus and willow by giving farmers a grant up to a maximum of €1,450 per hectare to cover 50% of establishment costs. Grants were paid in two instalments — 75% following establishment of the crop and 25% in the year after establishment. The pilot Scheme supported 364 farmers in the planting of some 2,500 hectares (2,100 miscanthus and 360 willow) to the end of 2009 at a cost of some €2.9 million. Ireland’s climatic and soil conditions are very suitable for the production of both willow and miscanthus, both of which are deemed to be carbon neutral as the CO2 released on combustion is equal to that taken from the atmosphere during its lifetime.

A new Bioenergy Scheme, co-funded by the EU under the Rural Development Programme, was launched in February 2010 to build on the progress made during the pilot phase. Under this Scheme farmers receive a grant up to a maximum of €1,300 per hectare to cover 50% establishment costs (reflecting the reduction in crop establishment costs since the launch of the Pilot Scheme). It is expected that in the region of a further 850 hectares will be planted in 2010 under the Scheme.

Forestry has a key role to play in the bioenergy area, particularly as a source of biomass for heat and energy generation. There has been significant expansion in the use of wood biomass in recent years. In 2008, for example, the use of wood chip for heating grew by almost 40%. Continued afforestation will provide the potential to supply of 2 million tonnes of wood biomass annually for renewable energy by 2020.There is also, significant potential for product substitution by utilising wood to replace more energy intensive products such as steel and plastics.

Forestry also contributes to reducing Ireland’s national emissions target through carbon sequestration. In 2008, the net contribution of Ireland’s Kyoto eligible forests — that is, new forests planted from 1990 onwards — amounted to 2.75 million tonnes CO2. Assuming that carbon cost €17 per tonne, this represents a potential saving in the region of €46 million to the Exchequer. Ireland’s forests have the potential to sequester a total additional 110 million tonnes of CO2 by 2035.

  85.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the advice that is available to farmers interested in engaging in micro-generation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22068/10]

[522]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The issue of micro generation of electricity is a matter in the first instance for my colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The Deputy may be aware that in February 2009 the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources announced measures to encourage the on-site generation of electricity in homes and farms across Ireland. The Micro Generation Programme is being operated by ESB Customer Supply and supported by ESB Networks. Among the measures is a guaranteed price of 19 cent per kilowatt hour of electricity produced as a feed-in tariff applying to the first 4,000 micro-generation installations country-wide over three years. The programme has the potential to provide 4,000 domestic customers, including farms, investing in micro-scale projects with a financial payment for electricity exported back to the grid.

Alongside this programme, under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is administrating a micro-generation programme supporting a number of micro scale projects to resolve outstanding technical issues including: defining the requirements for qualification and certification of technologies; and defining necessary arrangements for qualification, certification and training of installers. Information on the programme is available on the SEAI web site.

  86.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of retired farmers who availed of the early retirement scheme since the scheme was reopened for hardship cases in September 2009; the number of same that have been awarded pensions to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21993/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department received 175 applications following the temporary reopening of the Early Retirement Scheme from 23 September to 30 October 2009. To date, 26 of the applications have been approved for payment and another 129 applications are currently being processed. Twelve of the applications could not be accepted as they did not satisfy the Scheme conditions. A further two applications have been rejected following processing as they did not meet certain terms and conditions.

The other 39 applications were returned to the applicants as they were submitted under the provision of the Scheme that envisaged the transferee being approved for aid under the Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme. As that scheme is closed to new applicants, the transferees in these cases could not satisfy that requirement. The applicants were offered the option of resubmitting their applications under an alternative provision of the Early retirement Scheme which involved the holding being enlarged by the transferee. Thirty-three of these applications have so far been resubmitted to meet this requirement and these applications will also now be examined in the Department.

Question No. 87 answered with Question No. 70.

  88.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of REPS 4 plans that were rejected prior to the 17 May 2010 deadline on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21987/10]

[523]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  A breakdown on a county-by-county basis of the REPS 4 applications that were rejected is given in the table below. The Department has been in contact with the applicants to inform them of their right to appeal the decision. Alternatively, unless the application had been found to be fundamentally ineligible, applicants were given the opportunity to submit a new REPS 4 plan and application form on or before 17 May 2010. The latter cases will be dealt with as a priority.

County Rejected Plans
Carlow 0
Cavan 3
Clare 0
Cork 16
Donegal 5
Dublin 1
Galway 0
Kerry 2
Kildare 2
Kilkenny 1
Laois 6
Leitrim 32
Limerick 0
Longford 0
Louth 1
Mayo 17
Meath 2
Monaghan 13
Offaly 4
Roscommon 1
Sligo 0
Tipperary Nth 1
Tipperary Sth 0
Waterford 1
Westmeath 3
Wexford 0
Wicklow 0
Totals 111

  89.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if research has been carried out into the extra costs associated with agricultural production and the impact this is having on farm incomes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22007/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The CSO tracks input costs in Ireland on an ongoing basis and these are reported through CSO via various publications and on their website (www.cso.ie) as well as Departmental Publications such as the Annual Review and Outlook (see “Publications” section of website: www.agriculture.gov.ie ). Farm output, input costs and margins also receive detailed examination each year at the Teagasc outlook conference which has various contributors. On the whole the expenditure on [524]inputs declined in 2009, with the CSO reporting a 9.5% decrease in intermediate consumption. Some of the main factors contributing to this were a decrease in the price of inputs, especially for fertilisers and feeding stuffs.

  90.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if there are intentions to link farm safety to cross compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22020/10]

  104.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he plans to link farm safety to cross compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22012/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 90 and 104 together.

Farmers in receipt of direct payments (Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme and Rural Environmental Protection Scheme) must comply with a total of 18 Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) in the areas of Environment, Public, Animal and Plant Health, and Animal Welfare. This is known as cross-compliance. Any change to the existing cross-compliance arrangements would require an amendment to the relevant Council Regulation following a proposal from the European Commission. No such proposal has been made by the Commission.

  91.  Deputy Noel Treacy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the single biggest challenge in the negotiations on the future of the Common Agricultural Policy post-2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21858/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Negotiations on the CAP after 2013 are taking place against the background of an EU budget review and a new EU Financial Perspective for 2014 to 2020. The budget will determine the amount of funds available for the CAP and could also have an important impact on the distribution between Member States. There will be competing pressures for funds, including strong pressure from some sources for a smaller share of funds for CAP, both as a share of the budget and in absolute terms. Even though formal discussions have yet to commence on the future EU budget, the pressure is already building in this regard. An early draft Commission paper from November last advocated major policy changes and lower funds for the CAP. It is an early draft but it clearly indicates at least one strand of thinking on the future.

The major issue at present is the amount of funding that will be available for CAP after 2013, in view of pressures to reduce the EU budget, to reduce the share going to agriculture and to reduce the share going to Irish agriculture. The key context for Ireland is food supply and sustainable management of natural resources, including climate change. We need a coherent approach to this, based on the family farm structure. There is good support for the Irish position that we need a strong and properly funded CAP after 2013 and I will continue to press this point in the negotiations.

Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 83.

  93.  Deputy Johnny Brady    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the benefits for farmers arising from his recently announced arrangements on TB testing for cattle going direct to slaughter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21845/10]

  116.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if the change to TB testing rules to allow the slaughter of cattle that are more than 12 months since their last TB test will carry an additional cost for farmers; if additional testing as part of the scheme is required; the implications that the changes may have on contiguous herds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21996/10]

  124.  Deputy Johnny Brady    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his plans to enhance the controls in place for TB testing under the continuous testing programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21846/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 93, 116 and 124 together.

Following a review of the current TB testing arrangements and consultation both with the European Commission and the farming organisations, I recently introduced changes to the TB testing rules for cattle going direct to slaughter. These changes came into effect on 4 May. Previously, where animals that had not been tested within the previous 12 months were presented for slaughter, they were returned to the holding which was then usually restricted because the TB rules require that all animals on a holding, with the exception of calves under six weeks old born on the holding, are tested at yearly intervals. As a result of the revised arrangement, such cattle will now be accepted by slaughter plants. However, as there is no change to the yearly test rule for animals, action must be taken by the District Veterinary Offices in respect of the herds concerned to ensure that herd owners comply with this requirement. This follow-up action by the DVOs will include trade restriction, where appropriate, depending on the proportion of the herd that is out of test, whether the herd itself has been tested within the previous 12 months and the length of time an animal is out of test.

The main benefit of the change is that the cost of testing cattle going direct to slaughter will be reduced. There will be no additional cost to the farmer as a result of the new arrangement. With regard to additional testing, no change is being made to the general rule that all animals in a herd must be tested every 12 months.

My Department also intends to enhance the contiguous testing programme. While the arrangements have not been finalised, it is intended to impose a temporary trade restriction on certain holdings contiguous to a herd in which disease has been disclosed in the case of high risk breakdowns. In such cases, trading status would be immediately restored once the herd passes the contiguous test. The rationale for the proposal is to prevent the spread of disease to other herds. With regard to the testing fees for contiguous tests, the general rule is that in most cases the Department pays for such tests, unless it happens to coincide with the normal annual test.

  94.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding some meat plants prior to 15 February 2010; if his Department is unable to verify whether payments under the new grid were accurate prior to this date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21975/10]

[526]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Officials of my Department carry out unannounced inspections of meat plants to ensure that beef price reporting to my Department is carried out in accordance with EU Regulations. These inspections aim to ensure that the prices reported to my Department are the same as that paid to the farmer. I wish to assure the Deputy that these inspections are on-going for many years now and the introduction of the beef pricing grid did not impact on this inspection process.

  95.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the proposal by the Irish Draft Horse Society to request control of the studbook for that breed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21968/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department has received an application to maintain a studbook for the Irish Draught horse breed from the Irish Draught Horse Society Ltd. This application is currently being assessed by my Department in accordance with the relevant EU and National legislation.

  96.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if the new dairy investment scheme for farmers will be available in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21982/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Ireland’s revised Rural Development Programme was approved by the European Commission in March, and the roll-out of the various investment schemes will be phased over the lifetime of the Programme. The timing of the introduction of the dairy investment scheme is dependent on the availability of sufficient exchequer funding, and the position in this regard is being kept under ongoing review.

  97.  Deputy Máire Hoctor    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the contribution that he believes the Irish agri-food sector can make to economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21850/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Accounting as it does for over half of manufacturing exports from Irish owned firms, the agri-food sector has a key role to play in this country’s economic recovery. In this regard, the 2020 Committee, which I have established, will shortly finalise its strategy outlining the key actions which they consider are needed to ensure that the sector contributes to our export-led economic recovery and to the development of the smart economy.

Questions Nos. 98 and 99 answered with Question No. 68.

Question No. 100 answered with Question No. 60.

  101.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will make a statement regarding the payment of outstanding REPS 4 moneys. [21843/10]

[527]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  A total of 29,376 applications were received for participation in REPS 4 for payment in 2009. The acceptance of REPS 4 applications is governed by EU Regulations which require exhaustive administrative checks and on-the-spot inspections. In a significant number of the applications received, the administrative checks raised issues and queries which required further detailed examination. My Department’s staff have been working to resolve these as quickly as possible. Many of these cases required the applicants’ planners to amend the farm plans that were submitted originally. The applicants concerned were made aware of the position and the applications are being further processed without delay on receipt of amended plans. So far, 24,023 applicants have received full payment for 2009 and work is continuing to process the remainder as quickly as possible.

My officials have also been in contact with the 111 applicants whose plans had been rejected, to inform them of their right to appeal the decision. Alternatively, unless the application had been found to be fundamentally ineligible, applicants were given the opportunity to submit a new REPS 4 plan and application form on or before 17 May 2010. The latter cases will be dealt with as a priority.

  102.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he is satisfied that food labelling and traceability regulations applicable here and throughout the European Union are being complied with in the spirit and the letter; if all food labelling reliably indicates the origin of the product; the degree to which checks are made to determine their veracity; the number of instances in which inaccurate labelling has been detected; the action taken thereafter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22005/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Minister for Health & Children has overall responsibility for the general food labelling legislation. Responsibility for the enforcement of this legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (F.S.A.I.). This is done through service contracts between the F.S.A.I and my Department, The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, the Health Service Executive and the Local Authority Veterinary Service.

Under the general labelling Directive (2000/13/EC), the place of origin of the foodstuff must be given only if its absence might mislead the consumer to a material degree. Under EU legislation, specific country of origin labelling is only required in the case of beef, unprocessed poultry and fruit and vegetables. My Department conducts checks, including labelling, as appropriate in the business premises for which it has responsibility and non-compliances are followed up as necessary. It is understood from the FSAI that a range of inspections are carried out at catering and retail establishments by the other service-contracted bodies which include checks on labelling.

  103.  Deputy P. J. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will state the main provisions in the proposed forestry Bill and when he expects to publish the heads of the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22009/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Government has approved the heads of the Forestry Bill, and discussions are continuing between my Department and the Office of the Attorney General with a view to finalizing the text. It would be my intention to introduce the Bill in the Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as possible. The main [528]features of the Bill will be to ensure that forestry developments are undertaken to the highest environmental standards; to amend the existing felling licence system; to provide a statutory basis for Forest Management Plans and Guidelines and to allow in exceptional circumstances change of land-use from forestry.

Question No. 104 answered with Question No. 90.

Question No. 105 answered with Question No. 64.

  106.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the measures in the report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes specifically targeting cuts at Teagasc which are to be implemented; if he still holds the view that it is the responsibility of the Teagasc authority to exercise full and effective control over the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21969/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  It is the responsibility of the Teagasc Authority to exercise full and effective control over the organisation. Ministerial responsibility is confined to matters of policy in accordance with the Act establishing Teagasc and is not concerned with the day-to-day operations of Teagasc.

The Teagasc Authority approved a major ‘Change Programme’ in March 2009 to reorganise and refocus the organisation to meet the significant challenges that lie ahead. This required Teagasc to build greater flexibility and responsiveness in all areas of its activities and to implement a credible rationalization plan to enable the organisation adapt to medium-term budgetary constraints. The planned Programme has a medium term implementation timeframe and provides for rationalisation measures across the organisation including the advisory office and educational networks, disposal of land resources and prioritisation of programme activities. The agreed actions are being implemented and tie in with the recommendations in the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programme Report as they concern Teagasc. In addition, an Employment Control Framework for Teagasc is being developed to manage overall staff numbers employed by Teagasc to 31 December 2012.

  107.  Deputy Michael P. Kitt    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the potential he believes there is for the organic farming scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21851/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Most organic produce sold in Ireland, particularly fruit and vegetables, is imported. On the other hand, it has been established that there is very considerable potential for exports of organic beef and lamb. I believe, therefore, that organic production offers real market opportunities for Irish farmers and I am pleased that a growing numbers of farmers are actively thinking about the possibilities.

The increased level of interest is evident from the fact that 450 people have now completed the FETAC level 5 Organic Farming Course which is a mandatory requirement for Organic Farming Scheme applicants who have not already participated in the Organic Farming Supplementary Measure under REPS. Further courses will be held to meet demand. Support for the sector is also available through the Organic Farming Scheme and in the form of investment support through my Department’s Schemes of Grant Aid for the Organic Sector which are [529]open to both producers and processors. I urge farmers to make themselves aware of the supports available and to consider organic production as an option.

  108.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when beef carcase grading figures will be published under the new MII grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21974/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Officials of my Department are currently examining the new computer generated reports required to report beef carcase classification data in a format compatible with the new beef pricing grid. The new reports will be available once the necessary software programming is completed.

  109.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of REP scheme participants who have completed their five year plan in the past 12 months; the corresponding number of completed applications received under the replacement scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21840/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Some 10,000 former participants in REPS 3, having completed their five year contract under REPS and having left the scheme, would have been eligible to apply for participation in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme by the closing date for receipt of applications of 17 May 2010. The new scheme is open to all farmers, but I expect that many of those who have completed their REPS 3 contracts will have applied to join it.

There has been significant interest in the new Scheme since it opened for applications on 30 March 2010. At close of business on 17 May 2010, some 4,400 applications had been submitted to my Department’s office at Johnstown Castle Estate in Wexford. However, given the short time frame for submitting applications, and in order to facilitate as many farmers as possible, applications were also accepted in my Department’s local offices. These applications are currently being forwarded to be processed centrally in Wexford. Current indications are that the total number of applications will be close to 8,000, but the actual number cannot be ascertained until all applications have been received and recorded in Wexford. For the same reason, it is not yet possible to say how many of the applicants were formerly participants in REPS 3.

  110.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the number of persons employed by the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21841/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There are currently 100 staff serving in the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority. The original allocation of staff to the Authority when set up in 2007 was 107. There were 103 staff serving in the Authority immediately prior to the Government moratorium on staff numbers in 2009.

  111.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his forecast for the average milk price between 2010 and 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21981/10]

[530]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  It is not possible to predict exactly what milk price farmers can expect to get in any particular year. Dairy farmers incomes are comprised of the market price paid for milk and direct income support from the EU. Market forces have a major influence on the price paid to farmers for milk. World market prices determine the returns received by dairy processors and these in turn are reflected in the price paid to farmers. In essence, farm gate prices normally reflect the returns from international markets of dairy product sales.

While there will always be short term fluctuations in dairy prices, it is important to remember that the medium term prospects for global dairy markets are good. Growth in wealth and population is forecast to stimulate strong levels of demand for dairy products and returns will improve to all parts of the sector. The Government is committed to ensuring that the Irish dairy sector can reach its full potential. One of the major challenges in the medium term will be to ensure that Irish farming and the agri-food sector is at the heart of an evolving high-value food market, which is focused on quality and innovation.

  112.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the communication he has had with the forum that was set up at European level to oversee the implementation of the high level group on the competitiveness of the EU agri-food industry of July 2009; if there are Irish representatives on this forum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19061/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Earlier this year, my officials met with DG Enterprise in the EU Commission to explore the possibility of greater Irish involvement in the newly established forum to oversee the implementation of the recommendations High Level Group on the competitiveness of the EU Agri Food Industry. On foot of this meeting, I have recently written to Commissioner Tajani requesting that Ireland be included in the list of members of the group. I understand that the final membership of the forum is not yet finalised.

  113.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the obstacles to the implementation of the operational programme for fisheries; when he expects to have an operational programme in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22079/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Seafood Development Measure contained in the National Development Plan 2007-2013 is divided between the EU Co-funded Operational Programme and the National Seafood Development Operational Programme. The EU Co-funded OP has already commenced and has funded the 2008 decommissioning scheme which has allowed 46 boats to be decommissioned with grant aid totalling €36.6 million already paid during 2008 and 2009.

On 26th February 2010 Minister of State, Tony Killeen T.D., as part of the Inshore Fisheries Expo in Galway, launched three schemes (i) support for inshore fisheries management, (ii) environmental management of fisheries and (iii) LEADER type support for coastal communities dependant on fishing. The schemes which are part funded by the EU will provide €1.82 million of grant aid in support of an investment of €4.5 million in 2010 to assist industry.

The National Seafood Development Operational Programme 2007-2013 was advertised for public consultation in October 2008. Following this consultation process, issues were raised by the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of [531]Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on behalf of CFB (Central Fisheries Board) regarding the grant-aiding of projects where environmental issues arise relating to compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and sea lice control on salmon farms.

I have asked my officials to examine the OP and to draft options that would allow for the adoption of the OP taking into consideration the issues that were raised in the public consultation stage. I would hope to be in a position to come to a decision on this matter in the near future.

  114.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the €50 billion research programme known as Framework Programme 7 and Ireland’s receipt of €152 million since it started in 2007 and in particular in the area of food, agriculture, fisheries and biotechnology attracting more than €8.5 million of EU funding; if this funding will be guaranteed in the future to assist the bio-economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21970/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The EU 7th Framework Programme (FP7) is the largest public good research programme in the world. It is playing a very significant role in strengthening the scientific and technological base of European industry and in encouraging international competitiveness while also promoting research that supports EU policies. FP7 provides a major opportunity for Irish research institutions and companies, including SMEs, across all sectors to not only attract external funding in these challenging budgetary times but also to benefit from collaborating with other high ranking scientists from across Europe and beyond.

Ireland’s success rate in winning FP7 funding is steadily improving thanks partly to the encouragement, guidance and assistance provided to Irish researchers by the National Delegates and Contact Points that form part of the Irish FP Network co-ordinated by Enterprise Ireland. I am particularly pleased at the €8.5m secured under the Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Biotechnology (FAFB) Thematic area for which officers in my Department act as Delegate and Contact Point. I was delighted to be in a position recently to launch a booklet outlining Irish successes under the FAFB Theme at a well attended conference in our Backweston Campus aimed at further raising awareness of FP7 opportunities among the agri-food research and industry community.

This FP7 funding, which of course is allocated on a competitive basis, is secure up to 2013. In fact, the €50bn funding stream is backloaded resulting in increased opportunities over the remaining years of the programme. I am confident that with the continued help of the National Delegate and Contact Point, Irish agri-food & marine researchers from both academia and industry will continue to secure an ever-increasing share of this funding and that this in turn will play a major role in the Government’s strategy for the Knowledge-Based Bio-Economy.

  115.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he expects the number of animals graded incorrectly annually with the mechanical grading system to increase in view of the further breakdown of grades under the MII grid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21977/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The mechanical classification system has been in operation for over five years and operates well within the statistical tolerances provided for in EU legislation. It has always classified beef carcases on the fifteen-[532]point scale (i.e. including sub-classes within each main class for both conformation and fat). Officials of my Department have always checked the machine performance using the fifteen-point scale for both conformation and fat. The introduction of the beef pricing grid does not impact in any way on the type of checks carried out to ensure the machines continue to operate in a satisfactory manner.

Question No. 116 answered with Question No. 93.

  117.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the estimated number of animals graded incorrectly annually with the mechanical grading system based on the performance criteria provided for under EU regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21976/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The performance of the beef carcase classification machine in each beef processing plant is monitored by regular unannounced inspections by officials of my Department. The purpose of these inspections is to determine whether the machines operate within the statistical parameters laid down by EU Regulations. The performance of the machine is determined using the scoring criteria laid down in the EU Regulations. The results demonstrate that the machines are performing well within the performance criteria laid down.

  118.  Deputy Christy O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the outcome of the recent informal Fisheries Council in Vigo, Spain, in relation to the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21847/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Informal Meeting of Fisheries Ministers in Vigo, Spain at the start of this month was attended by Sean Connick TD, Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries & Food. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Discussions at the meeting were to inform a working document concerning reform options which will be prepared by the Commission and presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council scheduled for the 28th and 29th June 2010. Ireland submitted a comprehensive report to the EU Commission in February 2010, setting out the national position on the CFP Reform process. The Reform of the CFP is vital to our fishing industry and will be one of the most significant challenges we will face in the next few years.

During the informal meeting, Minister Connick set out Ireland’s position for his Ministerial colleagues and heard their thoughts and the reasons for the approaches they are proposing. Minister Connick also availed of the opportunity to meet with Ministers that hold similar views on aspects of the reform in order to form alliances that will strengthen our case in the upcoming intensive negotiations on the CFP reform. It is now clear that there are some divergent views on aspects of the reform process, but we are confident that we can work with our Ministerial colleagues and the EU Commission to produce a practical and effective policy for fisheries into the future.

Ireland’s priorities for the new CFP are set out clearly in the submission which can be accessed in its entirety on www.fishingnet.ie. Central to those priorities are:

A new focus on addressing discarding of fish at sea.

[533]The retention of a management system based on national quotas supported by increased flexibility.

A complete rejection of the mandatory privatisation of fish quotas or the international trading of fish quotas.

New measures to strengthen the market for EU producers and the prices being achieved by our fishermen.

New measures to develop an environmentally and economically sustainable aquaculture sector, which could reduce our dependence on imported products.

Greater regionalisation of the decision making process with an enhanced role for industry.

Under the planned EU timetable for the review, a summary of the consultation process has been published. It will be followed by a legislative proposal to the Council and the European Parliament to be adopted in 2011, with a view to its entering into force in 2012. A working document concerning reform options is being prepared by the Commission and is expected to be presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council scheduled for the 28th and 29th June 2010.

Nationally, we intend to continue close collaboration with the Federation of Irish Fishermen and the other stakeholders to put Ireland’s case forward during the review, to vigorously defend Ireland’s maritime interests, and to convince our colleagues in other Member States and in the Commission to strengthen the current policy in line with Ireland’s submission on the reform of the CFP.

  119.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will comment on the level of food and drink imports from the UK in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22013/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Based on CSO provisional statistics, Bord Bia estimate that the value of food imports (excluding live animals) declined by six per cent in 2009 from €2.4billion euro to €2.3billion euro, however there was an increase in the underlying volumes primarily due to the weakness of sterling.

  120.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the efforts that are being made to secure the future position of payments or pensions to spouses of farmers who died while in receipt of early retirement scheme payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21997/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Since the first Scheme of Early Retirement from Farming was introduced in 1994, it has been the Department’s practice to continue to pay the pension to dependants of participants who died before the period of their pension had elapsed. However, following recent audits of the Scheme by both the European Court of Auditors and the European Commission, the Commission has informed my Department that this practice is not compatible with the current EU governing Regulations and must be discontinued. I am considering the implications of the European Commission’s decision and my officials will be engaging in discussions with the Commission services to con[534]firm the position of those already in payment. In the meantime, my Department has suspended the processing of new cases.

  121.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the viable size for a full-time dairy farmer; the scale that is required to earn the average industrial wage; the measures that he is taking to support dairying in the poorer land areas where farmers cannot practically meet the production cost levels set down by Teagasc; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21984/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Viability is affected by considerations such as geography, land quality, technical and management skills and market conditions, in addition to size and scale. The focus must therefore be on the achievement of the maximum possible efficiency in the production of milk by all producers. By producing milk at the lowest possible cost under whatever constraints or limitations may prevail, every producer is giving him or herself the best chance of running a viable dairy enterprise.

I have demonstrated my commitment to the attainment of increased cost efficiency through the introduction of the Dairy Efficiency Programme. Over the next three years €18 million will be spent on encouraging increased participation in dairy discussion groups all over the country, leading to the more widespread adoption of best practice in relation to grassland management, breeding and financial management. My intention is to bring about a more businesslike approach to the management of all dairy farms, which will in turn help to maximise viability regardless of location or other limitation.

  122.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when he plans to deal with the installation scheme hardship case of an individual who lost out when the scheme was suspended in October 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21992/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme was suspended for new applications on 14 October 2008 against the background of the deterioration in the national finances. 941 applications for grant-aid were received by my Department under the Scheme prior to its suspension and these applications are being processed to payment stage as the claims are approved. An allocation of €4.5 million has been provided in this year’s Estimates to meet the financial commitment involved in processing applications under the Scheme and the preceding installation aid schemes. I have no plans at present to reopen the Scheme to new applicants.

  123.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the release of further intervention stocks of butter and skimmed milk powder; if they will damage the market in view of the fact that the market recovery is principally the result of a reduction in global milk supply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21980/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I have continually pressed the Commission to take all appropriate measures to deal with the dairy market situation, and in 2009 Public Intervention, Aids to Private Storage and Export Refunds helped to stabilise the market for dairy products. With regard to intervention for butter and skimmed [535]milk powder, last October Commissioner Fischer Boel gave a commitment to manage the release of stocks from intervention in a prudent manner, and I have also discussed this with the new Commissioner Ciolos.

The dairy market situation has improved considerably since last autumn and more recently has shown signs of a robust recovery with increased commodity prices on world and EU markets, and a consequent rise in milk prices. Last week the Commission took the initial step of activating the procedure for selling intervention stocks by means of a fortnightly tender, which will commence in June. The actual release of stocks from Intervention must be handled carefully and in a way that does not undermine the market. Therefore, I believe that the volume and price of sales from Intervention should reflect the market situation at the time of the tenders. I will continue to maintain close contact with the EU Commission and the Council to ensure that the release of Intervention stocks is managed in a manner that is sensitive to the market pressures at the time.

Question No. 124 answered with Question No. 93.

  125.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on proposals by the Health and Safety Authority that farm safety be made a requirement of cross-compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21998/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Farmers in receipt of direct payments (Single Payment Scheme, Disadvantaged Areas’ Scheme and Rural Environmental Protection Scheme) must comply with a total of 18 Statutory Management Requirements (SMRs) in the areas of Environment, Public, Animal and Plant Health, and Animal Welfare. This is known as cross-compliance. Any change to the existing cross-compliance arrangements would require an amendment to the relevant Council Regulation following a proposal from the European Commission. No such proposal has been made by the Commission.

  126.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the breakdown of REPS 4 payments on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21973/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  A total of 29,376 applications were received for participation in REPS 4 for payment in 2009. The acceptance of REPS 4 applications is governed by EU Regulations which require exhaustive administrative checks and on-the-spot inspections. In a significant number of the applications received, the administrative checks raised issues and queries which required further detailed examination. My Department’s staff have been working to resolve these as quickly as possible. Many of these cases required the applicants’ planners to amend the farm plans that were submitted originally. The applicants concerned were made aware of the position and the applications are being further processed without delay on receipt of amended plans. So far, 24,023 applicants have received full payment for 2009 and work is continuing to process the remainder as quickly as possible.

The position county-by-county is set out in the table below. My officials have also been in contact with the 111 applicants whose plans had been rejected, to inform them of their right to appeal the decision. Alternatively, unless the application had been found to be fundamentally [536]ineligible, applicants were given the opportunity to submit a new REPS 4 plan and application form on or before 17 May 2010. The latter cases will be dealt with as a priority.

County Number of applicants Paid in full Awaiting payment
Carlow 300 274 26
Cavan 1,101 852 249
Clare 1,333 1,268 65
Cork 3,221 2,191 1,030
Donegal 1,898 1,736 162
Dublin 51 35 16
Galway 2,757 2,225 532
Kerry 1,999 1,173 826
Kildare 373 329 44
Kilkenny 833 752 81
Laois 761 705 56
Leitrim 880 697 183
Limerick 1,344 1,169 175
Longford 681 588 93
Louth 218 188 30
Mayo 2,703 2,081 622
Meath 561 424 137
Monaghan 903 765 138
Offaly 706 636 70
Roscommon 1,405 1,264 141
Sligo 917 727 190
Tipperary Nth 854 789 65
Tipperary Sth 1,004 852 152
Waterford 675 579 96
Westmeath 709 651 58
Wexford 783 705 78
Wicklow 406 368 38
Totals 29,376 24,023 5,353

  127.  Deputy Bobby Aylward    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when he will be making payments under the recently announced grassland sheep scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21863/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The new Grassland Sheep Scheme, which has a total budget of €54 million, will operate for three years: 2010, 2011 and 2012. This funding, which comes from the unused Single Payment funds, will provide a very important and timely boost to support incomes in the sheep sector over the next three years. The Scheme has been kept administratively simple, which will facilitate the Department in making payments very shortly after the commencement date of 1 December 2010, the earliest date for making payments under this Scheme in accordance with the provisions of the relevant EU Regulations. Farmers will find participating in the Scheme relatively easy, the three requirements being to:

[537]maintain ewes;

complete the Sheep Census return; and

submit the SPS application form by the closing date of 17 May 2010.

  128.  Deputy John Cregan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he is satisfied that the agriculture sector has played its part in reducing national emissions here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21859/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Irish farmers have clearly demonstrated their willingness to embrace new technologies and farming methods that are friendly to our environment. Consequently, Ireland’s agriculture sector has played and will continue to play, a very significant role in reducing national emissions of greenhouse gas.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, Ireland agreed to limit our emissions to 13% above 1990 emission levels, for the Kyoto commitment period, 2008 to 2012. In that period, based on the latest projections by the EPA, emissions from the agriculture sector are expected to be, on average, 8.5% or 1.7 million tonnes CO2 equivalent, per annum, below 1990 levels. While the future pace of emission reductions will be limited by the technology available, the most recent indications are that emissions from the agriculture sector will continue to fall. It is my belief that farmers will continue to adapt and that further emissions reductions are possible, when new, cost effective technologies, to reduce emission levels, come on stream.

Under the Protocol, the emissions reductions achieved by the sector will be significantly augmented by the carbon sequestered by forests planted since 1990. Ireland’s Kyoto target will reduce, by over 2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, per annum, thanks to this land use change to forestry. Agriculture also contributes to national emissions reductions by providing a wide range of renewable fuels. Land use changes, such as increased afforestation, shifting production from food to energy crops and also the recycling of animal by products, such as meat and bone meal and tallow, all provide increasing amounts of renewable, carbon neutral fuel, that displaces fossil fuel and consequently, reduces emissions to the atmosphere.

I believe that continual, in-depth, scientific research is vital to increase our understanding of and to develop the appropriate responses to, the challenges that climate change presents. Research is also at the heart of the development of the technologies needed to further reduce emissions from the sector and I am confident that ongoing research at national level and collaborative research at international level, in areas such as the improvement of production efficiencies and increasing the carbon sink potential of soils, will yield substantial dividends for us and will deliver, for the future, effective, measurable and verifiable means to reduce or offset greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

  129.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the measures in place to ensure that there is good governance at the Irish National Stud; the reason no effort appears to have been made to restrain certain unacceptable expenditures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21956/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Irish National Stud Company Limited (INS) is a commercial State Body and a company registered under the Companies Act. As such, the Board is responsible for the operations of the company. My [538]Department monitors compliance of the Irish National Stud with the terms of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies. This includes the submission by the company of their annual report, audited accounts, and the provision of a statement containing assurances by the Chairman to the Minister in the format set out in the Code. The INS has complied with these requirements and in particular the Chairman has provided annual assurances of compliance with the Code. Operational matters are the responsibility of the Board.

I was most concerned when I learned of press reports in September 2009 of certain financial matters affecting the Company, which had the potential to damage the reputation of the Company. I immediately sought and received a full report from the INS Chairman on the matters raised. The Chairman confirmed to me that:

she was satisfied that the expenses to which the Deputy refers were approved and adjudged to be necessary for the conduct of the business of the company;

international travel is an integral part of the CEO’s functions;

no first-class travel was incurred by the former CEO; and

the Board has since revised its travel policy with a view to achieving greater efficiencies.

Excessive and unnecessary expenditure is not acceptable in any Government Department or State Agency and I have consistently stressed, both within my own Department and to the agencies under my Department’s aegis, the need to reduce administrative costs, not least in the areas of travel, and to achieve the best possible efficiencies.

The INS Chairman has assured me the Company has in the past and will continue in the future to comply with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies. I also had discussions with the Chairman and representatives of the Company and emphasised the continuing need for the Company to ensure it fully complies with all corporate governance requirements. The Chairman and the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer have assured me this will continue to be done.

  130.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Taoiseach,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 130 to 138, inclusive, of 18 May 2010, if he will give details of the expenditure on doctors which is referred to; if it refers to general practitioners and doctors in hospital; if it refers to consultants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22295/10]

The Taoiseach:  The average annual household expenditure on doctors in the Household Budget Survey includes any expenditure on general practitioners, doctors in hospital and consultants. The sub-index of the Consumer Price Index used to update this expenditure is calculated using price quotations from both general practitioners and consultants in private practice.

  131.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation,    further to reports that prosecutions taken against employers were up by over 50% in 2009, the number of employers who were prosecuted in this manner; the numbers of such employers; if he will give a geographical breakdown of these; if specifically he will give the figures as they apply to both Galway city and county. [22212/10]

[539]Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  NERA aims to achieve voluntary compliance and has a priority of having breaches identified, rectified, and any sums of money due paid to employees. Where an employer either refuses, or fails to rectify those breaches and/or pay money due to the employees, the case is referred for prosecution. The total for this prosecution type for 2009 was 87. NERA also initiates criminal prosecutions in the District Court in the name of the Minister on behalf of a number of bodies, including the Construction Industry Monitoring Agency (CIMA), the Construction Workers Pension Scheme (CWPS). These prosecutions arise where an employer has failed to comply with a Labour Court Order directing that employer to register employees in a relevant pension scheme and /or remit contributions to the scheme. The total for these prosecution types for 2009 was 21.

While the total prosecution figure for 2008 was 70 a further 26 from 2008 were not referred for prosecution until 2009 because the system for the allocation and provision of legal services to NERA was changed in the final quarter of 2008 and there was a consequent carryover of 26 cases from 2008 into 2009. While NERA for reasons of efficiency and cost organises its main functions on a regional basis and accordingly collates statistics on that basis, prosecutions on the other hand are taken in the area where the offence occurred. For this reason a geographic breakdown on a county basis is more readily available. See table below.

NERA Prosecutions in 2009

County Employment Rights Prosecutions Prosecutions on behalf of other Bodies Total
Carlow 5 5
Clare 6 1 7
Cork 8 2 10
Donegal 1 2 3
Dublin 7 3 10
Galway 2 2 4
Kerry 3 1 4
Kildare 8 8
Kilkenny 1 1
Laois 6 6
Limerick 8 1 9
Longford 1 1 2
Mayo 1 1
Offaly 3 1 4
Roscommon 1 1
Tipperary 1 2 3
Waterford 6 6
Westmeath 6 1 7
Wexford 3 1 4
Wicklow 12 1 13
Total 87 21 108

  132.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    his views on whether it will be necessary to introduce a statutory code of conduct to regulate the [540]relationship between retailers and suppliers in the grocery sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22306/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Renewed Programme for Government contains a specific commitment to implement a Code of Practice for doing business in the Grocery Goods sector to develop a fair trading relationship between retailers and their suppliers” and “to review progress of the Code and if necessary to put in place a mandatory code”. The Government will give effect to this commitment by including a specific provision in the legislation, currently being prepared to merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, which will allow for the introduction of a statutory Code of Conduct in the grocery goods sector. I expect to publish this legislation later this year. In the interim period, until the legislation is enacted, the opportunity will be taken to explore with all relevant stakeholders the possibilities of agreeing a Voluntary Code. I have appointed a facilitator to engage with stakeholders in relation to the drawing up of a Voluntary Code.

The Government recognises the importance of ensuring that there is a fair balance in the relationships between the various players in the grocery goods sector, particularly given the importance of this sector to the national economy. The introduction of a Code, as provided for in the Programme for Government, is intended to achieve such a balance taking into account the interests of all stakeholders including the interests of the consumer and the need to ensure that there is no impediment to the passing-on of lower prices to consumers.

  133.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    if he has costed the pension payments due to the marriage bar should it be decided that they should receive a pension for the years they were unable to work; and if so, the figure to provide a pension for those women. [22131/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As regards the Civil Service for which I am directly responsible, prior to 1974 female officers were required to resign on marriage and, depending on their service, received a marriage gratuity in lieu of any pension benefits. Following the abolition of the marriage bar, any officer appointed before 1974 has the option of resigning within two years of marriage and receiving a marriage gratuity, preserving benefits when she resigns, or of remaining in employment. Officers who received a marriage gratuity and who are subsequently reappointed in an established capacity in the civil service may refund the gratuity with compound interest and have all prior service aggregated with subsequent service for superannuation purposes. I have no plans to pay pensions other than on reckonable service which is the cornerstone of Public Service Pensions. Given the accrued liabilities to date we are working towards containing costs, not increasing them.

  134.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the time frame for the two banking inquiries; if he is confident that both inquiries will report on schedule; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22133/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Government announced the establishment of an investigation into the banking crisis on 19 January 2010. This investigation will have two stages. For the first stage, the Government has commissioned two separate preliminary reports:

[541]One report is being prepared by Professor Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland, on the performance of the functions of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator over the period from the establishment of the Financial Regulator to the end of September 2008.

A second report is being prepared by Mr Klaus Regling and Mr Max Watson, who have been asked to conduct a preliminary investigation into the recent crisis in the banking system to assess what lessons can be learned to inform the future management and regulation of the sector.

I expect that both preliminary reports will be completed and submitted to me on schedule by the end of May 2010. I will then seek Government approval to lay both reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The second stage of the investigation envisages the establishment, following approval by both Houses of the Oireachtas, of a Statutory Commission of Investigation, pursuant to the Commissions of Investigation Act 2004. The terms of reference for the Commission of Investigation will be informed by the two preliminary reports.

  135.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason Anglo Irish Bank recently appointed a company (details supplied) to carry out a full forensic examination into the accounts of Anglo Irish Bank, when this company was the group’s auditors before the bank effectively collapsed and was nationalised by the State; if he will confirm that this is the actual position; if his Department knew of this when Anglo Irish Bank made this recent appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22138/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy is aware under the Relationship Framework the Board of the bank is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Bank, including in this context the appointment of consultants. I am informed by the Bank that it did not appoint the company, referred to in the Deputy’s question, to carry out a forensic examination into their accounts. However, in October 2009, the bank did appoint them to perform data validation procedures relating to the transfer of the first tranche of loan data to the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA). In essence, the Bank used the resources of the company to ensure that the loan data being submitted by the Bank was accurate and met the NAMA requirements. Furthermore, in February 2010, the Bank engaged the company to perform data validation procedures relating to the transfer of the second tranche of loan data to NAMA.

  136.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Finance    the discussions he has had with his European counterparts on the formation of an independent ratings agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22143/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  There have not been any formal discussions at EU level on the formation of an independent EU ratings agency. A proposal to establish such an agency would present a number of important issues which would need to be examined very carefully. I would like to bring the Deputy’s attention to the fact that the EU has already agreed on a regulatory regime for Credit Rating Agencies and that this new regime will take effect on 7 December this year. Member States have to appoint the relevant competent authority by 7 June. The Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland with be the competent authority in this country and my Department is currently making the necessary arrangements to complete this task by the 7 June deadline. Under the package of supervisory reforms in the EU, which emanate from the de Larosière Report, the soon to be established [542]European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) will be the competent authority throughout the EU for the supervision of CRAs’ activities. It is expected that the new Authority will assume this role in early 2011.

  137.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of times that he or his Ministers of State have met with the Financial Regulator since May 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22144/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I meet senior personnel in the Offices and Agencies within the ambit of my Department as appropriate from time to time. The records in my office indicate that I have met formally with the Financial Regulator on four occasions in the period since May 2008. The Minister of State at my Department has also met the Financial Regulator on occasion over the same period.

  138.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of attachment orders issued by the Revenue Commissioners regarding repayments of tax by businesses in 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22145/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Revenue’s power to attach, in certain circumstances, third party debts owing to a defaulting taxpayer is set out in section 1002 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. The number of Notices of Attachment issued by Revenue for 2008, 2009 and Jan-Apr 2010 is set out in the table below.

Year Number
2008 2,362
2009 3,199
Jan-Apr 2010 1,331

The Deputy’s question refers to attachment orders in relation to repayments of tax. While attachment relates only to third party debts, Revenue also has an offsetting power in section 1006A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 whereby a repayment due by Revenue to the taxpayer may be offset against tax due to Revenue by the same taxpayer. I am advised by Revenue that statistics on the number of such offsets are not readily available. Revenue is and will remain focused on securing the taxes and duties due to the Exchequer on a timely basis. I am fully supportive of Revenue’s action in deploying the necessary collection and enforcement measures, including attachment and offsetting, to address non-compliance.

  139.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    the details of the new insurance directive on solvency requirements which will come into force across the European Union as and from 1 January 2013; if he will provide a comparison across the key areas with the current solvency requirements applying in this jurisdiction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22152/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Solvency II Framework Directive was published in the EU Official Journal on 17 December 2009. The most essential features of the Directive are:

[543](i) the introduction of an economic/risk based approach to the measurement of assets and liabilities. Capital requirements will be determined by an evaluation of a company’s level of risk using a consistent set of measurement principles, resulting in an appropriate level of capital for solvency purposes. This contrasts with the use of a simple set of factors for determining capital under Solvency I, and

(ii) a much greater focus on qualitative issues such as governance and the role of the supervisor.

As Solvency II is a Lamfalussy Directive, the Framework Directive only represents the first stage (Level 1). Level 2 measures which will flesh out in detail the Level 1 principles are the next step and negotiations are ongoing in this area at the moment. Calibration of the various risk modules which will make up the solvency capital requirement will be determined at Level 2 amongst other things.

As part of the process of developing Solvency II a series of quantitative impact studies (QIS) have been carried out in order to assess a range of approaches and calibrations. The next QIS study (QIS5) which is expected to be the last one will run from August to December this year and will provide industry with the opportunity to test the various technical specifications being proposed under Solvency II using their own data. The purpose of the exercise is to enable the EU Commission to evaluate the specifications and also to allow companies to develop an understanding as to how Solvency II will impact them.

Once QIS5 is completed, there should be a clearer picture of how Solvency II will compare with existing arrangements from a capital perspective. The effect will however vary from company to company depending on the nature of the business they conduct and the type of assets they hold to meet their liabilities. On an overall basis it is expected that Solvency II will increase capital requirements for most types of business.

  140.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will indicate his estimate of tobacco consumption here on which duty has not been paid; the estimated loss to the Exchequer over a 12 month period; the scale of the revenue loss; if the 27% smuggled product estimated by the trade is accurate; and his views on whether further scanning machines would be a cost effective investment based on his estimate of the cost of installing one more scanner. [22154/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of tobacco taxes and for tackling the illicit trade in tobacco products, that it is not possible to provide a reliable estimate of tobacco consumption on which duty has not been paid. This is because there is no proven internationally recognised method for determining this figure. Accordingly there is no reliable way of estimating the loss to the Exchequer.

Revenue is aware of a variety of methodologies that are used internationally by the tobacco industry and some Customs and Revenue Administrations for the purposes of estimating the quantity and value of cigarettes smuggled into their jurisdictions. The variety of factors taken into account include: national estimates of the overall number of cigarettes consumed each year; estimates of the quantity of cigarettes brought into the State legally by cross- border shoppers; surveys of empty (discarded) cigarette packs conducted at periodic intervals throughout the country; the volume of cigarettes on which excise duty is charged annually; and the number of cigarettes seized by customs.

[544]It is evident that the only precise information that Revenue can confirm are the last two items listed above i.e. the volume of cigarettes on which duty has been collected and the actual quantity of cigarettes seized. The remaining factors require a significant level of speculation and extrapolation. The Revenue Commissioners have given a tentative estimate that up to 20% of cigarettes consumed may be untaxed but this includes both smuggled cigarettes and cigarettes legally purchased by cross-border shoppers for personal consumption. Based on tobacco duty receipts for 2009 this would equate to approximately €304 million.

A second mobile X-ray container scanner was commissioned by Revenue in January 2010 and is fully operational. Container scanning is one of a number of detection technology applications used to detect contraband. Its deployment has to take account of free movement within the Community, and the objective of not unnecessarily disrupting legitimate trade/container traffic. Revenue also use smaller baggage/ parcel scanners which are deployed at all major ports, airports and postal depots, as well as a tobacco detector dog. The effectiveness and efficiency of resources, including equipment, is kept under review, but at this point it is too early to say whether a further container scanner would justify the capital and operational costs involved.

  141.  Deputy Paul Connaughton    asked the Minister for Finance    the person from whom the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has rented its Dock Gate Street premises in Galway city; if there are contractual obstacles to the Department moving its premises to the proposed Mellows agricultural site in Athenry; the current rent and the length of time the current agreement is binding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22206/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  As part of their rationalisation programme, the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food have informed the Commissioners of Public Works that they wish to move their Dockgate operation to Athenry and the Commissioners are assisting them in this regard. The Commissioners of Public Works hold the lease on the Dockgate premises in Galway occupied by the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food. The Landlord is J. Hughes and T. Browne T/A the Ballybrit Partnership and the rent is €922,250 pa. The lease expires on 1st January 2023 and there is a break option on 1st January 2013. The Department of Social Protection have already been allocated some space in the Dockgate premises and have a requirement for additional space. When the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food move to Athenry is complete this requirement will be met within the Dockgate premises.

  142.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the estimated cost to the Exchequer of extending the terms and conditions of the pension insolvency payment scheme to insolvent pension schemes where the company is solvent; his reason for not doing so thus far; if this proposal is under active consideration in his Department. [22221/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The basis for the Pensions Insolvency Payment Scheme (PIPS) is set out in the Social Welfare and Pensions Act 2009. The principal qualifying conditions are that the sponsoring employer must be insolvent (in accordance with the definition used in the Protection of Employers (Employers’ Insolvency) Act 1984) and that the defined benefit pension scheme must be winding up in deficit — the “double lock” criterion of [545]pension scheme and employer insolvency. The Act also requires that the PIPS scheme be operated on a cost-neutral basis for the Exchequer.

Under PIPS, trustees of a participating pension scheme must pay to the Minister a lump sum which equals the net present value of the future stream of PIPS payments for the lives of the pensioners concerned and the associated administration costs. The sum will be calculated by the National Treasury Management Agency on an actuarially cost-neutral basis. The PIPS is therefore a special measure intended to apply in carefully defined circumstances as an option of last resort where no further source of support is open to a pension scheme because of the double insolvency. PIPS was restricted to pension schemes of insolvent employers as to do otherwise would run the legal risk of breaching State aid and competition rules. The scheme is running on a pilot basis for 3 years and will be reviewed in 2013.

  143.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 194 of 18 May 2010, if he will complete his answer to the parts not addressed, namely, his views on whether a person in receipt of rental income should be entitled to have the local authority charge for non-principal private residences deducted from the net amount of rent received; if he has had any formal or informal discussions or correspondence with officials, property owners or others on the subject as a result of this new charge not being currently included on the list of allowable deductions; if he will consider including it at the next available opportunity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22256/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Under the provisions of the Tax Acts, a person in receipt of rental income is assessed to income tax on the net amount of the rents received (i.e. the gross rents less allowable expenses incurred in earning those rents). In computing the net amount of the rents received, only those deductions that are specified in section 97(2) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 are allowable. The main deductible expenses are: Any rent payable by the landlord in the case of a sub-lease; The cost to the landlord of any goods provided or services rendered to a tenant; The cost of maintenance, repairs, insurance and management of the property; Interest on borrowed money used to purchase, improve or repair the property; and Payment of local authority rates in the case of rateable properties used for commercial purposes.

As payment of the new local authority charge for residential properties is not included on the list of allowable deductions, it is not an allowable expense in computing taxable rental income. It is normal practice to have discussions with my officials on all matters relating to the tax code. This issue like all proposals for new tax or expenditure measures will fall to be considered in the context of ongoing development of budgetary and economic policy.

  144.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of credit unions (details supplied) in respect of sections 35A and B of the Central Bank Reform Bill; if he will confirm contacts he has had on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22257/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I assume that the concerns of the credit unions, to which the details supplied by the Deputy refer, relate to amendments to Section 35 of the Credit Union Act 1997 contained in the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010.

Section 35 of the Credit Union Act 1997 imposes limits on credit unions in relation to longer-term lending. The restrictions contained in Section 35 are an important asset and liability [546]instrument which has protected the financial stability of the credit union movement over many years. The matter was considered by my Department following extensive consultation with the two credit union representative bodies — the Irish League of Credit Unions (ILCU) and the Credit Union Development Association (CUDA) — and with the Registrar of Credit Unions. I have decided that, in addition to extending from 20% to 30% the proportion of a credit union loan book that may apply to loans over five years, it is necessary now to give the Registrar of Credit Unions powers to require credit unions to have appropriate liquidity, provisioning and accounting requirements in place.

The Registrar of Credit Unions will take a balanced and proportionate approach to the implementation of the new Section 35 requirements and has set out for the credit union representative groups transitional arrangements and clarifications on the implementation approach. The Registrar has already indicated that these include transitional arrangements for a 15% provisioning requirement up to 30 September 2011, trial periods, exceptions with regard to top-up loans and relaxation of the 100% provisioning requirement in respect of rescheduled loans which have missed two or more payments. The transitional arrangements as proposed by the Registrar will help to ease the position for credit unions in the current financial year and the next financial year ending in September 2011. They will also allow time for credit unions to adjust to the new regime.

The effect of the new provisions on credit unions will be closely monitored. I would also like to take this opportunity to comment on the requirements imposed by the Registrar of Credit Unions in relation to the holding of Regulatory Reserves by credit unions. Reserves enable credit unions to deal with future uncertainties and to act flexibly in adverse economic conditions. This is a separate requirement to the obligation on boards of credit unions to ensure that adequate provisions are made for bad and doubtful loans. I am advised that the Total Regulatory Reserve is comprised of the Statutory Reserve and, where relevant, an amount held in a non-distributable additional regulatory reserve account.

A minimum of 8 per cent of total assets must be held in the Statutory Reserve and the remaining 2 per cent may be held in the Statutory Reserve or additional regulatory reserve account. Financial institutions, including credit unions, are required to hold minimum levels of regulatory reserves as well as making adequate provisions for bad and doubtful debts. The economic environment in which we now operate places increased emphasis on the maintenance of adequate reserves and credit unions are expected to operate with a level of reserves above the minimum regulatory requirement and to comply with the requirements issued by the Registrar of Credit Unions.

As I have indicated previously, there is a balance to be struck between meeting members’ needs to reschedule loans and ensuring the stability of the credit union sector overall. I am meeting the credit union representative bodies today. My message to them is that while the principle of the approach we are taking in the Bill must be adhered to, the Registrar and I are prepared to look at the scope for any further flexibility in relation to the transitional arrangements. It is in the interests of every credit union in the country that the stability of the sector is safeguarded. The proposals being brought forward in connection with the Bill will achieve this fundamental aim. Finally, if the Deputy wishes to provide further clarification of what he has in mind, I will seek to answer that part of his question which refers to contacts that I have had on the Section 35 issue.

  145.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the estimated cost or saving to [547]the Exchequer from the proposal in the national pensions framework to change tax relief provisions on pension contributions; if he will provide a breakdown on the savings to the Exchequer of reducing tax relief on pension contributions to 33% for those paying tax at the upper rate and increasing tax relief to 33% for those paying tax at the standard rate. [22280/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Tax relief on individual pension contributions is currently allowed at the taxpayer’s marginal income tax rate, that is, at the standard or higher rate of income tax as appropriate in each case. Tax relief at 33% would result in a reduction in the tax relief on pension contributions available to higher rate taxpayers and an additional incentive to pension savings for standard rate taxpayers.

The Government agreed, in the revised Programme for Government, that a new pension savings incentive will be set at a rate equivalent to 33% tax relief rather than the existing marginal rate relief. This commitment is now included in the National Pensions Framework. The Framework also makes clear that PRSI and Health Levy relief on pension contributions will be in addition to the 33% rate of tax relief and the mechanism for delivering this relief will be developed during the implementation phase of the Framework.

A breakdown of the cost of tax relief on employee contributions to occupational pension schemes is not available by income tax rate, as tax returns by employers to the Revenue Commissioners of employee contributions to such schemes are aggregated at employer level. An historical breakdown is available by tax rate of the tax relief claimed on contributions to personal pension plans — Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs) and Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) — by the self-employed and others, to the extent that the contributions have been included in the personal tax returns of those taxpayers. The latest data available in this regard are figures in respect of the tax year 2007.

There is, therefore, no statistical basis for providing definitive figures on the costs or benefits involved in moving to a 33% rate of relief. However, by making certain assumptions about the available information, it is estimated that the overall full year yield to the Exchequer from allowing tax relief at a flat rate of 33% in respect of individual contributions to occupational pension schemes, RACs and PRSAs would be about €115 million. It is assumed that tax relief at the flat rate of 33% would also be available to claimants who are currently confined to tax relief at the standard rate of 20%. The estimated yield of €115 million is broken down between estimated savings to the Exchequer of approximately €185 million from reducing the tax relief on pension contributions for those paying tax at the higher income tax rate and an estimated cost of approximately €70 million from increasing the tax relief for those paying tax at the standard rate. The estimated Exchequer saving assumes no change in the current relief arrangements for PRSI and health levy on pension contributions and takes no account of the economic or behavioural impacts which would occur as a result of a change in tax treatment as envisaged in the question.

  146.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the estimated savings to the Exchequer where the maximum possible tax-free pension pot was reduced to €1.5 million, €2 million, €2.5 million, €3 million, €3.5 million and €4 million. [22281/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I assume the Deputy is referring to the Standard Fund Threshold in respect of which Budget and Finance Act 2006 introduced a maximum allowable pension fund on retirement for tax purposes. A limit of €5 million was placed on the total capital value of pension benefits that an individual can draw upon in their lifetime from tax-relieved pension arrangements. This is known as the Standard Fund Threshold (SFT).

[548]A higher limit (the Personal Fund Threshold — PFT) was also introduced at that time for individuals whose pension fund values exceeded €5 million on the date the SFT was introduced, 7 December 2005. The PFT was deemed necessary on the grounds that those individuals with pension funds in excess of €5 million had built up those funds in good faith over the years while availing of tax reliefs available by reference to the law as it stood prior to the change and it would not have been possible to retrospectively deny them those reliefs. The Finance Act 2006 also introduced indexation for both the SFT and PFT from 2007 onwards in line with an earnings factor. As a result, the value of the SFT for 2008 increased to over €5.4 million. Indexation did not occur in 2009 however.

On the assumption that, as with the Budget 2006 change, any reduced SFT limit would have to take account of the pension funds of individuals that had already been built up legitimately under existing arrangements that would then be above any new limit, any reduction in the SFT would be unlikely of itself to have immediate effects in terms of Exchequer savings.

  147.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Finance    the estimated savings to the Exchequer where the maximum tax-free lump sum taken at retirement was reduced to €100,000, €125,000, €150,000 and €175,000. [22282/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In my 2010 Budget Statement I said that I accepted the Commission on Taxation’s recommendation that retirement lump sums below €200,000 should not be taxed. I further indicated that the tax treatment of retirement lump sums above €200,000 would be considered in the Government’s National Pensions Framework. This position is reflected on page 41 of the Framework document published in March 2010 which states that “arrangements for the tax treatment of lump sums greater than €200,000 would be considered and developed during the implementation of this framework”.

As indicated in the National Pensions Framework, there are a number of fundamental issues which have yet to be considered in this process, including, among other things, the appropriate rate of tax (standard, higher or other) that should apply to lump sum payments in excess of €200,000. There are also gaps in the availability of data on retirement lump sum payments which make the costing of changes in this area problematic at this point in time. In these circumstances, I am not in a position to provide the estimated savings requested by the Deputy at this time.

  148.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Cork is in receipt of the appropriate tax credits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22310/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the person in question is a self-assessed individual. To determine their tax liability and avail of the appropriate credits in relation to themselves and their spouse, they should complete and return the Form 11 for the year 2008, which was issued to the taxpayer on 30 November 2008. A copy of the form may be obtained by telephoning the Revenue Commissioners, Cork @ 021 6027058 or from the Revenue website www.revenue.ie

  149.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will report [549]on proposals for funding youth cafes; the funding available; and the basis on which it was allocated. [22140/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  As the Deputy will be aware, on 12 April last, I announced details of a dedicated youth café funding scheme of €1.5m from dormant accounts funds. This is the first dedicated youth café funding scheme in Ireland and was launched along with the publication of two relevant associated publications, Youth Cafe9s in Ireland: A best practice guide and Youth Cafe9 Toolkit: how to set up and run a youth cafe9 in Ireland. Both documents were prepared for my office by the Child and Family Research centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). These developments respond to the repeated emphasis young people have placed on the need for such recreational spaces. They recognise the achievements already made by many groups in establishing youth cafés around the country and ensure a solid policy foundation for youth café development and the expansion of safe quality recreational spaces for young people.

A total funding package of up to €1.5 million is available for small scale fit-out, refurbishment works or building enhancement projects to existing Youth Cafes and for the start up of new youth cafes. This scheme is being administered by Pobal on behalf of my Office through a closed call system via the nationwide network of city and county development boards (CDBs). This funding is once off in nature and the drawdown of funds from this scheme will take place over the present and next year (2011). The Youth Café model is based on a multi-agency approach and the County Development Board structure provides the natural fit for the assessment of local need, priorities and sustainability from multi-agency perspectives. The use of the CDB network in the application process will also enable direct local involvement in the initial prioritisation of applications. This will ensure that detailed local knowledge is taken into account in the short listing of applications for further consideration by POBAL.

As applications are still being accepted, no funds have been distributed as yet. The closing date for the submission of applications is Friday 11th June 2010. As I have already mentioned, applications must be processed through local City and County development boards. Full details of the operation of the scheme are available on www.pobal.ie I have asked my officials to forward further details of the Scheme to you in the next days.

  150.  Deputy Chris Andrews    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the list of the medicines allowed under the general medical card scheme general practitioner only card scheme in respect of long-term illnesses. [22123/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I regret that due to industrial action I am not in a position to provide a substantive response to your Parliamentary Question. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  151.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved a medical card. [22166/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  152.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a group (details supplied) to have a clinical nurse based at the new children’s hospital. [22183/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  153.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 123 of 19 May 2010, that the Health Information and Quality Authority and not Beaumont Hospital itself should commission the inquiry into whether Beaumont Hospital complies with the minimum safety standards prescribed by the Joint Committee on Higher Surgical Training; if she acknowledges that it would be unsatisfactory to have the hospital inquiring into its own standards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22187/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I understand from contacts made with the Deputy’s office that his question refers to an individual case. While the Health Information and Quality Authority has no plans to commence an investigation in this instance, it has recommended to Beaumont Hospital that it secure an external expert to review the particular case.

The Authority is engaging with Beaumont Hospital and Cork University Hospital (which also provides neurosurgical services) on an ongoing basis and is supporting their development of national guidelines on the treatment of neurosurgical patients. The Authority is also currently drafting National Standards for Safer, Better Health Care which will be available for public consultation later in the year. The aim of these standards is to provide top-level guidance for both service users and providers on the provision of good quality health care. The Joint Committee on Higher Surgical Training is a training body and is not responsible for national standards for service delivery.

  154.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the Health Service Executive has completed its review of the hiring of patient transport; the conclusions of this report; if a new protocol has been put in place nationally; the savings envisaged based on the costs incurred in 2008; if she will provide this Deputy with a copy of the completed review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22188/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  In the HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan the Executive committed to the separation of emergency and non-urgent patient transport services. As part of this process the Executive is working to develop a policy for non-emergency transport which will include criteria for access to the service. The areas under examination are:

Inter-facility transfers;

Patient transport from home to health facility;

Patient transport from health facility to home.

[551]In the context of the National Service Plan, the HSE has set a savings target of €4.3m in respect of patient transport in 2010.

  155.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount spent by the Health Service Executive on public transport for staff and patients in 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22189/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with the HSE again in due course.

  156.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is satisfied that the standards recommended in the 2006 Safe Neurosurgery in Ireland report have been achieved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22196/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I understand that the 2006 Safe Neurosurgery in Ireland report was commissioned by Beaumont Hospital and informed the Health Service Executive’s allocation of additional revenue and capital funding to Beaumont Hospital to further develop neurosurgical services. On foot of the report an additional €1m Revenue and €4.8million Capital Funding was allocated to the hospital. I am informed that Beaumont Hospital, the HSE and the Health Information and Quality Authority are currently engaged in relation to aspects of neurosurgical services provided by the hospital and I await the outcome of this process.

  157.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the expert advisory group findings published in April 2008 on diabetic paediatric care have been implemented; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22204/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action I am not in a position to provide a substantive response to your Parliamentary Question. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  158.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the Health Service Executive revision of rehabilitation services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22207/10]

  159.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views regarding the review of rehabilitation services as it affects the provision of prosthetics and orthotics; if her attention has been drawn to the concern that proposed changes could adversely affect the provision of these services here, including the loss of skilled prosthetist or orthotist jobs, loss of choice for patients and a monopoly for a British-based prosthetic orthotic firm; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22208/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 158 and 159 together.

[552]I regret that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive, it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course. However, both my Department and the Health Service Executive are concerned to ensure that rehabilitation services and the structure of same are the most efficient and appropriate. This led to the setting up of a working group to develop a National Strategy for the Provision of Rehabilitation Services. The group is expected to report shortly.

  160.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will confirm that a group exists, appointed by her, which consults on the reconfiguration of acute hospital services in the Cork area; if she will name the appointees to that consultative group and the number of times they have met; if they have submitted any report to either herself or the Health Service Executive; furthermore, if she will outline its reporting mechanisms to her and to the Health Service Executive. [22215/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  To support the reconfiguration of acute hospitals in Cork and Kerry, a non-executive advisory board was established by the HSE in September 2009. The board has 17 members, drawn from business, education and health care fields. Its purpose is to support and advise the HSE as appropriate in relation to the reconfiguration of acute hospital services in the region. The board has met on five occasions, twice in 2009 and three times in 2010. The board members receive no remuneration for their participation in this board and give their time and advice freely. The HSE indicates that the membership of the advisory board is as follows:

Membership of Board
Mr Micheal O’Flynn — Chairman
Board Member of the Children’s Medical & Research Foundation, Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children Crumlin
Chairman of the Cork Friends of Crumlin
Mr Brendan Tuohy — former Secretary General of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources 2007. He is currently:
Chairman of the UN body, the Global eSchools and Communities Initiative,
Chairman of the National Maritime College of Ireland Advisory Board,
Chairman of the Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing and
Chairman of the Board of the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance,
Mr Padraig O’Riordan — Managing Partner, Arthur Cox Solicitors
Mr Des Murphy — Chair of Mercy University Hospital Board and managing partner Carroll Murphy Quantity surveyors
Mr Pat Lyons — Chief Executive of Bon Secours Health System
Mr Pat Healy — Regional Director of Operations
Mr Paul Breen — Chairman Board of Governors Athlone Institute of Technology
Prof Geraldine McCarthy — Professor and Head of the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing and Midwifery, UCC
Member of Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA)
Member of Fulbright Commission.
Prof Cillian Twomey — retired consultant physician in geriatric medicine,
Currently Chairman of the National Steering Committee of the Hospital friendly Hospitals (HfH) Programme.
Former president of IMO and President of the Union Européenne des Médecins Spécialistes (European Union of Medical Specialists)
Mr Sean O’Driscoll — CEO Glen Dimplex
Member of the UCC President’s Consultative Board
Irish Government member of the Enterprise Advisory Group established to advice on the implementation of enterprise strategy for Ireland, and the high-level Group overseeing implementation of Ireland’s Asia Strategy.
Mr Kevin Kenny — Tax Partner, Ernst & Young
Mr Michael Hall — Chair of South Infirmary Victoria Hospital Board
Dr Paddy Crowley — General Practitioner
Mr Donal Horgan — Managing Director of Musgrave, Super Value Centra, Musgrave Group plc,
Dr. Michael Murphy — President UCC
Mr Aidan O’Brien — Horse Racing Trainer
Prof Gerry O Sullivan — Professor of Surgery and Director of Cork Cancer centre,
Former President of Royal College of Surgeons and
President of the European Surgical Association.

  161.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 143 of 16 June 2009, she will provide the corresponding figures for 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22217/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE is taking a number of steps to improve the delivery of out-patient services. The Executive has been engaged in a significant exercise with the objective of validating public out-patient lists and streamlining the processes for access to and management of appointments. The Executive’s 2010 National Service Plan specifies targets which include increasing the number of new patients seen by every consultant each month and improving the ratio of new to return attendances at out-patient departments.

I wish to advise the Deputy that, due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive, it is not possible for the Executive to supply the detailed information requested. If these matters remain of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise them with me again in due course.

  162.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 65 of 2 July 2009, the position regarding same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22218/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have responsibility for implementation of the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP) under which capital funding is made available to community and commercial child care [554]providers for the development of child care facilities. As the Deputy is aware, following the review of Government expenditure which was completed in April of last year, a decision was taken not to approve any further capital grant applications and to close the NCIP to new applications. As a result, while capital grant funding amounting to €30 million to meet existing NCIP commitments is continuing to be paid in 2010, no other capital funding is currently available to my Office. The position in regard to future capital grant funding is expected to be reviewed later this year.

  163.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 134 of 3 December 2009, approval has been granted to proceed to tender; when work is expected to commence; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22219/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise them with me again in due course.

  164.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    why the valid medical card of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo was withdrawn without notice prior to its expiration date; and if she will instruct the Health Service Executive to restore the medical card to this person. [22224/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  165.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of claims from general practitioners, dentists and pharmacists that were rejected by the primary care reimbursement service in 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the value of the rejected claims; the reasons claims have been rejected; the proportion of claims that relate to patients eligible for all community drugs schemes, including the medical card scheme and the drugs payment scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22292/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  166.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in 2010. [22302/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to a service matter it falls under the remit of the HSE. I wish to advise the Deputy that due to [555]industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  167.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the date from which the new restrictions regarding dental services for medical card holders will apply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22308/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) provides dental treatment to medical cardholders over the age of 16. On 26th April the HSE wrote to dentists working in the DTSS to advise them of changes to the scheme. These changes were effective immediately and were introduced to contain DTSS expenditure at the 2008 level of approximately €63 million. This reflects the decision taken in last December’s Budget to achieve overall reductions in public expenditure while providing essential health services to patients. The HSE will monitor the ongoing effect of these changes from a clinical and budgetary perspective. The HSE will also be providing ongoing clinical guidance and advice to individual dentists in relation to the changes to the scheme.

  168.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22311/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  169.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 234 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22314/10]

  170.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 235 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22315/10]

  171.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 236 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22316/10]

  172.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 249 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22317/10]

  173.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 250 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22318/10]

  181.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 386 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22326/10]

  182.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 387 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue. [22327/10]

[556]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 to 173, inclusive, 181 and 182 together.

As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original question due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matter raised continues to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original question again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  174.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 252 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22319/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original question due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matter raised continues to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original question again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  175.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 310 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22320/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  176.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 311 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22321/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  177.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 361 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22322/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original question due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matter raised continues to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original question again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  178.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 362 and 411 of 20 April 2010, when replies will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22323/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original questions due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matters raised continue to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original questions again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  179.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 363 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22324/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original question due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matter raised continues to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original question again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  180.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 368 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22325/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I wish to advise the Deputy that due to the ongoing industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive it is not possible for the Executive to supply the information requested. If this matter remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

Questions Nos. 181 and 182 answered with Question No. 169.

  183.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 412 of 20 April 2010, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [22328/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As indicated to the Deputy in my previous response, it was not possible to answer the original question due to industrial action. This industrial action currently remains in place and continues to affect the provision of substantive replies to certain Parliamentary Questions. If the matter raised continues to be of concern, it will be necessary for the Deputy to resubmit the original question again when the current industrial action has been resolved.

  184.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Transport    the purpose of his recent correspondence with Cork County Council in regard to the provision of an inner relief road in Carrigaline, County Cork; the response that has been received; the impediments that exist in relation to getting this needed project under way; the financial consideration or undertaking that has been given by him; the timescale with regard to the commencement of works in relation to this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22172/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities’ own resources supplemented by State road grants paid by my Department. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the local authority.

On 22nd February, I announced the 2010 regional and local road grant allocations. A total of €411.409 million is being provided to local authorities this year for the maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads. In deciding on allocations for 2010 the first priority was to ensure the protection of the existing road network and, particularly the massive Exchequer investment of €6 billion which we have made through the provision of regional and local road grants since 1997. It is important that resources are therefore targeted to address, on a priority basis, the most urgently required repairs resulting from the extensive damage caused by the prolonged severe weather.

Local authorities have been asked to carefully re-assess their planned road programmes for 2010 having regard to these priorities. In August 2009, Cork County Council submitted a proposal for funding the land acquisition and construction of this project in 2010 and beyond. The estimated cost of this project is approximately €18.5 million. Since then I have met with local authority representatives and Deputy Michael McGrath regarding this issue. I wrote to Cork County Council (through local Deputy Michael McGrath) on 30th April 2010, raising a number of issues and including the need to ensure that land costs are not excessive and that adequate development contributions are levied.

  185.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of persons employed in the private bus sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22163/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  My Department does not hold the information requested by the Deputy.

  186.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the meetings or contacts he has had with a person (details supplied) of CIE since January 2010; the topics discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22174/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I have conversations regularly with the Chairman of CIE regarding various matters relating to CIE and its subsidiary bodies.

  187.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount spent on rural [559]transport annually since 2004 to date in 2010; the annual passenger numbers and funding given to each of the 36 rural transport providers annually since 2006; the number and location of rural transport services that have been dropped annually since 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22191/10]

  190.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of passengers who availed of the rural transport programme in 2009; the percentage of these passengers who held a free travel pass; the percentage who used the door-to-door service; the cost of the door-to-door service in 2009; the number of passenger journeys in 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22331/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 187 and 190 together.

Expenditure since 2004 by my Department on the Rural Transport Programme (RTP), together with the Free Travel Scheme (FTS) contribution from the Department of Social Protection and funding for the Evening Services Pilot Scheme (ESPS) operated by the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs in the period 2007-2009, are set out in Table 1:

Table 1

Year Expenditure RTP (million) Expenditure FTS (million) Expenditure ESPS
2004 3.00 0.50
2005 4.50 0.75
2006 5.10 0.85
2007 9.00 1.50 152,077
2008 10.00 1.50 479,328
2009 11.00 1.50 326,674
2010 11.00 (Estimate) 1.50 (Estimate)

The number of transport services operated under the RTP continues to grow as do the number of passenger journeys recorded on those services, details of which are set out in Table 2:

Table 2

RTP Services RTP Passenger Journeys
2004 64,954 514,137
2005 79,914 651,391
2006 93,419 791,264
2007 120,753 998,350
2008 146,771 1,200,194
2009 157,106 1,289,025

Of the 2009 passengers, 65 percent were Free Travel Pass holders while 79 percent were provided with a door-to-door service. The provision of specific services under the Programme is a matter for Pobal (which administers the RTP on behalf of my Department) and the individual RTP groups who know where the transport needs are in their areas and how best to address them.

[560]The actual amount spent on individual service types is not currently collated. Groups are given overall budgets to provide different models of transport including scheduled services, semi-flexible and demand responsive services depending on the needs identified locally. The annual RTP, Free Travel and ESPS funding in each of the years from 2006-2009 for each of the community transport groups are set out in Tables 3 — 6. I understand from Pobal that the 2010 funding allocations for individual groups have not yet been finalised.

Table 3: 2006

Group Rural Transport Programme Free Travel Scheme Evening Service Pilot Scheme
Aughrim-Kilmore Development 60,456 13,283
Avondhu Development Group 155,308 35,666
BAND 74,173
Bantry Rural Transport 128,697 40,203
Bealach 92,408 21,999
Carlow, Kilkenny & Sth Tipp RTI 229,154 36,862
Comharchumann Chleire Teo 93,109 2,788
Community of Lough Arrow 94,466 22,894
Co Limerick/Nth Cork Transport Group 177,230 31,569
Deiske Link 185,986 30,154
East Clare Accessible Transport 197,104 32,568
IRD Dunhallow 118,285 32,179
Kerry Community Transport 412,153 96,719
Kilnaleck & District Comm Co-op 64,755 13,813
Laois Rural Regeneration Partnership 213,737 17,924
Latton Social Services & Development 57,729 14,882
Longford Community Resources 99,901 15,700
Meath Accessible Transport 160,896 41,206
Meitheal Mhaigeo 172,448 51,319
North Fingal Rural Transport 69,764 3,486
Offaly & Kildare RTI 177,818 39,471
Rural Lift 128,184 26,903
Seirbhis Iompair Tuaithe Teo 88,317 23,619
Siob Teo 145,525 25,546
Sligo Leader Partnership 113,310 22,787
South East Galway IRD 86,249 8,217
South Kildare RTI 251,492 19,499
South West Wexford RTI 104,808 10,903
South Westmeath Mount Temple 134,239 40,862
Tippearary LEADER Group 68,741 10,672
Tumna-Shannon Development 81,020 6,905
West Offaly Partnership 127,196 17,608
Wexford Area Partnership 103,523 10,982
Wicklow Rural Transport 177,530 21,730

[561]Table 4: 2007

Group Rural Transport Programme Free Travel Scheme Evening Service Pilot Scheme
Aughrim-Kilmore Development 96,810 21,253
Avondhu Development Group 263,013 62,139 19,255
Bantry Rural Transport 234,801 79,176 41,826
Bealach 186,922 34,458
Carlow, Kilkenny & Sth Tipp RTI 457,900 62,535
Comharchumann Chleire Teo 148,699 3,807
Community of Lough Arrow 163,148 42,612
Co Limerick/Nth Cork Transport Group 300,399 63,130
Deiske Link 301,781 65,267
East Clare Accessible Transport 358,799 58,387
East Cork Area Development 12,500
Inishowen Partnership 12,500
IRD Dunhallow 193,771 47,797
Kerry Community Transport 575,798 171,346
Kilnaleck Comm & Co-op Society 132,984 23,194
Laois Rural Regeneration Partnership 317,858 35,458 20,039
Latton Social Services & Development 92,895 37,396
Longford Community Resources 229,872 26,852
Louth Leader 12,500
Meath Accessible Transport 299,164 60,173 21,824
Meitheal Mhaigeo 257,626 90,430
North Fingal Rural Transport 110,177 7,618
North Tipperary Leader 132,024 18,695
Offaly & Kildare RTI 271,337 63,212
Rural Lift 207,065 46,870
Seirbhis Iompair Tuaithe Teo 136,819 14,041
Siob Teo 210,153 39,862
Sligo Leader Partnership 202,707 35,049 36,826
South East Galway IRD 133,849 19,640
South Kildare RTI 386,128 27,922
South West Wexford RTI 160,498 25,316
South Westmeath Mount Temple 284,511 65,221
Tippearary LEADER Group 143,208 20,399
Tumna-Shannon Development 126,340 18,284 12,307
West Offaly Partnership 207,645 25,420
Wexford Area Partnership 149,357 26,319
Wicklow Rural Transport 320,789 35,415

Table 5: 2008

Group Rural Transport Programme Free Travel Scheme Evening Service Pilot Scheme
Aughrim-Kilmore Development 114,023 23,922
Avondhu Development Group 288,006 53,881 57,763
Bantry Rural Transport 287,660 82,406 119,826
Bealach 228,704 36,472
Carlow, Kilkenny & Sth Tipp RTI 377,940 59,900
Comharchumann Chleire Teo 97,680 3,942
Community of Lough Arrow 147,240 42,908
Co Limerick/Nth Cork Transport Group 313,217 62,590
Deiske Link 307,898 75,864
East Clare Accessible Transport 340,499 53,550
East Cork Area Development 152,500
Galway Rural Development 47,150
Inishowen Partnership 88,113
IRD Dunhallow 192,531 67,757
Kerry Community Transport 565,924 164,883
Kilnaleck Comm & Co-op Society 166,178 24,732
Laois Rural Regeneration Partnership 342,807 30,847 35,115
Latton Social Services & Development 133,589 42,480
Longford Community Resources 112,837 23,510
Louth Leader 75,125
Meath Accessible Transport 344,392 70,894 97,472
Meitheal Mhaigeo 217,745 91,825
North Fingal Rural Transport 149,206 7,396
North Tipperary Leader
Offaly & Kildare RTI 328,570 59,900
Pairtiocht Ghaeltacht Thir Chonaill 201,063 30,000 30,000
Rural Lift 232,065 78,240
Seirbhis Iompair Tuaithe Teo 190,408 11,840
Siob Teo 61,408 15,405
Sligo Leader Partnership 187,918 33,754 86,826
South East Galway IRD 163,336 20,489
South Kildare RTI 323,072 23,142
South West Wexford RTI 204,626 26,534
South Westmeath Mount Temple 286,037 76,109
Tippearary LEADER Group 278,513 41,572
Tumna-Shannon Development 108,902 22,984 36,921
West Offaly Partnership 223,519 22,404
Wexford Area Partnership 202,085 29,092
Wicklow Rural Transport 303,694 38,933

Table 6: 2009

Group Rural Transport Programme Free Travel Scheme Evening Service Pilot Scheme
Ardcarne Kilmore Roscommon 163,019 13,468 7,993
Aughrim-Kilmore Development 47,357 13,469
Avondhu Blackwater Development Group 263,863 43,412 12,873
Bantry Rural Transport 333,568 65,721 119,436
Bealach 257,779 32,896
Carlow, Kilkenny & Sth Tipp RTI 475,351 57,699
Comharchumann Chleire Teo 157,516 3,312
Community of Lough Arrow 183,659 38,885
Co Limerick/Nth Cork Transport Group 329,877 48,910
Deiske Link 310,953 65,502
East Clare Accessible Transport 355,825 49,134
East Cork Area Development 191,570 23,000
Galway Rural Development 114,071 11,500
Inishowen Partnership 252,157 23,000
IRD Dunhallow 219,944 64,273
Kerry Community Transport 610,034 131,292
Kilnaleck Comm & Co-op Society 212,929 26,535
Laois Rural Regeneration Partnership 342,664 31,002 44,256
Latton Social Services & Development 230,130 38,191
Longford Community Resources 178,916 25,318
Louth Leader 181,117 23,000
Mayo North East Leader 142,556
Meath Accessible Transport 422,927 52,272 53,406
Meitheal Mhaigeo 129,010 93,141
North Fingal Rural Transport 164,855 8,069
Offaly & Kildare RTI 344,500 48,246
Pairtiocht Ghaeltacht Thir Chonaill 242,596 33,062 15,822
Rural Lift 231,269 59,481
Seirbhis Iompair Tuaithe Teo 274,509 19,564
Sligo Leader Partnership 183,849 29,086 57,888
South East Galway IRD 166,623 19,324
South Kildare RTI 383,215 19,587
South West Wexford RTI 177,187 33,067
South Westmeath Mount Temple 309,521 65,522
Tippearary LEADER Group 255,879 41,444
Tumna-Shannon Development 57,930 28,213 15,000
West Offaly Partnership 223,341 19,500
Wexford Area Partnership 193,292 35,529
Wicklow Rural Partnership 334,152 40,155

  188.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    the estimated opening [564]date for phase 2 of the western rail corridor; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22283/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The first phase of the Western Rail Corridor was opened on 29th March. The next step will be for Iarnród Eireann to undertake a detailed evaluation of Phases 2 and 3 with a view to arriving at precise costs to undertake the works. I am seeking to progress planning of the Western Rail Corridor Phases 2 and 3, to ensure that Iarnród Eireann would be in a position to move speedily to construction at the earliest possible date. In relation to the final section of the line, it is currently being preserved under the Clár Programme and Iarnród Eireann will look again at its reopening when Phases 2 and 3 are completed.

  189.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Transport    if a strategic impact assessment has been carried out by his Department on the Dublin Bus Network Review; if he will publish these reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22329/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Since 1st December 2009, these are matters that come under the remit of the National Transport Authority (NTA). The Oireachtas Liaison Officer for the NTA is Mr. Matt Benville, The National Transport Authority, 59 Dawson St., Dublin 2.

Question No. 190 answered with Question No. 187.

  191.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a decision will issue on the application for naturalisation in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [22129/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned was granted permission to remain in the State on 17 September 2001, for an initial twelve month period, on the basis of his parentage of an Irish citizen child. This permission was renewed on a number of occasions, most recently to 17 September 2009.

Arising from the conviction of the person concerned for an immigration related offence in the United Kingdom, which resulted in a custodial sentence in that jurisdiction, allied to the fact that he was no longer living as part of a family unit with his Irish citizen child, the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 28 October 2009, that, in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against him. Representations have been received on behalf of the person concerned.

The position in the State of the person concerned will now be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before the file is passed to me for decision. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

[565]

  192.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding an application to remain in the State in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22130/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned was granted permission to remain in the State on 17 September 2001, for an initial twelve month period, on the basis of his parentage of an Irish citizen child. This permission was renewed on a number of occasions, most recently to 17 September 2009.

Arising from the conviction of the person concerned for an immigration related offence in the United Kingdom, which resulted in a custodial sentence in that jurisdiction, allied to the fact that he was no longer living as part of a family unit with his Irish citizen child, the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 28 October 2009, that, in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against him. Representations have been received on behalf of the person concerned.

The position in the State of the person concerned will now be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before the file is passed to me for decision. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

  193.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of crimes broken down by category carried out in an area (details supplied) in 2009 and to date in 2010; the detection rates; the number of successful convictions recorded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22135/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide statistics directly to the Deputy.

  194.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the action he is taking to address the problems caused by home deliveries of alcohol, in view of the difficulties in enforcing the law on the sale of alcohol to minors in these circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22136/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Section 31 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1988 (as amended) created a number of offences in respect of delivering alcohol to a person under the age of 18 years. Under section 31(2) it is an offence for a license holder to sell or deliver, or permit any other person to sell or deliver, intoxicating liquor for consumption by a person under the age of 18 years in any place except with the [566]explicit consent of the person’s parent or guardian in a private residence in which he or she is present either as of right or with permission.

Any complaints relating to the sale or delivery of alcohol to persons under 18 years received by An Garda Síochána are the subject of investigation and offenders dealt with in accordance with the law. I am considering the need for any additional statutory provisions to prohibit third parties from purchasing and then delivering intoxicating liquor in the context of forthcoming Sale of Alcohol Bill.

  195.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number, duration and location of each closure made in respect of the sale of alcohol to minors on each of the past five years; and his views on the adequacy of the law in this regard. [22137/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that since 2005 and up to 23 May, 2010, 101 temporary closure orders have been issued under the Intoxicating Liquor Acts for offences relating to the sale and supply of alcohol to, and consumption by, persons under 18 years of age. I am further informed that it is not possible to provide the information requested by the Deputy regarding the duration and location of each closure, without a disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources.

  196.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the position regarding a land registry application (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22171/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can inform the Deputy that under the Registration of Deeds and Title Act 2006, the Property Registration Authority (PRA) was established as and from 4 November, 2006. The PRA replaces the Registrar of Deeds and Titles as the registering authority in relation to property registration in Ireland and, subject to the above Act, is independent in the performance of its functions.

The Deputy will be aware of the service to T.D.s and Senators which provides information on the current status of applications, such as the subject of this question, which was introduced in May 2006. The service provides a speedier, more efficient and more cost effective alternative to submitting Parliamentary Questions. It is operated by the PRA and is available all year round. I can further inform the Deputy that his query has been forwarded to the PRA for attention and direct reply via the above mentioned service.

  197.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    the number of breaches of the law recorded for cycling offences; the number of penalties and fines recorded for these offences. [22202/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide statistics directly to the Deputy.

  198.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will ensure that a deportation order against persons (details supplied) is reviewed sympathetically. [22203/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am satisfied that the applications made by the persons concerned for asylum, for subsidiary protection, for temporary leave to remain in the State and for revocation of their Deportation Orders, including all medical information, together with all refoulement issues, were fairly and comprehensively examined and, as such, the decision to deport them is justified.

However, if new information or circumstances have come to light, which have a direct bearing on their case and which have arisen since the original decision to affirm the Deportation Orders was made, there remains the option of applying to me for revocation of the Deportation Orders pursuant to the provisions of Section 3(11) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended. However I wish to make clear that such an application would require substantial grounds to be successful. The enforcement of the Deportation Order is an operational matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  199.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    when a person (details supplied) in County Dublin will be given a date to begin training as a garda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22214/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that applicants selected by the Public Appointments Service and who have successfully undergone a Physical Competency Test, a Medical Examination and also Character Vetting will remain on a panel and are available to be offered positions as Garda Trainees in a future intake.

  200.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will reconsider his decision to issue a deportation order in respect of a person (details supplied) in view of his outstanding record and achievements during the past eight years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22291/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The case of the person concerned was examined under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999, (as amended), and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended), on the Prohibition of Refoulement. On 23 March 2010, I refused the person concerned permission to remain temporarily in the State and instead signed a Deportation Order in respect of him. The effect of the Deportation Order is that the person concerned must leave the State and remain thereafter out of the State.

If new information or circumstances have come to light, which have a direct bearing on his case and which have arisen since the original decision to deport was made, there remains the option of applying to me for revocation of his Deportation Order pursuant to the provisions of Section 3(11) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended. However I wish to make clear that such an application would require substantial grounds to be successful. The enforcement of the Deportation Order is, and remains, an operational matter for the GNIB.

  201.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service staff is not accepting telephone inquiries as a result of ongoing industrial action; that e-mails sent to INIS are being responded to only by post; that this situation is causing significant difficulties for the general public and for Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas; the action, if any, he is taking to resolve this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22299/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Civil, Public and Services Union (CPSU) has undertaken a campaign of industrial action for a number of months. Over that time, my Department and the Department of Finance have engaged with the Union to minimise the disruption to services to the public. I am pleased to say that as of now, most of the industrial action that was being taken, has been suspended. The Union is, however, continuing to take some industrial action across the Civil Service and in my Department the main impact is on the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service in the areas referred to by the Deputy. I regret the inconvenience that this action is causing to the public and Members of the Oireachtas and can assure the Deputy that my Department is determined to ensure that a full service is restored as soon as possible.

  202.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will support the case of a person (details supplied). [22300/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  It is not clear as to what the Deputy is looking for in the context of the person concerned or her son. As a Latvian national and by extension an EU citizen since 1 May 2004, the person concerned is free to live in this State and free also to work here without a Work Permit. Issues relating to habitual residency conditions are a matter for the Department of Social Protection and, as such, the Deputy might wish to raise any concerns he has in this area with that Department.

  203.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [22301/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the location referred to is in the Clontarf Garda Sub-District. While local Garda management is aware of anti-social behaviour in the area, it is not aware of any incidents of the type referred to by the Deputy. Any such incidents reported to An Garda Síochána are investigated.

The area is subject to regular patrols by uniform and plain clothes personnel, Including the Community Policing Unit, the Garda Mountain Bike Unit and the local Detective and Drugs Units, supplemented as required by the Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Corps personnel. A member of the local Community Policing Unit is allocated specifically to the area.

Local Garda management closely monitors and keeps under review patrols and other operational strategies in place, in conjunction with crime trends and policing needs of the communities in the area, to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public. Current policing strategies are predicated on the prevention of crime, public order offences and anti-social behaviour, thereby promoting an environment [569]conducive to the improvement of the quality of life for residents. Community policing is a central feature and core value of policing policy.

  204.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    if he can ensure that an application for permission to remain in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6 will be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22330/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have been informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) of my Department that the person referred to by the Deputy applied for permission to remain in the State and this application is currently under consideration.

  205.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform    his views on the need for regulation of the on-line gaming sector; the state of preparedness for his proposals for the regulator and the taxation of this sector; when it is expected that legislation will be published on the matter. [22411/10]

Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As the Deputy is no doubt aware from my reply to Question Number 362 of 18 May 2010, the consultation phase of the major review of gambling which I initiated has now been completed. The review will provide Government with options for a new and comprehensive legal and organisational framework governing the gambling architecture in the State, including for the first time, the on-line gaming sector. Three important considerations inform the review. These are:

that young people and the vulnerable are protected;

that gambling should in all respects be fairly and openly conducted and

that gambling is kept free of crime.

Following the settling of policy in relation to a new gambling architecture for the State, the House can expect the publication of legislative proposals in the normal course. I anticipate, however, that any new legislation will be both complex and comprehensive. The Deputy should be aware that the taxation of this sector is the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Finance who will, I am sure, pursue that issue as part of any new regulatory framework adopted for on-line gaming.

  206.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of civil servants in his Department who received coaching in a foreign language in the past 12 months; the expenditure that his Department incurred in providing such coaching; the languages in which such coaching was provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22175/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  In the past 12 months 233 officers of the Department have received coaching in a foreign language. Total expenditure on language training for officers of the Department in 2009 and to-date in 2010 was €272,111. Language training was provided in the following languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, [570]Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Tetum and Turkish.

  207.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the training his Department’s staff received in the past 12 months in providing support and assistance to the families of Irish victims of disasters and personal tragedies abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22179/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  My Department arranges training for staff who are involved in providing consular support and assistance to Irish citizens abroad and their families in Ireland. Consular staff at HQ are provided with detailed instructions on how to deal with the range of consular cases that arise. As the Deputy will be aware, when a crisis occurs involving a substantial number of Irish citizens abroad, we activate the Consular Crisis Centre which is staffed for the duration of the crisis by officers drawn from other Sections of the Department. These volunteer staff are provided with regular refresher training on how to respond to such crises.

Staff in our Missions abroad are on the frontline when consular issues occur. Annually, as part of the Department’s training programme for officers being posted abroad, we provide specific training focusing on the full range of consular issues that they may face. Consular assistance and crisis management issues were also covered in the pre-posting Management Development training course in 2009. In addition, specialised training is provided for the Diplomatic Duty Officers taking over the “out of hours duty officer service” dealing with emergency consular cases involving Irish citizens abroad.

  208.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs    when a company (details supplied) moved out to an area in mid-2009 fulfilling part of its contract agreement, yet shortly afterwards it moved back into Galway docks; the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22200/10]

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  The contract that my Department has with the company referred to by the Deputy stipulated that the shipping service should originate from Galway Docks for the first year of the service and from another location thereafter. Apart from a brief period during May and June 2009 when the berth at Galway Docks was required for the Volvo Ocean Race, the company has not been in a position to comply with this particular condition in the contract as it was notified in June 2009 by the authorities at the proposed location that a berth will not be available until further notice. In the meantime, the company continues to provide a satisfactory service from Galway Docks.

  209.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if financial assistance will be provided in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22126/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  Due to staff action currently being taken in the HSE, I regret that I am unable to provide the information sought by the Deputy.

  210.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the incentives offered by [571]the State for self-employed persons who contribute Class A stamps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22286/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The range of benefits and pensions to which different groups of workers may establish entitlement reflects the risks associated with the nature of their work. This in turn reflects the rate of contribution payable. Self-employed workers are liable for PRSI at the Class S rate of 3%. They are consequently eligible for a narrower range of benefits than general employees who, together with their employers, pay a total social insurance contribution of 14.75% under the full-rate PRSI Class A.

Class S contributions provide cover for long-term benefits such as state pension (contributory) and widow’s/widower’s pension (contributory). However they do not provide cover for short-term benefits such as jobseeker’s and illness benefits — these are only available to people covered by PRSI Classes A, E, H and P. This reflects the need for coverage for various contingencies, the rate of contributions that self-employed people pay, the practicalities of administering and controlling access to short-term payments and the annualised system of contributions that these same persons enjoy. A system of separate arrangements for employed and self-employed workers within a social insurance context is common in other European social protection systems.

In certain cases, a self-employed person, who had insurable employment in the relevant year, currently 2008, and had paid sufficient Class A contributions, may qualify for a jobseeker’s benefit payment, provided all the conditions of the scheme are satisfied. A self-employed person who has paid insufficient Class A contributions may instead qualify for jobseeker’s allowance. Jobseeker’s allowance is a means-tested payment and in assessing a person’s means for the purposes of this allowance account is taken of all income which the person may reasonably expect to receive during the succeeding year. In general their means will take account of the level of earnings in the last twelve months in determining their expected income for the following year. In the current climate account is taken of the downward trend in the economy and it is accepted that future earnings may be lower than those of previous years. The process also recognises the potential for significant upward or downward variations in income from one year to the next.

There are no immediate plans to extend cover for short-term benefits to this group of insured workers. Any such measure would have significant financial implications and would have to be considered within a budgetary context. Consideration would also have to be given to an appropriate increase in the rate of the PRSI Class S contribution.

  211.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if arrears of fuel allowance have been awarded in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if so, the amount awarded; the number of weeks that same was awarded; and if not, when all arrears will be awarded. [22165/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  A Deciding Officer awarded a fuel allowance payment to the person concerned covering a period of 16 weeks from 7 January 2010. Arrears of €326.70 issued to her on 18 May 2010. A further payment of €13.30 representing the remainder of fuel allowance arrears due and omitted in error from earlier payment will issue to her shortly.

  212.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the date from which the Department started assessing applicants for jobseeker’s allowance living at home for means [572]from benefit of board and lodgings in their parents’ home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22194/10]

  213.  Deputy Michael D’Arcy    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of persons in County Wexford who have been refused jobseeker’s allowance because the means from benefit of board and lodgings in their parents’ home have put them over the income limit since the introduction of this assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22195/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  It is proposed to take Questions Nos. 212 and 213 together.

The legislation relating to benefit and privilege dates back to the Unemployment Assistance Act of 1933. The statistics requested by the Deputy are not available as the source of means is not codified on the jobseeker’s payment system.

  214.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reason supplementary welfare allowance has been discontinued in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon. [22288/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  Due to staff action currently being taken in the HSE, I regret that I am unable to provide the information sought by the Deputy.

  215.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if there are grants available to residential property owners to upgrade existing sewerage facilities and septic tanks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22127/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The Programme for Government, agreed in June 2007, included a commitment to introduce a scheme of support for the replacement and upgrade of septic tanks older than 15 years with newer systems. The feasibility for introducing such a scheme will remain under ongoing review by my Department, in light of budgetary constraints.

Under my Department’s Rural Water Programme, grants are available to provide groups of households with the opportunity of connecting to public sewerage networks through communal sewage collection systems that are, in turn, connected to local authority sewers. Alternatively, the communal sewage collection system may be connected to sewage treatment facilities provided by the groups themselves. A grant of 75% of the approved cost, subject to a limit of €2,031.58 per domestic connection, whichever is the lesser, is available for eligible works. Details of these grants may be obtained from the local authorities, to whom the administration of the Rural Water Programme has been devolved since 1997.

  216.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if, in respect of the improvement works scheme, there is any recourse for home owners who benefit from the scheme where works are carried out that are subsequently found to be below building regulation standards and are found to be substandard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22128/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  In the case of housing adaptations carried out with assistance [573]provided under my Department’s suite of Housing Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability, relevant building works must be carried out in accordance with the Building Regulations and, in the case of new dwellings, in accordance with Part M of the Regulations in order to ensure visitability by people with disabilities. Enforcement of the Building Regulations is the responsibility of the local authorities, acting as Building Control Authorities. In the case of improvement works falling outside of the remit of the Building Regulations, including the carrying out of repairs and the provision of fixtures and fittings, any issue relating to the standard of workmanship or materials is a matter between the householder and the contractor.

  217.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive their de-stocking payment from the national parks and wildlife service; when they last received such payments; and when their next payment is due. [22134/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  My Department is awaiting receipt of confirmation from the applicant’s farm planner of compliance by the applicant with the provisions of the farm plan. Payment can be made when this confirmation is received. The previous payment due to the applicant issued on 11 December 2009.

  218.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his plans to reform the motor tax system to allow any motor tax office to issue a disc on behalf of an adjoining local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22170/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  At present a local authority may only issue a licence for a vehicle which is in its own county area. The possibility of permitting a licensing authority to issue a licence without such restriction is being considered in the context of a revision and consolidation of motor tax law currently underway in my Department. In this regard, I intend to bring Heads of a Bill to Government as soon as possible.

  219.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 224 and 225 of 29 April 2010, the amount of funding that his Department provided to the Dublin and mid-Leinster region, in particular to the Laois and Offaly Health Service Executive area, in 2009 for the operation of the remaining claims under the special housing aid for the elderly scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22176/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  The discontinued Special Housing Aid for the Elderly Scheme was administered by a Task Force under the aegis of my Department and operated by the Health Service Executive (HSE) at local level. In 2009, following detailed consultation with the HSE and with the approval of the Task Force, my Department allocated €3.5m to the HSE, in respect of the remaining claims on hands in all HSE regions. The Dublin Mid Leinster Region received an allocation of €0.5m, the full amount sought by the HSE. It is a matter for the HSE to apportion the funding within regions.

  220.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will provide an update on the programme of works to deal with leaking water in the Dublin area particularly in the northside; when the work will commence. [22184/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Watermains rehabilitation work in the Greater Dublin Region is being progressed by Dublin City Council as part of the Dublin Region Watermain Rehabilitation Project, which is being funded under my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2010 — 2012. While five contracts have been completed to date, further substantial contracts are due to go to construction during the lifetime of this Programme. Contract Documents for three contracts, including areas in the north of the city, are under examination in my Department and are being dealt with as quickly as possible.

  221.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will deal with a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22209/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  I refer to the replies to Question No. 14 of 25 February 2010 and Question No. 168 of 1 April 2010, which set out the position generally regarding the implementation of the Government’s Homeless Strategy and the Implementation Plan for the Strategy. As indicated in these replies a comprehensive range of measures has been put in place in the context of my Department’s responsibility for policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities and approved housing bodies in addressing homelessness at local level. This includes an enhanced programme for procurement of accommodation, which was announced just before Easter, to advance the core strategic objective of eliminating long term homelessness and help housing authorities to meet their targets for accommodating homeless households. Delivery on this programme will be determined primarily by action on the part of the approved housing bodies and housing authorities and the response of market interests, including property owners and financial institutions.

The process of implementing the provisions of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 is also now well advanced, with the establishment of Regional Homelessness Consultative Fora and the development of statutory Homelessness Action Plans. These provisions further reinforce the role of the housing authorities, working with relevant statutory and non-statutory agencies, in the planning, implementation and oversight of homeless services and action to achieve the objectives of the homeless strategy.

  222.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    his plans to introduce a conservation grants scheme for dwellings which are located in an architectural conservation area but are not regarded as protected or listed structures; if so, when he expects to introduce such a scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22279/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  My Department is currently reviewing the provisions of the local authority conservation grants scheme. This scheme is aimed at assisting owners and occupiers to carry out conservation works [575]on structures which are listed in the Record of Protected Structures contained in local authority development plans. The provision of funding towards conservation works on structures in architectural conservation areas, which are not protected structures, is amongst the issues being considered in the review.

  223.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 122 of 6 May 2010, the reason his Department has not contacted this person as stated in the previous replies; when his Department will contact this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22294/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  As indicated in the reply of 6 May, the case concerned is complex. The Department has been considering legal and other expert advice received and will contact the person concerned next week.

  224.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the estimate he has made of the change in demand for electricity by 2025; the provisions he has put in place to deal with those changes; the costs that are likely to be incurred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22198/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  EirGrid is the national transmission system operator, and as such, is responsible for developing and upgrading the transmission system in order to meet ongoing and future electricity needs. EirGrid publishes figures on growth of demand each month. These are available on the EirGrid website at www.eirgrid.com. Each year EirGrid’s Generation Adequacy Report estimates the need for new power generation capacity and transmission capacity looking ahead seven years. These figures provide the basis for investments in the competitive generation sector and by the network operators. The Generation Adequacy Report is also available on EirGrid’s website.

EirGrid has estimated that demand for electricity will grow by up to 60 per cent by 2025. Grid25 is EirGrid’s strategy for developing Ireland’s electricity transmission network over the next fifteen years. The plan envisages the doubling of Ireland’s grid capacity over the period to 2025 and will involve investment of €4 billion in this critical national infrastructure. Costs related to new generation plant are borne by investors. Network infrastructure is a regulated investment.

EirGrid’s plans are capable of adaptation in light of changes within the period to 2025, and electricity infrastructure will be driven to a large extent by major strategic issues such as the integration of renewable electricity in line with Ireland’s binding EU targets, the need to ensure that industries all over Ireland have power to locate and expand, and the critical imperative of encouraging competition in the electricity sector.

  225.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the most recent estimate of the proportion of electricity generated from renewable sources; his estimate of the proportion of electricity that will be generated from renewable sources by 2025; the way he intends to achieve those estimates and the costs likely to be incurred in so doing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22199/10]

[576]Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  It is estimated that in Quarter 1 2010 there was 1651 MW of installed renewable generation on the Irish electricity system. Ireland is on schedule to meet the 15% target for electricity from renewable sources (RES-E) for this year (surpassing an EU target of 13.1% by 2010 addressed to Ireland under Directive 2001/77/EC.) Indeed, based on reasonable load growth figures and reasonable capacity factors Ireland has already met, or is close to meeting, our national target. This will be confirmed later in the year. In the meantime, there is sufficient additional capacity scheduled to be installed throughout this year to ensure the target is achieved.

Ireland’s target for electricity from renewable sources is a 2020 rather than a 2025 target. Under the new Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC, Ireland must achieve 16% of all energy from renewable sources across the heat, transport and electricity sectors by 2020. Broadly speaking, it is intended that this will be achieved through 12% heat from renewable sources, 10% transport energy from renewable sources and 40% RES-E. In Budget 2009, the Government set a 40% RES-E target and it is estimated that between 4630MW and 5800MW of renewable generation will be required, depending on economic growth assumptions and demand projections, to ensure 40% of electricity consumption from renewable sources by 2020.

Under the grid connection offer process ‘Gate 3’, 3900MW of offers are currently in the process of being issued to renewable generators. This amount of renewable generation is sufficient for the achievement of Ireland’s RES-E target and with falling demand may even mean that the RES-E target is exceeded. The Gate process is commensurate with the achievement of our 2020 RES-E target. On the infrastructure side, EirGrid’s ‘Grid 25’ strategy provides the framework to build a more cost effective and efficient system to cater for the shift towards the integration of increasing amounts of renewable generation over time and will necessitate €4 billion investment in the grid.

  226.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when an application for the traditional farm buildings grant scheme 2010 will be finalised in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22160/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  There has been considerable interest in this scheme, which was a Supplementary Measure under REPS 4. The Heritage Council, which has responsibility for assessing applications on behalf of my Department, acknowledged the application from the person named on 26 April 2010. This letter explained that he would be informed of the outcome of his application at the end of July 2010.

  227.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the grants that are available for persons to carry out works to old traditional farm buildings on their property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22161/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Under REPS 4, grants were available to carry out approved conservation works to the exterior of farm outbuildings and associated structures, as a supplementary measure to the Scheme. The grant covers up to 75% of the cost of the works and grant awards vary between €5,000 and €25,000. The smallest project that could be funded would cost €6,700. The traditional farm building must have architectural or vernacular heritage character, make a contribution to its setting and not be overwhelmed by large-scale modern buildings. It is an objective of the Heritage Buildings measure that a reasonable geographical spread of grantees across Ireland is achieved.

[577]This scheme is now closed for applications. The Heritage Council, which has responsibility for assessing applications on behalf of my Department, informed all applicants on 26 April 2010 that they will be notified of the outcome of their applications at the end of July 2010.

  228.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 343 of 11 May 2010, when this person will be contacted by his Department; when they will receive their payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22168/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  A letter requesting an adjusted plan issued to the person named on 21 May 2010.

  229.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 364 of 5 May 2010, when payment will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22173/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application submitted by the person named under the 2009 Single Payment Scheme was received after the deadline for receipt of applications for the Scheme. Following direct contact between an official of my Department and the person named, evidence was provided by the person named, which, following clarification, allowed the application form to be processed for payment. Payment in full was issued to the applicant on 25 May 2010.

  230.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if all payments due to farmers under the various aid and or headage payment schemes are up to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22258/10]

  232.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if his attention has been drawn to the hardship caused to the farming community by the failure of his Department to make farm payments promptly; the action he proposes to address the issue in the short term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22260/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 230 and 232 together.

As has been mentioned in answer to recent parliamentary questions there are no appreciable delays in issuing of payments to farmers under the various schemes operated by the Department with the exception of the REPS scheme and the Young Farmers Installation Scheme.

REPS

By the closing date of 15 May, 2009 my Department received 29,376 REPS 4 applications and these are the potential applicants for participation in the Scheme and payment in 2009. The acceptance of REPS 4 applications is governed by EU Regulations which require exhaustive administrative checks and on-the-spot inspections. In a significant number of the applications received, the administrative checks raised issues and queries which required further detailed examination. My Department’s staff have been working to resolve these as quickly as possible. Many of these cases required the applicants’ planners to amend the farm plans that were submitted originally. The applicants concerned were made aware of the position and the applications are being further processed without delay on receipt of amended plans. So far, 24,023 applicants have received full payment for 2009 and work is continuing to process the remainder as quickly as possible.

[578]My officials have also been in contact with the 111 applicants whose plans had been rejected, to inform them of their right to appeal the decision. Alternatively, unless the application had been found to be fundamentally ineligible, applicants were given the opportunity to submit a new REPS 4 plan and application form on or before 17 May 2010. The latter cases will be dealt with as a priority.

Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme

Due to the redeployment of relevant staff onto the checking of REPS applications, delays have occurred in the processing of grant applications under the Young Farmers’ Installation Scheme and the preceding installation aid schemes. However, arrangements are now in place to expedite the processing of these applications and the delays concerned should be eliminated in the very near future. It is hoped to have completed the county by county listing of payments to those in receipt of Installation Scheme payments and forwarded to the Deputy, as requested, shortly.

  231.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his plans for the development and expansion of the fruit and vegetable industry in this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22259/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  My Department continues to support the development of the horticulture sector. Support has been provided through the grant aid scheme of Investment Aid for the Development of the Commercial Horticulture Sector under the National Development Plan 2007-2013.

Under this scheme, my colleague Mr. Ciarán Cuffe TD, Minister of State at the Department with special responsibility for Horticulture, announced earlier this month a grant aid package of €3.8 million for the industry. Grants to 107 horticultural producers for capital investments in new facilities are provided for, and this will facilitate on-farm investment of about €9.6 million. Funding provided under the scheme underpins capital investment on farms that will encourage environmentally friendly practices, improve working conditions, improve the quality of produce and promote diversification of activities. This investment contributes significantly to the growth and development of the horticulture sector across all areas including the protected crops, field vegetables, nursery crops, mushrooms, soft fruit, apples and beekeeping sectors.

In addition, financial support continues to be available to those producers who participate in the Producer Organisation (PO) Scheme. This EU Scheme provides an important mechanism for growers to become part of a larger supply base, to concentrate on marketing and improve quality. My Department also provides funding to Bord Bia and Teagasc towards their work for the horticultural industry.

Bord Bia continues to provide support to operators in the horticulture sector to develop new markets by way of assistance in the areas of product innovation and marketing skills. Bord Bia is also involved in a number of campaigns to promote demand for horticultural produce including the Incredible Edibles initiative. This is an educational initiative for primary school children that is funded by industry and Bord Bia and facilitated by my Department. This initiative aims to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption as part of a healthy diet.

Teagasc is actively involved in providing education, research and technical advice for the horticultural industry. The educational component relates to full and part-time courses pro[579]vided at many centres throughout the country. Research of relevance to the fruit and vegetable industry is carried out at a number of centres and Teagasc also has a number of specialist horticultural advisers.

Question No. 232 answered with Question No. 230.

  233.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the extent to which in the course of the forestry planting programme an effort is being made to ensure the planting of tree species most likely to be efficient in the context of carbon sequestration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22261/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  All tree species grant-aided by my Department under the forestry grant schemes achieve high levels of carbon-sequestration. The potential of different tree species to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere depends mainly on their rate of growth. Some conifer species grow rapidly and will begin to sequester considerable amounts of carbon early in their life. Other species, including some broadleaves, grow more slowly and do not sequester the same level of carbon until later in their life.

The relationship between forests and carbon sequestration is a highly complex one and the efficiency of forests to absorb carbon is not dependent upon the tree species alone. Other factors such as soil type, previous land use, local climate, disease, fire, forest management activities, fertilisation and the rate of decomposition of forest organic matter all contribute, to greater or lesser degrees, to the overall forest carbon cycle.

  234.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his views on the future of cereal growing here; his plans to develop and expand this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22262/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The maintenance of an efficient and viable cereals sector in Ireland is clearly very important. Not only does it generate an income to our tillage farmers but it is also a key source of feedingstuffs for our livestock sector. Annual cereals production in Ireland has fluctuated around 2 million tonnes in recent years and it is desirable to try and sustain this level of production in order to avoid over dependence on imported cereals.

Since Ireland is a deficit market for cereals, prices here are greatly affected by world prices and supplies. In 2007, increased demands for grain from the biofuels sector and the growing needs of new emerging markets like China and India drove up world grain market prices.In line with this rise in world prices, grain prices in Ireland increased to record levels during 2007 and growers here reacted by increasing the acreage sown. This resulted in a bumper harvest in 2008 with total grain production of almost 2.4m tonnes, the second highest on record.

However, the bad weather in the autumn of 2008 affected sowing of winter crops and this, coupled with poor returns for growers, led to the area planted being reduced again and consequently a decreased 2009 harvest output of about 1.86m tonnes, somewhat short of the long-term average of 2m tonnes. Despite the significant drop in production, grain prices were also down — on average 30% lower than the 2008 level. This illustrates the fact that the grain price in Ireland is a function of developments on EU and world markets rather than a function of domestic supply and demand developments.

[580]Preliminary indications from Teagasc for 2010 are that the total winter crops sown is similar to 2009 while early indications show spring barley sowings are lower than 2009. I am confident that this year will see some recovery in returns for growers due to reductions in the main input costs and some increase in harvest prices, although clearly this still leaves the tillage sector some way to go to achieving acceptable margins.

Despite the current economic down turn across the world, the ever-increasing demand for grain within the biofuel industry and growing consumption patterns in developing countries is likely to continue over the coming years. While the various price spikes experienced in recent times are unlikely to be repeated in the short term, it is certainly possible that average world grain prices will grow over the next decade at a faster rate than over the previous one.

My Department operates a range of services aimed at improving the efficiency, quality and viability of cereal production. These services include seed certification, seed testing and recommended lists of varieties. In addition, Teagasc provides research, training and advisory services for cereal producers. The value of all these support services is reflected in the fact that Irish cereal producers have consistently achieved some of the highest yields in the world. In February I launched a major initiative to draw up a long-term strategy for the agri-food, forestry and fisheries sector and the position of the cereals sector will be examined in this context.

  235.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the area of land currently dedicated to the growing of various forms of biofuels; the degree to which production is in line with projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22263/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Less than 0.2% of the agricultural land in Ireland is under non-food crops made up of oilseeds, miscanthus, willow and small quantities of wheat and oats used for energy purposes. The table below details the areas sown between 2007 and 2009 in hectares.

Year Willow Miscanthus Oilseed rape Hemp & switch grass Total Hectares
2007 65 630 7,959 90 8,744
2008 127 780 3,087 137 4,131
2009 170 740 2,300 100 3,310

As the table shows, production has concentrated on the cultivation of oilseeds, willow and miscanthus. Oilseed rape is traditionally grown in Ireland as a break crop in a one-in-four year rotation for use in the biofuel, food and animal feed markets. Willow and miscanthus crops produce pellet and wood chip materials to generate heat and power in the domestic and commercial sectors. It is expected that up to 700 ha of willow and miscanthus (320 ha miscanthus and 370 ha willow) will be planted in 2010 under the new round of the Bioenergy Scheme.

The sector is still in the early stages of development. In general, the production of energy crops will be sustainable in the longer term if the economic returns are comparable with those offered by traditional farm enterprises. Much will depend on profitability at farm level and on the rate of development of production and consumption patterns for bioenergy feedstocks. The recent announcement by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources of guaranteed price supports via Renewable Energy Feed-In Tariffs (REFIT) for Biomass Com[581]bined Heat and Power and Biomass Combustion, including co-firing of biomass in the three peat powered stations, is a significant boost to the Bioenergy Sector.

  236.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the extent to which funding is provided for research and development in the agriculture, fish and food sectors currently and over the next five years; the way this compares with such expenditure in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22264/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Expenditure on research and development in recent years was follows:

Year € million
2005 10.982
2006 20.628
2007 27.416
2008 25.426
2009 25.051
24.062 Vote allocation

Funding for research and development was also provided by Teagasc and the Marine Institute out of their annual Grants-in-Aid. The amounts expended each year is a matter for the Boards of the respective bodies. The funding provided in the Department’s vote for research and development in future years will be determined in the context of the annual Estimates process.

  237.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his development programme for the poultry sector over the next five years; the degree to which this relates to progress over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22265/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The farm gate value of Irish-produced poultry meat is thought to be approximately €150 million. Despite considerable competition from imports the domestic industry has proven to be quite resilient in recent years. The majority of Irish product is consumed in this country with exports focussing largely on by-products. The target over the medium term is to increase the share of the Irish poultry meat market being supplied by Irish producers. The development of high standards of food quality has been a particular focus for my Department and its agencies and to this end Bord Bia is developing and enhancing policies with regard to Poultry Quality Assurance.

Additional funding will be made available through the revised Rural Development Programme 2007 — 2013 to assist growers in the transition to enriched cage systems of production. In relation to future policy the Deputy will be aware that earlier this year, I established the 2020 Committee, comprising senior and respected figures from a range of stakeholders in the agri-food sectors. The group’s remit is to make recommendations for a strategy for the agri-food sector, including the poultry sector, for the coming decade. This process is well advanced and I expect its output to help to set a clear way forward for the poultrymeat and other sectors.

  238.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his [582]development programme for the dairy sector over the next five years; the degree to which this relates to progress over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22266/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  It is clear that the key to future prosperity in the dairy sector lies in increased efficiency and competitiveness. We in Ireland have the potential to significantly grow our milk production and take advantage of the very positive outlook for the dairy sector over the medium to long term. We also enjoy a significant advantage in the form of a grass-based production system, which, as well as keeping costs down, will help to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. The exploitation of this advantage will help the sector to operate more efficiently and economically.

In this context there have been a number of initiatives to improve efficiency at farm level. Following the CAP Health Check, I made available €18 million from unspent CAP funds over three years, to encourage participation in Dairy Discussion Groups and promote best practice at farm level in terms of breeding, grassland and financial management. Additionally, the Milk Quota Trading Scheme, which has now completed its fourth year of operation, has been responsible for the efficient transfer of milk quota to active and progressive dairy farmers. Since last year, I have allocated additional quota, agreed under the Health Check, to all active milk producers on a permanent, saleable basis. I have also made provision for the allocation of additional quota to new and recent entrants to dairying on a scale designed to achieve viability from the outset.

On the domestic front, a complete overhaul of the milk quota regime was conducted in 2008, resulting in new regulations coming into effect from 1 April 2008. The new regulations greatly simplify the quota regime and bring the legislative framework into line with modern farming realities. They include the elimination of unnecessary bureaucracy, the provision of greater flexibility in the transfer of quotas, and the introduction of new rules for the operation of Milk Production Partnerships that remove obstacles to partnership formation and encourage new entrants to dairying.

Competitiveness will also be the key for the processing sector, with the focus increasingly on the need for greater collaboration and rationalisation, as well as investment in R&D and new product and process development. As part of the strategy for improving competitiveness at processor level, my Department has provided funding of €114 million towards investment in dairy processing and a total of 19 capital investment projects were approved and awarded Government grant assistance under the Dairy Processing Fund, which will generate an estimated capital spend of €286 million at full production. All of these initiatives are complemented by the valuable work of Teagasc and the funding provided for Research and Development through the Food Institutional Research Measure.

In relation to future policy, the Deputy will be aware that earlier this year, I established the 2020 Committee, comprising senior and respected figures from a range of stakeholders in the agri-food sectors. The group’s remit is to make recommendations for a strategy for the agri-food sector, including the dairy sector, for the coming decade. This process is well advanced and I expect its output to help to set a clear way forward for the dairy and other sectors.

  239.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his development programme for the pigmeat sector over the next five years; the degree to which this relates to progress over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22267/10]

[583]Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The pig sector remains an important component of the Irish agricultural sector. With a farm gate value of some €300 million, and employment in the industry of approximately 7,000, the sector provides an important source of income to rural communities all over the country. Almost half of Irish production is exported with the UK accounting for 50% of exports with the remainder split between Continental Europe and third countries. In common with other meats, returns to producers have fallen as a result of the economic recession. Prices fell in 2009 and have continued to decline during the early part of this year. Irish price movements over recent years have mirrored those of the EU as a whole.

Pork remains the most-consumed meat worldwide and consumption is expected to increase steadily over the next decade. In order to best position the Irish industry to share in that growth, I am progressing a number of initiatives. A development strategy for the Irish pig industry has been prepared, which identifies the issues facing the sector and makes certain recommendations. Measures have been proposed to position the sector for a successful future and a ‘Pig Industry Strategy Steering Group’, which includes representation from my Department and all sectors of the industry, has been established for the purpose of implementing the recommendations of this development strategy. I will continue to work with industry stakeholders to advance these recommendations.

On marketing and promotions, the domestic market remains the most important for Irish pigmeat, accounting for 50% of our production. Therefore, protecting and maintaining the market share of Quality Assured pigmeat in Irish retail is critical for the Irish industry. Bord Bia will continue to work with the industry and invest heavily in consumer promotions at retail and education programmes at food service level to promote Quality Assurance.

Following the dioxin incident in late 2008 a number of foreign markets were temporarily closed to Irish product. Thanks to the efforts of Bord Bia, our embassies and officials in my Department most markets were quickly reopened. I was pleased to announce last week, following meetings with my counterpart in China, that the Chinese market is now fully reopened to Irish pigmeat. This follows on from the resumption of trade with our other significant international market, Russia, earlier this year. There is considerable potential for trade with these markets, particularly China, and Bord Bia and Irish traders are already hard at work reconnecting with former customers and identifying new opportunities in this marketplace.

The ongoing marketing initiatives conducted by Bord Bia both at home and overseas are instrumental in supporting the pigmeat sector. Resources have been increased by Bord Bia, through the Marketing Fellowship Programme, in the market development of more customers for Irish pig meat within the EU. By targeting the end users and further manufacturers directly, we can shorten the supply chain and return greater value to exports. We currently export to over 20 non-EU markets and it is my policy and that of the Government to ensure that Irish producers have access to markets worldwide. My Department will continue to work with Bord Bia and the Department of Foreign Affairs with a view to gaining access to potential markets identified by the industry.

In relation to future policy the Deputy will be aware that earlier this year, I established the 2020 Committee, comprising senior and respected figures from a range of stakeholders in the agri-food sectors. The group’s remit is to make recommendations for a strategy for the agri-food sector, including the pigmeat sector, for the coming decade. This process is well advanced and I expect its output to help to set a clear way forward for the pigmeat and other sectors.

  240.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his development programme for the lamb sector over the next five years; the degree to which this relates to progress over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22268/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The sheep sector is a valuable part of the overall agri-food sector and its future depends on its ability to meet the needs of the market. In order to do this successfully, the sector must focus on competitiveness, innovation and the demands of the consumer.

Last month I launched a three-year, €54 million grassland sheep scheme, the funding for which comes from unused Single Payment funds. I am confident that this scheme will provide a much-needed boost to sheep farmers’ incomes, which should encourage them to stay in the sector. As the scheme focuses on flocks with breeding ewes, it should also provide a significant incentive to farmers to maintain their production levels, which is vital for the future of a viable sheep industry in Ireland. The sector should also benefit under the Rural Development Programme, where an indicative figure of €8 million has been allocated for sheep fencing and mobile handling facilities, to help sheep farmers in reducing labour input.

In addition to this extra funding, last year I assigned €7 million from the 2009 Single Farm Payment National Reserve to 13,000 hill sheep farmers, under the Uplands Sheep Payment Scheme. Bord Bia will also spend up to €1 million this year on the promotion of sheep and lamb at home and abroad and Teagasc has allocated almost €1.5 million for sheep research for 2010.

All of these supports complement the work being undertaken by my Department, its state agencies and the industry, on foot of the recommendations of the Sheep Industry Development Strategy Group, which was set up in 2005, with a view to preparing an agreed industry development strategy covering the short to medium term of 2006 to 2010. Its report, the so-called “Malone Report” provides a clear blueprint for the development of a more profitable sheep sector in Ireland. While the responsibility for implementing most of the group’s recommendations fall on the industry itself, a number are within the remit of my Department and the state agencies under its aegis, which have made significant progress in implementing them. Among the initiatives taken were: The establishment of ‘Sheep Ireland’ to take over the Department’s current breed improvement programme and develop a new one. An interim Sheep Board, comprising representatives of farming organisations and breeders will oversee this process, with the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) providing the technical and professional service required. The establishment of the Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme in 2007. This Scheme is operated by Bord Bia and now has over 8,000 participants. Bord Bia has also intensified its efforts to promote lamb on the home and export markets. Together with its UK and French counterparts, it is part of a generic promotion campaign on the important French market.

Teagasc has developed a comprehensive plan to restructure its sheep support services, including a Better Farm Programme for sheep, which aims to establish focal points for the on-farm implementation, development and evaluation of technology that is relevant to the sheep sector. This approach provides an opportunity to engage with sheep farmers on the use of the latest management practices and to identify research and development needs. In addition, the support being provided for processing facilities under the beef and sheepmeat capital investment fund underlines the Government’s commitment to the sector. The future development of the sheep [585]sector will also be addressed in the forthcoming 2020 Strategy, which I plan to publish later this year.

  241.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    his development programme for the beef sector over the next five years; the degree to which this relates to progress over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22269/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Beef production is an extremely valuable component of the Irish economy with an export value of some €1.4 billion in 2009. Some 90% of Irish beef production is exported, with over 90% of product now being exported to the high value EU markets.

The market performance of, and price return on, beef products is a function of supply and demand. The global economic downturn has meant that the beef sector, like other sectors, is at present operating in a challenging trading environment. Exchange rate developments have also been significant, particularly in the UK, our largest single market. I am committed to working with the sector in responding to these evolving challenges and to providing a sound framework for the development of the sector. To this end, a number of policy initiatives have, over recent years, been developed or enhanced. These include, inter alia, the introduction of the Suckler Cow Scheme, Bord Bia’s promotional work and its Quality Assurance Scheme, efforts to improve the quality of beef breeds through the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, and the introduction of the Beef and Sheepmeat Capital Investment Schemes, to improve the competitiveness of the Irish processing sector. These complement the actions being undertaken by Teagasc and other State Agencies, and together are important in underpinning production, quality and marketing of Irish beef. My Department also continues to work with Bord Bia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the industry in identifying and developing other potential markets.

In relation to future policy, the deputy is aware that earlier this year, I established the 2020 Committee, which includes senior and respected figures from a range of stakeholders in the agri food sector. The group’s remit is to prepare a strategy for the agri-food and fisheries sector for the coming decade. This process is well advanced and I believe that the output from this exercise will help to set a clear path forward for the beef sector.

  242.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the action he has taken or proposes to take to bring to an end the practice of the dumping at sea of surplus catch; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22270/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The issue of high levels of discards in commercial sea fisheries is a global problem and is on the agenda of all major international organisations which deal with the development of sustainable sea fisheries and protection of marine ecosystems.

Fish stocks (the resource base) are the bedrock of the seafood sector and their good status and sustainable exploitation are central to the future of the EU fisheries sector. Healthy fish stocks are essential for a vibrant and viable fishing industry. Over the years many stocks have, to varying degrees, been fished by all fleets, at levels that are not sustainable. Ireland has [586]pushed over recent years for changes in policy to reduce discards through a major focus on the use of more environmentally friendly fishing gears.

A key focus for Ireland in the Common Fisheries Policy Review is to ensure that appropriate measures are introduced to address the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea. It is estimated that 1.3 million tonnes of perfectly good fish is discarded each year in the North East Atlantic. In our response to the current review of the CFP, which was initiated by the European Commission’s Green Paper in April 2009, Ireland called for a new focus on addressing discarding of fish at sea, with a complete ban being introduced for stocks in a much depleted state. Ireland does not, however, support the concept of landing all discards from all fisheries.

Ireland suggested that more innovative thinking needs to be applied to this serious problem. There might, for example, be a requirement that fishing vessels depart grounds where high quantities of small fish are being caught. Furthermore, the use of incentives to promote responsible behaviour should be introduced. One option that could be explored would involve adherence to Codes of Practice by fishermen who would, in turn, be rewarded with an increased quota allocation. Ireland strongly supports changes to fishing gears and practices to substantially reduce unwanted catches and seeks a partnership between industry, scientists and gear specialists to identify necessary changes on a fishery by fishery basis.

  243.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the species of fish stocks deemed to be most at risk; the measures taken or likely to be taken at national or EU level to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22271/10]

  244.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the extent to which the Common Fisheries Policy is likely to address the cause or causes of diminishing fish stocks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22272/10]

  245.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the extent to which his Department has monitored or has sought to have monitored the levels of the various species of fish stocks off our coasts; the data arising from areas experiencing intensive fishing activity through the use of large sea-going fish processing vessels; the action taken or proposed to review the Common Fisheries Policy to address any issues arising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22273/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 243 to 245, inclusive, together.

The Marine Institute is the national agency responsible for Marine Research. The agency publishes, on an annual basis, a Stock Book that sets out scientific data and advice on the state of fish stocks in Irish waters which are the subject of EU Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas. The Institute also provides me with scientific advice on request throughout the year as required. Each December, the EU Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers agrees on the TACs and quotas for the following year taking account of the scientific advice available. However, there is a constant risk that these limits are not being respected. There has been a problem within the EU of persistent overfishing well in excess of quota by many types of vessels across Member States. The EU Commission estimates that 88% of EU stocks are over-exploited and Scientists have recommended closure of 19% of fisheries. These are worrying [587]statistics and should make us all pause and take stock of the serious situation facing the fishing industry across Europe.

The EU Court of Auditors report in December 2007 highlighted this problem and identified substantial control failures across Member States. On foot of these findings, the European Commission introduced a number of regulations. The EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council of Ministers adopted a regulation in 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which has applied from the 1st January 2010.

The Commission has also brought forward a proposal, establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), to strengthen fisheries control across the EU, and this was adopted by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council of Ministers in November 2009. The main themes of their new approach are to ensure:

A new common approach to control and inspection. This involves a strong focus on inspections on shore based links in the supply chain whereby the owner of the fish must be able to produce documents proving that the product was caught in conformity with the rules and that it observes a principle of product traceability. It involves using best practices such as risk analysis, concentrating control on problematical fisheries and periods. It also involves the use of new technologies to ensure the maximum effective delivery.

The promotion of a culture of compliance with the rules. This involves a proposal for dissuasive and harmonised sanctions whereby a list of infringements is established together with a minimum fine applicable in all Member States. It also involves a points based system which may lead to the suspension of a fishing licence or its permanent withdrawal.

The proposal also strengthens the Commission’s powers to guarantee common implementation of the Regulations and to intervene in case of poor application of control measures on the ground.

In the context of the current review of the CFP, which was initiated by the European Commission’s Green Paper in April 2009, I will continue to play an active role in the ongoing negotiations over the coming months and reiterate our support for the greater use of long term and multi-annual management plans as tools to aid the recovery of stocks. A key focus for Ireland will be to ensure that appropriate measures are introduced to address the wasteful practice of discarding fish at sea.

Following a nationwide public consultation process, Ireland’s Response to the Green Paper was issued on the 23rd of February. The report in its entirety, and all formal submissions received during the public consultation process, are available on www.fishingnet.ie. Ireland’s response on the CFP reform sets down a number of informed recommendations which we believe must be incorporated into the new Common Fisheries Policy. They take a pragmatic approach, promoting measures that collectively take account of economic, social, environmental and sustainability factors important to the Irish seafood sector. The changes we consider necessary include:

Increasing industry responsibility by providing incentives for responsible fishing practices.

[588]Put in place measures to develop a culture of compliance. Address hindrances to effective controls such as separate storage of species, routine exchange of detailed information on the entitlements of individual fisheries operating in Ireland’s waters.

New regional structure to decision-making at EU level, with increasing industry responsibility and the development of a culture of compliance.

New focus on addressing discarding of fish at sea, with a complete ban being introduced for stocks in a depleted state;

Establishment of area-based, multi-annual fish stock management plans that embrace the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), managing fisheries to limit their impact on the ecosystem.

Transition to a maximum sustainable yield (MSY) fisheries management framework on a multiannual phased basis to reach the 2015 target deadline. The implementation of any the MSY framework must be managed on a rational basis so that cuts to TACs are progressively introduced to limit any resulting socio-economic impacts.

Retain the system of Relative Stability and its attendant TACs & Quotas as the primary community mechanism to manage fish stocks while strongly opposing any attempt to introduce any arrangement that leads — either directly or indirectly — to privatisation of national ‘public resource’ fish quotas.

Use effort restrictions as a management tool on a limited basis, but only as part of a management regime that derives primarily from TAC and quota limits. These would involve setting a ceiling on activity levels in an area as a secondary support to the more detailed TAC and quota regime.

Support the continuation and strengthening of measures to protect the Biologically Sensitive Area (BSA), which is situated off the west and south coasts of Ireland and contains spawning and nursery grounds for important north-east Atlantic fish species.

Extension of the 6-12 mile limit to 10-20 miles whereby the access rules currently applicable to the 6 mile zone will be extended to 10 miles and the rules for the 6-12 mile zone will be applicable in the 10-20 mile zone. Furthermore, any such extension would facilitate the introduction of management measures including restrictions on the type and intensity of fishing activity within the zone in order to protect local coastal communities’ dependant on inshore coastal fisheries.

Consultation at European level on the CFP review is ongoing, with a variety of meetings being held, including a stakeholders’ conference and an informal meeting of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers to discuss the reform, both of which were held in Spain at the start of May. In addition, Minister Connick met Maria Damanaki, the new EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, in March 2010 to discuss Ireland’s Response to the Commission’s Green Paper. Under the planned EU timetable for the review, a summary of the consultation process has been published. It will be followed by a legislative proposal to the Council and the European Parliament to be adopted in 2011, with a view to its entering into force in 2012. A working document concerning reform options is being prepared by the Commission and is expected [589]to be presented at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council scheduled for the 28th and 29th June 2010.

Nationally, Minister Connick will continue close collaboration with the Federation of Irish Fishermen and the other stakeholders to put Ireland’s case forward during the review, to vigorously defend Ireland’s maritime interests, and to convince our colleagues in other Member States and in the Commission to strengthen the current policy in line with Ireland’s submission on the reform of the CFP. As a coastal state with responsibility for protecting some of the richest fishing ground in the EU and with a fishing industry almost completely dependent on sustainable fish stocks in our own waters, it is of the highest priority that there are effective management and control regimes in place across all Member States. I firmly believe that we must put a stop to illegal fishing which will, if left unchecked, destroy fish stocks and the livelihoods of coastal communities around our coast dependent on fishing.

  246.  Deputy Beverley Flynn    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the way the single farm payment entitlements were calculated in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [22274/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The Single Payment Scheme is applicable to farmers who actively farmed during the reference years 2000, 2001 and 2002, who were paid Livestock Premia and/or Arable Aid in one or more of those years and who continued to farm in 2005. The gross Single Payment is based on the average number of animals and/or the average number of hectares (in the case of Arable Aid) on which payments were made in the three reference years. The number of entitlements is based on the average number of hectares farmed during the reference period. The person named established 11.81 Single Payment entitlements with a unit value of €17.42 giving an overall Single Payment of €205.73. This figure therefore reflected the farming activity and the average draw-down of premia payments for the person named during the reference period.

In scheme year 2005, the person named also received, through inheritance, 3.22 additional entitlements with a unit value of €106.11 or total of €341.66. The person named then had 15.03 Single Payment entitlements with a unit value of €36.42 giving an overall Single Payment worth €547.39. The person named submitted an application to the 2005 National Reserve under the Hill Farmers Scheme. This scheme catered for farmers with commonage land who were prevented from expanding their sheep production during the 2000-2002 reference period pending publication of the Commonage Framework Plans in 2003.

The applicants concerned had to have a stocking density of less than 3 livestock units per hectare in 2001 and their existing Single Payment must have been less than €6,000. Successful applicants had their individual Single Payment entitlements increased to either the DED average value of entitlements or €1,000 whichever was the lesser. The person named was deemed successful under this category and received a total allocation of €454.35. His individual entitlements were increased in value to the average value of entitlements in the DED less a 3% contribution as required under EU regulations to cover the cost of the National Reserve and the cost of catering for new entrants/force majeure during the reference period.

In 2007 the person named also applied to the National Reserve under Category C. This category catered for farmers for whom at least 40% of their Single Payment was derived from direct payments associated with sheep production (Ewe Premium/Rural Word Premium) during the reference period. Their existing Single Payment must have been less than €10,000 and [590]the value of individual payment entitlements must have been less than the District Electoral Division (DED) average value. The maximum allocation under this category was €1,000.00. The person was successful under this category and the value of his individual entitlements were increased from €66.64 to €67.77, which is the DED average value. The person concerned now holds 15.03 entitlements worth €67.77 each. The overall value of the Single Payment entitlements for person named is therefore €1,018.58.

The person named submitted an application under Category A of the 2009 National Reserve. This category catered for farmers who inherited, leased or otherwise received a holding free of charge or for a nominal consideration (not greater than €100 per hectare), where that holding was leased to a third party during the reference period (2000–2002). The farmer from whom the holding was obtained must have retired or died before 16th May 2005. The person named was deemed ineligible under this category, as the lands inherited were not leased out to a third party during the reference years.

  247.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the possibility of having lands currently excluded from the disadvantaged areas considered for inclusion at this stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22303/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The EU Court of Auditors raised concerns about the procedures for the designation of intermediate Disadvantaged Areas (also known as Less Favoured Areas) in the European Union. The concerns related to the number and variety of criteria used to designate such areas — Member States have used more than one hundred criteria — and the lack of transparency. The EU Commission has made a number of attempts to address these criticisms: During 2004/2005, the Commission proposed these areas be designated using criteria based on area classification, reflecting poor soil qualities and climate conditions (e.g. average cereal yields, stocking density, percentage of permanent grassland, etc.) but this approach was rejected by the Council of Ministers.

In 2007, the Commission commenced working with its Joint Research Centre (JRC) to establish a common soil and climate criteria that would support the delineation of Disadvantaged Areas. The intention was that a Commission proposal would be submitted to the Council in early 2009 for adoption by the Council of Ministers by the end of 2009. However, this was also abandoned by the Commission, in favour of the current approach, using biophysical criteria such as soil and climatic criteria to designate areas of natural handicap.

Currently there are three categories of Disadvantaged Areas in the EU viz: Mountain Areas — none in Ireland but covers 16% of land area across the EU; Intermediate Less Favoured Areas — over 99% of Ireland’s Least Favoured Areas (LFAs); Areas of Specific Handicap — 0.4% of Ireland’s LFAs (Coastal Regions). The areas, which are subject to the current review, consist of almost all of the Disadvantaged Area in Ireland. The Disadvantaged Areas, which, according to the Commission’s suggestion, are to be re-titled as Areas of Natural Handicap, would be delineated by Member States using soil and climatic criteria, based on the following: Climate, including Low Temperature and Heat Stress; Soil, including Drainage, Texture and Stoniness, Rooting Depth and Chemical Properties; Soil and Climate, including Soil Moisture Balance and Soil Moisture Deficit; Terrain, including Slope.

The Commission has asked each Member State to use the suggested biophysical criteria that is relevant to farming in its territory to delineate, on a preliminary basis, the areas identified [591]as Areas Of Natural Handicap. The Commission’s intention is to submit a proposal to the Council some time in the second half of 2011 with a view to adopting it in advance of 2014, when it will come into force. Council Conclusions were unanimously agreed at Council, which essentially summarise the work carried out to date on the revision of intermediate LFAs and the objectives, basis and methodology for future work.

This is a very important issue for Ireland, as the total area designated as disadvantaged is almost 75% of Ireland’s total land area. From an economic perspective, the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is particularly significant, contributing to the support of in excess of 100,000 Irish farm families, whose ability to farm is restricted by the physical environment, in particular, the impact of the prevailing wet cold climatic conditions in Ireland.

  248.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Cork will be awarded their REPS 4 grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22304/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The payment belonging to the person named is at an advanced stage of processing and he will be advised of the outcome shortly.

  249.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the position regarding the payment of REPS 4 applications that were received in the Department in late 2007; the number of such applications; the commencement date attached to the contracts in respect of these applications received prior to the end of 2007; the number of these applications received and the number which are now experiencing difficulty in the processing of payments; the solution he proposes in respect of these applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22305/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The following table sets out commencement dates, and payment details for the 2009 Scheme year, for the 548 REPS 4 applications received in 2007:

Commencement date 01/09/2007 01/10/2007 01/11/2007 01/12/2007 Total
Number of Applicants 4 42 142 360 548
100% paid for 2009 3 30 102 286 421
First phase (75%) paid for 2009 0 0 4 6 10
Awaiting a payment 1 121 36 68 117

My Department’s REPS computer system requires some modification before the outstanding payments can be released. This work has been given high priority and is at an advanced stage. I expect to be in a position to release these payments within a matter of weeks.

  250.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the number of incidents of bullying between pupils and verbal and physical abuse of school staff by pupils that were recorded in schools in each of the past 12 months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22210/10]

[592]Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  There is no requirement for local school authorities to report incidents or allegations of bullying or of verbal or physical abuse of school staff to my Department, nor do I believe that this should be the case. Under the Education Act 1998, legally, all schools are managed, on behalf of the school Patron or Trustees, by school Boards of Management which employ the teachers at the school. Whereas I, as Minister for Education and Science provide funding and policy direction for schools, neither I, as Minister, or my Department have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course or direction with regards to individual complaint cases, other than in relation to appeals taken against refusal to enrol, suspension, or expulsion, under Section 29 of the Education Act.

In relation to incidents of verbal and physical abuse of school staff, Section 23 of the Education Welfare Act 2000 requires all schools to have in place a Code of Behaviour. To assist schools in formulating such a code, the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has developed guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour. Each Board of Management is responsible for formulating a fair and efficient Code of Behaviour, which should include provisions for dealing with serious breaches of discipline and outlining the school’s policy and procedures on suspension and expulsion. It is the responsibility of each school Board of Management to ensure that students are in accordance with its code of behaviour and to take action against students who are in breach of this code. Such incidents are not reported to my Department, other than where a student may have been suspended or expelled and wishes to appeal this decision under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998.

Responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school, as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established and at that level that actions should be taken to address allegations of bullying. My Department does, however, receive a number of complaints and queries directly from parents regarding matters such as bullying, involving schools. It important to highlight that in many instances, parents may be seeking guidance from the Department on how to resolve an issue or an alleged incident within a school.

In dealing with complaints the Department’s role is to provide advice to parents and students on the operation of schools’ complaints procedures and to clarify for parents and pupils how grievances and complaints against schools can be progressed. In 2009 a total of 438 telephone or written complaints/queries were received from parents regarding bullying in schools. To the end of April 2010 a total of 160 telephone or written complaints/queries have been received from parents regarding bullying in schools. It should be noted that as the term bullying can be difficult to define prescriptively, complaints/queries logged under the category of bullying are done so based on the terminology used by the parent, as opposed to any judgement applied by staff as to the nature of the complaint.

I am anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that a number supports have been put in place in recent years to assist schools in dealing with this important issue. The Board of Management of each school is required to prepare a code of behaviour in accordance with Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. To assist schools in formulating such a code, the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has developed guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour. My Department further requires each school to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

[593]The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. My Department has also issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.

My Department has additionally published policy templates for post-primary schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying on its website of as part of our ongoing efforts in this regard. The template documents are not prescriptive, but rather highlight possible approaches and potential material for inclusion in school policies. The anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the key document Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. However, it does take account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and reference is also made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.

  251.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated with grant assistance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22119/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant assessing authority, i.e. the applicant’s local authority or VEC. An applicant may appeal the decision to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where the assessing authority decides to reject the appeal, the applicant may appeal this decision to my Department by submitting an appeal form outlining clearly the grounds for the appeal. No appeal has been received by my Department to date from the candidate referred to by the Deputy.

  252.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will indicate the level of appointment to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo; if the appointments are in place; represent a full complement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22121/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The school referred to by the Deputy had an enrolment of 9 pupils at 30 September, 2009. This entitles the school to 1 teaching post under the primary staffing schedule for the coming school year. It is open to any Board of Management to submit an appeal under certain criteria to an independent Appeal Board. Details of the criteria for appeal are contained in the staffing schedule, Circular 0021/2010. I understand that the school referred to by the Deputy has submitted an appeal to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board. The school will be notified of the outcome of the appeal in the normal way. The Appeal Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

  253.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the number of special needs assistants employed in each primary and second level school in Dublin [594]3, Dublin 5, Dublin 9 and Dublin 17 in the 2006-07 to 2009-10, inclusive, academic years. [22132/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The information requested by the Deputy on the number of special needs assistants employed in schools in the Dublin area is not readily available in the requested format. As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENO) for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

The allocation for any school and any adjustments to that allocation depends on a number of factors such as the number of pupils with care/medical needs leaving, the number of new pupils, the changing needs of the pupils and any surplus identified. Furthermore, schools can make applications at any time with the result that the individual situation of any school can change and allocations are not static. The Deputy may wish to liaise directly with the NCSE in the context of his enquiry.

I want to take this opportunity to emphasise that children with special educational needs will continue to receive an education appropriate to their needs. The NCSE will continue to support schools, parents, children and teachers and resources will continue to be allocated to schools to meet children’s needs in line with my Department’s policy.

  254.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding the regional education offices; her plans in this regard; and the rationale for same. [22139/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Due to staffing constraints the Department has decided to cease its regional office service and re-allocate staff to priority work in the Department. This decision has been taken based on a combination of factors the outcome of a review of the Regional Offices in 2009 following a Government budget decision to scale back their activity; the impact on the Department of various measures to reduce civil service numbers; the outcome of work prioritisation across the Department which has identified significant capacity shortfalls in several priority areas.

Staff will continue to be allocated to work in their current offices. They will continue to deal with certain priority issues such as the National Drugs Strategy, Limerick Regeneration and Dormant Accounts as well as other priority areas. The Department will be represented on key strategy national committees. However generic representational activity at regional and local levels will cease. This decision arises from the need to make the best possible use of resources in these challenging times.

  255.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she has completed her review of those local drugs task force projects which had been mainstreamed in her Department; if so, the outcome of that review and the specific implications for each of the projects. [22141/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The review of mainstreamed projects in local drugs task force areas, funded by my Department, is not as yet finalised. A key aspect of the review is to determine whether my Department is the appropriate location for these projects or whether funding should more appropriately be channelled [595]through another Department or agency. In this regard, officials of the Department have held discussions with officials in the office of the Minister with responsibility for children and youth affairs to determine whether projects which involve a significant element of youth work might be more appropriate to that office. A number of the projects are being considered within the Department in the context of their work being similar to that of other departmental initiatives aimed at preventing early school leaving. My Department will shortly submit for my consideration the outcome of the project reviews.

  256.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if, in view of the success of the junior certificate school programme demonstration library project in addressing literacy at second level, she will give a commitment to fully support the project in the existing schools by ensuring the current staffing levels are maintained; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22146/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  Under the terms of the DEIS Action Plan, a commitment was made to extend the Junior Certificate School Programme (JCSP) Demonstration Library Project to the 50 School Support Programme (SSP) schools with the highest concentrations of disadvantage over the five years to 2010, with extension to further SSP schools to be considered subsequently. To date, the Project has been extended to 20 of the targeted 50 additional SSP schools, bringing the current number of schools with a Demonstration Library to 30.

The project establishes high quality, fully stocked and equipped modern school libraries and provides each with a professional librarian. A number of studies have noted that the project is effective in addressing the literacy needs of students in schools with the highest concentration of disadvantage. In particular it has been noted that reading standards, student concentration and behaviour had improved. Library staff, like other public servants in the Education sector, other than teachers and SNAs, are subject to the public sector moratorium and consequently the matter raised by the deputy falls to be considered in the context of the current public financial and numbers policy environment.

  257.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    her targets in respect of literacy at primary and second level; and her plans for reaching these. [22147/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The achievement of high literacy and numeracy skills standards is one of the primary goals of education. High levels of literacy are essential to ensuring that everyone can participate educationally, economically and socially in our society. In general, schools have relatively low proportions of children with significant literacy difficulties as evidenced by Ireland’s comparatively high overall achievement levels in successive international surveys of reading of 15-year-olds under PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment). The PISA 2006 study assessed performance of 15 year olds across 57 countries in maths, reading and science. Ireland performed very well in English reading, ranking 5th out of 29 OECD countries. Only one EU country, Finland, achieved a higher mean score than Ireland in reading.

The most significant levels of literacy difficulties tend to be concentrated in those schools which serve disadvantaged communities. The Educational Research Centre in their 2004 report on Reading Literacy in Disadvantaged Primary Schools found that the proportion of pupils with serious literacy difficulties in schools serving disadvantaged communities was about three times the national average. That report recommended a new ten year target to reduce to [596]between 14%-15% the proportion of pupils with serious literacy difficulties in schools serving disadvantaged communities.

The Programmes for Government, the social partnership agreements Sustaining Progress and Towards 2016 and the National Anti-Poverty Strategy (NAPS) all provide a common language of objectives, priorities, targets to improve educational outcomes for disadvantaged children. In particular the National Action Plan on Social Exclusion sets a target to reduce the proportion of pupils with serious literacy difficulties in primary schools serving disadvantaged communities to less than 15% by 2016. To achieve this goal significant resources to address literacy and numeracy difficulties in schools have been provided through DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), the action plan for educational inclusion. The action plan provides for a tailored planning process for schools which supports schools in developing their own plans and targets for literacy and numeracy.

Other measures under DEIS designed to improve literacy levels include a maximum class size of 20:1 in junior classes and 24:1 in senior classes in the 200 urban/town primary schools serving the most disadvantaged communities and increased access to literacy and numeracy support services and programmes for all urban/town primary schools. Additional literacy and numeracy tutors are available to provide in-school support and guidance to teachers in these schools.

Training in “Reading Recovery”, “First Steps” and “Maths Recovery” has been made available to all urban/town primary schools. The Junior Certificate School Programme’s Demonstration Library Project has been extended in phases to second-level schools with the highest concentrations of disadvantage. DEIS also includes measures promoting the development of Family Literacy projects. For the year 2009/10, funding of €196,000 was approved in November 2009 for 13 projects following an applications process. Funding of €200,000 has been provided for the next round of the DEIS Family Literacy Project 2010/2011. The Department recently issued an invitation for applications for the new round of funding to VECs. The closing date for the submission of applications is the 11th June 2010.

  258.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the details of all posts vacant in her Department; and the way she intends to address this issue. [22148/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department is committed to reducing staff numbers in order to facilitate the Government’s core objective of restoring the public finances to a sustainable position while at the same time ensuring to the greatest extend possible that the Department can deliver on its key services. In relation to the Government’s moratorium on Civil Service recruitment/promotions the Personnel Section at my Department monitors the situation and takes account of the business demands and priority needs of line sections. Where a section loses staff for any reason including resignations/retirements, officials in other sections are re-assigned as necessary in order that the staffing cohort at my Department can deliver an effective service with diminished resources.

In the event a particular section is subjected to an unsustainable loss of key personnel, it is open to my Department to highlight the matter with the Minister for Finance with a view to resolving such issues. The terms of the Revised Programme for Government has made provision for the recruitment of additional psychologists to National Educational Psychologists Service (NEPS). Attached please find a list with details of vacancies within my Department at April 2010.

[597]Vacancies in professional, technical and services grades within the Department of Education & Science at April 2010.

Grade Title Non Administrative No. of Vacancies
Chief Inspector 0.0
Deputy Chief Inspector 2.0
Assistant Chief Inspector 4.0
Divisional Inspector 11
District Inspector 10.20
Senior Inspector 11.40
Post Primary Inspector 0
A/Director NEPS 1.0
Regional Director NEPS 3.0
Senior Psychologists NEPS 6
Psychologists NEPS 0
Manager Building Unit 0
Project Planner QS Building Unit 0
Senior Architect Building Unit 1.3
Architect Building Unit 1.4
Arch Asst Grade 1 Building Unit 0
Engineer Building Unit 0
Head Services Officer 0
A/Services Officer in charge 0
Services Officer 2.3
Services Attendant 0
Telephonist 2
General Operative 0
Supervisor of Cleaners 0
Cleaner 2
Civilian Driver 0
Senior Statistician 0
Statistician 0
Solicitor 0
Advisory Counsel 0
Accountant 0

Vacancies at Administrative Grades within the Department of Education & Science at April 2010.

Grade Title Administrative No. of Vacancies
Assistant Secretary General 1
Principal Officer 0
Assistant Principal 8
Higher Executive Officer 5.1
Administrative Officer 2
Executive Officer 20.3
Staff Officer 5.3
Clerical Officer 16.6

  259.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will confirm that the transport service for Traveller children is due to be withdrawn from September 2010; the estimated number of children involved; if an impact study has been completed as to the negative impact this could have on Traveller school attendance, punctuality and the progress of these children in our schools and communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22149/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  I wish to advise the Deputy that the exceptional school transport arrangements, which heretofore have been made available to Traveller children only, have been reviewed in line with the Report and Recommendations contained in the Traveller Education Strategy published in 2006. This Strategy was finalised following a comprehensive consultative process and was overseen by a group which included representation from three national Traveller organisations. The strategy recommended that both primary and post primary Traveller children should use the mainstream school transport scheme in operation at present. Only in exceptional circumstances, based on special needs, should special transport be provided as a positive action measure.

I would emphasise that, in order to provide as much lead in and communication time as possible, my officials set out the Department’s intentions on this recommendation and the proposed phasing in of this recommendation at the Traveller Education Strategy Advisory and Consultative Forum in November 2009 and January 2010. Letters were subsequently issued to all schools with exceptional transport arrangements in February 2010 and the Society of St Vincent De Paul which was involved in the organisation of some services. In addition, the Visiting Teachers for Travellers were provided with detailed briefing on the proposed changes to support their communication work with schools and parents.

These changes will mean:

From the commencement of the 2010/2011 school year, the general terms of the school transport scheme are being implemented for Traveller pupils newly entering primary and post primary level, including siblings of the current group;

The current exceptional arrangements for a number of children already attending primary and post primary schools who do not meet the distance criteria will cease at the beginning of the 2010/2011 school year;

All children who meet the distance criteria will continue to be transported to their school of attendance (and this may not be their nearest school) until they complete their schooling at that school;

Transport Services will be retained where there are four eligible children, which is three less than is generally applied;

In cases where the minimum number of four is not met and these children cannot be facilitated on other services, these children will be eligible for a school transport grant, given that they meet the distance criteria.

Visiting Teachers for Travellers (VTTs) may also identify on an exceptional basis the minimal number of cases where unique school transport arrangements may be required and an application form has been devised for this purpose.

[599]Bus Éireann, which operates the general school transport scheme on behalf of the Department, will in future manage all school transport arrangements for Traveller children. Bus Éireann is currently assessing the eligibility of the Traveller children identified in terms of the distance criteria and this process will determine the number of children involved. The Visiting Teachers for Travellers have been requested to compile evidence on any adverse effects on school attendance in the normal course of their work and will report to the Department’s Traveller Implementation Group.

  260.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the reason correspondence (details supplied) sent to her Department on 11 May 2010 has not been answered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22150/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I can confirm that my Department has received an appeal from the school to which the Deputy refers in respect of its Summer Works Scheme application. The appeal is currently under consideration and a decision will issue to the school authority in due course.

  261.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the way she proposes to provide accommodation for the children in view of the excess enrolment demand for primary school places in Greystones, County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22151/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  As the Deputy may be aware two new primary schools opened in Greystones in the 2008/09 school year to cater for increased demographics in the area. The Forward Planning Section of my Department has carried out a study of the country to identify the areas where, due to demographic changes, there may be a requirement for significant additional school provision at both primary and post-primary levels over the coming years. This study has been conducted using data from the Central Statistics Office, the General Register Office and the Department of Social & Family Affairs with reference to recent schools’ enrolment data. The study indicates that the requirement for additional primary provision in the coming years is likely to be greatest in more than 40 identified locations across the country based on significant changes to the demographics of those areas.

Forward Planning Section is in the process of carrying out detailed analysis and reports for each of these locations in order to identify the school accommodation requirements for each area up to and including the school year 2014/2015. When the required reports have been completed for the initial areas Forward Planning Section will continue to work on preparing reports on a priority basis for the remainder of the country. Overall school accommodation requirements in the Greystones area will be analysed as part of this process.

  262.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the steps she will take to ensure appropriate anti-bullying policies in secondary schools, together with a uniform approach towards practice and procedure on the matter of complaints of bullying; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22180/10]

[600]Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  There is no requirement for local school authorities to report incidents or allegations of bullying to my Department, nor do I believe that this should be the case. Under the Education Act 1998, legally, all schools are managed, on behalf of the school Patron or Trustees, by school Boards of Management which employ the teachers at the school. Whereas as I, as Minister for Education and Skills provide funding and policy direction for schools, neither I, as Minister, or my Department have the power to instruct schools to follow a particular course or direction with regards to individual complaint cases, other than in relation to appeals taken against refusal to enrol, suspension, or expulsion, under Section 29 of the Education Act.

Agreement has been reached between teacher unions and school management bodies about the procedures which should apply when investigating and replying to complaints in schools. Where parents raise a concern with schools, I support an approach whereby schools keep parents informed throughout the decision making process; and inform parents of both its decision as well as the reason for its decision. Accordingly, responsibility for tackling bullying falls to the level of the individual school, as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established and at that level that actions should be taken to address allegations of bullying.

I am, however, anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that a number of supports have been put in place in recent years to assist schools in dealing with this important issue. The Board of Management of each school is required to prepare a code of behaviour in accordance with Section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. To assist schools in formulating such a code, the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) has developed guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour. My Department further requires each school to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school code of behaviour and discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

The education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools. My Department has also issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.

My Department has additionally published policy templates for post-primary schools in five key areas, including anti-bullying on its website of as part of our ongoing efforts in this regard. The template documents are not prescriptive, but rather highlight possible approaches and potential material for inclusion in school policies. The anti-bullying policy template is based primarily on the key document Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour. However, it does take account of more recent legislative and regulatory changes, and reference is also made to issues of contemporary concern such as the need to tackle text bullying, cyber-bullying and homophobic bullying.

My Department does receive a number of complaints and queries from parents regarding matters such as bullying, involving schools. In dealing with complaints the Department’s role is to provide advice to parents and students on the operation of schools’ complaints procedures and to clarify for parents and pupils how grievances and complaints against schools can be progressed. In providing such advice, the Department brings to the attention of parents that [601]should they wish to make an allegation of child abuse, or report a matter relating to child safety or the protection of children that they may report this matter to the Department of Education and Skills which will then deal with the allegation in accordance with its role and child protection procedures.

The Department of Education and Skills takes issues of a child protection nature extremely seriously. The role of the Department of Education and Skills in relation to allegations of child abuse is firstly to offer guidance and support to schools in implementing child protection policy, and secondly, to ensure that it brings any child abuse allegations that it receives to the attention of both the school concerned and the health Service Executive (HSE), or Garda Síochána, in accordance with Office Notice SG0 01/07: Child Protection Guidelines for Persons Employed by the Department of Education. Parents may also report allegations of child abuse directly to the HSE or Garda.

  263.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 417 of 27 April 2010, the reason the school bus transport service costs so much annually; the reason the cost has almost doubled in five years; where this cost is borne; the average contribution made by passengers annually on these buses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22190/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  As the Deputy is aware, the school transport service is a complex national operation supporting in the region of 125,000 pupils daily. The cost of the school transport service has in fact increased by about 45% in the past five years from €122.2m (which included over €3m towards purchase of buses) in 2005 to €177.4m in 2009. This increase is due to a number of fact