Dáil Éireann

22/Jun/2010

Prelude

Message from Select Committee

Estimates for Public Services 2010: Message from Select Committee

Ceisteanna — Questions

Church-State Dialogue

Priority Questions

Proposed Legislation

Health Services

Ambulance Service

Medical Misdiagnoses

Services for People with Disabilities

Other Questions

Community Pharmacy Services

Hospital Services

Adjournment Debate Matters

Leaders’ Questions

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32

Order of Business

Motion re Post-Release (Restrictions on Certain Activities) Order Scheme 2010: Referral to Committee

Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill 2010: Report and Final Stages

Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008: Report and Final Stages

Tourism Industry: Motion

Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008: Report Stage (Resumed)

Health (Amendment) Bill 2010: Order for Second Stage

Health (Amendment) Bill 2010: Second Stage

Adjournment Debate

Accident and Emergency Services

National Monuments

Drug Treatment Programme

Fisheries Conservation

Written Answers

Hospital Accommodation

Dental Treatment Services Scheme

Clinical Indemnity Scheme

Hospital Services

Health Service Staff

Child Care Services

Health Services

Care of the Elderly

Accident and Emergency Services

Children in Care

Health Insurance

Prison Medical Service

Misuse of Drugs

Health Insurance

Departmental Reports

Health Service Executive

Health Service Staff

Hospital Services

Health Services

Constitutional Amendment on Children

Parliamentary Questions

Health Services

Medical Cards

Health Insurance

Hospitals Building Programme

Proposed Legislation

Care of the Elderly

Hospital Services

National Treatment Purchase Fund

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Medicinal Products

Hospital Services

Ambulance Service

Services for People with Disabilities

Children in Care

Departmental Reports

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Children in Care

Health Services

Vaccination Programme

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Weight of Schoolbags

Ambulance Service

Departmental Reports

Health Service Staff

Hospital Waiting Lists

EU Directives

National Treatment Purchase Fund

Health Services

Hospital Accommodation

Mental Health Services

Care of the Elderly

Health Services

Hospital Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Health Insurance

Redress Schemes

Infectious Diseases

Health Services

Hospital Services

Health Services

National Treatment Purchase Fund

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Departmental Correspondence

Redundancy Payments

Job Creation

Departmental Offices

Departmental Programmes

Employment Rights

Redundancy Payments

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Job Creation

Business Regulation

Departmental Correspondence

Local Authority Charges

Freedom of Information

Tax Code

Pension Provisions

Tax Clearance Certificates

Departmental Offices

Climate Change

Fiscal Policy

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Tax Collection

Credit Union Regulation

Flood Relief

Tourism Industry

Tax Collection

Departmental Correspondence

Medical Cards

International Agreements

Child Care Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Health Service Allowances

Departmental Bodies

Hospital Services

Hospital Waiting Lists

Services for People with Disabilities

Child Abuse

Health Services

Hospital Services

Health Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Health Services

Care of the Elderly

Health Services

Care of the Elderly

Medical Cards

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Care of the Elderly

Medical Cards

Care of the Elderly

Hospital Services

Community Care

Health Services

Medical Cards

Hospital Services

Health Services

Medical Cards

Long-Term Illness Scheme

Medical Cards

Health Services

Youth Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Hospital Services

Health Services

Medical Cards

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Children in Care

Hospital Services

Medical Cards

Hospital Accommodation

Hospitals Building Programme

Health Services

Child Care Services

Medical Cards

Health Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Medical Cards

Services for People with Disabilities

Hospital Staff

Medical Cards

Health Services

Medical Cards

Children in Care

Medical Cards

Health Service Inquiries

Medical Cards

Health Services

National Lottery Funding

Medical Cards

Hospital Accommodation

Road Network

Parking Regulations

Port Development

EU Directives

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Air Services

Departmental Correspondence

Garda Recruitment

Visa Applications

Citizenship Applications

Judicial Appointments

Residency Permits

Deportation Orders

Residency Permits

Asylum Applications

Official Engagements

Citizenship Applications

Prison Accommodation

Prison Staff

Prison Committals

Ground Rents Abolition

Departmental Offices

Visa Applications

Garda Deployment

Foreign Students

Visa Applications

Coroners Service

Citizenship Applications

Missing Children

Garda Operations

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Proposed Legislation

Visa Applications

Registration of Title

Residency Permits

Prison Staff

Residency Permits

Asylum Applications

Garda Vetting Services

Garda Recruitment

Crime Levels

Travel Documents

Residency Permits

Citizenship Applications

Residency Permits

Asylum Applications

Departmental Correspondence

Passport Applications

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

UN Resolutions

Departmental Correspondence

Swimming Pool Projects

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Departmental Correspondence

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Departmental Correspondence

Social Welfare Benefits

Civil Registration

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Employment Support Services

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Pension Provisions

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Insurance

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Departmental Offices

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Departmental Programmes

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Departmental Correspondence

Social Welfare Benefits

Departmental Offices

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Departmental Correspondence

Foreshore Licences

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Departmental Correspondence

Social and Affordable Housing

Local Authority Housing

Building Regulations

Local Authority Housing

Local Authority Funding

Departmental Offices

Water Services

Local Authority Housing

Water Quality

Radon Levels

Local Authority Charges

Architectural Heritage

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Land Aggregation Scheme

Local Authority Housing

Proposed Legislation

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Building Control Act

House Prices

Social and Affordable Housing

Foreshore Licences

Private Rented Accommodation

Urban Renewal Schemes

Departmental Correspondence

Building Control Act

Energy Conservation

Telecommunications Services

Energy Conservation

Telecommunications Services

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Telecommunications Services

Departmental Correspondence

Grant Payments

Milk Quota

Grant Payments

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Grant Payments

Rural Environment Protection Scheme

Grant Payments

Departmental Correspondence

Fishing Fleet Modernisation

FÁS Training Programmes

EU Funding

School Accommodation

Child Abuse

School Staffing

OECD Reports

School Staffing

School Enrolments

Schools Building Projects

EU Funding

Special Educational Needs

Higher Education Grants

School Transport

Schools Refurbishment

Schools Building Projects

Special Educational Needs

State Examinations

School Discipline

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Ministerial Staff

Teaching Qualifications

Third Level Staff

Redundancy Payments

Special Educational Needs

Institutes of Technology

Schools Building Projects

School Staffing

School Accommodation

Institutes of Technology

School Curriculum

Special Educational Needs

Departmental Correspondence

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service has completed its consideration of the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 and has made amendments thereto.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Finance and the Public Service has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for Public Services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2010: Votes Nos. 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11,12, 15, 16, 17 and 18.

  1.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the progress of the structured Church-State dialogue initiated by his predecessor; when he last met the principal participants; the plans he has for future meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23279/10]

[2]

  2.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the position regarding his office’s dialogue with churches and faith communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24332/10]

  3.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on progress in respect of the structured dialogue with the churches and faith communities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25054/10]

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

Since the process was inaugurated in February 2007 by my predecessor, general and bilateral meetings have taken place with most of the participants. I am very pleased with the progress to date and I look forward to further meetings with the dialogue partners.

I met the Church of Ireland archbishops in 2009 as part of the process and this was my first specific encounter with the Church-State dialogue since I became Taoiseach. I recently met with the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and we discussed the dialogue process. Contact at official level has continued with various churches, faith communities and non-confessional organisations. I am looking forward to meeting with other partners in the process in the future.

The process of structured dialogue was envisaged from the outset as a flexible channel of consultation and communication on broad issues of mutual concern, which would supplement the normal bilateral and sectoral exchanges with the churches on specific policy issues by individual Departments. I am satisfied that it will develop in years to come to be a valuable means of addressing issues of change in society. I am confident that the opportunity to exchange perspectives and address issues of mutual concern in this way with key institutions of civil society will be of great benefit to all the participants given the importance of the faith dimension to the lives of so many of our citizens and the greater pluralism of religious affiliation and practice in Irish society.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach has outlined the various meetings that have taken place over the past year and a half which come under the heading of structured dialogue with the churches. These meetings do not appear to be any more frequent or extensive than the normal type of periodic meeting that would take place between church leaders and Government. Where does the structured dialogue — as it is called — differ from the normal discussions that would take place anyway between churches and Government? The Taoiseach indicated the structured dialogue process is now more than three years in existence. What is the agenda, or is there an agenda, for the dialogue and what is the end point, if there is one, envisaged as part of this dialogue?

What discussions has the Taoiseach had with the religious congregations in respect of the contribution they will make to the redress for institutional child abuse? He had a meeting on 15 April with religious congregations and survivors of child abuse. I sought to question him about that meeting, but he transferred the question to the Minister for Education and Skills, who confirmed it is the Government’s objective to secure a 50:50 share of the €1.36 billion total compensation that arises from the residential institutional abuse. The most recent reply I received from the Minister informed me that officials would now engage with each of the congregations with regard to their current offers and to how the objective of a 50:50 sharing of the overall costs would be achieved, and that there would be further consultation with the congregations and with the survivors and their representatives about how the fund would be used. When does the Taoiseach expect agreement on this or can he update the House on [3]whether agreement has been reached on the 50:50 share? What consultations are taking place with the congregations and the former residents on how those moneys will be put to use?

The Taoiseach:  The dialogue that is taking place with the churches is broad and can relate to broad economic issues or issues of mutual concern as to how society is developing. Dialogue with the churches is a good opportunity for both sides to hear the various perspectives and policy priorities in which they are involved. There is no end point to such a dialogue and it should continue. I do not see it as being for a particular number of months, meetings or years and then ending. It is ongoing dialogue.

On the question of the situation with the congregations, there were separate meetings with representatives of the religious congregations and groups representing survivors on 15 April. At those meetings, I advised that the Government had considered the panel’s report, together with the individual responses from the congregations to the call for further substantial contributions, along with a range of issues raised in the aftermath of the publication of the Ryan report. I stated that the Government’s view was that the overall costs in responding to the residential institutional abuse, which are now projected to reach €1.36 billion, should be shared on a 50:50 basis between the taxpayers and the congregations responsible for the running of residential institutions. The congregations are offering significant additional contributions that they have valued at €348.51 million. While more detailed work and discussion is necessary with the congregations in respect of the detail of their property offers, on the assumption these contributions are fully realised, the congregations’ collective contributions to date, when account is taken of the original €128 million contribution under the 2002 indemnity agreement, now amount to €476.51 million. This leaves a target of more than €200 million to reach the 50% share of the overall projected costs, which would amount to €680 million.

The Government has proposed to each congregation a process to establish how the objective of achieving a 50% share can be reached over time. The Government has requested that additional contributions be provided to the greatest degree possible in cash as a contribution to the planned national children’s hospital. The Government also announced a proposal to use the cash element of the congregations’ current offers of contributions, which will amount to approximately €110 million over the next few years, to establish a statutory fund in keeping with the all-party motion passed by Dáil Éireann, which supported the proposal for a trust to be set up and managed by the State for the support of victims and to other education and welfare purposes. As the Deputy indicated, officials are engaged at present with each congregation in respect of its current offers and how the objective of 50:50 sharing of the overall costs could be achieved. Where schools have been offered by congregations as part of their contributions, the detail of such offers will form part of these discussions. Among the issues arising in this regard will be the nature of the continuing use of these buildings, educational or otherwise.

That is the current position of this process. As for the structured dialogue, it affords an opportunity from time to time for the State to meet representatives of the churches and to hear what are their concerns regarding societal developments generally. The economic conditions and outlook have been the dominant theme of public affairs in recent times, with particular emphasis on the realignment of Exchequer income and expenditure. I expect to be able to join colleagues in meetings with the churches on these issues, for example, and intend to arrange a meeting with all the parties to the dialogue process on a plenary basis in the near future.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  First, I support the continuation of the structured dialogue with the churches. My concern was that there did not appear to be much activity taking place. It did not appear to be any more intensive than would have been the case without it being called [4]“structured dialogue”. In respect of the Taoiseach’s reply to me on the discussions with the religious congregations about sharing the costs of the measures that must be taken to provide redress for the survivors of institutional abuse, when does he expect discussions with the congregations to be concluded to the point that there is agreement on the 50:50 share? Do the congregations accept there should be a 50-50 share? Are the discussions now about how this is to be composed and when is this likely to be brought to a conclusion?

As for the uses to which the additional moneys are to be put, does the Taoiseach have plans to have further discussions with the survivors or the representatives? As the Taoiseach is aware, there was unease and upset regarding the meeting that took place on 15 April and some dissatisfaction was expressed about its outcome. Does he have plans to have further discussions with the survivors with regard to the uses to which the money will be put?

The Taoiseach:  As for the issue regarding the question of the congregations, the Government set out its position and they obviously brought forward the assets they had available to them for offer. As I stated, the valuation was €348.51 million, in addition to the original contribution of €128 million under the 2002 indemnity agreement. In our view, we need to engage with them on a further contribution. The congregations had to listen to the Government’s view at that meeting. The Government is prepared to work with the congregations in whatever way we can to achieve the objectives set out. They emphasise that we will be dealing with each individual congregation on that point. That is what we are doing at the moment.

There is a continuing need to ensure that what has been offered is arranged to be transposed as suggested. That work is continuing. The Department of Education and Skills has been liaising, and continues to liaise, with the survival groups on those matters. We outlined to them what the Government envisaged in terms of the cash element of the trust fund, an idea which formed part of the agreed motion passed by Dáil Éireann. We are working on that issue as well.

Different views were put forward by various survivor groups on a number of matters. They are entitled to state those positions but it is for Government, on the basis of having had an expert panel examine all of the issues, namely, the assets that were available for consideration to deal with the matter as far as the congregations were concerned, to come to them with the considered view of the panel based on the information available to it. It was a constructive meeting. I accept there will be disappointments from various quarters but those were constructive meetings where the Government outlined the position as clearly as possible and set out what we believed was achievable and what was in prospect based on the facts of the situation as they were before us. I would not like the Deputy to feel the meeting was not constructive; many constructive contributions were made at those meetings.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On the matter the Taoiseach has just addressed and the meeting of 15 April, is he aware that great upset was caused for some in attendance at that meeting by the indication that a percentage only of what was to be secured from the religious institutions would make its way to them and their loved ones? Given the advanced years in most cases of survivors there was an incredulity on the part of some I met. Did the Taoiseach not have the same experience? One could question the value of a trust fund for education and training when the average age of the survivors is 60 years of age, some of whom are much older again, and were not considering education and retraining at that point. They were hoping to enjoy a period of time for themselves and their loved ones in a very different reality to that which had been a big part of their life story to date.

In the light of the strong — I do not overstate the case — exception taken by some of the most prominent voices among the group, including a former elected representative of the [5]Taoiseach’s own party, who was hugely angered by what was outlined on that day, will the Taoiseach revisit the detail of what he outlined again today in the House? Does he not accept that the critical first matter of address is the need of the approximately 15,000 people, the survivors for whom the experience of their childhood impacted right through their adult life, and who are the very core of what this is all about? We are seeking a degree of restitution, a transfer of funding to help and assist a better quality of life, peace and an opportunity to effect closure for many of those people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Those are my questions in that regard.

With regard to the very important dialogue with the churches and faith communities, have the issues of the ownership, management and patronage of schools been addressed in the course of the series of meetings, which I hope will continue? Does the Taoiseach not accept that the structure of primary education and the patronage of primary schools throughout the country are such that 98% of primary schools are in denominational control? Recent figures suggest 58% of parents support the continuation of that formula. In other words, 42% of parents of children attending primary schools would like to see a new and different arrangement. Has the Taoiseach noted — I am sure he has — that the Catholic Church has recognised the need for a more balanced provision? Have these matters been addressed?

Has the Government conveyed to the various churches and faith communities its intent to bring about a more democratically accountable primary school structure throughout the State that is all-encompassing and inclusive, recognises and respects all faith traditions and church beliefs and is more reflective of the real make-up of Irish society today?

The Taoiseach:  On the first matter, obviously the question of restitution has been dealt with. The very purpose of the redress board arrangements, established through the legislation we passed, was to provide for restitution and remove the process from a legalistic, adversarial court environment. The standards of proof that would be required in a court system were not required by the redress board. That people suffered abuse was taken as a fact. People obtained redress on foot of the evidence and experiences brought before the board. This worked very well. The full cost, €1.36 billion, represents a significant effort by the State to recognise that it had to take responsibility, along with others.

The fact is that the redress scheme was a very speedy way of dealing with the precise issue to which the Deputy referred, that is, having court-style proceedings in each case. One could easily speculate how long such a process would take and how difficult it would be for individuals. The matter was agreed in the House through the redress board legislation.

It was my job, on the basis of the expert panel’s work and the submission of details on the assets and liabilities of the congregations — there was much discussion on what constituted the factual position — to let those concerned have the factual information and indicate to them what we believed was the best way forward based on the issues that arose. Some had certain views that they had already expressed on this matter in terms of information being provided to the individuals concerned again. There was an all-party motion in the House regarding the establishment of a trust fund, which was regarded as the best mechanism by which that task could be done, in addition to the individual redress people had obtained through the redress board facility provided for through legislation in the House. That is the position. I simply conveyed the Government’s view to all the survivor groups to clarity the point and indicate precisely the circumstances that obtained.

[6]The question on education is, as the Deputy knows, a matter for the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills. During discussion with representatives of the Catholic Church in November 2009, it was agreed that the Department of Education and Skills would look at identifying a sample number of areas of relatively stable demographics where a requirement for the establishment of new primary schools is unlikely to emerge in the foreseeable future, where the provision is exclusively Catholic and where there is limited diversity of provision at present. Work on the identification of ten such areas has now been completed within the Department of Education and Skills. The aim is that these areas can be used to trial the modalities by which the number of Catholic schools can be reduced thus releasing some schools for other patrons. The Tánaiste will shortly be informing the Government on the matter ahead of the publication of details of the sample areas.

On the present situation regarding new schools or new buildings, it is already Department of Education and Skills policy that new school buildings built on sites owned by the Minister are owned by the Department to be then leased to the relevant school patrons. This is, in effect, a reversal of the traditional relationship the State had with the traditional school patrons.

On transferring ownership of all existing schools to State ownership, I am satisfied that the current model, whereby the Minister enters into a lease with the school patron, remains a valid model for the existing stock of national schools, particularly in view of the likely costs associated with the purchasing of such lands which also assumes that the landowners in question would be willing to enter into voluntary sales of their lands. The Department’s investment by way of a new building and/or extension or refurbishment works on lands not owned by the State is secured by way of a lease. In circumstances where the school patron wishes to sell the lands, the patron is required to apply to the Minister to surrender the Minister’s interests, and it is generally policy that in processing such requests a suitable refund is sought from the patron.

On balance, therefore, I am not convinced there is a compelling case for the State to seek to take over the legal ownership of the total existing stock of schools. What is being done in the case of the new schools, as I stated, is that we have reversed the situation. In the case of the existing stock of schools, as I stated, there is a pilot programme being brought forward by the Tánaiste to look at various modalities as to how one would reduce the number of Catholic schools in an area where the demographics are steady and exclusively Catholic at present. In other situations in developing areas, one is seeing a diversity of patronage taking place.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A brief supplementary from Deputy Ó Caoláin. There is not much time in the slot.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On the first reply the Taoiseach gave regarding the survivors of religious institutional abuse, has it ever been reflected to him, as it has been to me, by some of those survivors and spokespeople on behalf of many of the survivors involved that the Government’s formula for the distribution, utilisation and employment of the moneys and the transfer of assets from the religious institutions was tantamount to rubbing salt in wounds that had been inflicted from their childhood? That is how strong the language was when reflecting on that 15 April disclosure by the Taoiseach to those same survivors. I am told that they left the Taoiseach in no doubt of their strong rejection of what was proposed and how they were now to be dealt with in terms of the distribution of the transfer of assets and cash. If he can add something further to that, I would welcome it.

On the education issue that I raised with the Taoiseach,——

[7]An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have a question? We seem to be imparting information all of the time.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——while the focus of the question is on the churches and the faith communities regarding the issue of patronage of schools in tandem with the exploration of what changes can come about, has the Government direct engagement with Educate Together, which has been instrumental in bringing about a united primary education network——

An Ceann Comhairle:  That question is much more appropriate to the line Minister.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——and which is embarking on efforts to establish its first secondary school premises in the State, something that I wish well and encourage?

On the Taoiseach’s engagement with the churches and faith communities, was the issue of the civil partnership addressed in the course of the most recent or previous engagements with the churches and the faith communities? If so, what was the position articulated?

Did the Taoiseach avail of the opportunity to inform those with whom he was engaging that the Civil Partnership Bill apparently has the support of all political voices in the House and is, hopefully, proceeding accordingly to conclude within a short time?

  3 o’clock

The Taoiseach:  There are survivor groups that did not express themselves in the way he suggests at those meetings. There were others that did. My job was to outline in what way we were going to be in a position to implement those areas of the motion addressed here in the House. There may well be areas of the motion that some survivor groups would rather see worded or dealt with differently but ultimately, the situation is that the taxpayers of the country have made provision for €1.36 billion in redress in regard to these appalling issues that arose for many people. We believe that a 50:50 split in terms of the contribution to be made by the congregations and the State is an objective that should be achieved. We have outlined our position. Therefore, in respect of those assets that are being provided, the need for the State to be accorded that 50:50 split is based on the fact that we have taken on the 100% monetary liability in terms of the redress board at the moment, less the moneys involved in the 2002 indemnity scheme and the subsequent discussions we had with them following the Ryan report on the need for them to make a much larger contribution. That is now in the process of being established and worked through.

That being the case, the trust fund to deal with the education, health or welfare issues that would arise for survivors becomes the mechanism by which we deal with the continuing needs of individuals who have obtained their redress through the redress board. Continuing issues that arise for groups or individuals come through the trust fund mechanism. That is the message that was conveyed by me on behalf of the Government, taking into account all of the considerations that needed to be taken into account. That is where things stand. The question of re-opening the redress issue did not arise. As far is the Government was concerned, we have established the means by which we can continue to provide support and assistance, namely, through a trust fund mechanism.

In regard to the question on civil partnership, that issue has not been raised formally through the structured dialogue with me. I have made the point in regard to it that everyone in this democracy is entitled to give his or her point of view but the Government has brought forward this legislation for the purpose of dealing with matters that arise. The Civil Partnership Bill has, we believe, been very carefully prepared with clear legal advice about the requirements of the Constitution. Addressing the position of those who will seek to benefit from the terms of the Bill should not be seen as detracting from the importance of marriage or the family or, in [8]particular, their constitutional position. While others are entitled to take a different view, it will be for the Members of the Oireachtas to determine the law of the land following full reflection and debate. The Government is committed to its enactment.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Regarding Educate Together and alternatives to the church patronage system, while——

The Taoiseach:  That is an issue that would need to be taken up directly with the Minister for Education and Skills. I would not have the specifics in that area.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I wish to ask the Taoiseach three questions, two on this matter and one on another. First, the independent panel that reported last November assessed the statements of the religious congregations. I understand that the final cost of the responses was approximately €1.36 billion, of which 50% was to be provided by the religious congregations. They made an offer of €348.51 million, leaving a shortfall of in or around €200 million. Is this the correct figure or thereabouts and what progress has been made in regard to making up that 50%?

Second, concerning the €110 million cash element of the congregations’ offer of €348 million, has the way it is to be distributed and administered been finalised?

Will legislation be required to deal with this?

The Taoiseach:  The figures mentioned by Deputy Kenny are broadly correct. The first issue is to realise the value set out in respect of the assets, buildings and properties brought forward by the congregations for submission to the State. They were valued at €348.51 million but more detailed work and discussion with the congregations is necessary on the detail of their property offers, assuming these contributions are fully realised. The collective contributions to date from the congregations, when account is taken of the original €128 million contribution under the indemnity agreement, will amount to €476.51 million. Taking €1.36 billion as the total cost, 50% of that is €680 million and this leaves just over €200 million to be provided. We are considering doing that over the longer term. We need to deal with what is before us. We must engage with them as to the further contribution they can make because the objective of 50:50 is a fair distribution of the costs.

From the outset the congregations have not stuck to the €128 million in the indemnity agreement. They have come forward and indicated a willingness to work constructively with the Government on these matters. They have brought forward further significant contributions based on valuations they have given us to that amount. We recognise that as being a substantial contribution but we believe the 50:50 split based on the total cost at the moment will require a further contribution in due course over the longer term. We are engaging with them on this matter.

We announced a proposal to use the cash element of the current offer of contributions for a trust fund. We can arrange for the transfer of other aspects in due course as part of a process.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I believe in the process of the structured dialogue that has been running for a number of years. Is there a timetable for meetings? Do these conversations take place once or twice a year or is the programme devised by the Government? Is a specific agenda or theme followed or do conversations arise from the circumstances that are topical in the news? I took the opportunity to meet the moderator of the Presbyterian Church when he was here. His church was interested in seeing a continuation of the structured dialogue. He raised the matter of the Presbyterian Mutual Society. The Taoiseach is well aware of the details. It applies [9]to a greater extent north of the Border but substantial numbers of people in the Twenty-six Counties have lost heavily because the mutual society was outside the scope of the guarantee offered by the British Government. Was that matter considered part of the structured dialogue and does the Government have an interest in relating this on the next occasion the structured dialogue takes place? The moderator pointed out that a significant number of people have lost very heavily. The Taoiseach is aware of the figures involved. Perhaps he can indicate if it was a topic of discussion or is likely to be discussed on the next occasion.

The Taoiseach:  It was not raised with me by the moderator. I am aware of the issue and I know it was taken up with the British Government directly to see if anything could be done. I am not sure there are easy answers available. We are not part of that commitment. We have listened attentively to the issue but it is being dealt with by the British Government in respect of a government interface with the Presbyterian community.

On the issue about structured dialogue, the point is taken that there has not been a plenary session during my term as Taoiseach; it is one I will arrange in the near future. As I said, it is something we must provide on an ongoing basis and the issue of how frequently it should meet can be discussed at the next plenary session.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We need to move on. Does Deputy Kenny have another supplementary? Ar aghaidh leat, Deputy Gilmore.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am conscious that the next batch of questions is on——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, and we will finish questions to the Taoiseach at 3.15 p.m.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  They are also on Northern Ireland and, in fairness, we would probably want to give them more than five minutes today.

I want to ask the Taoiseach two questions. The first is in respect of the 50% of the package that will come from the religious congregations. It is intended that some of that will be in cash and some by way of transfer of property. On what basis is the property transfer being calculated? Is it on a current valuation or on the basis of some previous valuation because there could be a wide difference in what that would amount to, depending on when it was valued?

Second, in respect of the meetings we all had with the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, one issue the delegation flagged as something we might examine in this jurisdiction, and I bring it to the attention of the Taoiseach, are difficulties that are arising where churches are recruiting religious personnel — clergy people — from outside the State and where in some cases separate visa arrangements apply in this jurisdiction to those which apply in the United Kingdom. There are cases where the responsibilities of clergy people are in both jurisdictions — Northern Ireland and the South. I ask the Taoiseach, perhaps with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, to examine the visa arrangements with a view to ensuring there is a smooth process whereby if a church is recruiting clergy people who require visas there is not undue delay in the processing of visa applications for those operating in this jurisdiction.

The Taoiseach:  Yes. That matter was mentioned to me by the moderator. I asked the official attending the meeting to follow up on that and to contact the Department of Justice and Law Reform to determine in what way we might be able to assist if there are individual cases where problems are being experienced regarding people from outside the country coming to work here as ministers in the various churches. If there was a question of families coming at a later stage not being accommodated as one would like, that is something we would need to examine to determine in what way we can adapt our procedures to make sure we deal in a humane way with any issues that arise, that the bureaucratic response does not dominate the position and [10]that we can sort it out. That is something I have asked to have examined and wish to talk to the Presbyterian Church about to determine the specifics in any given case.

Regarding the other matter, valuations have been placed on the properties by the congregations themselves. What we must do is work through these issues. The objective is to reach a 50-50 position. The purpose of the expert panel was to evaluate, based on the congregations’ submissions and the interaction that took place between the expert panel and the congregations, the full position regarding their assets and their liabilities. There is also the concern of congregations, which is justified, in terms of how they care for the elderly members of their own congregations and provide for them for the future, which is fair enough. That needs to be examined also. Subject to the valuations submitted, the Government made the point that in its view further contributions would be required. It is an ongoing process to see how we can work with them to get to that point and achieve that objective. The benefit of the expert panel’s work is that we have a clearer view as to the real position rather than relying on anecdotal evidence which only causes confusion and raises or lowers expectations as to what is available for further consideration in dealing with this issue adequately. We must get that objective evidence and work in as practical a way as possible towards dealing with it.

  36.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the adequacy of her response to the import, production, sale and supply of dangerous head shop products; her further views on the fact that persons continue to be put at risk as new legal drug substances, such as Whack, the cocaine substitute, Amplified, and other new drug products enter the market; if she will confirm that legislation to ban the sale and supply of such products will be introduced before the summer recess; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26181/10]

Deputy Mary Harney:  I reject the suggestion the Government’s handling of the issue of so-called “legal highs” has been inadequate. In light of the health risks associated with these products, the Government made an order on 11 May 2010 declaring a large number of substances, commonly referred to as “legal highs”, to be controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, with immediate effect.

Approximately 200 individual substances were controlled by this legislation. The substances controlled include synthetic cannabis-type substances, contained in Spice products, BZP-related substances sold as party pills, mephedrone and similar substances sold as bath salts or plant food and GBL and 1,4BD, often referred to as liquid ecstasy.

It is now a criminal offence for a person to import, export, produce, supply or possess these legal high substances. Possession and supply are subject to serious criminal sanctions of up to seven years imprisonment and/or a fine for unlawful possession and, on indictment, up to a maximum of life imprisonment for unlawful supply.

These regulations have had a significant impact on headshops, removing the majority of their products from the market, and, as a consequence, a large number of such shops have closed.

The Government has always acknowledged attempts would be made to circumvent these regulations. Since these substances were brought under control, other substances have been coming on to the market that are not subject to controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act. My [11]Department is working closely with the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Garda, the Customs Service, the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board and others to monitor closely the emergence of new psychoactive substances. I will not hesitate to seek Government approval to ban additional substances if any of them poses a risk to public health.

Initial analyses indicate the products Whack and Amplified contain new cocaine-type substances. As these substances have anaesthetic effects they fall within the scope of the medicinal products legislation. These products do not hold licences from the Irish Medicines Board or the European Medicines Agency. The Irish Medicines Board has been visiting head shops and removing these products from the market. The board has also been removing several other products from headshops which are known to contain medicinal products.

Last Friday, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform published the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010. The Bill will make it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances which may not be specifically controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts but which have psychoactive effects.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister’s rejection of the claim that the Government’s response to head shops has been inadequate is astounding. Deputy Feighan raised the matter of head shops in the Dáil in April 2008, over two years ago, yet we have had to wait until 18 May 2010 for some action on banned substances. This has been a lethargic approach. How many of our young people have been damaged as a consequence of this approach? Yesterday at an inquest, the coroner identified that a 19 year old girl in County Kildare died from a combination of heroin and products bought in head shops.

Members have raised the matter numerous times, asking for several initiatives to be taken. The forthcoming legislation from the Minister for Justice and Law Reform is to be welcomed. The HSE confirmed during a meeting of the Joint Committee on Health and Children that 36 head shops were operating in the State. A parliamentary question has revealed that by 10 June this number increased to 48. How many are open now? How many have reopened? Can the Minister guarantee the House that this legislation will be enacted before the summer recess?

Deputy Mary Harney:  We banned BZP pills and magic mushrooms and I recall being the subject of heavy criticism from a journalist at the time for so doing. To introduce regulations of this type one needs strong legal and pharmaceutical regulations. This remains the position. As I have stated in the House previously, the only way to deal with this issue is through the introduction of catch-all legislation by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. I understand that, following the meeting with his counterpart in Britain yesterday, the UK Minister with responsibility for justice will consider doing the same. I am aware from my colleagues that every European country has serious issues with these substances. As soon as one substance is banned, a similar product comes on the market. There is no way through legislation on medical products or through the banning of particular substances to get ahead of the curve. This is why the catch-all legislation giving the Garda specific powers and prosecuting this as a civil matter is a better approach. This would mean a case is decided on the balance of probabilities rather than reasonable doubt and, therefore, a good deal easier to get prosecutions or convictions.

I am unsure how many head shops are open. The issue is not the number of shops open but a question of what is sold in those shops. Clearly, the intention is to pass the justice legislation before the summer recess. The debate on the matter will begin in the Seanad today or tomorrow.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is a question of how many head shops are open. We are all aware that they completely and continually circumvent the law with disastrous consequences for our young people. I have asked the Minister previously why she has not issued a ministerial [12]directive insisting that all products sold in these shops are passed either by the Medicines Board or by the Food Safety Authority.

I have also asked that the Minister’s colleague in Government, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, would issue a directive bringing these shops under planning law such that he could dictate their location, which should be not within 10 km of a school, pub or club, and to dictate their opening hours, that is between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

I accept this is a difficult problem. However, it will require a multifaceted approach to close off all the avenues. Given the amount of money they have behind them, as sure as apples are apples these people will seek to circumvent the next legislation as well. Let us at least cut off all the predictable loopholes. I would not hold the Minister or any other Minister responsible for an unpredictable loophole which appears, but we should act on those which are predictable.

Deputy Mary Harney:  We have put in a great deal of effort in consultation with other Government officials and we have listened to all the medicinal and legal expertise available to us. There is no way of introducing legislation to licence such shops in accordance with the Deputy’s suggestion involving the IMB because as soon as one dictates that headshops must be licensed, another name would be used. If one then suggests different products must be licensed, such as bath salts, it is simply not possible. All these matters were examined legally and there is no kosher way of doing it through medicines legislation. This is the reason we have gone down the justice route, which is what we had to do in a different era in Ireland in respect of subversive organisations and provide for considerable powers for the Garda Síochána. This will happen in this case and I believe it will be effective.

  37.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will address the funding shortfall of the Brothers of Charity Services in Limerick which has led to the loss of respite services for 63 families and to the reduction in residential services for other clients; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that every possible saving has been made in order to avoid this loss of service but that it has been unavoidable due to a cut in funding of more than €1 million for 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26065/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Government’s commitment in the area of disability is consistent. Significant additional resources have been provided for services and supports in this area under the multi-annual investment programme 2006-2009, as part of the national disability strategy. Overall, approximately €1.6 billion is spent annually by the health services on disability programmes, including residential, day care, respite, assessments and rehabilitation services.

I am aware of the valuable contribution the Brothers of Charity services make to the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities in Limerick. During the period 2005-08, the Brothers of Charity services nationally received more than €631 million in funding from the HSE. In 2009, approximately €177 million was provided to fund these services. This sustained level of investment reflects the significant growth and development in the services provided by the Brothers of Charity during the past five years.

Arising from the introduction of cost containment and efficiency measures in the 2010 budget, the HSE advised all agencies providing services on its behalf of their financial allocations for 2010 and the required adjustments. The HSE is aware of the challenges which this reduction in allocations will present to organisations to ensure they meet the needs of service users and in planning for emergencies that arise throughout the year. In this context, it is vital [13]that all providers work creatively and co-operatively to ensure the maximum level of services are maintained within the funding resources available.

The HSE plans to maintain access to appropriate treatments and services for clients during 2010 despite current resource pressures. The HSE is very much aware of the importance of respite service provision for the families of both children and adults with disabilities, including the impact the absence of respite service provision can have on other services, for example, residential and day care services. Respite services throughout the country are being reviewed on an ongoing basis and the majority of local health offices have reported that services are being maintained, albeit with some difficulty. In all areas, disability managers are working closely with agencies to ensure those with the most urgent needs are prioritised. There has been a continued expansion in the availability of residential support services, especially planned or emergency centre-based respite services, which have grown substantially. A total of 4,599 people availed of this type of service in 2008, allowing them to continue living with their families and in their communities.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The HSE is working in partnership with the voluntary service providers to deal with issues that arise from funding allocations, to ensure the needs of service users are prioritised and addressed and that frontline delivery is given priority. Disability service providers, including those in the Limerick area, have been asked to submit their plans for the maintenance of service levels within available resources and to discuss with HSE management how current challenges can be addressed. As part of this process, the Brothers of Charity services have prepared a detailed document for discussion with HSE personnel at local level. In response to the Brothers of Charity proposal to close one respite service on 14 June, which is affecting 19 service users, local discussions are taking place regarding the implications of this for users of its respite service and the HSE is endeavouring to ensure an alternative service will be made available.

The HSE is aware of the pressures the Brothers of Charity services are experiencing in maintaining existing service levels and responding to the respite needs of service users. While significant changes have been applied to frontline services, in many cases these changes have not necessarily resulted in service reduction but in a different model of service delivery being applied.

The HSE will continue to work in partnership with the Brothers of Charity in dealing with issues that arise from service cuts, to ensure the needs of service users are prioritised and addressed. However, any planned reductions must be risk assessed and risk managed by the Brothers of Charity. There are also plans to develop a local forum in Limerick of all service providers, both physical and sensory and intellectual disability, with a focus on the needs of service users now and in the future.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Minister of State has given a very general answer to a very specific question. I raise this question on behalf of the 63 families in the mid west who look after their intellectually disabled loved ones at home and who now have nowhere to put them. For example, I speak on behalf of a woman who is looking after her brother. Her parents are dead and she has no other brothers or sisters. She has nowhere to go. Another woman is concerned about going into hospital and reckons she will have to bring her adult son, who is over 40 years of age, with her to hospital.

I will not be satisfied until I get a direct answer to the question of when the respite centre in Clonisle, Limerick, will be reopened. I seek a very simple answer to a very simple question. [14] The amount of money involved is €157,000. It is not a large sum of money but it must be found for this purpose this week.

Deputy Barry Andrews:  I did not get to the end of the answer. More specifics are available. Disability service providers, including those in the Limerick area, have been asked to submit their plans for the maintenance of service levels within available resources. As part of this process, the Brothers of Charity services have prepared a detailed document for discussion with HSE personnel at local level. In response to the proposal to close one respite service on 14 June, which affects 19 service users, local discussions are taking place regarding the implications of this for users of its respite service and the HSE is endeavouring to ensure an alternative service will be made available.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I am not satisfied with discussions and talks. We need action. It is not possible to leave families who look after their loves ones at home and who save the State a fortune by not putting them into residential care with no respite whatsoever. Talks are no good. They may solve other problems. There is a shortfall of €1 million in terms of what the Brothers of Charity received this year and other services are threatened. However, my question refers specifically to the opening of the respite house. I demand that the Government finds the €157,000 necessary to keep the house open. Otherwise, they are leaving dependent families, who have nowhere else to go, with an adult intellectually disabled person who may have to attend hospital with them. That is not good enough. Normally, I do not get as angry as I am today when I put questions in the Chamber. However, I am very angry on behalf of those families and parents.

I do not care whether the HSE is in talks with the Brothers of Charity or with the Department of Health and Children. I call for someone to represent the interests of the families affected. It is not enough to simply hold ongoing talks. We need a direct answer. When will the institution open such that the families concerned may sleep in their beds at night?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  The position is that discussions are ongoing. No one disputes the value of respite services to families under extreme pressure and who have children or older adults with intellectual disabilities. No one disputes the value of the service the Brothers of Charity provides in this area. Solutions must be found. I agree with the Deputy and there is no dispute in this regard. This is the purpose of the discussions. While I understand the level of anger expressed by the Deputy and that the issue has a particular significance in her area, unfortunately, in this area, the HSE is seeking ways to solve the issue.

Reference has been made to a demography fund. An additional €19.5 million is being provided nationally for service throughout the country. Part of the ongoing discussions refer to that fund. It is a national fund but it refers to an additional 24 respite places in the HSE west area. I assure the Deputy that she will be updated with the outcome of those discussions.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I express my disappointment that the Minister of State directly responsible, Deputy Moloney, is not here. The Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, is not responsible. I would have thought that since the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, is not here, the Minister for Health and Children would have answered the question because these families cannot be left in the lurch with no answer from either the senior Minister or the Minister of State responsible.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  As the Deputy knows, the Government is collectively responsible and any Minister can speak on behalf of the Government.

[15]Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Since the Minister of State is not here for whatever reason, I would have expected the senior Minister to have answered the question. I will ask the senior Minister to address this issue as a matter of urgency today.

  38.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the fact that a number of ambulances are out of service for several hours at a time because their trolleys are being used for patients in accident and emergency departments; her further views on the fact that on 25 May 2010 eight Dublin Fire Brigade ambulances were detained at the Mater Hospital, one of which was tied up for more than seven hours; if she will put in place cabins which will house additional trolleys at hospitals allowing ambulances to be freed up; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26182/10]

Deputy Mary Harney:  The emergency ambulance service in the greater Dublin area is provided by Dublin City Council in the first instance. When operational circumstances so require, the HSE national ambulance service provides supplementary capacity to ensure that the necessary cover is maintained. Where necessary, this involves the use of available ambulance resources from other counties in the region. Staff and management take specific measures to ensure ambulance cover is maintained, with patient safety the utmost priority. This is what happened on 25 May last.

On that day delays at the Mater Hospital occurred at 4.30 p.m. After contact from the HSE liaison officer, all vehicles, but one, were released rapidly. At 8.30 p.m., there were eight ambulances held. The eight ambulances comprised six of the Dublin Fire Brigade’s and two HSE vehicles. The national ambulance service liaison immediately addressed the situation, including consultation with the emergency department staff, the CEO on call and the nursing administration. By 9.30 p.m., four ambulances were released. By 10.30 p.m., all ambulances were available. One ambulance was at the hospital in excess of six hours, owing to the clinical circumstances of the particular patient concerned.

I am advised that the option of storing additional trolleys at hospitals has been considered in the past but not adopted because of significant patient safety, insurance and health and safety concerns. The HSE is, however, in discussion with the major Dublin hospitals with a view to identifying safe and effective measures which will help to minimise the period for which emergency ambulances are held at hospitals after arriving with patients.

Deputy James Reilly:  Last week “Prime Time” dedicated a programme to accident and emergency departments. It was very distressing to watch disorientated and seriously ill patients waiting for days on trolleys and chairs in cramped and overcrowded accident and emergency departments. In 2004, the Minister issued a ten-point plan to sort out accident and emergency departments and in 2006, she said it would be treated as a national emergency.

At one point in January 2010, the number of people lying on trolleys in accident and emergency departments reached 500. As of yesterday, there were 236 people on trolleys. This is the middle of June with some of the finest weather we have had.

To make matters worse, elective surgery is being cancelled and——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister does not seem to understand that one cannot fix accident and emergency departments unless one fixes the entire system. If one tries to fix accident and emergency departments in isolation, one moves the problem to the wards or back into the community.

[16]Will the Minister explain why in almost six years in the job she has been unable to address this issue, why she has reduced the number of beds rather than increase the number which she said she would do and why she has failed to meaningfully roll out the primary care strategy which at the rate of the current roll-out, nobody in this House will be alive to see its completion?

Deputy Mary Harney:  We did not measure anything six years ago, so we did not how we were doing. Today we know 1.3 million people attend accident and emergency departments and that 94% of them are dealt with in six hours. We know that 54% of people who attend accident and emergency departments must wait more than six hours to be admitted. I accept that is too long but we never had targets before. In fact, we started with 24 hour targets which went down to 12 hour targets.

I agree it is a hospital wide issue. In the case of some hospitals, escalation policy needs to be implemented as it is in every good hospital in the world. If one reads the British newspapers, one will read about the challenges they face with their accident and emergency departments where escalation policies are implemented. We also need to look at what is happening in those particular hospitals. We now have the fair deal scheme which is processed in two weeks in some parts of the country but, unfortunately, in other parts, it is taking somewhat longer and that is placing an undue burden on Beamont Hospital, in particular, and, to a lesser extent, on the Mater Hospital.

Under HealthStat, which I am sure the Deputy reads, we need to look at the mix of public-private activity in these hospitals. I am not satisfied that there is an appropriate mix in accordance with the consultant contract. We need to address that also. I am confident the clinical directors who have been appointed under the new contract and who are working with Dr. Barry White on new clinical pathways for patients will help to greatly alleviate this further this year.

In more than 20 hospitals, we do not generally have any issues with accident and emergency. We have issues in six or seven hospitals which are now the focus of considerable attention from the HSE.

Deputy James Reilly:  Unfortunately, this considerable attention is not helping patients. In Beaumont Hospital, even with the fair deal scheme, the Minister freed up 30 odd beds but closed 52 beds making the situation worse. I do not accept the Minister’s contention that there are health and safety reasons for not having a cabin full of trolleys. The real reason is that if those trolleys were made available, ambulances would be out bringing in more patients and there would be even more crowding in accident and emergency departments.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question.

Deputy James Reilly:  Why can these trolleys not be stored in accident and emergency departments? Why are there not enough beds in the hospitals to accommodate the number of emergency patients who regularly need admission? It is not about the number of people attending accident and emergency departments but about the number of people lying on trolleys waiting for admission and urgent medical care, which they are not getting. They are not proper conditions for people to work in and they certainly do not do the dignity of patients any good. There is a major issue here. Why is the Minister still closing beds when we clearly have a capacity issue?

[17]Deputy Mary Harney:  I do not agree with the Deputy that beds are the answer to everything. If we were to follow that, we would have approximately 25,000 beds.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister should not rephrase the question, which she is excellent at doing.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is about how one uses the beds. For example, in some Dublin hospitals, only 30% of people undergoing surgery are admitted on the same day. That should be closer to 70%. We know that many patients are not discharged home before 11 a.m. Good practice is that they should be able to be discharged by 11 a.m. in order that those who require admittance from the accident and emergency department may be accommodated.

I recently opened a new minor injury facility for the Mater Hospital, which is being funded. It has seen 1,700 patients which has greatly improved conditions in the Mater Hospital accident and department.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister should address the question and not everything else.

Deputy Mary Harney:  We must deal with facts. There are huge improvements. I am not taking away from the challenges that exist in approximately seven hospitals which are being addressed.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister should tell that to the patients waiting on trolleys.

  39.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will report on the recent cases of misdiagnosis in maternity hospitals and the steps she will take to address the issue and the serious concerns of the public; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26183/10]

Deputy Mary Harney:  Incidents of this kind are distressing to the women and families involved and I again express my sincerest sympathies to all of those who were affected. They are serious incidents and are treated as such. A number of actions have been taken to support the safe management of early pregnancy loss across the country.

The chief medical officer of my Department and the director of quality and clinical care in the HSE wrote recently to all obstetric units advising them to ensure that the decision to use drugs or surgical intervention in these circumstances must be approved by a consultant obstetrician.

The HSE has now announced details of a miscarriage misdiagnosis review team and its terms of reference. The review team is being chaired by an independent expert in obstetrics and gynaecology, Professor William Ledger, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetrics in the UK who will be joined by Professor Michael Turner, national clinical lead of the HSE’s obstetrics programme and Ms Sheila Sugrue, HSE national lead midwife. Service user representation in the management of this incident is being provided by Cathriona Molloy from Patient Focus. It is expected that the review will be completed within six months and the report will be published.

In addition, a clinical programme for obstetric care has been established by the HSE’s national director of quality and clinical care. This will define best practice and standardise it throughout the country.

It is important that I put this in context. Ireland has, by international standards, a very high quality maternity service. Maternal mortality, perinatal mortality and infant mortality are all [18]low by comparison to other jurisdictions. Women can be satisfied and confident as they come to use this service.

It is important to understand that the use of scans and other technology must be guided by expert clinical opinion based on careful clinical history and examination. Scans will not always be necessary or appropriate.

Deputy James Reilly:  I join with the Minister in offering my sympathy to those who have been affected. This is yet another scandal which was left uncovered and unanswered until Melissa Redmond and her husband Michael decided to go public with it. I commend them on their courage in doing that. Many women have come forward since then. Some 250 telephone calls have been made to the helpline by women and their families since this issue arose.

Does the Minister know how many cases will be included in the HSE review and if not, when will she know? Will she call on the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, to conduct an urgent audit of antenatal and maternity services, including the standard and safety of equipment, staff workloads, care protocols and training of personnel? It should be borne in mind that there are only between 100 and 120 foetal assessment machines in the country. It is farcical for HSE representatives to suggest, notwithstanding they did nothing for six months about replacing the equipment that had been described as “fatigued”, that retaining a professional sonographer four hours a day five days a week will be the solution to this problem. There are 3,500 deliveries in that maternity unit each year and, by international standards, it should have at least two, if not four, full-time sonographers. When will the terms of reference be made available to us by the HSE? Why will there not be a truly independent investigation by HIQA?

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is a truly independent investigation. It is being chaired by somebody from outside the country and HIQA officials have been involved in discussing the terms of reference with HSE officials. I can give them to the Deputy because I do not want to read them out here. However, they have been published. The investigation will review the past five years and will examine any case outside that period where the circumstances may lead to the HSE learning from that experience. It is not correct to say that nothing happened in this case. The lawyers for the Redmond family wrote on 7 August and, within a week, the letter was acted on seriously by the HSE, the chief medical officer in my Department and all senior officials and a review took place within the hospital. That is a fact and that is the truth.

Last week, Professor Turner addressed this issue and I attended a press briefing he did. He made the point that, notwithstanding machinery and scans, there is nothing to substitute for clinical examination. The Deputy will know this being a doctor. We need a standardised approach in this area in the country. Professor Turner was appointed in May as the lead clinician in this area. He was appointed like many other experts in the State to do clinical care pathways. We have never had such a position and I am confident, as a result of his appointment in this field by the HSE before this issue ever came into the public domain, that we will have a standardised approach not only in the 19 public maternity hospitals, but also the private ones, and it is important that would happen..

Deputy James Reilly:  The HSE is in charge of this investigation and if it appoints to people to do it, it remains under its remit. That is totally unacceptable to the Opposition and to the vast number of patients who use our health service. The executive has not been found to be suitable to investigate itself no more than any other group in the country is suitable to investigate itself. We should have a patient safety authority because if cases like this emerge, people would not have to go their solicitors. They could go to the authority, which would act as an advocate for them and address their issue.

[19]The HSE undertaking a review did not result in the machinery being moved or a sonographer being made available. The Minister can refer to extraneous issues as activity but if the core issue, which is faulty equipment and lack of fully trained professional, is not addressed, one can review the service until the cows come home and patients will be left at risk.

Deputy Mary Harney:  We have a patient safety authority, otherwise known as HIQA.

Deputy James Reilly:  I have to dispute that. HIQA officials say they cannot act as patient advocates.

Deputy Mary Harney:  They set and enforce standards.

Deputy James Reilly:  I have to correct the record.

Deputy Mary Harney:  When they do that, they are subject to a great deal of criticism from the Deputy and his colleagues.

The obstetrician from the UK is completely independent, as are Professor Turner and Ms Cathriona Molloy from Patient Focus. They are capable of carrying out the appropriate investigation and reporting accordingly with a view to making sure we have appropriate procedures in place and, in particular, a standardised approach across the country. The service varied because we did not have a standardised approach to this service.

  40.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has calculated the estimated cost of implementing National Quality Standards — Residential Services for People with Disabilities which were published by the Health Information and Quality Authority in May 2009 on a statutory basis; the number of institutions which will be covered by the standards and the number of residents in each of these institutions respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26184/10]

Deputy Barry Andrews:  The HSE estimates 9,000 persons with disabilities are resident in approximately 1,200 centres across the country, which includes approximately 150 centres that provide residential or respite care to some 300 children with disabilities. National Quality Standards: Residential Services for People with Disabilities, published by the Health Information and Quality Authority in May 2009, relate to adult services. These standards will provide a national framework for quality, safe services for adults with disabilities in residential settings.

Given the current economic position, to move to full statutory implementation of the standards, including regulation and inspection, presents significant challenges at this time. Notwithstanding the difficulties of immediate statutory implementation, my Department, the HSE and HIQA have agreed that progressive non-statutory implementation of the standards should commence and become the benchmark against which the HSE assesses both its own directly operated facilities and other facilities that the HSE funds.

The Department of Health and Children is liaising with the HSE in terms of implementing the HIQA standards on a progressive non-statutory basis within existing resources. Currently every service provider is required, as part of its service level agreement with the HSE, to have appropriate mechanisms in place to assess quality and standards for the delivery of all services. This agreement requires all service providers to comply with relevant legislation, statutory regulations, codes of practice and agreed guidance documents relating to the standards associated with the service in question. Providers of care are required to set out in detail the specific actions or plans to maintain and monitor quality and service standards. Examples of such [20]actions include audit tools appropriate to the service, service and service user evaluations and satisfaction surveys. The Department is also engaged in ongoing discussions with HIQA regarding the resources that would be required to implement a mandatory scheme of registration and inspection of residential services for persons with disabilities.

In tandem with this work, and arising from the Ryan commission report, the Department of Health and Children is preparing detailed proposals regarding the protection of vulnerable adults with disabilities who are currently in institutional care. I will bring these proposals to government in the near future.

Deputy David Stanton:  The first part of my question related to the estimated cost but the Minister of State did not respond to that. He might respond later.

Is it true that the non-statutory guidelines are not legally binding? What weight have they?

Will the lack of statutory guidelines and inspection services have an impact on our ability to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, given the Irish Human Rights commission has said that the standards relating to the right to health, education and so on are not being met adequately in the State today?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  It is not possible at this stage to outline the cost requested by the Deputy. We are awaiting detailed proposals regarding adults and until they are provided and the children’s standards are finalised, we will not be in a position to provide details of the cost.

With regard to the rights of people with disabilities under the UN convention, clearly the ambition of the Government to provide a statutory basis for the guidelines is directed towards complying with the convention.

I refer to the weight of the non-statutory guidelines, a service level agreement with any non-statutory organisation provides for detailed compliance with not only the statutory framework, but also regulations and other requirements specific to the service provided. This is the way in which the HSE is able to require the service providers to make sure the service is of at least a minimum standard to ensure safety but also a high quality service. We await final discussions with HIQA and the details of the services provided. Until that is done, we cannot provide the cost.

Deputy David Stanton:  What is the timeframe for this? Does he agree it is a disgrace in this day and age that there are not independent inspections of services for people with disabilities, the most vulnerable in our society? How many centres run by voluntary organisations and funded by the HSE are not included in the inspection regime under the Child Care Act 1991? Is it true that hundreds of children have no protection whatsoever at this time? If so, what is the Minister of State doing about it?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  According to the figures I have, there are 150 centres caring for 300 children with disabilities. Clearly, the Government recognises that this area requires reform and improvement.

Deputy David Stanton:  When?

Deputy Barry Andrews:  That is why we enacted the health Bill, set up HIQA, set down standards and are waiting for the standards to be set down for children. They are a measure of the Government’s commitment in this area. The Deputy asked when that will happen. We are awaiting final discussions with HIQA regarding the standards we expect.

[21]Deputy David Stanton:  This year or next year? The standards for adults were published only last year. I expect we will be in a better position to give an indication to the Deputy in the new term. At this point, I cannot give a concrete date on which we will move to an inspection and registration regime.

Deputy David Stanton:  It is not good enough.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That concludes Priority Questions.

  41.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to expand the role of community pharmacists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25923/10]

Deputy Mary Harney:  I am supportive of an expanded role for pharmacists in the delivery of services at primary care level. Any such expansion of service should be cost-effective, promote the best use of health care resources, be evidence-based, be part of a structured framework of patient care and demonstrate direct benefits to patients.

I am pleased to say there are currently a number of developments taking place in community pharmacy practice; namely, reviews of medicine use, the introduction of private consultation areas in pharmacies and the involvement of pharmacists, both community and hospital based, in ongoing work to implement the recommendations of the report of the commission on patient safety and quality assurance.

With respect to reviews of medicine use, the HSE is currently undertaking a pilot initiative involving pharmacists and GPs working with primary care teams. It is expected that a report on the pilot will be produced by the end of the year. The pilot will take place during the months of June, July and August.

From November 2010 all pharmacies will be required to have a private consultation area in accordance with the Regulation of Retail Pharmacy Businesses Regulations 2008. The purpose of this is to facilitate patients who may wish to have a private consultation with the pharmacist to discuss medication-related issues in private and to receive advice and counselling in an appropriately professional and private manner.

I recently facilitated a meeting between Dr. Barry White, national director of quality and clinical care at the HSE, and the Irish Pharmacy Union to discuss the developing role of pharmacists in public health services and how community pharmacy can contribute to initiatives being undertaken by Dr. White to implement multi-disciplinary treatment guidelines for the management of patients with chronic diseases.

Pharmacists in both community and hospital pharmacy are involved in ongoing work to implement the recommendations of the report of the commission on patient safety and quality assurance, particularly in the area of drug safety, to ensure that medicines are used safely — both high-risk medicines and among high-risk patients — and to improve access by patients to high-quality Irish information on medicines.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I am intrigued to hear the Minister facilitated a meeting between Dr. Barry White and the IPU.

[22]Deputy Mary Harney:  Actually, I attended the meeting. “Facilitated” is the word used, but I organised the meeting.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I wonder whether that was in order to get around the Competition Act and the difficulties we encountered due to the fact that the HSE could not talk to the IPU. The Minister might provide a reply in this regard.

My other question is to do with reference pricing and generic substitution, a scheme for which was announced by the Minister last week. I am trying to obtain clarity on this. If a GP prescribes a drug that is more expensive than the reference price, who pays the difference for private and public patients?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I organised and attended the meeting because I was interested in exploring the role of pharmacists as Dr. White rolls out his clinical pathways. Pharmacists have major expertise and are important professionals in the health care system. I would like to see them more involved in some of the new clinical pathways. The pilot this summer will give us much information about the role of pharmacists. The meeting had nothing to do with the Competition Act. The HSE can meet with the IPU and have discussions about anything except the setting of prices.

With regard to reference pricing, we published the report of the group chaired by Mark Moran, and we will be introducing reference pricing and generic substitution. The intention is that for particular types of drug there will be a generic or reference price drug which will be paid for by the State under both the drug payment scheme and the medical card scheme. The scheme deals only with drugs that provide the same outcome; there is no question of people not receiving the drugs that are appropriate for their conditions. Pharmacists here do not have the power to substitute as they do in other countries. In Ireland, more than 80% of prescriptions are written in their branded form, while in the UK the equivalent figure is 12%. Reference pricing now exists in 25 out of the 27 member states of the EU, and we are now following suit in order to move ourselves into line with these countries. The legislation will be introduced as soon as possible later this year.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I ask the Tánaiste——I beg the Minister’s pardon; that is outdated.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Did the Minister, in the course of any of these contacts, discuss the issue of prescription charges with pharmacy representatives? Such charges are now proposed for medical card holders. Has there been any contact between the HSE and the IPU on the practicalities of operating these additional charges? When is it intended they will be introduced? Will the Minister please note again that I strongly oppose these charges, full stop?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I thank the Deputy for promoting me, but it is a different Mary who has the job of Tánaiste.

I have discussed prescription charges with the IPU — not at the meeting I mentioned but at a different meeting — and the union expressed its views. The legislation has been approved by the Government and will be going to the Seanad next week. The intention is to have it operational as soon as possible after the legislation has been passed and signed by the President.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Did the HSE and the IPU discuss the practicalities of implementing these charges?

[23]Deputy Mary Harney:  One area in which we have much information is on what drugs patients receive with assistance from the State. For example, all the drug costs of general medical scheme patients heretofore have been paid by the State. The HSE has data on all those patients and the medicines they receive each month and it pays pharmacies accordingly. The intention is that the legislation will provide for a deduction of 50 cent per item prescribed, subject to a cap of €10 per family. No doubt we will be debating this in the House shortly.

Deputy James Reilly:  What role does the Minister see for community pharmacists? Does she agree with the basic tenet that I and Fine Gael have been promoting through our fair care policy, which is that patients should be treated at the lowest level of complexity that is safe, timely and efficient?

We are not using the full scope of the primary care team. There are 800 pharmacists trained in the administration of vaccines. There is a role for pharmacists in the treatment of minor illnesses, as the Minister already mentioned, along with health promotion and screening. What specific proposals have been made, and what has arisen from the discussions to date?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The fair care policy has not been costed, I am afraid.

Any role for pharmacists must be in the area of appropriate use of medication, but there are other possibilities such as vaccination and screening. In the first instance, however, I am a strong fan of good advice and information for patients about the appropriate use of medication. International data show — this does not just apply to Ireland — that a large percentage of patients with chronic illnesses who are on long-term medication sometimes stop taking their medication, or part of it. This is why the pilot that is taking place in June, July and August, involving pharmacists and ten primary care teams around the country, is concerned mostly with reviewing the safe use of medication.

It was brought to my attention recently that a number of patients with chronic illnesses in the Cork region had had their drugs reviewed and many inappropriate drugs had been given to them. This is not only a patient safety issue but also a quality of life issue; in addition, there are cost implications for the State. Pharmacists have a major role to play in this regard, although, as we have told the IPU, this must be within the limits of the money available at present.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I ask the Minister to clarify her reply to my other question about generic substitution and reference pricing. If a medical card patient comes to a pharmacy with a prescription for a drug that costs more than the reference drug, and cannot afford to pay the extra cost, does he or she need to go back to the GP to get another prescription? How will it work?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I am sorry; I thought I had made it clear. As in other countries, the pharmacist may substitute the generic product——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Pharmacists can do it themselves.

Deputy Mary Harney:  ——where it is like for like. Under the legislation there must be a legal framework for the system. We will have, for want of a better term, a technical group that will advise on what can be substituted for what. We will begin with a small number of drugs and move on. It generally takes a couple of years for countries to move fully from the old system to a reference pricing or generic substitution system. If for some reason a person wants a branded product even though it is unnecessary for his or her ailment, he or she obviously will have to pay for it.

[24]Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Is the Minister saying the pharmacist will have the power to substitute products?

Deputy Mary Harney:  Yes. That is essential.

  42.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of calls to the Health Service Executive helpline on the baby scan misdiagnosis; the number of calls received to the special helpline established at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25777/10]

  48.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the measures she will take to help prevent misdiagnosis of miscarriages; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25967/10]

  74.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the action she is taking in response to the widespread incidents of miscarriage misdiagnosis which have come to light; the date on which she was first made aware of this problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25961/10]

  81.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, in view of the miscarriage misdiagnosis, she will instruct Health Information and Quality Authority to conduct an review of antenatal services, including equipment, protocols and training of personnel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25762/10]

  167.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the recent cases of misdiagnosis of miscarriage; if she has requested any reports or recommendations to be provided; if she will give assurances that any shortcomings in staff, equipment or practices that are identified will be rectified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26066/10]

Deputy Mary Harney:  I propose to answer Questions Nos. 42, 48, 74, 81 and 167 together.

Incidents of this kind are distressing to the women and families involved and I again express my sincerest sympathies to all of those who were affected. They are serious incidents and are treated as such.

  4 o’clock

The initial case which was the subject of media coverage over the past two weeks, was brought to my attention by way of letter received in my office on 12 August 2009. The solicitors for the couple concerned wrote to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, on 7 August 2009, seeking certain assurances about the care of, and other actions to be carried out by the hospital for, the woman concerned. On the same day, the solicitors wrote a short letter to me enclosing a copy of that letter. This was also copied to the CEO of the HSE, Professor Brendan Drumm and to the State Claims Agency.

The case was handled by my Department in line with the patient safety protocol which I put into place in the Department in September 2008. The protocol deals with correspondence relating to issues of patient safety from patients, doctors, health service staff and solicitors. It is managed by the chief medical officer on my behalf given that a medical assessment of any potential patient safety issue is required. Within one week the HSE responded to the solicitors and a further letter was sent on 24 August. I was copied on both these letters. The case was placed on the patient safety register and was reviewed regularly.

[25]In line with the protocol, my Department followed up by telephone and by letter with the HSE to determine if there were risk issues arising from its investigation of the case. Following these contacts, the hospital’s risk management unit advised the Department in January that a number of measures had been put in place to ensure that the chances of making an error of this kind again were minimised. My Department requested further detail which was subsequently received in April 2010.

My Department’s patient safety protocol meeting of 6 May 2010, reviewed the hospital’s action in the case and was satisfied that it had been dealt with appropriately and did not pose a patient safety risk for other users of that service. It was assessed that the review and follow-up actions for patient safety had been put in place at the hospital. The chief medical officer was satisfied that the case had been dealt with appropriately at all times.

I wish to point out that there was no other case of this type on the patient safety protocol register since its inception in October 2008 and neither was it indicated to my Department that any other such cases had been identified. As a result of media coverage in recent days, a number of other cases were brought to my attention. A number of actions were agreed by the HSE in conjunction with my Department to ensure the safe management of early pregnancy loss across the country.

The chief medical officer of my Department and the director of quality and clinical care in the HSE recently wrote to all obstetric units advising them to ensure that the decision to use drugs or surgical intervention in these circumstances must be approved by a consultant obstetrician.

The HSE has now announced details of a miscarriage misdiagnosis review team and its terms of reference. The review team is being chaired by an independent expert in obstetrics and gynaecology, Professor William Ledger, vice president of the Royal College of Obstetrics in the UK, who will be joined by Professor Michael Turner, national clinical lead of the HSE’s obstetrics programme and a former master of the Coombe hospital; Ms. Sheila Sugrue, HSE national lead for midwifery. Service-user representation will be provided by Cathriona Molloy from Patient Focus. It is expected that the review will be completed within six months and the report will be published.

In addition, a clinical programme for obstetric care has been established by the HSE’s national director of quality and clinical care which will define standardised care for early pregnancy loss and other aspects of obstetric care. It is important to understand that the use of scans and other technology must be guided by expert clinical opinion based on careful clinical history and examination. Scans will not always be necessary or appropriate.

The HSE has advised it has been working with all maternity facilities nation-wide to ensure that women with concerns about their care or treatment have access to information, support and reassurance. The number of calls to these facilities between Wednesday 9 June 2010 and midday on Friday last, has totalled 295. Of these calls, 95 were made to the maternity unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.

The HSE advised my Department that it has consulted HIQA in relation to the terms of reference of the miscarriage misdiagnosis review. I am satisfied with the course of action being taken by the HSE on this issue to date and I consider it appropriate to await the outcome of the HSE review. I see no necessity at this time to ask HIQA to conduct a parallel review.

It is important to put this case in context. Ireland has, by international standards, a very high-quality maternity service. Maternal mortality, perinatal mortality and infant mortality are all low by comparison to other jurisdictions. Women can be satisfied and confident as they come to use this service.

[26]Deputy James Reilly:  I hope I will be allowed time to address all those statements because, to be frank, the HSE might be happy and the Minister might be happy, patients are not happy, I am not happy and neither are the people on this side of the House.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy James Reilly:  Scans are not always appropriate but by God, they are appropriate if a pregnancy is going to be terminated by doing a D and C, then one better bloody well have a scan. Second, why are people not afforded the opportunity to have a second scan in those situations? Expecting a woman and her partner, having just been devastated by the news that they have lost their unborn baby, to have the composure and the strength to demand a second opinion, is not fair. This should be an automatic decision. Nothing should be done to endanger the life of the unborn until such time as it is proven to be no longer viable and this has not been the case in the past. I do not understand how the Minister can say she does not believe that HIQA needs to do a report. I believe it certainly does need to do so. She also says that the chief medical officer is happy with the internal review carried out in Drogheda and that it would not happen again. This is utter nonsense. The hospital still does not have a scenographer and it took six months to get rid of the machine that was fatigued and not fit for purpose. I really do not understand how the Minister can defy logic in her reply.

Deputy Mary Harney:  These tragic circumstances unfortunately occur and as the Deputy will know well, medical errors can occur. We need national standardised practice in so far as these matters are concerned. The appropriate people to introduce that standard practice are clinicians with expertise in this area. In particular, there is a strong role for the college of obstetrics and gynaecology.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister should give them the resources.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is not just a case of resources. Everything is not down to resources. It is the case in many hospitals in the country — and it should be the case — that a second opinion is sought in these circumstances. However, as I said in my response, it is not just simply a matter of machinery because there are a wider number of issues. We need to await the outcome of the review. The important fact is we have a person of the level of Professor Turner and I think the Deputy will agree he is highly respected in this field. He is a lead clinician in this area. He was appointed in May before this matter came into the public domain and for a different reason. He was asked to look at obstetric practice in Ireland and to make appropriate recommendations to ensure we have standard procedures right around the country.

I was in Mullingar hospital yesterday. It has always had a practice of a second opinion in operation, I am happy to say. We need a standardised approach to all these issues. In particular, we need to ensure we have obstetric cover to be able to give advice, examination and guidance to women in these circumstances.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome the terms of reference and the establishment of the review team in this case. However, a number of very serious questions remain. Why did the Minister, the Department and the HSE have to wait until after Melissa Redmond’s story went into the public arena, when it was known from last August 2009? Did not the Minister, the Department or the HSE consider the implications of what was brought to their attention then, not only with regard to Melissa Redmond’s story but for other women presenting at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda and for women who would present, perhaps in similar circumstances, at other maternity units across the State? Why is it always that the Minister can only respond when the spotlight of public attention is placed on an issue? Has the Minister or [27]the HSE taken the opportunity to try to establish from the records of maternity units across the State, the noted and acknowledged numbers of misdiagnoses that resulted in the loss of a child unnecessarily?

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is not the case that we waited until this case came into the public domain. From the time this came to the attention of the HSE, of my Department and, in fairness, of the hospital, action was taken swiftly to establish what had happened in this case.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  What about the implications?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Furthermore, this case was seen by the chief medical officer and his team as an isolated case. It was not regarded as something that affected other areas. To put this in context, I refer to the Port Laoise issue in September 2008. As a result of the patient safety implications that arose, I set up new protocols in the Department for dealing with patient safety issues, because I frequently get letters from Members, doctors, health care professionals, patients and lawyers suggesting patient safety is at risk. I am not competent to deal with those issues and neither are the administrative people in the Department. The people competent to deal with the issue are medics and that is why this is being overseen by the chief medical officer. The protocols are working very well. At any one time, there could be a significant number of issues and currently there are up to 120. Many of these are resource issues, but others are situations where misdiagnosis has been alleged. These must all be properly investigated.

In May 2010, prior to any of this coming into the public domain, it was decided that an elite clinician in the field of obstetrics would be appointed by the HSE to have appropriate clinical pathways, just as we are doing with heart failure and stroke ——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister has already told us that. This was not an isolated case.

Deputy Mary Harney:  This relates to all these issues. We now have new clinical leadership emerging where clinicians will be involved in rolling out clinical pathways in this and other areas. It is only when we have this standardised approach from the college of obstetrics and gynaecology that we can be assured, whether in the public or private sector, of a standardised approach throughout the country.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Has the number of cases in question been established?

Deputy Mary Harney:  There is no way of establishing that. The review will do that. As I mentioned, up to last Friday approximately 295 calls had been made since the helpline was opened. I understand that 95% of those calls were made to Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. I do not suggest all of those calls are cases, but obviously they were from people who had a miscarriage. To put the numbers in context, we have 14,000 miscarriages a year and 70,000 births. We do not suggest that all the calls relate to cases similar to the unfortunate Redmond case, but 295 is the number of calls made.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I warrant there is information to confirm misdiagnosis in some cases.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Minister said medical errors will occur. I agree, but they are much less likely to take place if we do not have outdated equipment and if proper protocols [28]are in place. Is the Minister now sure that we no longer have equipment that is too old for the job in the case of these life and death issues? She said that we can be assured now that any decision regarding terminating a pregnancy and taking away the life of a viable child will not happen unless it is signed off by a clinical obstetrician. However, she has not assured us that there will be a second opinion. While a second opinion is standard practice in many obstetric units throughout the country, this is not the case in all of them. Will the Minister assure us that she will demand there be a second opinion before any intervention is made in a pregnancy?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The clinical advice I have received from Professor Turner and others is that it should be signed off by an obstetrician. It would be difficult if we required a signing off by two obstetricians in every case because we have some very small hospitals where there are only two or three obstetricians. The machine in question was not old. The lifespan of these machines is seven years and the one in question was only six years old.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Is the Minister saying the report was wrong?

Deputy Mary Harney:  No, the point I am making is that it was not a machine that had passed its sell-by date. It was within the seven-year timeframe.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We were told it was an old machine.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Yes, but the scan was not outside the seven-year timeframe but within it.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It did not work properly.

Deputy Mary Harney:  We need to put forward a recommendation of clinical examination.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister, like everyone else, understands motor cars. A two year old car with 300,000 miles on it is clapped out. The machine in question had a huge workload on it. The Minister cannot answer the question because she has not carried out an audit of these ultra sound machines, as she was asked to do. Will the Minister’s new investigation address the issue of protocols, training and workload of both machines and staff? If a doctor’s bleep goes off three times during the course of an examination, how in the name of God can one say that is a proper working environment in which a proper decision can be made about a patient?

Deputy Mary Harney:  When we seek to do things in the interest of patient safety, such as the cancer programme, the Deputy opposes us. He cannot have it every way.

Deputy James Reilly:  That is not an answer to the question. The Minister should deal with the issue.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The person who will roll out the protocol will be Professor Turner who is the lead clinician in this area. He is the appropriate person to deal with the college of obstetrics and gynaecology which has the national expertise and will be centrally involved.

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 [29]case: (1) Deputy Thomas Byrne — the availability and improvement of respite services for intellectually and physically disabled people of County Meath and their families; (2) Deputy John O’Donoghue — the need to extend the season for licensed passenger boats carrying people to the Skelligs rock; (3) Deputy John Cregan — the need to provide adequate drug prevention and drug treatment facilities in Newcastle West and Kilmallock, County Limerick; (4) Deputy Michael McGrath — the need for the HSE to address urgently the issue of orthopaedic waiting lists in Cork; (5) Deputy Pat Breen — the recent closure of respite facilities by the Brothers of Charity in Limerick, the implications of this decision for people with special needs and their families and the need for the Minister for Health and Children to provide immediate funding to have this facility reopened immediately; (6) Deputy James Bannon — the need to provide a new community college for Kilbeggan, County Westmeath; (7) Deputy Joe Costello — the need to resolve the problems in the accident and emergency unit at the Mater Hospital, Dublin; and (8) Deputy Joe McHugh — the livelihoods of salmon fishermen in Lough Foyle and the depletion of salmon stocks upstream in the rivers Mourne, Faughan, Roe and Finn.

The matters raised by Deputies John O’Donoghue, Joe Costello, John Cregan and Joe McHugh have been selected for discussion.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I was not the only person absolutely appalled by the revelation at the Oireachtas committee last week by Mr. Aynsley, the chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank, to the effect that the €22 billion put into that bank by the taxpayer will never be seen again and will end up in a black hole. Given that the Taoiseach gave a personal promise to the House on 1 October 2008 that the Irish taxpayer would not be held liable in any way for banking policies being pursued by the Government, does he accept that the majority of this €22 billion will, in the words of Mr. Aynsley, never be seen again?

The Taoiseach:  The chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank has indicated to the Oireachtas committee what the situation is, namely, that were one to go for immediate liquidation of the bank, it would involve a cost to the taxpayer of over €42 billion, which has been the policy put forward by Fine Gael on a number of occasions. This would be in addition to an immediate funding requirement of up to €70 billion. Clearly that is not viable. What we seek to achieve is to obtain for the taxpayer the best possible outcome of what has been an appalling situation. The reduction in the value of the loans provided for by NAMA, and the losses on the non-NAMA loan book and, to a limited extent, restructuring of the balance sheet of the bank in the context of a proposed bank split, has meant that additional capital has been required. The issue, ultimately, for Government has always been to discover in what way it can reduce the exposure of the taxpayer over whatever period required for this part of the Anglo Irish Bank operations to be dealt with.

There is a funding requirement, as things stand, of €22 billion. The options that were available for an immediate liquidation were far in excess of that. In the longer term, in the aftermath of this recapitalisation, we will have to consider the question of obtaining some bank levy support for return of moneys to the taxpayer and the Exchequer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That is not the question I asked. I asked whether the Taoiseach accepts that the majority of the €22 billion to be put into Anglo Irish Bank will, in the words of Mr. Aynsley, never be seen again. The Taoiseach said that Mr. Aynsley told us what the situation is and went on to say that in the event of an immediate liquidation, this would cost €142 billion. Nobody is talking about an immediate liquidation of Anglo Irish Bank. Neither the Financial Times on 10 March, Mr. Johnson, former chief executive of the IMF nor the Fine Gael Party [30]has ever put forward that proposition. What we did put forward was that there should be a fair sharing of the loss by professional investors in and lenders to Anglo Irish Bank.

This is now a question of policy and of what one is borrowing for. In the case of the Government, it is borrowing to pay off investors in and lenders to Anglo Irish Bank. The alternative is to borrow for infrastructure requirements as part of the capital programme. If one looks at the capital programme, the reduction this year, next year and the year after amounts to approximately €11 billion. That is a reduction of 40%, the equivalent of approximately 40,000 jobs. The Government’s case is that it borrowed this money to put into Anglo Irish Bank, which effectively is dead, which will not make a contribution to the economy——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can the Deputy get to a question please?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  —— and which Mr. Aynsley, the chief executive states “will never be seen again”. The alternative is for the Government to change its policy by making some of those lenders and investors share the pain equally. It then would be able to hold onto some of the aforementioned 40,000 jobs that could be created. In addition, it could bring about a situation in which income could be generated to pay back those debts. It makes absolutely no sense for the Government to continue with the policy of borrowing money to put into a black hole in the fear that its investors and lenders will not do so again.

I again ask whether the Taoiseach accepts that Mr. Aynsley’s assertion at the Oireachtas committee that the vast majority of this money “will never be seen again” is the reality? Moreover, does he accept that no one is talking about an immediate liquidation of Anglo Irish Bank and that he should now change policy? He should forget about the shorter picture and should consider the longer picture of retaining 40,000 jobs. As Mr. David Begg stated yesterday, “The only sustainable route out of this crisis is through job protection and the creation of new work opportunities”. I suggest to the Taoiseach, and will support him in this regard, that new work and job creation opportunities exist and they will be realised through more infrastructural investment.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Moreover, the reduction proposed by the Government of €11 billion over the next three years will cost 40,000 jobs.

I again ask the Taoiseach whether he accepts the Aynsley assertion that this is dead money in a dead bank in a black hole? Consequently, is he prepared to change tack and change policy and make those lenders and investors share some of the pain in respect of Anglo Irish Bank?

The Taoiseach:  In respect of subordinated debt, there have been buy-back arrangements that have seen losses for those who held dated subordinated debt in this bank and in other banks. The Deputy appears to be suggesting that senior bondholders, that is, pension funds, credit unions and people like that, also should take some part of the hit. The Deputy’s policy at present is to default on senior bondholders and then go off and get money from——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  No, the Taoiseach stated that our policy was to liquidate Anglo Irish Bank immediately. That is not true.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow the Taoiseach to reply without interruption.

The Taoiseach:  I have been trying to decipher the Deputy’s policy for the last five minutes while listening to him and it appears to be as follows——

[31]Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach stated that our policy——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny, please.

The Taoiseach:  Sorry, but the Deputy has had four chances to talk about this. His policy appears to be that rather than the scenario in which the Government must provide this funding to Anglo Irish Bank — I note an immediate liquidation would cost twice the amount and would entail funding requirements of a further €70 billion — the Deputy suggests that more of that money should be put into infrastructural investment. The way he claims he could do this is that he would not be obliged to give €22 billion but would insist on some default to the senior bondholders, because the dated subordinated debt bondholders have taken a loss and will continue to so do.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Make them share the loss.

The Taoiseach:  As for that matter, Deputy Kenny then intends to go elsewhere in the international markets and claims he will be able to raise this money from the same people he does not intend to pay.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  There is €3 trillion available.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy must figure this out for himself. If one does not get paid for the first debt, one will not sell the second one. This is the facility of the Deputy’s policy.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach should answer the question. The money will never be seen again.

The Taoiseach:  As recently as last week, in a stout defence of Deputy Kenny, the man now sitting beside him suggested that Anglo Irish Bank needed to be wound down immediately.

Deputy James Reilly:  I suggested it be wound down in an orderly fashion.

The Taoiseach:  I can supply Deputy Kenny with the quotation from RTE news. The policy last week was to wind it down while the policy this week, according to Deputy Kenny, is not to pay the credit unions and the pension funds——

Deputy James Reilly:  There is no business out there——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Reilly, the Taoiseach is in possession.

The Taoiseach:  —— in order to get money from the pension funds and the credit unions to perform the proposed infrastructural work.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach is not convincing anyone.

The Taoiseach:  At present, that is where the Deputy is at. The sooner he selects a finance spokesperson, the better it will be for his own outfit.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  It will be €40 billion next year.

The Taoiseach:  As for the situation here, the Government is committed to an infrastructural investment programme.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach did a great job in Finance, did he not?

[32]Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Taoiseach should look behind him.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please.

The Taoiseach:  It has set it out and has stated that €40 billion over the next six years should be provided for infrastructure.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach should check his own outfit. If he wants any advice, he should give me a shout.

The Taoiseach:  Indeed, much the infrastructural investment that has been seen in recent years continues to be of benefit to the economy, despite the serious downturn in the public finances as well.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is dead money that never will be seen again.

(Interruptions).

Deputy James Reilly:  It is dead money put in a dead hole by a dead Government.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is a case of Fianna Fáil looking after the bankers again.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Gilmore, please.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I was interested in the proposals that were put forward jointly by IBEC and the ICTU and the Construction Industry Council yesterday, which are aimed at getting back to work the 140,000 building workers who have lost their jobs over the past two years. The package of proposals that was put forward jointly by the bodies yesterday amounts to €5.5 billion per annum in infrastructure works. The sum of €22 billion would keep that package going, with all of the jobs that would be provided, for four years. The sum of €22 billion would build the metro, the 400 schools on the list of the Department of Education and Skills and the hospitals. Moreover, there would be money left over to do a lot more than that. The sum of €22 billion is the amount of taxpayers’ money the Government has put in to Anglo Irish Bank. As Deputy Kenny has pointed out to the Taoiseach, the chief executive of the bank stated last week that the lion’s share of the €22 billion will never be seen again. Members could go on all evening arguing about whose banking strategy and policy on banks is right and whose is wrong but they should stick with this single fact. Is the chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank right or wrong? Is it the case that the lion’s share of the money will, as he put it, “never be seen again”? Is the money gone?

The Taoiseach:  I will mention two facts. In response to the Deputy’s question, the first relates to the fact that of course recapitalisation of banks, including the provision of moneys to that bank, has arisen because there were inadequate shareholders’ funds to take the losses in those banks. Second, the banking inquiry review confirms that the aforementioned bank unfortunately was of systemic importance and that were we not to have supported it, as Deputy Gilmore suggested at the time, it would have seen the banking system run out of money within days. These are the two facts.

Deputy James Reilly:  Will the Taoiseach answer the question? Is it “Yes” or “No”?

An Ceann Comhairle:  A final supplementary from Deputy Gilmore.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is the Taoiseach’s third go at talking his way around what is a very simple question.

[33]Deputy Dinny McGinley:  Give him one more chance.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach should leave aside for today the question of who is right and wrong. There will be bank inquiries and so on and there probably will be debates about banks in this House for a long time to come. The chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank came before an Oireachtas committee last week and stated in very simple and stark terms that the lion’s share of the €22,000 million of taxpayers’ money that has gone into Anglo Irish bank will, as he put it, never be seen again. Deputy Cowen is the Taoiseach and in common with people throughout the country, I want to know whether that man is right. Is our money gone? Is the €22,000 million that has gone into Anglo Irish Bank lost and gone forever? The Taoiseach should not give me arguments or points on which he was right and where I was wrong or where Deputy Kenny was wrong and where everyone else, apart from himself, was wrong. He should simply answer the question, is the money gone?

The Taoiseach:  I have given the Deputy the answer to the question.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  No, the Taoiseach did not.

The Taoiseach:  If I may be allowed, it is clear that when shareholders’ funds are not sufficient to meet the losses of a bank and when taxpayers are obliged to intervene to fill those losses, that loss is being taken on by the taxpayer.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The money is gone.

The Taoiseach:  It is clear, in respect of that bank, that this is the situation. It also is clear that the choice was not €22 billion or zero, as the Deputy would have people believe. It was a choice between €22 billion or €42 million or €70 billion.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Does the Taoiseach suggest that he got a bargain?

The Taoiseach:  No, Deputy. It is not being as smart-alecky as that, because this is too serious an issue.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a serious issue.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can we have the Taoiseach on this issue, without interruption. Deputy Gilmore, please.

The Taoiseach:  What it is about is making sure that one reduces the exposure of the taxpayer to the greatest extent possible. I also make the point that in respect of the investments we have made in Bank of Ireland and Anglo Irish Bank, the Government expects to make money from those investments. Money will be made from those investments.

Deputy Joan Burton:  From Anglo Irish Bank? It will not.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Taoiseach is changing the subject.

The Taoiseach:  In respect of the 1.8 million preference shares——

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Government is going to make money from Anglo Irish Bank?

The Taoiseach:  I am sorry?

[34]Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach stated the Government would make money from Anglo Irish Bank.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

The Taoiseach:  In relation to those banks, those investments will have a return. Clearly, Anglo Irish Bank is in a completely different category and that money will not be returned because clearly, the shareholders’ funds have been inadequate to meet the losses. If one had even a peremptory understanding of the banking situation, one would understand that.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The money is gone.

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 on Deputies in the order in which they submitted their notices to my office.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss a matter of urgent importance, namely, the mistakes in yesterday’s leaving certificate higher level accountancy paper, which caused great upset in my constituency at a time of great stress for higher level students, and the need for clarification that those who would not have chosen to answer the only questions available to them in the early part of the exam will not be penalised. The Minister must be conscious that unless she gives immediate assurance to those students, this major error will have a further negative impact on performance in the remaining exams this week.

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  The Minister should answer that.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I will pass the query on to the Minister. I hope she will make a genuine response to the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, the Deputy has had her say.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance and concern, namely, the urgent need for the Government to establish a new institutionally independent child death review mechanism to ensure that vulnerable children living in State care get the protection they deserve, and call on the Government to support the Ombudsman for Children, Ms Emily Logan, on this matter and other child protection-related issues.

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. 11, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Post-Release (Restrictions on Certain Activities) Orders Scheme 2010; No. 21, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill 2010 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 22, Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; and No. 6 Health (Amendment) Bill 2010 — Order for Second Stage and Second Stage.

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that: the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and business shall be interrupted not later than 10 p.m.; No. 11 shall be [35]decided without debate; Report and Final Stages of No. 21 shall be taken today and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources; Private Members’ business shall be No. 81 — motion re tourism, which shall be taken at 7 p.m. tonight, or on the conclusion of No. 21, whichever is the later, and shall be adjourned after 90 minutes tonight; and Report and Final Stages of No. 22 shall be taken tonight and the proceedings thereon shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in regard to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Finance.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are five proposals to be put to the House today. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed to?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not agreed. Will the Government facilitate an opportunity for the House to address the serious issues that have arisen recently in the course of the leaving certificate and junior certificate examinations? Given that there is no ministerial provision in that regard, the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills will not have an opportunity to address those matters between now and the summer recess. In effect, what will happen is that the serious questions that need to be addressed will not be addressed on the floor of the Dáil until the autumn session. Will the Taoiseach provide time for the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills to make a statement on the serious matters concerning errors in some of the examination papers and the omission of several pages——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to pursue the matter at another time.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——from an important leaving certificate accountancy exam.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is not the way to do it at all.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, but it is absolutely in order. What is not in order is cutting me off every time I try to ask an important and salient question. I ask again in the interests of the address of those important matters, and the questions that must arise in terms of whether the State Examinations Commission is properly resourced or if serious questions may be directed towards its conduct of its remit and responsibilities. Will the Taoiseach accommodate such an opportunity before we break for the summer recess?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Widespread concern is being expressed about the competency levels of the State Examinations Commission having regard to what happened last year and this year. Could the Whips or the Taoiseach consider whether some time could be made available to comment on the point that has been raised by Deputy Ó Caoláin?

The Taoiseach:  We are under considerable time constraints in terms of legislation we need to put through the House. There are other methods and means by which those matters can be raised such as Private Notice Questions, on the Adjournment and in committee hearings. The State Examinations Commission carries out a review each year in respect of errors and issues that have arisen. I very much regret that errors of the type we have seen in recent days have occurred. A comprehensive review is necessary. These are avoidable errors and need to be addressed fully. I would not like to see them repeated given the anxiety and concern they cause students. I thank those, many in schools, who were able to get the matter rectified without the examination being compromised in the 16 schools concerned.

[36]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Just very briefly——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot make a second contribution. I am sorry but I cannot allow Members to speak twice. There are many other ways to raise the matter such as to ask a Special Notice Question or to raise the matter on the Adjournment. We will consider the matters sympathetically if they are raised.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Are you saying, a Cheann Comhairle, that a Special Notice Question will be sympathetically considered?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I suggest that is one avenue and raising the matter on the Adjournment is another one.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We look forward to a discussion on the matter.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not promising anything. I said the matter will be considered. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 11, motion re referral to joint committee of proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the Post-Release (Restrictions on Certain Activities) Orders Scheme 2010 without debate agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 21, the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill 2010 agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  This is the annual reoccurrence of the guillotine, an unusual weapon used in the French Revolution. I do not wish the situation to arise where we have a series of guillotined Bills between now and the summer recess. Only four or five amendments have been tabled in respect of the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill. I am informed that perhaps an hour’s discussion is required. That is not the way we should proceed. I have objected in principle previously to guillotines being imposed and I object to it now. I will vote against the proposal.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I raised the issue on Thursday that the Government is planning to use the guillotine a number of times on legislation this week. It is intended to guillotine five Bills during the course of this week. That is bad habit on the part of the Government. It is done every year when we come towards the end of the session. It is a device which the Government is using serially in order to avoid proper debate in the House on legislation and then rushing it through at the last minute using the guillotine. The irony in the case of this Bill is that it is our view that the guillotine is not necessary at all. I understand from our spokesperson, Deputy McManus, that it would be possible to have the Bill dealt with in the normal way. In all probability it might not run until 7 p.m. when it is proposed to introduce a guillotine but the Government has become so addicted to its use that it would appear that on this occasion it is proposing to use it where in fact a guillotine is not necessary.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to speak on the same matter, namely, the imposition of the guillotine. Where previously it was a feature in the run-up to recesses both prior to the summer and Christmas, in the past year the guillotine has been employed quite freely at various times throughout each of the sessions. It is completely unnecessary. As recent experiences will show, some legislation passes through the House much quicker than the Chief Whip and the Government side have anticipated. I believe that will also apply to the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill. The guillotine is also to be applied to the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill which is due to conclude at 10 p.m. this evening. I do not believe that [37]is necessary. The guillotine should not be employed in that way. I urge the Taoiseach to remove the guillotine and to allow the House to freely debate each of these matters.

The Taoiseach:  During the course of the session many Deputies have been asking for the enactment and progression of legislation and as we come towards the end of the session it is unfortunate that a sizeable number of Bills require to be dealt with. I made the point last week, which is something we need to address, namely, that when Bills are referred to committees it is totally in the hands of the committee to decide how long it will stay on Committee Stage before returning to the House. There should be a time limit applied so committees that receive legislation would regard it as their priority work, thus allowing Report Stage to proceed in the House and preventing the pushing back of legislation. I take the point on some legislation that has only recently been published. We are trying to deal with issues that need to dealt with immediately by legislation before we rise. However, there are a number of problems and they are not all on the Government side. I make that point for future reference. I hope that, during the next term, some means will be found by committees, Departments and Ministers to determine how soon legislation can return to the House. There are some cases where it does not come back as quickly as would otherwise be the case.

  5 o’clock

With regard to Second Stage Dáil debates on these matters, approximately one hour and 30 minutes was allocated for the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill and an hour and 17 minutes was allocated for the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill. It may be the case that we will not require the use of the guillotine for the legislation going through the House this evening but it must be provided for by the Whip in the event that it will take the time allocated because he must proceed with other legislation. It is not for the purpose of being gratuitous but for the good order of the House. If we can get the Bill through before 7 p.m., all the better. In this case, the guillotine will not be utilised and we will move on to the next Bill and have more time to consider it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I want the Taoiseach to explain how he has apportioned——

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 21 be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 73; Níl, 65.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Dermot.
 Ahern, Michael.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Andrews, Chris.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  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’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Bannon, James.  Barrett, Seán.
 Behan, Joe.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Creighton, Lucinda.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Gilmore, Eamon.  Hayes, Brian.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Hogan, Phil.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGinley, Dinny.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Neville, Dan.
 Noonan, Michael.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Shea, Brian.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  O’Sullivan, Maureen.
 Penrose, Willie.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Shatter, Alan.  Sheahan, Tom.
 Sheehan, P. J.  Sherlock, Seán.
 Shortall, Róisín.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Upton, Mary.
 Varadkar, Leo.  

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

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members’ business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 22, Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008 — Order for Report, Report and Final Stages, agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I have made my point about guillotines. I do not wish to unduly hold up the time of the House by voting against it, except to say to the Government Whip not to come in with a rash of guillotines between now and the rising of the Dáil for the summer recess.

[39]Deputy Micheál Martin:  An unfortunate choice of words.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I concur with Deputy Kenny. This is another example of a Bill where, frankly, the guillotine is not necessary. This Bill could have been dealt with in the normal course of events. If we needed extra time to deal with it, that is fine and is already agreed. There is no need for a guillotine on this Bill.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  On exactly the same point, I appeal to the Taoiseach and the Government team to heed the Opposition’s appeal. The guillotine is totally unnecessary.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 22 be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I ask the Taoiseach if he can report any progress on the wording for the children’s referendum and if the referendum is likely to be held this year.

Last week, following the publication of the Saville report, I asked that an agreed motion be unanimously passed by the House in respect of it. Has anything happened in that regard?

Is it expected that the Government will hold a debate next week on the European Council meeting?

The Taoiseach:  On the question of the referendum, the answer is the same as I gave last week.

On the question on the Saville inquiry report, I understand we can arrange that for next week. I had indicated that we would do it this week. However, I will arrange it for next week and use this week to get an agreed motion.

On the other question,——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Progress on the European Council.

The Taoiseach:  ——that is next week also.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What are the Government’s current plans regarding the Dublin mayor Bill? I noted over the weekend that the Minister, Deputy Gormley, now seems to think that the Bill might be published, but not enacted, before the summer recess. When will the Bill be published and when is it now anticipated by the Government that the election for the directly-elected mayor of Dublin will take place?

My second question is in respect of the decision yesterday by the Government to withdraw its appeal to the Supreme Court in the case of transgender persons, the effect being that the previous High Court ruling now stands, that Ireland is in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I understand that, arising from yesterday’s decision, the Taoiseach must report the court’s decision to the Dáil within 21 sitting days. What is his intention in this regard and when will we see his report on the court’s decision?

I understand that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, will need to introduce legislation recognising transgender persons in their new genders and allowing them to get new birth certificates in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. When will the Minister introduce this legislation to the House?

The Taoiseach:  The arrangements are being made to have the order of the High Court in the Foy case laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas. It is intended that this will be done before the summer recess.

[40]Regarding the Minister for Social Protection, he has established an interdepartmental group to advise him on the legislation required to comply with the ruling of the High Court in the Foy case. That work has begun and representatives of the relevant Government Departments are involved. It has met in recent weeks and will hold a public consultation as part of its deliberations as well, but I have no timescale for when it will finish its work.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What is the story with the Dublin mayor Bill?

The Taoiseach:  Obviously, the Minister is hoping to be in a position to bring it to Government for the purpose of its publication. As the Deputy knows, there is a commitment in the programme for Government on this matter, but we are waiting for it to be brought to Government by the relevant Department.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Government is waiting for the Minister.

The Taoiseach:  He is working on the Bill, since he is the line Minister involved, just as other Ministers do in respect of their own legislation.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  He is taking a long time.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Last week, I tried to establish whether the Multi-Unit Developments Bill 2009 is likely to reach Second Stage so that we can deal with Committee Stage over the summer. There is serious grief for all of the reasons the Taoiseach knows. I hope it can be taken.

While I am on my feet, I wish to raise a second matter on the Order of Business. The chairperson of the rights of the child committee, Deputy O’Rourke, recently made a speech that I took to mean that, if the Opposition did not persist with demands to hold by-elections, the referendum could go ahead. Is this Government policy or was she speaking for herself?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Was it ever else?

Deputy Finian McGrath:  A solo run.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  She is well able to speak for herself.

The Taoiseach:  Similar to Deputy Rabbitte, I am sure she speaks for herself.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I am not sure she has such a narrow view of her role.

The Taoiseach:  Neither has Deputy Rabbitte. I am——

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  I will convey his views to Deputy O’Rourke.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Immediately.

Deputy James Bannon:  She is contradicting the——

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Ask Miriam O’Callaghan.

The Taoiseach:  It is hoped that we will get Second Stage of that Bill completed before we rise.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I have two matters to raise, one with the Ceann Comhairle and another through him on legislation. As the Chair of the House and the protector of the rights of Deputies, can he advise a Deputy who, having tabled a question to the Minister for Education [41]and Skills, did not receive a reply, was refused an answer or received an answer in which the information was vague? At what point do the rights of Deputies kick in as distinct from the position of the Minister?

Deputy David Stanton:  We do not have any.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Quinn, who is a long time in the House, will be well aware that the Chair does not have a rights commissioner role in the House. Some occupants might like that power, but it is an issue that may need to be deliberated on for a while.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Ceann Comhairle exercises the power of deciding whether a question is in order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Surely he could exercise the power to decide whether a reply is in order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have various committees to consider these matters. The Whip of the Labour Party is active on them and I am sure he would like to pursue the matter for Deputy Quinn.

A Deputy:  It is a waste of time.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  We are not being effective. This matter was raised previously and the Department in question is getting worse, in that it is refusing to give information. What are the rights of Deputies in the House if this is the case?

Deputy David Stanton:  We do not have rights.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Deputy Quinn should try being an Independent Member.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could Deputy Quinn ask his Whip to pursue the matter through the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, CPP?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  On that point, the CPP has considered this matter under the Ceann Comhairle’s chairmanship and written to the Department of Education and Skills specifically and other Departments, insisting they answer the questions put to them by Deputies. Under the Ceann Comhairle’s guidance, the CPP drew up new Standing Orders, but the Government side en masse, which was unusual at the CPP, voted them down in a partisan manner. They would have given the Ceann Comhairle authority to make the Minister provide an answer to a question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will consider it in that context.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I have a specific question on legislation promised for this autumn, namely, the qualifications, education and training Bill. Have its heads been agreed by the Government?

The Taoiseach:  I understand the heads of the Bill are almost completed, but they have not been brought to the Government yet.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Will the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government appear before the House this week to explain his announcement of a review of a number [42]of local authorities? I listened to today’s lunchtime news when Cork City Council’s manager, Mr. Joe Gavin, seemed quite bewildered as to why this investigation has been requested. The Department’s website seems to be sending two signals. First, this is a general investigation of practices. Second, there is a suggestion of complaints of a particular nature. Will the Minister appear before the Dáil and let us know what notification was given to individual local authorities on this matter? Why were these ones targeted specifically?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I suggest that the Deputy submit a parliamentary question to the Minister on the matter.

Deputy David Stanton:  I have three questions for the Taoiseach. First, is the mental capacity Bill still going to be published before we rise for the summer recess? Second, on the promise to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, must we deal with other serious human rights before doing so? Third, regarding No. 82 on today’s Order Paper, where stands Dáil reform from the Government’s point of view? Will there be proposals from the Government side this year, next year or any year?

The Taoiseach:  On the first question, it is hoped that Bill would be published this session.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will it be before the summer recess?

The Taoiseach:  That is the hope of the Department. On the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ireland was in the first group of countries to sign, subject to ratification. It is the Government’s intention to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as quickly as possible, taking into account the need to ensure that all necessary requirements under that convention are being met. There will be no undue delay in the State’s ratification of it, I understand.

Regarding the third matter, the Whip must deal with it in due course.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I am sure it was purely coincidental, but while others and I were announcing two weeks ago that we would introduce Private Members’ legislation on sun beds, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, issued a press statement to the effect that she was ready with her legislation on the same issue. When will that Bill be introduced and what point has it reached? I believe its heads have been agreed.

The Taoiseach:  I do not think it would be this session. It will probably be next session.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  When will the White Paper on Local Government be published? Does its proposal, taken from the Green Paper, on abolishing town councils have any connection with the fact that Fianna Fáil has lost control of most town councils?

The Taoiseach:  No. That is just the Deputy’s conspiratorial mind working overtime.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  It is a coincidence, though.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  When will the White Paper be published so that we can know?

An Ceann Comhairle:  No legislation is promised.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It is a legitimate question and I am entitled to know the date of the publication.

The Taoiseach:  It is currently being finalised, so I cannot give a date at the moment.

[43]Deputy Emmet Stagg:  I thank the Taoiseach.

Deputy Jimmy Deenihan:  As the Taoiseach is aware, he has made a number of private and public commitments regarding the introduction of legislation on offshore betting. Concern is growing among the horse and greyhound racing fraternities to the effect that the greyhound fund will collapse because of the proliferation of offshore betting.

It would help if this legislation was published before the summer. Only two weeks remain in this session. Does the Taoiseach expect it will be published over the next two weeks? Can the Taoiseach provide an assurance it will be published over the summer? It is a critical matter.

The Taoiseach:  I indicated the Government’s intentions in these areas. The legislation must be prepared. An effort has been made to provide the legal means by which this might be achieved. I have indicated where this might happen. I cannot provide the commitment to have this published in the next couple of weeks as sought by Deputy Deenihan. It is being dealt with in the Department of Finance in consultation with the Department of Justice and Law Reform. I will keep a close eye on it.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy John Curran):  I move:

That the proposal that Dáil Éireann approves the following Order in draft:

Post-Release (Restrictions on Certain Activities) Orders Scheme 2010,

copies of which were laid in draft form before Dáil Éireann on 19 January 2010, be referred to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights, in accordance with paragraph (2) of the Orders of Reference of that committee, which, not later than 29 June 2010, shall send a message to the Dáil in the manner prescribed in Standing Order 87, and Standing Order 86(2) shall accordingly apply.

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 22 and 23, to insert the following:

“1.—The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources shall prepare and publish a regulatory impact analysis of this Act prior to the commencement of the Act.”.

I tabled this amendment because I am concerned the Government is not complying with its policies. This Bill is called the Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Bill so regulation is pertinent. The Government very specifically commits itself to better regulation. The Government White Paper and the follow-on statement on the web refers to better regulation contributing to:

improving national competitiveness and better Government by ensuring that new regulations [. . .] are more rigorously assessed in terms of their impacts, more accessible to all and better understood. Existing regulations will be streamlined and revised, where possible, through a process of systematic review. [. . .] The approach [. . .] is both practical, in that it is action-[44]oriented, and pragmatic in that the Government is not “for or against” regulation. Rather, the Government favours Better Regulation. Regulation is an integral part of the process of governing and it will continue to be so. Legislation and subsidiary regulations have a critical role to play in key areas of economic and social life.

It also refers to the continuing drive for competitiveness and people’s expectations of high quality public services. After that preamble, the commitment is very specific:

The Government will make better use of evidence-based policy-making. This means making better use of research and analysis in both policy-making and policy implementation. Regulation is an expression of policy and Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) is an evidence-based approach that allows for the systematic consideration of the benefits and costs of a regulatory proposal to the economy and society.

That is what the Government says of its approach to regulation but what it does, in this Bill, is to disregard everything in the White Paper. The Minister set about introducing a new regime. Generally speaking, this would receive the support of the Opposition. The Minister then tried a sleight of hand by attempting to introduce these measures in legislation concerning bio-fuels, which have absolutely nothing to do with the imposition of a carbon levy on electricity generation. We managed to stop the Minister on that point and argued trenchantly that separate legislation, which was transparent and open, should be introduced so that the two issues are kept apart. Thankfully, the Minister backed down and produced a separate Bill, which we are now debating.

When it comes to ensuring the impact of regulation is understood by the public, the Minister, the Department and those framing the legislation, there is no way out. According to the policy of the Government, there must be a regulatory impact analysis. However, we have not had that in this case. The Minister referred to holding many meetings. Maybe that is true, maybe it is not. I am sure he has had many meetings and that sometimes this issue arose but I imagine many meetings addressed other issues as well. This focused, analytical, evidence-based approach is different from the Minister having many meetings. The objective of robust legislation that has gone through a forensic approach promoted by the Government has not happened.

Generation companies knew something was coming down the tracks because the CER report of 2009 indicated this was the case. They approached the Department and this was activated by the private sector side. It is unlikely that the ESB or Bord Gáis will oppose this legislation. An ad hoc arrangement pertained.

The Minister will not accept my amendment because it is too late. We are on Report Stage and the Minister wants to rush this Bill through. However, it is important to hold the Minister to account because otherwise we have an example of the Government not living up to its commitments. Again, regulation is introduced without proper safeguards. One can argue that regulation is being introduced into a narrow area and the levy is being imposed but it is symptomatic of a malaise that led this country into the worst economic disaster we have ever seen. The lack of regulation, transparency and ensuring controls and safeguards in the public interest have led us to where we are. In this instance, the Bill is simple and regulatory impact analysis would have provided us with information to ensure this is the best possible legislation. The Government suggests this approach but the Minister is not following it.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I do not propose to accept this amendment, as Deputy McManus predicted. As outlined on Committee Stage, I am committed to the development of evidence-based policy making. Although [45]formal regulatory impact analysis has not been conducted, I am satisfied this Bill stands as an example of good regulatory practice. My officials and I consulted widely with the industry and have held detailed discussions with the Office of the Attorney General and the energy regulator in order to ensure the regulation is robust. I am confident the requisite analysis has been done and that this approach is correct. As such, I want to see this legislation implemented as soon as possible. We will not benefit from delaying further. We are aware of the views of industry on this measure and further public consultation will not unearth further issues that have not already been considered by my Department.

I note the Act has no specific commencement provisions. Rather, it comes into force on enactment. Since Report and Final Stages are being taken today, requiring a regulatory impact analysis to be conducted before enactment would not be practical in the time available. The legislation represents the only viable option expected to meet with the reasonable degree of success in recovering the majority of the carbon windfall gains. It has been approved by the Government and the Attorney General, who is satisfied the legislation is robust. Since carbon windfall gains are a temporary windfall, I intend to enact the legislation without further delay. I cannot accept this amendment.

Deputy Liz McManus:  What a surprise.

Amendment put and declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 2 is in the name of the Minister. Amendments Nos. 3, 7, 9, 14 and 15 are related. Amendment No. 8 is related and an alternative to amendment No. 7. Therefore, amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7 to 9, inclusive, 14 and 15 may be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, between lines 5 and 6, to insert the following:

“‘CADA’ has the same meaning as in the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 (Public Service Obligations) Order 2002 (S.I. No. 217 of 2002) (as amended by the Electricity Regulation Act 1999 (Public Service Obligations) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order 2007 (S.I. No. 583 of 2007));”.

I stated on Committee Stage that I had asked my officials to conduct a detailed review of all ongoing public service obligation contracts to confirm that no generator is benefiting from the commission decision on carbon costs. Following this investigation, it has become clear that two electricity generators which are covered by the public service obligation have the opportunity to benefit to a small degree from the SEM committee decision requiring generators to pass through the opportunity cost of carbon.

These two generators are Aughinish Alumina and Tynagh. These two generators will benefit if they sell a small proportion of their output outside the PSO scheme. They are thus earning carbon windfall gains on this small portion of their output as it is sold directly into the wholesale market and the generators receive the market price for it, which includes the opportunity cost of carbon.

To deal with this position I propose limiting the exemption for PSO plant. Any output which is sold by companies into the market and is outside the scope of the capacity and differences agreements, or CADA,with the ESB will now be subject to the levy.

The amendments I propose require these generators to report to the CER any emissions which are attributable to that portion of their electricity on which they are earning windfall gains. [46] They will be liable to the carbon levy on that basis. The CER also retains its powers to request any supporting information it requires from generators to verify these figures, and it remains a criminal offence to provide false information to the CER. In practice, the two companies’ levies liabilities are likely to be very small since the vast majority of their output in both cases is subject to the CADA contract.

I stated at the outset of the legislative process that my goal was a fully transparent levy that recovers carbon windfall gains while treating generators equitably. These amendments ensure that no emissions producing generators benefiting from the same committee decision requiring them to pass through their opportunity cost of carbon to the wholesale electricity market are exempt. As such, I propose that amendments Nos. 2, 3, 7, 9, 14 and 15 be agreed. The acceptance of this amendment will have the effect of nullifying Deputy Coveney’s amendment No. 8.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I think I understand what the Minister is trying to do but it may require some further clarification. First, my amendment No. 8 essentially states that generating plant subject to PSO, whether it be for peat or for anything else, should also have the windfall tax or the carbon levy, as the Minister has decided to christen it, applied to it in terms of power that is generated and sold on to the grid. That would provide more transparency for consumers as to the portion in terms of who is paying what as regards the PSO and the price of that electricity for consumers but I want to be clear on what the Minister is saying. Is he saying that when Tynagh and Aughinish Alumina are selling electricity on to the market they will be charged for that portion of electricity that they sell? In other words, when they are selling into the common pool, so to speak, they will be charged for that portion but the energy they use themselves, in the case of Aughinish Alumina, will not be subject to any carbon levy. Is that what the Minister is saying?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Or where it is in a PSO based system, yes.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Regarding the capacity in an agreement that a generator would have with the ESB to sell power to it, when there is a CADA involved is it or is it not the case that a carbon levy will be applied? I want some clarification on that.

Is the Minister saying there are only two generating stations in the country to which this may have relevance? In other words, for the peat power stations the Minister is sticking to what he had stated previously would be his approach. I would like some clarity in a language we can all understand in terms of who is paying what and the rationale behind the reason that if a company uses its own power but has received free carbon allowances from the Government for doing that, it should not have to make a contribution in terms of the cost of carbon of the emissions it is emitting.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I will give further detail on Deputy Coveney’s amendment, although we have discussed this issue on Committee Stage also.

Tynagh and Aughinish Alumina are the only plants that would have such CADA agreements. Deputy Coveney was an Opposition spokesperson when Tynagh and Aughinish Alumina got those agreements. There was a shortage of electricity at the time. We were very close to being unable to meet some of our power demand and in those circumstances the regulator issued them with those contract arrangements to ensure they would have guaranteed sales. Even with those contract arrangements, there is a percentage of their output which in certain instances they may be selling into the electricity market outside that contract arrangement or PSO system, and that is the element on which we would look to make sure that the carbon [47]windfall which accrues to them is recovered. As I said, that is likely to be a small percentage of their output but one we did not want to omit.

I will give details on the peat one because while in our initial discussions on this Bill I was of a like mind that we should apply it to all generators, even in the peat plants where there is a PSO in place, I asked my officials to examine that in some detail and having given it due consideration they came back with the view that removing the exemption for PSO plant from those peat generators would not be irrational because they do not earn the carbon windfall gains in the PSO application they get. That is because PSO plant do not bid into the market in the same way as other generators. Rather they receive a guaranteed fixed return, and that fixed return is generally above the prevailing system marginal price. Hence, when fossil fuel prices are high and the market price is high, there is little or no premium paid to those PSO plant. However, when market prices are low that premium can be large. The effect of the incorporation of carbon into electricity prices was to raise the wholesale cost of electricity similarly to if there had been an increase in fossil fuel prices.

That directly reduced the cost of the PSO levy to consumers. While overall compensation to PSO plant was unchanged, therefore, the cost of the PSO to consumers declined by that portion of the rise in electricity prices attributable to carbon, that is, we, the electricity consumers, benefited from the incorporation of carbon, not the PSO plant. The PSO difference from the market price reduced when we passed through carbon and it was from that point that the consumers did not have to pay for it. The PSO would otherwise have been higher.

Imposing the carbon levy on the PSO plant would be essentially a zero sum game. The amounts we would collect from the PSO plant by applying the carbon levy to them would be passed directly on to consumers through an increase in the PSO levy. I understand it may seem incongruous to some that we are excluding the most carbon intensive plants from the levy but even if we were to include the peat plants in the carbon levy that would have no effect on the emissions of those peat plants.

The peat plants have priority dispatch. That means they always produce electricity when they are available, regardless of the cost. The consumer then picks up the bill for that through the PSO levy. Imposing the levy upon them, therefore, would not reduce their emissions one iota.

I have sympathy with the Deputy’s argument that the PSO levy should reflect the true economic cost of running such plant and that the cost should be transparent to consumers. However, as I am sure the Deputy is aware, the CER has recently published its draft decision on the PSO levy that will apply from this October onwards. That decision proposes a PSO levy of almost €200 million, with over €90 million of that total attributable to the peat plant. The decision makes the cost of operating the peat plant clear and real to consumers. The PSO levy applies to all consumers. I have already stated that I will be using the funds raised by this levy to offset electricity prices for large energy users. Therefore, imposing this levy on a PSO plant would raise prices for domestic users while reducing electricity prices for large energy users. This would be an additional burden on consumers. Given that removal of the exemption would have no impact upon the operation of a peat plant and the steps I have taken to address the small amount in windfall gains to be earned by other PSO generators where it is possible, I cannot on that basis accept amendment No. 8.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The figure for the PSO stands at €200 million. I appreciate and understand why the Minister is trying to reduce costs for large energy users. However, this will have an impact on domestic users that I would have imagined was worth mentioning. Prices have eased somewhat and it is clear the PSO will cost more. By October 2010, what will be the increase in domestic electricity users’ bills?

[48]Deputy Eamon Ryan:  That will largely depend on the price of gas. With 60% of electricity generated by gas, its price very much determines electricity prices. The regulator and the generators will be looking at the price of gas.

The PSO has two effects. The PSO on peat-fuelled plants was based on security supplies and an unemployment argument for the midlands concerning the operation of Bord na Móna plants there. The wind PSO levy, on the other hand, was introduced more recently. The two of them come down 50:50 as to how the PSO is applied.

The peat levies have two timelines, one for five years while the other is longer. It might be difficult to get a PSO approval for peat plants given the high carbon emissions from such plants. I am seeking an extension from Brussels on the wind levy because it works in giving a stable investment environment in wind power generation which is the best hedge against volatile gas prices. Much analysis has been done to show that even though there may be an upfront cost in the PSO level, its overall impact will be to bring down market prices because of a greater diversity of supply.

The PSO standing at €200 million will mean a 4% to 5% rise in overall electricity prices. That is not taking into account the portfolio effect that one gets from having diverse supplies. Further modelling would be required to see the exact effect.

We have brought down electricity prices significantly in the past two years, largely because of competition but also because of falling gas prices. Projections from the International Energy Agency see gas prices remaining relatively low and stable for the next five years. That gives us an opportunity to build a wind alternative supply which will give us, in the long run, more stable and lower electricity prices.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I do not want to embarrass the Minister because I appreciate the difficulty with peat-fuelled electricity generation. However, I am concerned that he just said electricity prices will go up by 4% to 5%.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  No. I said the component——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are on Report Stage and there are certain restrictions on speaking time. Deputy McManus is in order but I must ask the Minister to allow her and Deputy Coveney to make their points and then he can reply to them.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Recently the energy regulator stated electricity prices would rise by 4%. Will the Minister clarify if this will be the case? If so, people need to be forewarned as this is a matter of anxiety to many.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  The challenge for the Minister is that he will need to find other ways of bringing electricity prices down to balance the inflationary impact of PSO payments. The way to do so is to examine other elements of electricity bills such as network charges.

Amendment No. 8 is slightly different from one I tabled on Committee Stage which was ruled out of order. It proposes to allow the Minister to determine by ministerial order any rate of levy that may be payable by a peat-powered plant or others subject to PSO payments. I saw it as a reasonable compromise between our two approaches.

All generators, including peat-powered stations, have been given free carbon allowances until the end of 2012, after which they will have to purchase carbon credits for their emissions. The whole purpose of this legislation is to ensure generators do not charge consumers for something they are already getting for free while preparing the marketplace for a real carbon trading market. That is why it is preferable for the next two years to have visible evidence that consumers are paying for carbon emissions even if the moneys are taken back again through [49]the PSO. I accept in the case of a peat-powered plant more would have to be paid in the PSO for carbon costs that could be taken back as a levy and redistributed responsibly.

The argument that introducing a cost for carbon reduces the gap between what is subsidised by a PSO and the normal market price is false economics, particularly if we start pretending the PSO is less because we are not applying a carbon levy. We are pretending we are getting a bit more value for money than we actually are.

I understand the social and regional economic arguments, as well as the security of supply arguments, around peat as a power source in Ireland. It is a sensitive issue that needs to be dealt with appropriately. My amendment seeks to introduce transparency so that everyone will know how much they are paying and for what rather than pretending there is not a cost for carbon in PSO plants.

However, I understand where the Minister is coming from. I am sure there are plenty of people in my party who would be uncomfortable with me unnecessarily pushing this issue as it may give the impression we are looking to push up the PSO levy on peat-powered plants. I believe, nonetheless, we are pretending an issue does not exist when it does.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I agree with the point about transparency. I recall from my recent electricity bill that the PSO element was clearly shown. We are upfront with the public that this cost is in place, particularly concerning peat-fired power stations. In recent years, the wind public service obligation was nil. It subsidised the peat-fired stations such that it is only now triggering since prices have come down significantly. That is its purpose; it is a floor in times of lower electricity prices such that the overall return to the wind industry remains stable. This, in turn, helps investment. All the analysis we have carried out shows that, in the long run, such a level will bring down prices, especially with our high level of wind resources. It will give lower prices subject to what happens to gas prices. If gas stays very low in the coming ten or 20 years, then there will be low electricity prices. However, it is a protection against a rise in gas prices, which is likely to occur in the latter part of this decade according to the views of international experts. I do not know what the prices will be in October nor, I believe, does the CER. It must go through the process to establish that. However, we are doing what we can to get the carbon levy and to use it to bring down prices, especially for large energy users. We are concerned that jobs could be lost if we did not do this. This is one measure we have available and I am keen to see it in place. It will help to protect us against any increase in electricity prices in the autumn.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“‘qualifying generating station’ has the meaning given to it by section 40D;”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 4, line 44, to delete “Each” and substitute the following:

“Save to the extent that the imposition of the levy would breach EU law, each”.

This is to ensure there is no question of a breach of EU law. The Minister assures us there is no such question but one cannot always be certain this will be the case. Let us consider the [50]matter logically. There is an arrangement of carbon allowances fixed by EU directive which must be free. In a sense, this measure subverts that by imposing a carbon levy. I hold concerns not so much about the emissions trading scheme, because the Minister has explained the situation and I have no reason to argue with him in this regard, but I cannot believe there is no grey area of doubt when it comes to the all island market. Certain generators on the island are not subject to the carbon levy because they happen to be on the other side of the Border. Meanwhile, on this side of the Border, certain generators are subject to the levy. I am not an expert in the law by any means but to have such a line as this in the legislation makes good common sense and I call on the Minister to consider it.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Having considered the matter, I do not propose to accept the amendment. The levy has been constructed with a need to confirm with existing legislation constrains foremost in mind. My Department has received legal advice on the legislation from the Office of the Attorney General. We are confident that the levy in its current form is compatible with European law on emissions trading generally.

As I have already stated on Committee Stage, to the extent that the imposition of the levy could breach EU law, it does not make that levy immune to any legal issues that may arise vis-à-vis its interaction with EU law. Since it does not serve a useful purpose in this regard, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I refer to the second point made by Deputy McManus with regard to the interaction of the North and the South and the single electricity market. This is something we must take into account in many decisions we make. Different conditions exist in the North and South in a variety of different ways, including different tax rates, support mechanisms and regulatory differences. The single electricity market operates while recognising the two different regimes which often operate different commercial, contracting tax or regulatory arrangements. The market operates effectively and I believe this legislation will not impede that.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  Amendment No. 5 is out of order.

Amendment No. 5 not moved.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 5, lines 20 and 21, to delete “Schedule 4 of the Regulations of 2004” and substitute “Schedule 4 to the Regulations of 2004”.

I propose to take amendments Nos. 6 and 13 together by agreement. These are technical amendments, simply changing the “schedule of” the regulations of 2004 to the “schedule to” the regulations of 2004.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 5, to delete lines 44 to 47 and substitute the following:

“(5) Save in accordance with subsection (6), no carbon revenue levy is payable by an electricity generator in respect of a generating station which is the subject of an order under section 39.”.

[51]Amendment agreed to.

Amendment No. 8 not moved.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 9:

In page 5, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

“(6) (a) This subsection applies to a generating station in respect of which the following conditions are complied with (in this Part referred to as a ‘qualifying generating station’)—

(i) the generating station is the subject of an order under section 39, and

(ii) the electricity generator who is the operator of the generating station concerned is a counterparty to a CADA.

(b) For the purposes of the construction of ‘E’ in the formula in subsection (1), the total of the emissions, during the levy period concerned, calculated in accordance with the formula for the calculation of emissions set out in Schedule 4 to the Regulations of 2004, shall, in the case of a qualifying generating station, include only such portion of the emissions as is attributable to the quantity of electricity produced by the qualifying generating station—

(i) in respect of which revenues are received during that levy period by the electricity generator concerned through participation in the Single Electricity Market, and

(ii) in respect of which the electricity generator does not receive payments from the Board in accordance with the CADA.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I move amendment No. 10:

In page 5, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

“(6) No carbon revenue levy is payable by an electricity generator that has purchased the full value of their carbon allowances available to them until the end of 2012 in a commercial arrangement.”.

We discussed this issue on Committee Stage. At that stage, I tabled a different amendment which I have now rephrased in line with Deputy Coveney’s amendment, since his wording is a good deal better than mine. It relates to a particular company which is in the unfortunate position that it has already paid for its carbon allowances but it will be penalised by this carbon levy. Generally, there is a certain degree of sympathy.

On Committee Stage, the Minister stated it would not have much impact anyway but he has been very careful to ensure even the small percentage to which he referred in respect of Aughinish Alumina and Tynagh Energy would come into the net. I would have thought that same attention to detail would apply in respect of this company.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  The Minister is aware of our approach in this area. He has also met representatives from Endesa, the company to which we are referring. I am aware that it has written to his Department to seek understanding for its situation.

[52]My amendment, which is similar to Deputy McManus’s, is linked to the previous amendment, which was ruled out of order and to which I cannot speak directly. However, I can refer to it now because it is related to the amendment which was accepted.

There is something fundamentally wrong when a company is selling carbon allowances it received for free from the Government. We are not asking for any windfall levy on the profit made on the back of that. However, we are charging the company that had to pay for these credits as if it were getting them for free. We are putting it in the same category, which is wrong and should be dealt with in this legislation.

I tried to raise the issue of what to do with companies that have been given free carbon allowances which allow them emit carbon into the atmosphere. What is the position if they do not use the allowances and sell them to another firm which may need them? What should we do with the windfall profit made in such cases? The State is giving away an asset for free. Someone has made a profit on the back of that and we are not taking it back as a carbon levy. I refer to the principle that when generators make money on the back of selling electricity and charge for carbon for which they have been given free allowances, we take back a portion of that money. This principle is in the legislation, it is agreed and I welcome it strongly. Surely the same principle applies when we give the allowance for free but it remains unused and then sold on for a profit?

For example, there may be unused carbon allowances in Moneypoint because the station has not been used to its potential output for whatever reason. There is a very significant carbon allowance attached to Moneypoint because it is a large coal-powered plant. This means the ESB would have excess carbon allowances from there which are valuable. We must question whether we are serious about trying to get the cost of electricity down. Here is another windfall profit being made that the Stage should recoup and spend responsibly to try to bring down electricity prices. In this case, a company is being hit on the double. It also paid when carbon was at its maximum value in the past three years. I believe it paid €24 per tonne but the price is now down to €14 or €15 per tonne, although the Minister will correct me if I am wrong as he is an expert in these matters.

It is a new entrant into the Irish market. We are trying to attract new entrants, yet we are legislating to hit them on the double. This company paid over the odds, although I do not blame the ESB for this since its job was to maximise the value of its assets and it sure as hell did that. However, this new entrant into the market spent much money purchasing two plants and, in a separate transaction, spent a considerable amount of money purchasing carbon allowances which all its competitors got for free. We are now putting it in the same category as every other company which got carbon allowances for free.

We will charge the ESB nothing. It sold it the carbon allowances and made a big windfall on the back of it because it got the carbon allowances for nothing from the State. That seems to be warped logic if the essence of this legislation is about fairness and ensuring that companies do not make money on the back of free allowances.

Will the Minister consider what we have said? It is not in our interests to speak up for one company over another or any generator over another but the by-product of this legislation is to treat one company, which is in a separate category to every other one because it entered the Irish energy market so recently, very harshly indeed.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I propose to deal with amendments Nos. 10 and 11, which I do not propose to accept. I made it clear on Committee Stage that while I had some sympathy in regard to the arguments being put forward on behalf of Endesa, the carbon revenue levy is [53]being applied to all electricity generators earning windfall gains equally. We are doing this by levying all windfall gains earned through participation in SEM arising from the SEM committee decision requiring generators to pass through the opportunity costs to carbon.

Endesa purchased its generating stations in a private commercial transaction. This was a commercial decision made by a private sector firm. It has been stated that it entered the market on the basis of the existing market structures between now and 2012. However, when Endesa made that decision and purchased the generating stations, there could be no certainty as to the likely future price of carbon or, indeed, a range of other assumptions such as electricity demand.

Additionally, there was no certainty that generators would continue to be able to benefit from the SEM committee decision allowing them to pass on the opportunity cost of carbon to electricity consumers. Indeed, the SEM committee specifically stated that governments should take action to recover these windfall gains, hence the situation was clear when Endesa made its commercial decision.

It has been said that our treatment of the PSO plant provides a precedent for treating Endesa differently. However, I do not believe this is the case. The PSO plants are only treated differently because they operate differently from any other plant in the market. The bulk of their output is excluded because these generators do not benefit from the SEM decision requiring generators to pass through the cost of carbon. For the small proportion of their output which earns carbon windfall gains, the amendments we discussed earlier will levy that output.

Every generator benefiting from the SEM committee decision will now be subject to the levy according to its carbon emissions. Any preferential treatment to exempt one firm from the carbon levy would raise concerns about the equality of treatment for all generators in this levy. In this regard the impact of the levy on Endesa is likely to be very minor since its generation stations are rarely dispatched and hence rarely earn carbon windfall gains. Any levy liabilities borne by Endesa pale into significance when viewed against the sums already invested by Endesa and its stated future investment plans.

It should also be noted that investments in new power generation tend to have a projected lifespan of approximately 30 to 40 years. This levy is simply recovering a temporary windfall gain from generators over the next two and a half years so any effect it could have on investments with such a long projected payback is minimal.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  There are no windfall gains for Endesa.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  The Minister, without interruption. The Deputy has the right to respond.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I remember talking to the investors at that time and I committed to maintaining a proper regulated market which would not treat one operator differently from another. In the long run, that is a much better investment environment. While certain decisions of the regulatory authority may be difficult, it is better to apply them across the board in order that there is not fear or favour in regard to one company over another. While I have sympathy for the case made, the consequences of starting to treat operators differently would be far more significant and, therefore, I cannot accept the amendments.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Will the Minister outline where the windfall gain is for Endesa in charging for its carbon? He said repeatedly that this is about recouping carbon windfall gains evenly across all generators. Clearly, we are not doing that in regard to the PSO but that is a different issue. There is no windfall gain for Endesa. There is a considerable loss. It paid €24 [54]per tonne for its emissions and carbon is now two thirds of that in terms of value, so there is a loss. If this is about carbon windfall gains, which it should be, there is no carbon windfall gain in regard to the electricity Endesa will sell.

I accept we are talking about relatively small amounts of money in comparison to windfall gains or the amounts of money being made by other companies. It is still an important principle. There is no windfall gain here and perhaps the Minister will at least acknowledge that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I tried to make the point on several occasions on Committee Stage that we are not looking at a windfall levy on the allowances but rather on what passes through via the SEM decisions. It is market-related in regard to SEM transactions which, as the Deputy said, are very low in this instance because of where the stations are in the order of merit means they are not in action on a regular basis. It is not applied on the allowances but rather on the SEM pass through.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I move amendment No. 11:

In page 5, between lines 47 and 48, to insert the following:

“(6) No carbon revenue levy is payable by an electricity generator that has purchased the full value of their carbon allowances available to them until the end of 2012 in a commercial transaction.”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 7, line 18, to delete “Schedule 4 of the Regulations of 2004” and substitute “Schedule 4 to the Regulations of 2004”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 14:

In page 7, lines 20 to 26, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 20 down to and including “paragraph (a).” in line 26 and substitute the following:

“(b) in the case of a qualifying generating station, information relating to such portion of the total of the emissions referred to in paragraph (a) as is attributable to the quantity of electricity produced by the qualifying generating station—

(i) in respect of which revenues are received during the levy period concerned by the electricity generator through participation in the Single Electricity Market, and

(ii) in respect of which the electricity generator does not receive payments from the Board in accordance with the CADA,

and

(c) such other information as may be prescribed by the Commission for the purposes of this section relating to the verification of—

[55]

(i) the calculation of the total of the emissions referred to in paragraph (a), and

(ii) in the case of a qualifying generating station, the portion of the total of the emissions as referred to in paragraph (b).”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I move amendment No. 15:

In page 7, to delete lines 35 to 38 and substitute the following:

“(c) the information to be contained in returns relating to the verification of—

(i) the calculation of the total of the emissions referred to in subsection (1) (a), and

(ii) in the case of a qualifying generating station, the portion of the total of the emissions as referred to in subsection (1)(b);”.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment and received for final consideration.

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

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I will be brief because we have gone through much of the detail of the Bill on Report Stage. I thank the Deputies for its swift passage through this House. I will bring it to the Seanad for consideration as quickly as possible because we want it implemented to help in the important task of keeping our energy price competitive.

I very much thank my officials because this is detailed and complex legislation, which was not easy to draft, but their work will stand us in good stead when it is implemented later in the summer and as we benefit from its provisions over the next two and a half years. I very much appreciate their work and the work of Members in helping its passage through the House.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I would like to acknowledge, in particular, the role of the civil servants who took a great deal of time to explain the intricacies of arcane provisions. Such expertise is helpful to Oppositions Members. I thank the Minister and wish him well with the legislation.

It is 6 p.m. and the imposition of a guillotine was unnecessary. It shows how wrong the Government can be.

  6 o’clock

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I recognise the work of the Minister and the Department. A number of EU member states have tried to introduce a similar windfall levy but it has proven to be tricky legally to do so. Even though I have been banging this drum for ages, I acknowledge this has not been a simple process legally. It is a shame this could not have been done a few years ago because significant sums could have been ploughed back into driving energy prices down or implementing other measures but we are close to having the levy in place, which is welcome. The briefings we had were useful and the work on the legislation has been solid. I am sure it will be tested legally. The Opposition has followed through on its commitment that it would not unnecessarily hold up the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

“(2) The Ombudsman Acts 1980 to 1984 and this Act may be cited together as Ombudsman Acts 1980 to 2010.”.

This is a technical amendment, which provides that the Ombudsman Acts 1980 to 2010 can be cited together.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 4, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:

“(a) an entity established by or under any enactment (other than the Companies Acts) or otherwise an entity referred to in paragraphs (a) to (g) of section 1A, whether the entity was established before or after the passing of the Ombudsman (Amendment) Act 2010, unless the entity is declared by order of the Minister under this Act to be an exempt agency,”.

It would make sense to include all State bodies under the remit of the Ombudsman “unless the entity is declared by order of the Minister under this Act to be an exempt agency”. This is a reasonable measure, which we debated on Committee Stage, and it should be considered. We are seeking to introduce inclusive measures that ensure the ordinary person on the street can avail of the Ombudsman’s office to deal with a range of bodies. The amendment would result in all bodies coming under the Ombudsman’s remit unless the Minister makes an order declaring an entity to be an exempt agency. The reviewable agencies to which the legislation applies are listed in Schedule 1 and the exempt agencies are listed in Schedule 2. I would like the Minister of State to comment on this proposal, which would give the public faith in the workings of the Ombudsman’s office. Every State body should be included, with specific exemptions made, because many bodies fall outside the Ombudsman’s remit.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I would like to address three issues. First, the Ombudsman is also the Information Commissioner. The Ombudsman’s office has served Ireland well and it has helped to create a culture of increasing openness. I welcome the inclusion of additional bodies under the Ombudsman’s remit but there are a number of glaring omissions. The Central Bank, the Financial Regulator, Anglo Irish Bank, which has received €22 billion in taxpayer funding, and NAMA, which will be funded by the taxpayer to the tune of €50 billion, fall outside the remit of this legislation. I acknowledge in the context of the proposed Central Bank legislation there are commercial sensitivities.

Nonetheless, the fact that these bodies are not in any way under the remit of the Ombudsman is, in democratic terms, not just an omission but a complete disgrace, given the amount of taxpayers’ money these organisations are absorbing. I know it is not the intention of the Minister to make any provision for this in the current legislation, but it is important this is pointed out.

The second area with which we have difficulty is the relationship, or non-relationship, of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform with the Ombudsman. The Department seems to be able to exercise a veto on what may be disclosed. On Second Stage and Committee [57]Stage of the Bill, I referred to the issue of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and other elements of the asylum and immigration process. The processes developed by the Department have turned out to be much more expensive than was envisaged at the time of the Refugee Act. It is difficult to know what is the advantage to the Department of hiding basic information about the appeals tribunal from people who wish to make inquiries. If the processes were subject to some level of public scrutiny, it may happen, as is often the case with the work of the Ombudsman, that their administration is improved, with gains in cost and efficiency.

As I said, it is a pity that the area of legislation regarding the financial collapse that Fianna Fáil has visited on us all is entirely outside the scrutiny of the Ombudsman, as are large sections of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, including, in particular, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. I see no good reason these should not be subject to the work of the Ombudsman. If there are particularly sensitive areas, I am sure the Ombudsman can advise on how to address them.

The purpose of this amendment is to establish an enabling provision which could widen the remit of the Ombudsman legislation so as to exclude only those entities declared by an order of the Minister to be exempt. In other words, there would be an automatic provision to include public bodies in the Ombudsman’s remit, and only those specifically exempted by ministerial order, which under the normal rules must come before the House and be debated, would be excluded.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I am not sure whether I understood Deputy O’Donnell correctly, but I was present throughout Committee Stage of the Bill.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  That is correct. I was complimenting the Minister of State.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Good.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Not on a matter of policy but on his attendance.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I endorse Deputy Burton’s remark that the Ombudsman has served us well. The office has been a valuable safety net in our administrative system. I will not deal with issues regarding the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform as these will be discussed in detail under amendment No. 12.

This amendment was proposed on Committee Stage of the Bill. As I stated then, it would represent a departure from the approach adopted since the Ombudsman Act, whereby each entity within the Ombudsman’s remit is specified in the legislation. The current approach provides clarity for the Ombudsman and for members of the public with regard to the actions that are reviewable by the Ombudsman. To depart from this approach would have a major effect on the workload of the Ombudsman’s office.

Significant preparatory work is required when new bodies come within the remit of the Ombudsman, such as the embedding of proper complaints procedures and clarification of issues of concern. The office must also ensure that prospective complainants are made aware of the aspects of public body administrative actions about which they may complain. From discussions held between the Department of Finance and the Office of the Ombudsman during the preparation of the Bill, it is understood that the Ombudsman would be reluctant to depart from this approach, for the reasons outlined.

I do not disagree with the Deputy’s point that where bodies are appropriate for inclusion within the remit of the Ombudsman, that should happen as soon as possible. As outlined on Committee Stage, once the Bill is enacted and the new provisions set out in section 1A of the Ombudsman Act 1980 for adding bodies to the Schedule by order becomes effective, the [58]Department of Finance will consult other Departments with a view to updating the Schedule of reviewable agencies more regularly than hitherto has been the case. This will ensure that a transparent and coherent approach is taken to the inclusion of appropriate entities within the remit of the Ombudsman. On that basis I cannot accept the Deputy’s amendment.

I wish to deal with the question of Anglo Irish Bank and the other bodies, such as NAMA, mentioned by Deputy Burton. The exclusion of Anglo Irish Bank Corporation Limited from the remit of the Ombudsman is in line with the long-standing policy whereby commercial semi-State bodies do not come within the Ombudsman’s remit. Commercial semi-state bodies operate within a different environment from non-commercial public bodies. They are governed by industry and sector specific rules and are often in direct competition with private companies. To bring such bodies within the remit of the Ombudsman while other companies in the same sector remain excluded may put such bodies at a disadvantage.

This amendment is also inappropriate for the following reasons. First, there is a framework in place for the regulation of Anglo Irish Bank which includes the Financial Services Ombudsman, the Financial Services Regulatory Authority and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. The powers and functions of these bodies are much broader than those available to the Ombudsman, whose function is to review the administrative actions of public bodies. Second, given the prominence of Anglo Irish Bank, it is important that there is clarity about its status vis-à-vis the Ombudsman. If the bank is not listed in Schedule 2 as an exempt agency, it may be unclear whether actions taken by that body could be reviewed by the Ombudsman; this could give rise to unrealistic expectations among members of the public that the Ombudsman can offer some avenue of appeal or redress with regard to the bank.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  When legislation is being enacted to establish a public body, would it not make sense to include a provision that the body falls or does not fall under the remit of the Ombudsman? The Minister of State agreed that there is a need to bring bodies under the remit of the Ombudsman as quickly as possible. I suggest that this be done for particular bodies by making contact with the Parliamentary Counsel. In addition, legislation establishing a body should state whether the body is subject to or exempt from the Ombudsman legislation or, for example, the freedom of information legislation. I would like to hear the Minister’s views in this regard.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I referred to financial bodies such as Anglo Irish Bank, NAMA and the new Central Bank structure currently being established. These bodies are at the heart of the financial emergency which has consumed this State and which has caused significant reductions in the wages of both public servants and those in the private sector. Pension levies have been imposed on public servants’ pay.

The chairman of that State-owned bank came into an Oireachtas committee last week before he went to visit the Lemass group within Fianna Fáil. He basically gave the two fingers to the committee when asked a series of questions about the different scenarios regarding that bank. He was also asked a very reasonable question of a chairman of a bank, particularly a bank in receipt of €22.5 billion, about the appointment of several directors to the board of the bank, in particular, one individual who had previously been appointed as a Senator by the former Taoiseach, Mr. Haughey, and another individual who was heavily involved in AIB and who is now transferring to Anglo Irish Bank. The questions being asked of the chairman of the bank in the committee were absolutely reasonable. However, the chairman chose to be particularly snooty and answered us with a short quotation in French about the Bourbons and memory, which I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with.

[59]Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Who is the chairman?

Deputy Joan Burton:  Mr. Dukes is the chairman. He lectured us about the Bourbons. All in all, he was extraordinarily high-handed, clearly because he believed he had about him the cloak of anonymity provided for by the fact that this bank and his operations as chairman are not subject in any way to freedom of information.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  The Deputy’s time has elapsed.

Deputy Joan Burton:  However lowly Senators may be, and however lowly Members of this House may be, they did not deserve to be treated in that high-handed, imperial and imperious fashion by the current and new chairman of Anglo Irish Bank. Maybe he gave the Lemass group in Fianna Fáil a more kindly lecture.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I could not answer that question as I am not generally speaking in the habit of attending the Lemass group.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I thought a lot of spies went to it.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I do not have spies.

On the core point raised by Deputy O’Donnell, the Ombudsman and her office support the current approach. We have discussed it with them and they are happy with it. Accepting the point that a decision should be made as quickly as possible, that is not quite the same thing as saying there should be an automaticity, so to speak, about it. In fundamental basics, I am not deeply disagreeing with the Deputy.

Deputy Burton ranged far and wide from the subject matter of the Bill. On the sort of responses given to the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service, I followed the proceedings with some interest but I do not see where the Ombudsman comes into it. As I said in my original reply, there is a financial services ombudsman and a number of bodies which can deal with specialised financial issues or complaints. It would put a totally impossible burden on the Ombudsman’s office if she was taken away from dealing with complaints about administration into complaints about the management of financial issues.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Minister of State accepts the thrust of the amendment which is that we need a situation where bodies would come under the remit of the Ombudsman as early as possible. The heads of a Bill for the establishment of a particular public body would normally take a year to a year and a half to become legislation before the House. This should provide ample time for the Government to decide whether a body should be exempt or fall under the remit of the Ombudsman. Deputy Burton’s point is a valid one. If public bodies, for example, such as Anglo Irish Bank which has received taxpayers’ money or Irish Nationwide, come under that remit, it would create a more transparent system.

The Minister of State agrees with the basic thrust of the amendment and he refers to the Ombudsman being happy with the current situation. It is the function of Government to make policy rather than the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman carries out Government policy; it is not the function of the Ombudsman to determine Government policy as that decision lies with the Government. The Minister of State appears to agree with the basic thrust of the amendment, in the time between the publication of the heads of the Bill and the legislation coming before the House, to decide whether a body should be exempted. This then becomes a Government policy decision.

I ask the Minister of State to elaborate on that point and to say whether there is merit in this proposal and whether it would be considered by the Government.

[60]Deputy Joan Burton:  The basic purpose of the amendment is to include automatically bodies as they are formed and initiated into the structure of the Ombudsman and into freedom of information structures. We are in the middle of a tremendous economic emergency and a series of bodies have been created. These are hugely costly to the taxpayer. Anglo Irish Bank has received €22.5 billion; NAMA, I estimate, has received approximately €40 billion to €50 billion, by the time it is finished. Once such bodies are excluded from the remit of the Ombudsman, they are also generally excluded from freedom of information, because the Ombudsman is also the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

This is wrong policy. When the Government sold us the guarantee it suggested this was the cheapest, most effective, cost-free method of addressing the banking crisis. Other countries where there has been freedom of access to information and to the jurisdiction of an Ombudsman, are emerging from their crises while we are still mired in ours. There is a lesson for the Government. More transparency and more jurisdiction by the Ombudsman, more freedom of information provided by her in her role as Freedom of Information Commissioner, might bring us to the point where we could make decisions and exit from the crisis more rapidly. It is, if one likes, a philosophical point that the Government has been addicted to closing down information. This has not served the Government well. The Central Bank, the Financial Regulator’s office and the Department of Finance should have had more access to information about what was going on.

The Financial Services Ombudsman is another issue entirely. This office serves people who have an argument with an individual financial services provider, not with the institutions in the context of public institutions as a whole. It concerns somebody with a problem with a loan or because of some kind of maladministration by a private banking service provider. Therefore, the Minister’s reply is not pertinent to the point we are making.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  While I accept a decision should be taken early, I do not accept the argument that it should be immediate and automatic. We have undertaken to ensure there will be more regular updates than hitherto. When a new body is established, it takes some time for that body to establish its organisation and complaints structures. Therefore, it may be more appropriate, once these have been established, to introduce eligibility for appeals to the Ombudsman. In some borderline cases people may not want an immediate judgment as to whether their case should or should not be in the remit.

With regard to the relationship between the Government and the Office of the Ombudsman, one can always take the formal view that it is the business of the Government to govern and to tell those in the Office of the Ombudsman and every other office what they should or should not do. However, the majority of the time better government is achieved by consultation. Therefore, when the Government legislates for bodies, it has some consultation with the bodies for which it is legislating. It is important to remember the fundamental role of the Ombudsman. It is the role of her office to investigate complaints about maladministration which members of the public experience in their dealings with the Civil Service or public sector bodies and we must prioritise the resources of her office to deal with complaints made by the general public.

I do not disagree with the end sought by Deputy Burton, simply with the means by which she hopes to achieve it. It strains things a little to suggest that how soon we emerge from the current economic situation will relate to the operation of the Office of the Ombudsman. We do, of course, need as much light and accountability as is compatible with the operability of financial institutions. However, that is not best achieved through the Office of the Ombudsman.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I move amendment No. 3:

[61]

In page 5, line 30, before “, a draft” to insert the following:

“which excludes elements of an entity”.

This is a technical amendment which follows the previous amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I move amendment No. 4:

In page 6, to delete lines 24 to 43.

This amendment arises from a new subsection, section 6(4A), inserted by Government on Committee Stage, which states: “The Ombudsman shall not investigate a complaint by or on behalf of an individual into any action of or on behalf of another person”. We feel this amendment is too wide-ranging and has implications for people who act as agents. If, for example, a person who acts as an agent for a charity wished to bring a complaint with regard to how he was dealt with by the Revenue Commissioners, this amendment might restrict the charity from making that complaint. We could have a situation where the charitable body seeking charitable status could not make a complaint to the Ombudsman about how the Revenue Commissioners dealt with the application for charitable status made by the agent. This broad and wide-ranging measure was introduced on Committee Stage, but it is irrelevant and is a restrictive measure in terms of the role of the Ombudsman. I would like to hear the Minister’s views on it.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Deputies may recall that following questions from Deputies Bruton and O’Donnell in the course of the Committee Stage debate, I undertook to consult the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Ombudsman on the new subsection 4A in section 6. The proposed amendment proposes the deletion of the new provision in its entirety. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure equity in the treatment of those employed directly and indirectly by the State, in respect of their entitlement to take a complaint to the Ombudsman. It has always been a fundamental principle of the way the Ombudsman operates that people who are employed in reviewable agencies should only be able to take a complaint to the Ombudsman in their personal capacity. That is why the 1980 Act and the Bill expressly exclude people working in reviewable agencies from taking a complaint to the Ombudsman other than in their private capacity.

The new provision in section 6(4A) closes a potential loophole in the Bill by ensuring that individuals employed in entities which are funded by the State, but not listed in either Schedules 1 or 2 of the Bill, can also only go to the Ombudsman in respect of a private issue. I will explain this further by comparing, by way of example, the treatment of teachers in VEC and non-VEC schools under the Bill. Teachers in VEC schools will automatically be excluded from taking a complaint to the Ombudsman other than in a personal capacity, as VEC schools will become reviewable agencies under the remit of the Ombudsman. If the new section 6(4A) was removed from the Bill, we could have a situation whereby teachers in non-VEC schools could potentially go to the Ombudsman on any issue, including a matter relating to their own performance and work.

Deputy Bruton raised a general concern about the scope of the provision being too wide and raised a question about whether the provision could, for example, prevent a charity that is funded in whole or in part by the Stated from taking a complaint to the Ombudsman about a decision made by the Revenue Commissioners. The amendment does not exclude bodies such as charities from taking complaints to the Ombudsman.

[62]The provision itself is very narrow. There are only very limited cases in which complaints will be excluded from going to the Ombudsman as a result of this provision. Following the Committee Stage debate, the Office of the Ombudsman and the Office of the Attorney General gave their observations on the points raised by Deputies Bruton and O’Donnell. Both agreed that the exclusion provided for in the new section 6(4A) of the Bill would not exclude an organisation such as a charity, as was referred to in an example by Deputy Bruton, or indeed any other organisation from taking a complaint to the Ombudsman. As I stated previously, the exclusion in section 6(4A) is very narrow in scope and sets out a number of preconditions, all of which must be satisfied before a complaint can be excluded from the remit of the Ombudsman under this section.

I wish to go through each part of the provision to make it clear what is being excluded here. First, the provision states: “The Ombudsman shall not investigate a complaint by or on behalf of an individual into any action of or on behalf of another person.” This means that in order for a complaints to be excluded under section 6(4A), the would-be complainant must be an individual. The use of the term “individual” refers to an individual person and is not the same as the legal term “person”, which under the Interpretation Act 2005 also refers to a body of persons, either corporate or unincorporated. This means that the exclusion applies only to individuals taking a complaint and not to a company or a charity, as in the example given by Deputy Bruton.

The advice of the Office of the Attorney General and the view of the Office of the Ombudsman are clear in this regard. However, this is not the only criteria that must apply before a complaint can be excluded by this section. In addition to restricting the exclusion to individuals, the action that is the subject of the complaint also has restrictive criteria applying. Section 6(4A)(a)(i) sets out that the action must affect the individual by virtue of being a member, officer, employee or agent of an entity or group of entities. This means that the action about which the individual is complaining must affect him or her because of where he or she works and, as set out in section 6(4A)(a)(ii), the action must also relate to the individual’s own performance in work.

As I stated previously, both the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Ombudsman are satisfied that the parameters of this exclusion mean that only in very specific cases relating to their own performance in work will individuals not be allowed to take a complaint to the Ombudsman. On that basis, I cannot accept the proposed amendment.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I seek clarity. Clearly, when one reads section 6(4A) in respect of the individual and how it must relate specifically to his or her personal capacity, it refers to his or her work environment. However, the word “agent” was also mentioned within the section quite regularly. It refers to “a complaint by or on behalf of an individual” and then how that “action affects [such individual] by virtue of being a member, officer, employee or agent of an entity or entities”. To get complete clarity in respect of this provision, the Minister of State should define what is an “agent” in the context of an entity and how it would operate in practice.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  One example of an agent would be a consultant. I am sure all Members could think of other examples.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Allow me to take it to its logical conclusion. I refer to the case of a consultant, an accountant or an agent for a charitable company that is funded by the State and which has applied unsuccessfully to the Revenue Commissioners for charitable status. Under this provision, would the consultant or accountant be disallowed effectively from [63]requesting that the Ombudsman review the decision by the Revenue Commissioners? This is the point Fine Gael made on Committee Stage. I seek clarification in respect of individuals working for particular bodies. The Minister of State should deal with the agent in that specific context. He should outline how he envisages they fall outside the remit of subsection 4A.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  The distinction is whether the complaint is made in a purely personal capacity or whether it relates in any way to his or her employment or acting on behalf of a company or organisation. I will take a completely different example. While I do not know for certain that this is the case, it is quite likely that at least one or two civil servants within the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are farmers or landholders in their own right. They would not be able to go to the Ombudsman in respect of work-related issues. However, if, for the sake of argument, they had been refused the single farm payment unjustly in respect of the land they held, they could in final resort approach the Ombudsman because it would not be specifically related to their work or the relationship to their work would be entirely coincidental and personal.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I will conclude on this point. Under this section, I refer to someone who is acting as an agent for a charitable organisation that is funded by the State and who performs work on its behalf. Fine Gael used the example of seeking charitable status. If the decision received is not to that person’s satisfaction, is he or she entitled to make an application to the Ombudsman to look into the matter under this provision?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Unfortunately, under the rules of Report Stage, I cannot ask the Minister of State to reply unless he goes slightly outside the rules by doing so in one word.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  With the Acting Chairman’s indulgence, I am prepared to utter a couple of sentences .

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I will allow the Minister of State a single sentence, because I am breaking the rules.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I reiterate that no charity is refused access to the Ombudsman over this exclusion and an agent would be able to go to the Ombudsman, provided that the complaint does not refer to an issue that has arisen directly because of his or her own performance at work.

Question, “That the words proposed to be deleted stand”, put and declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 7, line 24, to delete “consistently” and substitute “consistent”.

This is purely a typographical error in section 7 of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 9, between lines 37 and 38, to insert “and”.

[64]This is a technical amendment that corrects the current text by adding an “and” after the preceding paragraph because (b), which follows, is a separate amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, line 2, to delete “concerned.”. and substitute the following:

“concerned.

(5) Any recommendation made under subsection (3A), and notified to the person who made the complaint under subsection (4), shall become binding on the reviewable agency and the person making the complaint on that date six months after the Ombudsman has notified both parties of his or her recommendation, unless either party submits to the Ombudsman a written statement of rejection of the recommendation, with the reasons for such rejection, within that period of six months.

(6) Where a reviewable agency submits a written statement of rejection pursuant to subsection (5), the reasons shall be reasonable and shall provide a rationale for the rejection of the recommendation of the Ombudsman.

(7) Where a reviewable agency is a Government Department, submits a written statement of rejection pursuant to subsection (5), the reasons shall be signed by the relevant Minister and that Minister shall make a statement to the Houses of the Oireachtas as to the reasons for his or her rejection of a recommendation of the Ombudsman within 21 days of such rejection.

(8) Notwithstanding the rejection of the recommendations of the Ombudsman pursuant to subsection (6), the reviewable agency shall have due regard to the tenor and spirit of those recommendations in the exercise of its functions.”.”.

This amendment is to bring clarity in respect of the rulings of the Ombudsman. It would be worthwhile to put in place a mechanism whereby once the Ombudsman issues a finding, it shall become binding on the reviewable agency and the person making the complaint on the date six months after the Ombudsman notifies both parties of his or her recommendations, unless they submit a written statement of rejection, with the reasons, within that six-month period. That would provide a structure and clarity and purpose to the ombudsman’s decisions.

We all have constituents who use the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman does great work but it is important for the office to have a structured purpose. If a reviewable agency rejects the recommendation of the Ombudsman, the reason should be reasonable and a rationale should be provided for the rejection. If a Department is involved, the rejection that is sent to the Ombudsman should be signed by the relevant Minister, who should make a statement to the Houses of the Oireachtas outlining the reason for the recommendation within 21 days. If a reviewable agency rejects the Ombudsman’s recommendation, it is important that it would have regard to the tenor and tone set out in the recommendation by the Ombudsman.

The reports of the Ombudsman are usually well written and much care is evident in the decisions. What we propose is a straightforward measure that would put a structure in place on recommendations of the Ombudsman whereby within a six month period a recommendation would become binding unless a reviewable agency or a person making a complaint notifies a difficulty with the recommendations. Complaints should be made on reasonable grounds.

[65]If a Department is involved the rejection of the recommendation should be signed by the relevant Minister who should make a statement to the House as to why such a position has been taken. This House is the proper democratic forum for such a statement. In the case of a reviewable agency rejecting the recommendations of the Ombudsman, it should have due regard to the general tenor of the recommendations within the Ombudsman’s report.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The amendment is a reasonable one which would help to deal with the lost at sea scheme concerning the tonnage of vessels lost at sea which concerned Deputy Fahey during his time as Minister. There was a case involving the Ombudsman’s report previously where there was a difference of view which was referred to the relevant committee, in that case the Joint Committee on Finance and the Public Service. In the latter case an agreement was reached on an all-party basis and the Ombudsman’s ruling was accepted. There is a difficulty in that regard for the Government. The Ombudsman is an important, independent office and when maladministration has been identified it should not be a matter of what appears to many of us to be one of political convenience or role-playing for party political reasons, in this case by a former Minister to defend his position. There is a potential to seriously damage the Office of the Ombudsman.

The proposals that have been put forward are reasonable. If there are objections, which can arise, by an agency or an individual concerned by the Ombudsman’s ruling who, for example, is the Minister responsible for the body or agency, it is reasonable that he or she should make his or her position known. However, the Government must strive to uphold the importance of the Ombudsman’s office and to make provisions for mechanisms which clearly provide for that. In that sense, this reasonable amendment should be supported.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I accept that in terms of general principle the Ombudsman’s recommendation in this and in all other jurisdictions in which the office operates should be accepted. There have been a couple of instances where that has not happened. One was mentioned which related to the Revenue Commissioners and the other case relates to the lost at sea scheme, which is still being considered by a different Oireachtas committee, namely, the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is only fair to state that I had a look at the report this morning in anticipation that it would arise in the debate. The then Secretary General of the Department responsible for marine matters strongly rejected the political interpretation of the decisions taken under that scheme.

  7 o’clock

The issue was dealt with at some length on Committee Stage. I do not propose to accept amendments aimed at making the recommendations of the Ombudsman binding. The defining characteristic of the Ombudsman Act is that the Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations as opposed to binding decisions. The Ombudsman has been the strongest advocate of the current system and among the strongest critics of those who have called for the recommendations of the office to be made binding. Issuing recommendations rather than binding decisions means that the Ombudsman is able to recommend remedies that would not be offered by a court. That means a body can be held accountable even when there is no legal duty of care or statutory liability.

I put on record on Committee Stage a substantial extract from the Ombudsman’s address in 2007 to the Tenth Round Table of Ombudsmen and the Commissioner for Human Rights where she argued strongly and cogently that if her decisions were binding, then all sorts of legal challenges would obstruct the making of recommendations by her office. We must respect that view. Were the Ombudsman empowered to make binding recommendations, her role would be akin to that of a court. Faced with the prospect of legal challenges, the process of investigating complaints would become more legalistic which could result in substantial not to say interminable time delays in processing complaints. We all know how slow legal procedures [66]can be. It is also likely to be the case that there would need to be some avenue of appeal against the Ombudsman’s decisions resulting in further delays and costs and thus threatening the informality of the Ombudsman process. Binding recommendations would also interfere with the Ombudsman’s relationship with the Legislature. In the event of a recommendation being rejected, the Ombudsman’s ultimate power is the right to lay a special report before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

To return to the specific issue of the lost at sea scheme report, meetings between the relevant parties and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food are ongoing. The Government will take into consideration the final recommendation, if any, of the joint committee. The level of acceptance by public bodies of the Ombudsman’s recommendations is clearly high given that this is only the second time the Ombudsman has ever laid a special report before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Debate adjourned.

Deputy Mary Upton:  I move:

That Dáil Éireann:

noting that:

in 2009 tourism contributed €5.2 billion in revenue —€1.2 billion benefiting the Exchequer in taxation;

employment in the accommodation and food sector alone accounted for 119,800 jobs in 2009;

Fáilte Ireland has estimated that for every additional €1 million spent by tourists an additional 23 jobs are created;

tourism provides employment and economic opportunities in both rural and urban areas;

tourism provides employment across a wide range of skill and qualification levels; and

tourism is an indigenous industry so wealth generated by tourism stays in Ireland;

concerned that:

the number of overseas visitors to Ireland dropped precipitously down 11.6% in 2009, a drop of almost 1 million visitors;

an estimated 35,000 jobs were lost in the accommodation and food sector in 2009;

the length of stay from overseas visitors declined in 2009 and that this fall occurred in all of Ireland’s major markets;

[67]

the Government has responded to this by creating further barriers to entry such as the air travel tax;

the State continues to lag behind on broadband penetration which is essential to tourism in the 21st century and has yet to fully take advantage of the platform offered by the Internet; and

the Government has refused to introduce legislation to allow for downward review of commercial rents which is causing huge damage to the tourism industry;

calls on the Government to:

immediately abolish or significantly reduce the air travel tax;

develop interactive Irish tourism applications for mobile internet devices and computers;

develop Ireland’s capacity as an eco-tourism destination;

introduce legislation to allow for the downward review of rents;

substantially improve access to and quality of broadband in Ireland, particularly in rural areas;

ensure that the Tourism Marketing Fund is protected as an investment in the tourism industry;

improve processing times for visas for overseas tourists, particularly those from non-Schengen countries;

develop policies to ensure Irish tourism is able to capitalise on the growth markets of the 21st century;

ensure that institutions that are covered by the State bank guarantee are required to unfreeze credit for small businesses;

ensure that all business within the accommodation and hospitality industry comply with employment legislation;

ensure that the issue of potential distortion of the hotel sector by NAMA be addressed immediately by the Government;

immediately address the issue of ‘zombie hotels’;

establish a working group comprised of all interested parties in the hotel sector to draw up a framework to protect the accommodation industry without rewarding reckless investors;

protect and develop the bed and breakfast sector;

extend the Culture Night initiative into a twice yearly event; and

review the functions, systems and efficiency of the semi-State agencies in the tourism sector.

I wish to share my time with Deputies Tommie Broughan and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin.

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

Deputy Mary Upton:  To speak about tourism is to speak about jobs and stimulating the economy, both of which are desperately required in almost every town and village in the country. Despite the spin being peddled from the Government press office, the economic catastrophe visited upon this country by Fianna Fáil and its friends in the construction industry and the banking elites shows no sign of abating. Just because fewer people are losing their jobs or tax forecasts are not as far below target than was the case heretofore does not mean we have turned the corner. It is estimated that up to 100,000 people have emigrated from Ireland since 2007, mainly the younger generation. It is an unfortunate reality that the country can look forward to several years of austerity as we are forced to pay for the mistakes of the former elites, some of whom continue to receive pensions from now nationalised banks although they may not be paying back their outstanding loans. Meanwhile, sectors of the real economy, such as tourism, are not receiving the support they deserve.

Tonight’s motion highlights an area where Ireland has enjoyed great success in the past and where it can in the future with a little imagination and investment. According to Fáilte Ireland calculations, for every additional €1 million spent by foreign tourists in Ireland, we can create 23 jobs. Tourism provides what the Fáilte Ireland fact sheet terms “a significant regional distributive effect”, in other words employment that is not centred on major urban centres, but which also provides jobs from Lahinch to Letterkenny and from Cashel to Carlingford. It provided €1.2 billion in taxation revenues in 2009 and employed almost 120,000 people, more than the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors or the financial services sector. In short, it is a major industry, a significant source of Government revenue and a major employer. This is real decentralisation in action.

With such a major industry, one would expect that the Government would be in a position to take steps to protect it from external problems and chart a growth strategy for the future.

Changing the title of the Department is no substitute for developing real policy. All of the snappy photo opportunities may be good for a Minister but they do not address the real issues facing an industry that is in crisis.

In 2009, almost 1 million fewer overseas visitors came to Ireland than in 2008. This drop, of 11.6%, in 2009 comes on top of a 2% reduction in 2008. Despite hopes for a recovery from tourism’s annus horribulus, 2009, this year has proved to be even worse, with numbers collapsing further. They were down by 18.5% in March 2010 compared to March 2009. The response of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government was to impose an air travel tax.

I understand that in times of crisis a Government is required to investigate any potential avenue of additional revenue. However, the caveat is always to ensure that any taxation or spending measure introduced does not end up costing the economy more than it gains. This is precisely what has happened with the air travel tax.

The economic lunacy of imposing a steep air travel tax when we are an island nation with poor ferry connectivity is bewildering. Surely someone within the Government must realise that if one enforces an air travel tax in a country that relies on airplanes to bring 90% of foreign tourists thereto, many will simply choose not to come. Some 900,000 fewer tourists visited Ireland in 2009 compared to 2008. If even 20% of these made a decision not to visit Ireland because of the high cost of flights, 180,000 people would not be bringing vital economic stimulus to the country, including in places such as Killarney, Kilkenny, Westport and Waterford.

When even a country such as Holland, which has extensive road and rail links with the rest of Europe, and is not an island in the Atlantic on the edge of Europe, chooses to abolish its [69]air travel tax on the grounds that it is counterproductive, it is time for the brains in the Irish Government and the seers in the Department of Finance to reassess their stance. In July 2008, the Dutch Government introduced an air passenger tax targeting the collection of $418 million. A subsequent Dutch study calculated that the tax cost airlines $1.2 billion, Dutch airports $121 million and the Dutch economy $1.6 billion. The tax was scrapped in 2009. It is time for our Government to follow suit and either abolish or substantially reduce the air travel tax, or look for an alternative way of asking the tourism and aviation industries to play their part without maintaining the air travel tax.

The recent rise in the popularity of social networking websites such as Facebook and the use of mobile devices such as smart phones and tablet computers has brought about both challenges and opportunities for the tourism sector. Mobile applications — pieces of software that help users perform specific tasks — have quickly become a cultural phenomenon. It is estimated that 190 million smart phones were sold globally in 2009 and that a further 250 million sales are predicted for 2010. Mobile applications can be used for a variety of tasks, from playing music to tracking airline flights. In most cases, applications are free to download. Apple currently offers over 185,000 applications in its App Store, not to mention the vast number of applications offered by Google and Blackberry.

Keeping up with the burgeoning nature of mobile technology, the development of tourist applications targeted at visitors to Ireland would modernise the tourist experience in Ireland and create openings for application and web developers. Mobile applications should be used as a new medium to access customers through sophisticated Internet marketing campaigns. Furthermore, applications should provide information about tourist attractions, accommodation and transport in addition to providing navigation and translation tools.

Today’s tourism market is arguably much less structured than it was. The Internet has replaced the travel agent because people tend to book their own holidays. Fáilte Ireland’s visitor attitudes survey of 2009 showed that 84% of overseas holidaymakers to Ireland use the Internet to book or purchase some element of their holiday. This figure will only continue to grow so it is vital that our tourism businesses, particularly accommodation businesses, have access to high-quality broadband.

The Internet is the greeting place of the future. Some 74% of foreign visitors used it to book accommodation in 2009. Recent figures supplied from the OECD have shown that Ireland has broadband penetration of just 21.4%, ranking us 20th out of 30 countries. Tourism businesses throughout Ireland require and deserve fast, efficient and reliable broadband in order to build their profile on the Internet and attract foreign tourists.

An issue which has been highlighted time and again to me by tourism operators is tourism visas, particularly for visitors from Asia. Traditionally Irish tourism has been dominated by visitors who share cultural, historical and linguistic ties with Ireland. The growth markets in 21st century tourism will not share these historical ties. The people of India, the Gulf states and, in particular, China are becoming major travellers. These countries are markets Ireland cannot afford to ignore, even in the short term. The significance of Chinese tourism is highlighted by the fact that last year 42.2 million Chinese tourists travelled abroad while in 2001 that figure was just 7 million. If Ireland is to become successful at attracting tourists from the expanding long-haul markets, a reformed and faster means of entering Ireland must be put in place.

The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport has become aware of this fact somewhat belatedly and had an article in the newspaper recently discussing it. What we need from the Government is real action and not words. Due to our border co-operation agreements with the United Kingdom, it is a complex issue. However, if the United Kingdom can offer holiday visas to [70]people from Asia, there is no reason we cannot devise a system that does not require visitors to supply the same level of information as if they were a potential immigrant and not a potential tourist. As I stated, tourism is now such a globalised industry that any barriers to entry will simply result in many tourists picking another destination.

During the height of the Celtic tiger boom, Fianna Fáil and the now-defunct Progressive Democrats created a myriad of tax breaks to stimulate development. One of these was a tax relief on the construction of hotels. Not only has this relief cost over €444 million between 2004 and 2008, despite the tax relief ending in 2005, information I received from the Irish Hotels Federation indicates that some 260 hotels, out of a total stock of just over 900, are still claiming the tax relief. These hotels have been coined “zombie hotels”, as many were created purely to take advantage of tax incentives for a group of investors rather than to meet a genuine supply need. According to the chief executive of Fáilte Ireland, their development was supply-led rather than demand responsive.

The accommodation market has collapsed with room occupancy levels as low as 37% in some areas. In a normally functioning market, businesses that were not profitable would be forced out until the market found its equilibrium. This has not happened as many hotels are supported by their banks and are offering what is essentially below-cost selling. Other hotels have been or are in the process of being transferred to NAMA, which is now effectively the State’s largest hotelier, with the result that many well established family-run hotels are being forced out of business by what amounts to unfair competition. The Labour Party has set its position out in the policy document, Extending the Welcome. I call on the Government to provide an answer as to what it proposes to do regarding the zombie hotels and how it sees NAMA affecting the hotel market. If NAMA does not assess the accommodation market as a whole, it will lead to a continued glut of hotels in certain areas. Action is required urgently on this issue.

We must also work to sustain the bed and breakfast industry. The bed and breakfast accommodation sector has for many decades provided guests with the unique experience of staying in the homes of Irish families where visitors can enjoy the renowned Irish welcome. Bed and breakfast accommodation, once the staple of the Irish accommodation sector, has suffered a steep decline due partly to a reduction in consumer demand, but also due to the explosion in hotels as a result of the tax incentives introduced by the Government which have now rendered the sector effectively insolvent. The market share of bed and breakfast accommodation in the accommodation sector has reduced to 10.8%. It must be acknowledged that Fáilte Ireland has moved to address the issues in the sector as it recently published a vision for Irish home bed and breakfast accommodation. This is a welcome move, but we also need to roll out a full classification system and market bed and breakfast accommodation as a uniquely Irish experience where, instead of merely bed and breakfast, one stays in a family home and then shares breakfast with them in the morning.

While I am highly sympathetic to the real stresses that the businesses in the accommodation and food sector are under, recent statistics from National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, and in a report complied by TASC, are truly shocking. They show a cavalier attitude towards employment legislation, which is there to prevent exploitation of workers, many of whom may not be Irish nationals. Out of a total of 131 inspections carried in 2009 by NERA into accommodation providers outside the Dublin, Cork and Dún Laoghaire municipal areas, 96 were found to be non-compliant with the hotel employment regulation order, which provides for minimum rates of pay and conditions in these areas. This non-compliance rate of 73% represents a completely unacceptable breach of an important piece of employment legislation designed to protect workers. That 15% of hotels were inspected and 73% were found not to [71]be adhering to employment legislation is disgraceful. A report recently published by TASC shows that these figures of non-compliance are broadly similar to those in the catering and accommodation sector.

Such a level of non-compliance shows an almost systematic decision by the industry to ignore workers rights. That the accommodation and catering sectors can then complain about the JLC system or the minimum wage despite the evasion of labour laws is a duplicitous position. We, in the Labour Party, call on the Government, NERA and those in the leadership roles in the accommodation and food services sector to work together to end this worker exploitation.

Ireland’s natural landscape is a precious resource. Fáilte Ireland’s visitor attitude survey 2009 has once again highlighted the Irish scenery as one of the top two advantages for Ireland vis-à-vis other destinations. In a time when ever more people are becoming conscious of their impact on the environment, eco-tourism offers great opportunities for the future of tourism in Ireland. There are beautiful walkways located throughout Ireland and many hikers and hill-walkers take advantage of this. Hiking and hill-walking were the most popular activity that foreign tourists undertook in Ireland in 2009. The development of new walkways and the upkeep of existing walkways are ways in which safe and responsible travel can be promoted while maintaining Ireland’s green image. Already, the green box initiative, which developed the north west into a significant eco-tourism destination, has been successful. Eco-tourism offers rural areas a chance to play on their strengths with a net benefit for all concerned in better environmental conditions, economic opportunities and a strong and a unique tourist product — rural Irish life. Similar strategies to the green box initiative in other parts of Ireland would not only improve Ireland’s standing as an eco-tourism destination but would also bring economic stimulus into rural communities and bring job opportunities to people across a range of skill levels. It is critical that eco-tourism in Ireland is built on a green and sustainable model which takes into consideration the benefits to the tourist, the benefits to the people in the local communities and the impact on the environment.

The need for legislation to allow for the downward review of rents and for bank credit to be unfrozen are issues that are certainly not confined to the tourism industry. Indeed, I have spoken on both of these issues and their impact on the wider economy in this House over the past year. However, both have a significant impact on tourism operators as well as the wider economy. The Labour Party introduced into this House earlier this year legislation that would allow for the downward review of rents. This was voted down by the Government, no doubt to keep those august financial institutions who invested money in commercial property happy, rather than taking account of the needs of the real economy, the employment and wealth creators. Tourist businesses are no different from other sectors with extortionate rents, which take absolutely no account of the current economic climate, being expected by landlords. As a result, tourist businesses have gone to the wall. The tourism industry, as well as the rest of the economy, requires immediate action on this issue.

Despite the mealy-mouthed words from the banks, which still exist only because the citizens of this State bailed them out, they are not extending sufficient working capital to viable businesses. The years of extreme largesse have been replaced with a regime of austerity so severe that viable businesses are being driven to the wall. The banks may claim that they are not refusing a large amount of businesses, but the simple fact is that most of these businesses are told not to apply as they will not be accepted. They do not apply and thus they are not counted as part of the figures spouted by the State and the banks. It is time the State got tough with the banks. The kid gloves treatment given to the former masters of the universe has led them to forget who their real boss is now — the citizens of this State who have bailed them out. The Irish people have, without their consent, of course, given the banks the guarantee, nationalisation, bailouts and NAMA, and have thrown good money after bad into particular organis[72]ations. The least we expect from these organisations is not to strangle viable businesses that did not wreck the Irish economy.

Any plan to establish a long-term sustainable footing for the Irish tourism industry must also address the current State and semi-State support infrastructure. The tourism industry is one of the few areas with an integrated North-South element, with Tourism Ireland working on a Thirty-two county basis to market the island of Ireland as a tourist destination. Established in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement, the vital role this cross-Border body plays should not be underestimated in terms of relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In a classic case of quangoism, however, the merger of the Northern and Southern tourist boards created three agencies, with Fáilte Ireland and the Northern Ireland Tourism board established with Tourism Ireland. In addition, Shannon Development is also responsible for tourism in the mid-west region. There are five regional tourism development boards, and Dublin Tourism. For a country of just 4.5 million people and with less than 7 million visitors last year, this amount of bureaucracy is surely excessive. Tourist operators have also informed me that the number of bodies can sometimes be confusing and they would wish for a more streamlined service with one point of contact. I call on the Government to review the functions, systems and efficiency of the semi-State agencies in the tourism sector. If a reduction in the number of tourism bodies can be achieved without reducing the service to tourism businesses, this should be implemented.

The Labour Party is here this evening to urge the Government to act on tourism. What we have presented here is an action plan for Government to address the short and medium-term issues facing the industry. I have met the same stakeholders as the Minister and read the same reports on the perilous state of the industry. It is the Government’s responsibility to protect jobs and it is the Minister’s responsibility to convince her colleagues around the Cabinet table that tourism requires more than a departmental name change and must be taken seriously by the Government. She also needs to impress on them that decisions taken in other areas can have a major impact on the industry. Tourism is interlinked with the very life of the country. It contributes to the economy in a way no index can accurately measure. Its impacts range from buying petrol at the local station to a cup of tea in the local shop or pub. Tourism can no longer wait at the back of the queue while the pampered elites take up the State’s time and money. I commend the motion to the House.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I commend my colleague, Deputy Upton, on introducing this motion to the House and for highlighting the escalating crisis in the travel and tourism industries. I would also like to commend her warmly on her outstanding recent policy document, published on behalf of our party, entitled, Extending the Welcome: Labour’s Proposals to Sustain and Develop the Tourism Industry. Deputy Upton’s document lays out a comprehensive, credible and innovative programme of actions to address the alarming difficulties in the travel, tourism and transport industries, which are so important for Irish jobs.

A key issue that Labour’s motion and recent policy document highlight and address is the haemorrhaging of passengers and tourists into Ireland. The number of overseas visitors dropped by 1 million, or 11.6%, in 2009. Report after report on passenger figures in the aviation sector is equally grim. One of the latest reports is before me. It shows that the number of airline seats into Ireland this month is down approximately 1 million on a similar period last year. In an earlier Dáil debate on this matter in March, I highlighted the declining passenger volumes between Ireland and our closest neighbour and most important tourism market, the UK. Between February 2009 and February 2010, there was a decline in air passenger numbers between the two countries of 700,000. During that period, there was an astonishing 54% decline [73]in traffic at a number of smaller airports, for example, on the Kerry-Stansted route. If these trends in passenger numbers continue throughout 2010, it has been estimated that air traffic between Ireland and the UK will hit its lowest levels since 1999.

That fewer passengers are coming through our airports and buying seats on Irish airlines is putting jobs at risk not just at the airlines and airports themselves, but across the wider economy and throughout Irish tourism. I represent a north-side Dublin constituency and Dublin Airport is probably the most critical economic dynamo for the whole north and west sides of Dublin as well as for the mid-Leinster region. Shannon Airport performs a similar role for the mid-west, which the Acting Chairman knows, as do Cork Airport in the Cork and south Munster region and the regional airports in Galway, Waterford, Kerry, Knock, Sligo and Donegal, which have similar functions in their hinterlands.

The 1,200 SRT job losses at Dublin Airport last year were accompanied by significant job losses at Ryanair and the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA. For example, Ryanair announced in November that it was to axe 150 jobs at Shannon Airport because 17 routes were being cancelled. It is unclear how many jobs in total have been lost at Ryanair in the past 18 months, but I estimate the figure to be over 500, a catastrophic loss of jobs that will have considerable consequences for our tourism industry. A few days ago, Aer Lingus made the appalling decision without reference to its board to cut its winter schedule for direct flights between New York, Chicago and Boston and Shannon with a consequential serious impact on mid-west tourism and business.

Airports such as Dublin, Shannon and Cork also support thousands of lower skilled but highly valuable and quality jobs, including drivers, cleaners, canteen staff, maintenance workers, administration staff, etc. The profile is similar to the jobs found throughout the tourism industry. This week, there was an alarming report in the Financial Times on the rising unemployment rate by job type in the UK. The UK Government has analysis to hand that we do not. The report stresses that low and middle income earners, especially sales assistants, office workers, van drivers and cleaners, are bearing the brunt of the economic downturn. Workers in these vital, lower skilled jobs in transport and tourism are being disproportionately hammered by job losses. It is about these that we are expressing most concern tonight.

Since the travel tax was introduced by the Ministers for Finance and Transport, I have consistently opposed it on behalf of the Labour Party and asked the Government to publish the cost-benefit analysis drawn up before its implementation. Only a few days ago, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, sent me another short answer to a parliamentary question in which he refused to give me the cost-benefit figures. This is not the way to manage taxation policy. The only economic analysis provided by the Government in budget 2009 vaguely estimated that the travel tax would yield €95 million in 2009 and €150 million in a full year, but there was no estimation of its costs in terms of passenger numbers, aviation jobs and employment in the tourism and hotel sectors. Even a cursory cost-benefit analysis of the tax, such as the one I did during the budget, would make clear that the cost would definitely be far higher than its yield. I would again urge the Ministers to place a full cost-benefit analysis of the tax before the Oireachtas.

It is astonishing that the travel tax is the one issue that has strongly united Aer Lingus, Ryanair and CityJet, which account for approximately 83% of the total number of passengers who leave and visit Ireland each year. A report for the three airlines by Amsterdam Aviation Economics concluded that the introduction of the air travel tax will cause estimated revenue losses of up to €482 million, lead to up to 3,000 direct job losses and, in a full year of operation, cause a reduction of up to 1.2 million in the Irish aviation industry’s departing passenger [74]numbers. These figures balance against a net contribution to the Exchequer of just €116 million. The report states:

If airline capacity in 2009 had been maintained at 2008 levels and the ATT was to be passed on in full to passengers in the form of higher fares, it is estimated that the total resulting demand reduction would be between 0.5 and 1.2 million departing passengers over the first full year based on a price elasticity range of between -0.5 and -1.5. On this basis . . . ATT revenue would be between €117 million and €124 million but total revenue losses for airlines, airports and the tourist sector would range from a minimum of €210 million up to €465 million, dependent on the elasticities assumed.

The report’s figures for air travel tax revenue are pretty accurate. This ludicrous tax is damaging the transport economy and our tourism industry. As my colleague stated, the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium withdrew similar taxes after introducing them.

As I have often stated, the airlines should get their houses in order and address what is, at times, a pervasive rip-off culture across the industry that sometimes damages the passenger numbers visiting Ireland. For example, low cost tickets on sale at all airlines are often accompanied by a range of extra and unjustified charges on basic passenger services, including the use of the check-in desk, boarding cards, baggage, insurance, seating arrangements and carrying a duty free bag onto the flight. Air passengers were fleeced yet again when, in April, Ryanair proposed an increased charge in the cost of checking in baggage from €15 to €20 for the summer months. Under EU law, air passengers have the right to either reimbursement or rerouting of a cancelled flight, the right to information and the right to care — accommodation, food, etc. — as appropriate, but it is often difficult for passengers affected in this way to access a reimbursement, as we saw recently during the volcano crisis.

The eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull could not have occurred at a worse time for Irish airlines and our tourism industry. The volcanic ash emergency has cost the air travel sector an estimated €2.5 billion in total. I am unsure of the exact figures in the tourism industry, but the situation has been damaging. During the whole of the volcanic ash crisis, the overriding concern of the Labour Party and myself was the safety of all air passengers and aviation workers. I understand that the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, was relying on information from the UK Met Office’s Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres. The Acting Chairman might remember a number of debates on the issue in the House. Early on, many people were critical of the sluggish response of the Government and governments across the EU to the crisis. Captain Evan Cullen, the head of the Irish Airline Pilots Association, IALPA, indicated that, in parts of the world with frequent volcano activity, there is not the same complete closing down of the aviation industry.

The Government should consider establishing an Irish expert unit, perhaps in the Department of Transport, or use the expertise in one of our university departments to monitor and assess the impact of volcanic ash. European Commission President Barroso and the transport Commissioner, Siim Kallas, indicated in the midst of the crisis that an initiative would be developed at EU level to support airlines similar to the initiative undertaken after 9-11. However, the Government has not changed its mind on this initiative, which it initially seemed to oppose.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Deputy Broughan has one minute remaining.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  The loss of strategic aviation connectivity was one of the most disturbing potential implications of Aer Lingus’s so-called Project Greenfield plan. The recent [75]re-opening of four key routes between Shannon and British airports was a welcome development, but Shannon has been hard hit in terms of declining connectivity, particularly in respect of its US links, since it has lost key Aer Lingus and US carrier connections. For this reason, I have asked the Oireachtas transport committee to urge the Departments of Transport and Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to prioritise the development of enterprise supports for Shannon and the mid-west region.

I warmly commend my colleague on her outstanding proposals in respect of revitalising tourism and on her motion, which is important to tens of thousands of workers. Where transport is concerned, will the Government examine the air travel tax seriously during the next five or six months?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I support the Labour Party motion, which covers many of the issues at the heart of the current crisis facing the tourism sector. Tourism is of major value to the Irish economy but is capable of greater development as an indigenous growth area. While the priority is to maintain what we have built up, we must look to the future. Many of the current problems faced by the tourism industry are a direct consequence of the global economic situation and the decline in numbers of overseas and domestic holidaymakers. It is not rocket science to realise that when times are difficult, one of the first areas on which households economise is holidays. However, there are also ways tourism could be helped to recover, even in the current climate. It is likely we will be behind other countries in recovering from the recession because of the disastrous manner in which the current Government is mishandling the financial crisis. Even in that context, the tourism sector could still benefit from an upturn in overseas tourism when other economies strengthen. That would constitute a major boost to a large indigenous industry and the overall economy. There is also the potential timebomb represented by the intervention of NAMA in the hotel sector and the existence of so-called zombie hotels, which add more beds to an already oversupplied market and which threaten to distort that market further. That is one more illustration of the disaster that is NAMA and the attempted bolstering of bankrupt property speculators. It would be more useful to convert those hotels on NAMA’s books to some other socially beneficial function rather than to leave them to operate as hotels and to damage legitimate operators already under considerable strain.

The motion is also correct to address costs and, in particular, the need to review rents, which in many instances do not reflect current economic reality. They are imposing intolerable strain on many businesses, including in the tourism sector. There is also a need, as there is in other sectors, to ensure banks give credit to businesses. In the current situation, the State has the power to enforce that, given the stake it has taken in the failed financial system. The motion also refers to the need for businesses in the tourism sector to comply with the relevant employment legislation. That is an important issue because hotels, catering and bars are among the lowest paying sectors of the economy. While employers regularly refer to labour costs being among the issues that have an impact on tourism, average wages are low for the majority of workers here. Quite a number of employers in the hotel business have been found to be in breach of regulations on working conditions and wages and it has been widely suggested that even at the height of the boom many employers were not only paying low wages but employing people with the objective of further lowering wages. Among the issues identified by unions representing hotel workers were people working long hours. This amounted to 12-hour days in some instances, without being paid overtime or given proper breaks. That many hotel workers are from overseas was seen by some unscrupulous employers as presenting the opportunity to pay low wages and to deny them proper conditions as well as undermining wages and conditions for the existing workforce. It is vital that the way to recovery is not seen as lying in the direction of further cuts in wages and undermining conditions. That is not confined to the tourism sector [76]and any attempt to allow employers to opt out of wage agreements on the basis of claiming inability to pay must be strongly resisted.

The motion refers to innovative ways in which recovery can come about. These include encouraging eco-tourism and placing more emphasis on promoting local cultural events to entice tourists to come here from overseas. A report drawn up by Sinn Féin, in consultation with people involved in various aspects of tourism, makes reference to the great potential in developing and promoting local cultural events and resources as tourist attractions. This could embrace everything from sites of historical interest to local music, folklore and literature. That has been done in some places. I refer to Listowel writers week and the events to commemorate Patrick Kavanagh around his native place in Enniskeen in my county, which have been particular successes. More could be done in that direction and the development of sites, the archiving of resources and compiling of local historical and genealogical information can also provide a valuable source of employment through community projects. That will be possible only if we have a Government that adopts a positive attitude to such matters as opposed to the current austerity regime threatening to destroy much of what those community-based employment initiatives have achieved.

The motion neglects to mention one area of vital importance, namely, cross-Border and all-Ireland tourism. As a representative of two Border counties it is of importance to me and it requires an overall strategy to advance the opportunities that exist for the benefit of communities on both sides of the Border. There has been some progress on this area and there are still many worthwhile initiatives in train despite the current difficult economic environment. People involved in the tourism sector on both sides realise the potential benefits in attracting visitors who will regard Fermanagh and Cavan as part of one package. Progress has been made in respect of the Erne-Shannon cruise concept. If the full potential for tourism throughout the island is to be realised, we must move towards an all-Ireland strategy driven by one body. I echo the words of Deputy Mary Upton, who moved the motion, that this is important and must be taken on board and pursued. My colleagues in Stormont are keen to drive this forward, as they are keen to promote all-island economic links to the benefit of people across all Thirty-two counties. Tourism formed part of the discussion yesterday at the first North-South parliamentary forum joint working group meeting in Stormont, which I attended. We hope this will be a feature of our intended conference in the autumn.

I add my support for the motion. I hope this view is shared by all parties in the House. More emphasis needs to be placed on the all-Ireland dimension and my colleague, Senator Pearse Doherty, hopes to present the report to which I referred to the committee later this year. That report will address many of the issues referred to in the motion. I hope it earns similar attention and consideration when concluded.

I refer to the matter of tourist visas, which must be addressed. The level of documentation required of visitors from China and India is excessive. The matter is not confined to those countries. They must provide six months of bank statements, a letter of invitation, a marriage certificate, birth certificates for children even if they are not travelling, a notarised certificate showing they have no criminal record, three consecutive payslips and a letter from their employers, showing they have been granted a leave of absence and stating the duration of employment, their position and their salary. This is far in excess of the requirements of most EU countries. When faced with such onerous demands, many potential visitors will decide to spend their money elsewhere. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that these shores will attract visitors from such major population centres as India and China.

The Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform must also address the treatment of some of these visitors when they arrive at Dublin Airport. I refer to treatment [77]meted out by the Garda Síochána in terms of immigration. In several widely reported incidents, travellers in full possession of the proper documents received far less than the céad míle fáilte we would like to promote and of which we should be proud. This is a blight on our international reputation and is unquestionably referred to overseas. It can only discourage Ireland as a tourism destination for many nationalities. We must have the widest scope and appeal to promote ourselves to the full. I hope the Minister will take on board those concluding remarks also.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The next speaker is the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Mary Hanafin. There are 30 minutes in the slot and I understand the Minister wishes to share time.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Yes. I wish to share time with Deputy Margaret Conlon.

I move amendment No. 1:

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

“—recognises that 2009 was a difficult year for the tourism industry in Ireland, as in other countries, with economic difficulties in many of our primary overseas markets leading to a significant decrease in the number of visitors;

acknowledges that the report of the tourism renewal group published last October set out a clear plan for the survival, recovery and growth of Irish tourism, which the Government has been progressing;

welcomes the priority given to tourism in budget 2010, which maintained investment in tourism marketing in real terms and significantly increased investment in product development in the context of a tough budgetary environment;

acknowledges that energy costs have decreased, while changes made by the Government to the Joint Labour Committee arrangements have helped to reduce labour costs;

welcomes the inclusion of tourism in a range of cross-cutting measures to support enterprises and jobs, including the employment subsidy scheme and the credit review system;

notes that, bearing in mind the constitutional constraints which apply in this area, the Department of Justice and Law Reform has overseen the enactment of legislation which prohibits upward only rent reviews in leases entered into on or after 28 February 2010;

notes that the Department of Justice and Law Reform will continue to liaise with tourism interests on visa matters to ensure that Ireland is an attractive tourist destination for emerging markets;

believes that all local authorities should consider the needs of tourism businesses in their areas when setting their commercial rates and should ensure that valuations are up to date and realistic;

supports the national broadband scheme which is bringing broadband access to all areas of the country, with major benefits for the tourism industry;

[78]

welcomes the fact that decreases in the cost of accommodation and of eating out are helping to improve Ireland’s competitiveness as a tourist destination;

appreciates the scale of the current difficulties in the hotel industry that require market-led adjustments and notes that the tourism State agencies are providing business supports to help increase the customer base, to better manage costs and to improve overall performance and marketing, in particular on the web;

recognises the importance of the bed and breakfast sector as a unique asset to Irish tourism and supports Fáilte Ireland’s special bed and breakfast revitalisation programme;

believes that the opening of the new convention centre in Dublin later this year will give a major boost to business tourism, while great potential also exists for the expansion of cultural and sports tourism; and

is confident that with the right policies, increased competitiveness, better value for money, strong partnership between the public and private sectors and appropriate investment in marketing, product development and business supports, Ireland’s tourist industry is well-positioned to return to growth.

I thank Deputy Upton for tabling this motion. The fact that we will discuss tourism for three hours will help bring the importance of tourism centre stage. I am genuinely delighted to have the opportunity to engage in a debate on an important industry to the economy, and not just in a general sense. The fact that it is in every community and village throughout the country makes it of particular value to communities throughout the island of Ireland.

The tourism and hospitality sector represented 4% of GNP last year, providing, if one includes the general hospitality and restaurant industry, up to 200,000 jobs and, as has been stated already, that is very valuable employment in these times. It also helped to generate €4 billion in foreign revenue earnings and generated in the order of €1.3 billion in tax earnings.

Last year was a very challenging year, and the first quarter of this year has been difficult and disappointing, largely because of circumstances outside our control. We had very bad weather in the early part of the year when people were unable to travel; the difference in the exchange rates for sterling and the dollar; poor economies throughout the world, not just in Ireland; and, to top it all, a volcano. However, those in the Irish tourism industry showed how resilient they are and, contrary to what Deputy Broughan said, they were the only people who responded with a visitor charter, which is a positive message to be sent out throughout the world. Fortunately, the volcano died and hopefully it will stay that way but it shows that the tourism industry has the ability to bounce back, even after such a difficult first few months.

The Government recognises that tourism is a vital export-oriented service industry. That was recognised in our framework for economic renewal, Building Ireland’s Smart Economy. In further recognition of its important contribution to the economy, tourism was also among the areas focused on during the Global Irish Economic Forum in September 2009 and was the subject of some imaginative and challenging suggestions from the forum. Tourism was included also in the Taoiseach’s recent speech on employment policy as one of the ten areas where the Government’s economic renewal plan will ensure we generate the jobs we need.

One of the strengths of Irish tourism has been the robust policy framework developed for the sector since 2003, when the New Horizons report of the Tourism Review Group was published. That includes clearly defined implementation arrangements through the tourism State [79]agencies and a strong partnership approach with the industry. In December 2008, to ensure the strategic framework for tourism development was able to respond to the rapidly changing economic and social environment, the then Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Deputy Martin Cullen, established the tourism renewal group. The Minister asked it to review and, where appropriate, to renew the existing tourism strategy contained in the New Horizons report.

In 2009, the tourism renewal group conducted a detailed and inclusive examination of the tourism sector — both nationally and internationally — the existing strategic framework and key tourism-related issues. The group analysed the implications of its findings and agreed on key actions required to support the tourist industry and help it survive, recover and grow. The resulting report of the tourism renewal group, launched last October, set out tourism’s contribution to Ireland’s economic and social development and its prospects in a changed world, as well as a framework for action for tourism’s survival, recovery and growth in the period to 2013. The report included five survival actions to minimise the impact of current challenges and nine recovery actions to set Irish tourism back on a growth path as the world economy recovers.

I welcome Deputy Upton’s policy paper on tourism. Many of her recommendations reflect those contained in the report of the tourism renewal group. I happily agree with those, and many others, but all of the actions in the tourism renewal group report are being vigorously pursued by me as Minister, by my Department and the appropriate agencies — in co-operation, where relevant, with other Departments and bodies — with a particular focus initially on the survival actions.

In the meantime, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland have built in the relevant renewal group recommendations to their business and marketing plans for 2010. My Department is also working with a range of other organisations to develop opportunities to focus resources, achieve common objectives and maximise the impact on tourism. To ensure that the recommendations of the renewal group are implemented, the group suggested that a renewal implementation group — to include an independent chair and no more than four other members — be established but because I see the implementation of the recommendations as essential to tourism policy I intend to chair the group myself, the final composition of which I am currently settling.

Building on the framework for action, budget 2010 recognised the tourism and hospitality sector as a critical, labour-intensive sector and incorporated a range of measures to renew Irish tourism. The overall tourism services budget was increased by 3% to over €153 million, including the maintenance in real terms of funding for the tourism marketing fund, as recommended by the renewal group, and a trebling of the funds for tourism product development. In difficult times, when other Departments were making serious cuts, that shows the commitment of the Government to promoting and developing tourism.

Tourism was also included in a range of cross-cutting measures to support enterprises and jobs, including the employment subsidy scheme and the credit review scheme. Additional specific measures such as changes in alcohol excise duties and VAT, and the imaginative free rail travel initiative for senior citizens visiting Ireland, will also help the sector to recover. In regard to the free travel initiative, I am pleased to advise the House that since its launch on 16 March last, over 4,500 Golden Trekker passes have been issued to overseas visitors.

As the House is aware, we have been experiencing the impact of an international recession of unsurpassed severity. Every major economy, including our key source tourism markets, is suffering. In our own case, the position was exacerbated by the challenges in our domestic economy and adverse exchange rates, although recent currency movements will operate to our advantage in attracting visitors from the Great Britain and United States markets.

[80]Tourism worldwide saw a significant downturn in the second half of 2008, which continued into 2009, due to the global economic slowdown and loss of consumer confidence. There were just under 7 million overseas visitors to Ireland during that year. That figure represented a drop of just under 12% compared to 2008. Outward trips from Great Britain were particularly affected, with the euro-sterling exchange rate making it extremely challenging to attract visitors to Ireland, and eurozone destinations generally. I understand that the number of people from Great Britain travelling abroad is back to 2001 levels. However, to put our performance in context, OECD figures suggest there was a higher reduction in visitor numbers to Malta, Hungary, Cyprus, Greece and Finland, while the drop reported in France, Portugal and Spain was between 8% and 12%.

In common with many other businesses in Ireland, tourism businesses are experiencing difficulties with regard to capacity, costs and credit supply, exacerbated by lower visitor numbers. Some of those problems will need to be addressed by the tourism industry itself. Others are being addressed generally by the Government, for example, through NAMA and issues around the supply of credit to businesses generally. The Government will continue to work with the industry to help the sector manage its way through these difficulties, whether in stimulating demand, helping to address costs and productivity or securing access to credit.

It is clear that tackling the over-capacity that undoubtedly exists in the hotel sector at present is complex and, ideally, requires a market led response over time. The year 2010 is likely to be another tough year in the hotel sector, with further adjustments taking place as the market responds to excess room supply. This process will gain further momentum in the coming months as more banks seek to clean up their balance sheets and dispose of under-performing loans. These market-led adjustments are necessary, however, to restore some level of equilibrium to the hotel market. NAMA will become a key player in the hotel sector as more hotel-related loans migrate to the agency. Through the Minister for Finance, I will be encouraging NAMA to take a strategic approach to the sector, build up its expertise in this area and consult with sectoral interests, including the Irish Hotels Federation.

Credit availability also remains a real difficulty across the economy, including for the hotel sector. The Government’s strategy for NAMA is centred on the goal of restoring a stable and functioning banking system. As part of this process a credit appeals system has been established which allows small and medium-sized enterprises, including those from the tourism industry, to appeal when a credit application has been refused. This will provide a valuable independent recourse for businesses in their dealings with banks.

The Government is taking initiatives to improve costs such as labour, local authority rates and charges, and energy. For example, securing a reduction in electricity and energy prices has improved our relative competitive position in this area. That consumer prices in Ireland have now fallen back to 2006 levels shows that we are responding flexibly to the crisis. This has been recognised by the European Commission and on international markets, helping to restore confidence in the Irish economy.

I must also acknowledge the tourism industry itself has made great strides to reduce costs and increase productivity over the past two years. These are difficult adjustments but if we get our costs right, while also using the crisis to restructure and reinvent ourselves, we will return to a sustainable growth path. The offers currently available from accommodation and food providers have never been as attractive and go a long way to addressing concerns expressed on this front from overseas and domestic holidaymakers in recent years.

Ireland’s ability to compete in the international arena will depend on maintaining and enhancing competitiveness, a major issue for Irish tourism as it is for the economy. In address[81]ing that issue, it is important to bear in mind that competitiveness is about more than price and costs. The tourism agencies continue to monitor Ireland’s competitiveness as a tourism destination and I am encouraging them to assist the industry in responding to changing conditions as appropriate.

Despite the global economic downturn, millions of people across the world will still take holidays this year. It is also worth noting while the bad weather and volcanic ash led to significant reductions in visitor numbers in the early months of this year, 60% of annual business is accounted for between the months of May and September. The industry and the tourism agencies are fighting hard for every bit of business for the summer and remainder of the year. Funding is now arranged seasonally, with separate summer and autumn marketing campaigns.

Several eurozone economies are coming out of recession and these are important source markets for Irish tourism. Tourism Ireland will be focusing on those major markets that are likely to deliver immediate returns this year including Great Britain, Germany and the US, as research has shown these markets as our best prospects.

Tourism Ireland is the North-South body responsible for marketing the island of Ireland overseas as a holiday destination. The objectives of Tourism Ireland’s marketing strategy are to convince overseas consumers this is the best time to visit, to show them the great value available from industry partners and to demonstrate how easy it is to get to Ireland by air and sea. It is important we are able to market the island as a country at peace. It is to our benefit we can market it on a Thirty-two County basis.

We must position Ireland to take advantage of opportunities that will arise as the global economy stabilises. Tourism Ireland’s commitment is to market through the challenges, work closely with industry partners and fight for every bit of business that can be won. I intend to personally support the marketing effort. Last week I was in Frankfurt, at the invitation of Tourism Ireland and had several trade and media engagements to support the push for business from the largest outbound tourism market in the world. I also intend going to London and the US before the summer break for short intensive engagements with the industry, tourism providers and media. There I will launch campaigns for the on-line 1901 census returns aimed at these important roots markets.

It is important too to plan for the future. Today, I had the pleasure of addressing over 100 tourism industry representatives who were in Dublin to participate in the Tourism Ireland innovation summit taking place in Farmleigh. This summit is designed to help Tourism Ireland to develop its corporate plan, covering 2011 to 2013, and to identify key themes that will be at the heart of future marketing strategies.

Tourism Ireland is engaged in a large tactical marketing programme across all major markets, communicating strong reasons to visit together with clear, price-led messages. New technologies are being utilised in this regard, with 35 websites in 14 languages in 27 different countries. Over €44 million of Exchequer funding has been provided to overseas marketing this year, which already included the largest ever promotional programme of activities to showcase Ireland during the St. Patrick’s Day holiday and a recently launched €20 million summer promotion campaign.

On the domestic front, Fáilte Ireland is engaged in a new intensive campaign to promote holidaying at home this year, with a budget of €4 million. The new marketing campaign is rooted in extensive consumer research and consultation with the tourism industry and involves saturation coverage on television, radio, the print media and on-line.

We are supporting festivals and events around the country on the tourism and culture side. I commend those communities which organise events that take pride in their areas such as Abbeyleix, the heritage town, Abbeyshrule’s Goldsmith Festival, and Dalkey’s book festival. [82] These local festivals celebrate the best of localities and boost their businesses. It is important we continue supporting all of these events.

A major bed and breakfast revitalisation programme has been rolled out by Fáilte Ireland, including a special new domestic publicity campaign highlighting a new classification system, the introduction of dedicated training courses and business supports and investment for development opportunities through local action groups. Fáilte Ireland is also boosting its promotion of business tourism. The opening in September of the new national conference centre in Dublin, to be known as Convention Centre Dublin, will further enhance our capacity to attract international events. Already there have been bookings for international law and pharmaceutical industry conferences.

Croke Park and the recently opened Aviva Stadium at Lansdowne Road are venues for sporting events which will enhance our attractiveness for sports tourism. The recent success of Graeme McDowell at the US Open and the success of Padraig Harrington is also a factor in this area. Such ambassadors, like Gabriel Byrne as cultural ambassador, freely give their time to promote Ireland and it must be acknowledged the impact they have on attracting people to visit Ireland.

The quality and value of the tourism product has improved dramatically over the past few years. Accommodation quality, particularly in the case of hotels, is among the highest in Europe. There are many more things to see and do and we have managed to maintain and build on our natural assets and resources. Visitors constantly express satisfaction rates of well over 90% for their stay here and almost all say they would recommend Ireland as a holiday location to their friends or relatives.

Fáilte Ireland is significantly boosting investment under its capital investment programme to improve and broaden the appeal of Ireland’s portfolio of tourist attractions, activities and tourism-related infrastructure. There has been a particular emphasis over the past two years in improving our eco-friendly linear and looped walking and cycling routes. One can go into the heart of the country, be it Tinakilly or Duhallow, and find local communities, farmers in particular, being responsive to the need to develop walking routes. The Discover Ireland website highlights these amenities through on-line resources including maps.

Yesterday, I announced capital grant funding of €6.6 million for three tourism projects, the Dublin Writers’ Museum, the Lee Valley project in Tralee and the New Ross Quay Board Walk in County Wexford. Funding of €9 million has also been approved for the Viking triangle project in Waterford. I congratulate all those involved in the reopening today of the House of Waterford Crystal visitor experience in the city.

The air travel tax was introduced in a difficult budgetary situation when cuts had to be made in areas such as social welfare, health and education, as I well know. The tax is an important source of revenue for the Exchequer. As Minister with responsibility for tourism, I would be concerned about any tax that might lead to a significant reduction in visitor numbers. Since taking up my new office, I have met several airlines to discuss their research and views on this issue in advance of the 2011 budgetary process.

As regards visa arrangements, I am keen to ensure that we capitalise on opportunities in new emerging tourism markets, such as India and China. I am aware competitive visa arrangements are an important element of winning business from these sources. I have already been in contact with my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform. We are holding discussions to see how these arrangements might be improved.

  8 o’clock

The Private Members’ motion tabled also refers to the downward review of commercial rents. As Deputies will be aware, the Department of Justice and Law Reform has already [83]overseen the enactment of legislation which prohibits upward only rent reviews in leases entered into on or after 28 February 2010. However, I understand that the advice received by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform from the Office of the Attorney General is that, from a constitutional perspective, it would be very problematic, if not impossible, to interfere with existing lease agreements. None the less, I note that there is nothing to stop the parties to existing business leases from varying the terms of their contract and from agreeing to reduce the applicable rent, having regard to their individual circumstances and the realities of the market. It is foolish for a landlord to jeopardise his or her future rental income from a valued tenant by charging that tenant an inflated rental price in the current environment when many businesses are finding it difficult to meet their costs.

Broadband is being spread throughout the country under the national broadband scheme and this could bring major benefits for the tourism industry.

Fáilte Ireland is working closely with tourism businesses throughout Ireland, supporting enterprises and helping them to achieve real cost savings and efficiencies. Business supports are aimed at assisting key tourism businesses to increase their international customer base, to better manage their cost base, to improve overall performance and marketing, especially on the web, and to sustain employment levels.

During 2009, Fáilte Ireland provided a range of training and business supports directly to almost 3,000 individual tourism businesses. In 2010, it will invest more than €11 million in the form of direct supports and advice for tourism enterprises.

The partnerships between Fáilte Ireland, the industry, Tourism Ireland and other major agencies such as Bord Bia are crucial for the success of the industry. While we recognise that these are extraordinarily challenging and difficult times and that tourism is not immune, I am confident that our tourism industry, which is resilient, will rise to the challenge. I am also confident that with the ongoing development of the product we have to offer and through highlighting the best of what we have to offer and marketing it well to the international market, we can ensure tourism will be one of the few major indigenous industries to help us to continue to maintain employment, to create additional employment and to attract visitors to share in this country, which we are proud to represent.

Deputy Margaret Conlon:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute this evening and I thank Deputy Upton for placing tourism at the centre of the debate. Often in recent months and years, we have spoken in the House about global economic difficulties. Every aspect of Irish life has suffered as a result of the worst recession ever to hit the country. The tourism industry is no exception. The situation has not been helped by adverse exchange rates. However, the decision of the UK Government to increase its VAT rates will go some way to boosting tourism, especially in my constituency, which is made up of Border counties.

As a country, we have much to offer, including untapped potential. Many factors affect our tourist industry, some of which are outside our control. Mention has been made this year of volcanic ash. Who could have predicted the disastrous consequences which resulted from it? It has had a negative impact on the number of visitors travelling to the island of Ireland this year. I was horrified when I heard some of the stories in the media about people who took the view they were charged exorbitant rates by some people who were out to make money at their expense because they were stranded here.

The other side is that this has had the advantage of encouraging the Irish people to holiday at home, which many are choosing to do. Through its youth wing, my party is actively promoting a “holiday at home” campaign. There is significant interest in this area. People are referring to taking a “staycation” instead of a vacation. Whether times are bad, people still like to take a [84]holiday. Such people may take a reduced holiday such as a mid-week or weekend break rather than going to the sun.

The most important thing for people holidaying at home and for visiting foreigners is value for money. People want to believe they are getting value for money. I commend those in the hotel and catering industry who are offering good deals. However, some people continue to charge exorbitant rates. I trust they will follow the example of the others because they cannot afford to price themselves out of the market. People have no wish to be ripped off. If this takes place not only will such people not return, but they will tell their friends all about it and the chances are they will not come either. Such people will probably do this through such programmes as “Liveline” and so on. It is very important such damage does not occur. Providers must be conscious of the need to give value for money.

This year we have been fortunate with good weather. Let us hope it continues. However, Irish people do not and cannot depend on good weather to boost tourism revenue. If the weather is good, it is a bonus.

In this country, among the most important tourist attractions are our festivals. They are an important source of revenue and they boost the numbers visiting the country. This year in my constituency we will have the honour of hosting Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann in August in Cavan. This will certainly boost visitor numbers. It will also boost the local economy while allowing participants from throughout the country to showcase their talents in the promotion of traditional music. I look forward to this event very much.

Many other successful festivals have been held in Monaghan in recent times, including the Feile Oriel. On a bank holiday weekend in Castleblaney a delegation from Germany came to visit. A delegation from France came to Ballybay and Castleblaney. The Flat Lakes festival was held in Clones. Other festivals in Monaghan include Mucko Mania Festival, the Kavanagh weekend and the blues festival. We are proactive in promoting our own area. We encourage people to come and, like the Minister, I commend the volunteers for their selfless dedication and commitment. Other counties are doing likewise. We have not always successfully broadcast our message but we must recognise the strenuous efforts made by Tourism Ireland and Fáilte Ireland in promoting our regions through their ongoing global marketing campaigns.

For many years we have advocated the need for a convention centre in Dublin. I welcome the fact that it will be opened soon. It will give a great boost to business and conference tourism in the future and there is great potential to capitalise on this. The centre is not open yet but already, some 39 international events have been secured. This is heartening and through our reputation we can secure a good deal more. It is important to encourage the marketing of business tourism to ensure we attract more international conferences.

In her speech, the Minister referred to Croke Park and the Aviva Stadium. During the summer months, we provide a feast of sport. I must confess that recently I attended the Westlife concert in Croke Park with my ten year old daughter. On the way out, I met a steward and I said to him that I hope that was not the only time I would be in Croke Park this summer. He asked me which country I was from. I said I was from Monaghan. He suggested I take a good look at the place because he figured it would be the only time I would see it this year. If we continue to go the way we are going, I expect and hope to prove him wrong.

This year will continue to be a challenging year for the tourist industry, as were 2008 and 2009. Many of my constituents in the industry are experiencing great difficulties in accessing credit. In some cases, very small overdraft facilities are being pulled without even an interview or without speaking to the people involved. I have recommended such people go through the [85]credit review appeals process because I believe they have been unfairly dealt with and I expect their appeals would be successful.

The Minister referred to the fact that she intends to visit certain countries. The media and the public frown when they hear of politicians going abroad. However, it is important that we use every available opportunity to sell Ireland as a tourist destination. Who better than the Minister to assist in the promotion of Ireland? I wish her well as she does this on her travels.

I am heartened by the bed and breakfast revitalisation programme.

Many people love to visit our bed and breakfast establishments. They find them homely and intimate and the care and attention they get is very important to them. For many years, bed and breakfast businesses were the Cinderella of the industry and I welcome the initiative.

I see the glass half full and not half empty. Our tourism industry is resilient. Those involved have always had a can do-must do approach which is never more obvious than when things are tough. Like many businesses, when we emerge from this recession, our tourism industry will have bounced back based on improved competitiveness, better supports from State agencies and a positive marketing campaign.

As Members of a Government party working with the Minister, we will all play our part to ensure we increase the potential, in particular in our own areas. I, for one, am committed to doing that and am pleased to support the amendment to the motion.

Deputy Olivia Mitchell:  I very much welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion tabled by Deputy Upton. It again raises issues in the industry. The Government, the Minister and the Department know the issues but despite all the lip-service paid to the importance of the industry, to the value of the jobs and to its foreign currency raising importance to the country, it is rhetoric and, in many cases, it is not backed by action. If this country is to recover and if we are to restore growth, it must be through growth in export services of which tourism is our most significant and best prospect. Despite the fact that thousands of jobs have been lost in the sector, as the Minister mentioned, it is still our largest employer and provides jobs in towns and villages in which there are very few other jobs and in which, if lost, there is very little prospect of replacement jobs.

The Government has never really rated tourism as a sector and its structures and agencies reflect this disregard. There are simply too many overlapping and competing agencies. Funding and effort has been dissipated and there is no single voice representing Irish tourism and speaking on its behalf. It is an industry of thousands of mostly small individual enterprises. By its very nature, it is fragmented and dispersed and it needs a single unifying agency or body to give leadership, direction and coherence. Instead, a fragmented industry has fragmented leadership and organisation. It is another case of where the incumbent, the organisation and the vested interest, are put before the needs of the majority.

Like the problems in the economy and the banks, the problems in tourism did not just start in September 2008. The Government cannot solely blame the worldwide collapse of tourism. Our collapse has not only been greater than elsewhere but our problems started far earlier than anywhere else. The frightening truth is that outside Dublin, we have gained few additional foreign visitors holidaying here over the past ten years. In those ten years, the number of visitors from Britain has continued to fall. That trend was masked by the growth of short stay visitors in Dublin and by the substantial increase in holiday breaks — short stays and weekends — being taken by Irish people during the Celtic tiger years, reflecting rising incomes at that time. That is all gone now and the underlying truth has been revealed. We had too much of a grossly overpriced product and at Government and agency levels, we had administration and leadership that lacked coherence.

[86]If we are spending the huge sums of money, to which the Minister referred, on marketing at home and abroad —€50 million by Tourism Ireland this year — and we are not really gaining, then the only possible conclusion is that we are doing something seriously wrong. In terms of organisation, activity and expenditure, no area can be uncritically questioned at this stage.

The foot and mouth disease outbreak coupled with the ludicrous overpricing at the time lost us the edge in golfing tourism and other country sports. The Minister mentioned golf which is to the fore currently. During that period of time when the country was cut off, golfers went elsewhere and found an equally good product at a much better price and they have never returned to Ireland.

Today, we have a once-off, time-related opportunity to relaunch Ireland as the European cradle of golf and as the home of Harrington and McDowell. We should send out that message loud and clear today, targeting the American market, in particular, where I do not believe there was a golfer who did not watch an Irish player win the US Open in the past few days. We should sell ourselves as the hothouse of golf and send the message that golf is now affordable in Ireland, which it certainly was not in recent years. We should bring in the promoters from the US in their hundreds free of charge, showcase Ireland and try to re-establish once and for all this country as a golfing destination. That is an aside and something we can do right now.

There is clear advice on what else needs to be done to try to safeguard what is left of the industry and retain the infrastructure, expertise and investment in order that there is a springboard for recovery when it comes. Advice from the Minister’s own advisers, the business community, IBEC, the renewal group, the Commission on Taxation, the National Competitive Council, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation and Fáilte Ireland is to get rid of the travel tax. I have spoken repeatedly about the disastrous consequences of this on access to Ireland. For an island country to lose connectivity to more than 30 destinations in the past 12 months is little short of a catastrophe. No amount of marketing can counteract that. If people cannot get here easily and cheaply, they will not come no matter how appealing our marketing is. This tax may take in €100 million for the Government but costs hundreds of millions of euro in lost revenue to the State and many lost jobs. It is not only me saying that but all the Minister’s best advice is along similar lines. The Government’s position on this has been perverse, as is its position on visas.

As the Minister rightly said, the Minister for Foreign Affairs was at Expo 2010 in China last week. I gather there was a big Irish delegation and a huge Irish spend. I applaud that and would not for a minute criticise the fact people are travelling to China to sell Ireland. It is laudable and necessary but it is ultimately self-defeating if the same ludicrous visa situation continues. I have highlighted the issue repeated. Every application is treated as if it is an immigration application. Businessmen seeking opportunities to buy and sell here are required to provide such a level of information and engage in so much form filling that it shows us to be a totally bureaucratic and unwelcoming nation. They would lose the will to do any business here. We treat businessmen like that and the poor feckless tourist is treated as badly. China has been identified as an emerging market for trade and tourism. If we could even get a fraction of that growing market, it would solve all our problems.

I have raised the car hire issue many times. I checked the price of hiring a car in Dublin and in Edinburgh today and, in all cases, it is dearer here and, in some cases, it is twice as dear. Few providers here had an automatic car available. In one case, the cheapest automatic car available was more than €1,000 per week. One might as well say goodbye to the American market. The Minister can check those prices tomorrow.

[87]There are other areas in which costs need to be addressed. From a tax perspective, VAT on wine is a real turn-off for people. The price of hotels is coming down but food and drink is ridiculously expensive. Perhaps wine should be treated as food rather than alcohol for VAT purposes.

The joint labour committee structure should be restructured or abolished. I completely agree with my colleague in regard to the exploitation of workers. It is absolutely reprehensible and should never happen. In particular, it should not happen to our visitor workers, although it did in some places. Most people are trying to do the best they can to obey the law but the law, as it stands, has cost jobs and we should address that.

The deal the Spanish Government is doing, about which I have spoken repeatedly, is one we will have to consider. I spoke to one travel agent who brought 6,000 visitors from Ireland to Spain because of the attractiveness of this deal.

I wanted to refer to zombie hotels but the Minister is aware of the problem. It is crucial that NAMA does not nurse these hotels. Normal market conditions must return and while that will be painful, the sooner we suffer the pain, the sooner we can return to normal. There is no excuse for nursing businesses that are unsustainable and that were overleveraged to begin with.

There were 23% fewer visitors in the first three months of this year compared with last year. Last year was catastrophic. Government Deputies and the Minister’s predecessor said 2010 would be better but it has been worse. The Minister cannot blame the volcano problem, which did not emerge until April; the euro exchange rate, which was worse in 2009; or the drop in worldwide travel, which was also worse in 2009. We are going in the wrong direction. I wish the Minister well but if I was in her position, I would question everything she is doing.

Deputy Deirdre Clune:  I am glad to support the motion. Tourism is important. I come from Cork, which was the European Capital of Culture in 2005, and that boosted the city’s reputation worldwide.

The Minister referred to the air travel tax, which was introduced in the 2009 budget, and I am glad she is in contact with representatives of the airlines. I am sure they will provide her with their research, which shows that this tax has resulted in the loss of 3,000 jobs directly and €480 million in revenue. It is time the Minister put her hands up, said it is a disaster and it should never have happened. Belgium, Denmark, Holland and Spain have withdrawn a similar tax and the sooner that happens, the better because it makes no sense for an island nation to have such a tax.

I would like the Minister to raise the cost of flights, particularly from the US, with airline representatives. I have spoken to three people in the past week who cannot get to Ireland in August for less than $1,000 having explored all the options available, including connecting through Heathrow Airport. One is a family member and two others happened to raise the issue with me. Those costs are prohibitive and they discourage tourists. Previous speakers have outlined figures, which demonstrate we are experiencing a steep decline in this area.

I am a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment and representatives of the National Competitiveness Council appeared before us this afternoon. Tourism was mentioned. Services exports generally increased by 12% in 2009 but tourism travel declined by 18%. The value of the sector has declined significantly over the past decade from 14% of services exports in 2001 to 5% in 2009. However, Ireland has a great deal to offer and we must focus on niche areas, particularly golf.

Domestic tourism is also important. Festivals and investment in improving the tourism product in our cities and towns will be crucial and we must focus on this. At the committee meeting earlier, we also discussed the continuing obstacles to doing business, including the lack of high [88]quality broadband outside Dublin and local authority charges. We have the highest landfill costs and water charges are high. The cost of paying for water has increased by almost 20% in the past year and this affects most tourism businesses. I have referred to a number of issues which should go into the Minister’s melting pot.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I welcome the Minister. I thank Deputy Upton for tabling the motion. I raised the issue of visas for tourists from non-Schengen Agreement countries in the Minister’s first week in office. She is well aware of it and the head of Tourism Ireland, Niall Gibbons, is constantly highlighting the same barrier for tourists, for example, from Korea or China. They must obtain two visas when they travel to the State.

I refer to a proposal which will land on the Minister’s desk shortly. It is not a novel idea but it is new to my region. I refer to off-road biking. There are successful off-road biking facilities in Portumna, County Galway and County Limerick and a facility is under development in the Slieve Bloom Mountains. In the past months, I have come across a vacuum in Ulster. It is not possible to build such a facility in Northern Ireland because of the rules that apply to forestry there. Off-road bikers from Belfast, Dungannon and elsewhere have contacted me by e-mail to highlight that they must travel by ferry to Fort William in Scotland to participate in the sport. I have conducted market research on this sport in conjunction with a new biking club which has been set up in County Donegal and there is an appetite in Northern Ireland for an off-road biking facility in my county. Sites have been identified on Coillte lands and, therefore, a partnership approach will have to be adopted. I have contacted a number of cross-Border funding agencies and they are champing at the bit because this idea will work.

I have received e-mails from the Acting Chairman’s constituency. A new generation of people want to get involved in this sport and they are prepared to travel from counties Kerry, Wicklow and Dublin and Northern Ireland. An estimated 20,000 spectators travelled to the world championships at Fort William in Scotland. This is an excellent, high value and high end tourism product and I ask the Minister to engage with the group that has been formed in County Donegal.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I thank Deputy Upton and the Labour Party for tabling the motion. Three home truths should be pointed out to the Minister and the Government. The travel tax should be abolished and if the Minster gets half a chance, she will do that. It is hugely important that this happens because we got a bad name all over the world, particularly among our competitors.

The second home truth is the powers that be must understand what are the old reliables or workhorses of our economy, that is, tourism and agriculture. Now that the famous construction bubble has burst, the more we go back to the old reliables, the quicker we will get out of the recession and the more jobs we will create. As Deputy Mitchell rightly said, this issue was mishandled.

The third home truth relates to research conducted recently, which found that 90% of tourists who visited Ireland were happy with the friendliness of the people and that is a factor that will bring many of them back again. We must hold on to that for as long as possible because that is the connection that will bring them back. We then decided to slap on a travel tax to ensure we are not competitive around the world.

There are always changes from one year to the next — for example, currency fluctuations. We should promote Ireland in countries whose inhabitants would find it good value to travel here. We must be nimble and quick-witted in selling Ireland. With the worldwide web and all the other means of communication, we should have no trouble doing this. There are some good [89]brains in Irish tourism but unless we get our act together over the next year or two, our competitors will clean us off the face of the earth.

The drop in the number of tourists visiting Ireland is extraordinarily serious. If we think of the 1 million people who live in Dublin today, we can imagine the number of people who could have come to Ireland last year but did not. If we want to retain jobs, we know what we have to do. I wish the Minister luck, and I hope that in the next budget the travel tax will be gone.

Debate adjourned.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 7:

In page 11, line 2, to delete “concerned.” and substitute the following:

“concerned.

(5) Any recommendation made under subsection (3A), and notified to the person who made the complaint under subsection (4), shall become binding on the reviewable agency and the person making the complaint on that date six months after the Ombudsman has notified both parties of his or her recommendation, unless either party submits to the Ombudsman a written statement of rejection of the recommendation, with the reasons for such rejection, within that period of six months.

(6) Where a reviewable agency submits a written statement of rejection pursuant to subsection (5), the reasons shall be reasonable and shall provide a rationale for the rejection of the recommendation of the Ombudsman.

(7) Where a reviewable agency is a Government Department and it submits a written statement of rejection pursuant to subsection (5), the reasons shall be signed by the relevant Minister and that Minister shall make a statement to the Houses of the Oireachtas as to the reasons for his or her rejection of a recommendation of the Ombudsman within 21 days of such rejection.

(8) Notwithstanding the rejection of the recommendations of the Ombudsman pursuant to subsection (6), the reviewable agency shall have due regard to the tenor and spirit of those recommendations in the exercise of its functions.”.”.

—(Deputy Kieran O’Donnell).

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  We were in the middle of discussing an amendment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  My understanding was that the Minister of State had concluded and Deputy O’Donnell was about to make his second contribution. Do the Deputies agree?

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  His third.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The advice given to the Chair is that it was his second.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  On this occasion it was the second. We were discussing amendment No. 7.

[90]Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  For the information of the House, we are on amendment No. 7, which arises from Committee Stage proceedings, and Deputy O’Donnell is making his second contribution.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I thank the Acting Chairman, who did that in a very efficient fashion.

Another change brought about by this Bill is that the Ombudsman can make general reviews or recommendations; up to now, recommendations were specific to individual public bodies. The provisions in this amendment allow for the gradual building up of a code of practice in terms of general recommendations. The Minister of State spoke earlier about making a legal framework. The change whereby the Ombudsman can make general recommendations will enable the Ombudsman to build up codes of practice for dealing with the various bodies that fall under its remit. In that context, what we are providing is, in essence, a code of practice. The amendment is reasonable and would give a quasi-legal, if not strictly legal, weight to the recommendations.

It is with regret that we see so many of our constituents writing to the Ombudsman with queries and receiving in return excellent reports which are effectively no more than recommendations. They should be a little stronger. This amendment would facilitate, in a structured way, the building up of a code of practice. The Minister referred to this earlier. I would like to hear his views on a code of practice. Does he see merit in such a proposal to give added weight to the recommendations of the Ombudsman?

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  In one way the Deputy has almost answered himself. Codes of practice, by their nature, are not legally binding. However, bodies are supposed to follow them. In an effort to improve public administration standards generally and avoid the repetition of administrative mistakes, the Office of the Ombudsman has produced over the years, as the Deputy proposes, a series of guidelines or codes of practice for the public service, which serve as templates to improve the quality of specific aspects of customer service. These include The Ombudsman’s Principles of Good Administration, Public Bodies and the Citizen — The Ombudsman’s Guide to Standards of Best Practice for Public Servants, The Ombudsman’s Guide to Internal Complaints Systems, Redress — Getting it Wrong and Putting it Right, and the Statement of Good Practice for the Public Health Service in Dealing with Patients.

Furthermore, where systemic difficulties have been identified in particular sectors, the Office of the Ombudsman has raised these with the Department centrally responsible for the sector. For example, where a problem of a systemic nature arises in one local authority, the Ombudsman contacts the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to recommend any necessary follow-up action throughout the local authority sector.

The Bill serves to strengthen the role of the Ombudsman in improving general standards of public administration even further. A new provision in section 9 of the Bill allows the Ombudsman to make recommendations in general terms, underpinning an approach the Ombudsman’s office has taken in the past based on lessons learned in individual cases. The suggested amendment will provide greater authority to the Ombudsman in dealing with such matters in the future.

The merit of the Office of the Ombudsman is that it is not a court of law; nor should it be. Binding recommendations have certain advantages but, as I have illustrated and as I mentioned on Committee Stage with a quote from the Ombudsman, they also have certain disadvantages. As we know, where a Department or public agency rejects the recommendation of the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman can take action by laying a report before these Houses. This approach has worked well to date in the two cases in which this has occurred.

[91]To continue where I left off before the debate was adjourned, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has not yet finished its deliberations on the Ombudsman’s report on the lost at sea scheme, nor has it made recommendations, but in all likelihood it will do so. This may assist in obtaining a resolution of the problem, as happened in the previous case.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I move amendment No. 8:

In page 11, between lines 2 and 3, to insert the following:

10.—Section 6 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of a new subsection (9) as follows:

“(9) Where a report has been made under subsection (5) and laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with subsection (7), the relevant Oireachtas Committee shall, within 3 months of the report being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas in accordance with subsection (7), hold a public debate on the contents of that report, which debate shall include an investigation of the content of the report made under subsection (5) into any aspect of that report which concerns the conduct or decisions of a Minister, public official or civil servant.”.”.

This is an add-on to amendment No. 7. We propose that when a Government agency rejects a recommendation from the Ombudsman, the rejection should be signed by the Minister, who must also make a statement to the Houses on the reasons for the rejection. Within three months of the report being laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas, there should be a public debate which includes an investigation of the contents of the report which concern the conduct or decisions of a Minister, public official or civil servant.

These aspects concern the conduct of decisions of a Minister or public official or civil servant. This is to do with accountability. We want a proper debate and openness and transparency. This is a reasonable amendment which adds to the quality of the work being done by the Ombudsman. The recommendations of the Ombudsman are not legally binding but at least we can have a frank and open debate on the reasons for rejection by the relevant Minister and Department and due process will be in public.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I would not necessarily disagree that the Deputy’s amendment is a reasonable one but I will reason further on it and I am not in a position to accept it. The Deputy is proposing to introduce an amendment which would direct the Houses of the Oireachtas to take specific action with regard to a special report of the Ombudsman. Legal advice from the Office of the Attorney General indicates that there would be constitutional difficulties with any provision in legislation which directs the Houses of the Oireachtas to take specific action in respect of a report of the Ombudsman. Article 15.10 of the Constitution clearly sets out that it is a matter for each House of the Oireachtas to make its own rules and standing orders. This is something that could be and perhaps is being considered by the Committee on Procedure and Privileges but the correct way of dealing with this should be through Standing Orders. As stated with regard to the previous amendment and with regard to the specific issue of the Lost at Sea report, meetings between relevant parties and the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, are ongoing and the Government will take into consideration the final recommendation, if any, of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

[92]Quite apart from the more general point that the level of acceptance by public bodies of the Ombudsman’s recommendations is very high, under the existing legal provisions which do not specify how special reports should be dealt with, the Lost at Sea report has, none the less, been the subject of extensive debate. There have been statements and debate in the Dáil on 4 February 2010, twice in the Seanad on 18 February and 31 March 2010 and as stated, the relevant parties are in the process of meeting the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is not clear in the case of this practical example what a further provision in the legislation could add to the extensive debate to which the Lost at Sea report is currently subject.

The Ombudsman stated in her speech to the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, on 21 April 2010:

The Ombudsman Act does not prescribe what should happen when an Ombudsman recommendation is rejected by a public body and a special report is laid. This is not necessarily a problem. Many aspects of how the Ombudsman functions are not prescribed in law.

On that basis, I cannot accept the Deputy’s proposed, albeit reasonable, amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Amendments Nos. 9 and 10, in the name of Deputy Burton, are out of order. Amendment No. 11 arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 13, 14, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 32 are related and may be discussed with amendment No. 11.

Amendments Nos. 9 and 10 not moved.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 11:

In page 14, line 18, to delete “Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform” and substitute “Department of Justice and Law Reform”.

These amendments arise entirely as a result of the recent restructuring and renaming of some Departments announced by the Taoiseach in March 2010.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Amendment No. 12 arises out of committee proceedings.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I move amendment No. 12:

In page 14, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(2) The Refugee Appeals Tribunal and Refugee Applications Commissioner”.

I have already spoken about this amendment so I will be brief. The purpose of the amendment is to extend the remit of the Ombudsman and to include in the reviewable agencies the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Refugee Applications Commissioner. I believe it would be an important opportunity to improve the administration of the State and in particular these two institutions to have them included in the remit of the Ombudsman. There are a great many such cases and very rarely are decisions or information given. It would significantly improve public administration if both of these offices were subject to the Ombudsman’s actions, particularly given the fact that cases often end up, as the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, [93]constantly bemoans, in the High Court and further courts. If proper administration were applied from the outset, there would be a reduction in the number of court cases and the consequent cost to the Department. There would be an improvement in public accountability and most of all, there would be a significant improvement in public administration and the speed of public administration in these important areas.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  While I am not in a position to accept the amendment at present that is not to say that the point Deputy Burton is making does not have some merit. Currently, section 5(1)(e) of the Ombudsman Act 1980 provides the Ombudsman shall not investigate any action taken in the administration of the law relating to aliens or naturalisation. On the advice of the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, I am not in a position to propose any change to this position.

However, it is worth noting that while the Ombudsman’s office does not currently have the formal power to investigate immigration and naturalisation matters, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service corresponds with that office on such cases and sets out the factual position on the matter complained of and co-operates fully with the Ombudsman’s office in that regard.

The Immigration (Residence and Protection) Bill which the Minister for Justice and Law Reform has indicated will be republished shortly, will change the delivery of immigration and asylum services and is aimed at making these services more efficient and effective. The renewed programme for Government makes reference to the role of the Ombudsman in immigration matters and states: “Following commencement of the Immigration (Residence and Protection) Bill, we will consider the extension of the Ombudsman’s remit in relation to specified immigration matters, having due regard for the need to avoid systemic delays”. Given that the Immigration (Residence and Protection) Bill will fundamentally change the delivery of immigration and asylum services, any suggestion to extend the remit of the Ombudsman to the immigration area until after the commencement of the new Bill would be premature. On that basis, I cannot accept the Deputy’s amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 13:

In page 15, line 3, to delete “Department of Education and Science” and substitute “Department of Education and Skills”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 14:

In page 16, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following:

“(48) An Foras Áiseanna Saothair”.

Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Amendment No. 15, in the name of the Minister, arises out of committee proceedings. Amendment No. 16 is related. Amendments Nos. 17 to 21, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 16, therefore, amendments Nos. 15 to 17, inclusive, may be discussed together by agreement.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 15:

[94]

In page 16, lines 21 and 22, to delete all words from and including “(excluding” in line 21 down to and including “Commission)” in line 22.

These amendments reflect changes in the broadcasting framework introduced by the Broadcasting Act 2009.

The Broadcasting Act 2009 sets out the regulatory framework for the broadcasting industry in Ireland. It consolidates all Irish broadcasting related legislation in a single Act and provides for an increased level of regulation in the broadcasting industry in Ireland. The Act dissolved the Broadcasting Complaints Commission and the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and provided for the function of these agencies to be taken over by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. The effect of the proposed amendments Nos. 15 and 16 will be to delete the dissolved bodies from Schedule 1. Amendments Nos. 17 to 21, inclusive, are consequential amendments arising from the deletion of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. The effect of the amendments will be to renumber correctly the bodies listed under the aegis of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources that are being brought within the remit of the Ombudsman.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 16:

In page 16, to delete line 23.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 17:

In page 16, line 24, to delete “(3) Sustainable” and substitute “(2)Sustainable”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 18:

In page 16, line 25, to delete “(4) Mining” and substitute “(3) Mining”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 19:

In page 16, line 26, to delete “(5) Central”” and substitute “(4) Central”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 20:

In page 16, line 27, to delete “(6) Regional” and substitute “(5) Regional”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 21:

In page 16, line 28, to delete “(7) An Post” and substitute “(6) An Post”.

[95]Amendment agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Amendment No. 22 arises from Committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, inclusive, are consequential on amendment No. 22. Amendments Nos. 22 to 25, inclusive, may be discussed together.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 22:

In page 17, to delete line 6.

Amendment No. 22 arises following the dissolution of the Dublin Transportation Office on 1 December 2009. As the body no longer exists, this is a technical amendment to reflect this. Amendments Nos. 23 to 25, inclusive, are consequential amendments arising from the deletion of the Dublin Transportation Office. The effect of the amendments will be to renumber correctly the bodies listed under the aegis of the Department of Transport that are being brought within the remit of the Ombudsman.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 23:

In page 17, line 7, to delete “(3) National” and substitute “(2) National”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 24:

In page 17, line 8, to delete “(4) Road” and substitute “(3) Road”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 25:

In page 17, line 9, to delete “(5) Railway” and substitute “(4) Railway”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 26:

In page 17, to delete line 18.

The Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides for the transfer of the National Cancer Screening Service, NCSS, into the Health Service Executive. The order giving effect to the transfer has been signed and the NCSS has been integrated into the HSE’s national cancer control programme with effect from 1 April.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 27:

In page 17, to delete lines 19 and 20 and substitute the following:

“10. Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation but excluding—”.

Amendment agreed to.

[96]Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 28:

In page 17, to delete line 25.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 29:

In page 17, line 26, to delete “Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism” and substitute “Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 30:

In page 18, line 4, to delete “Department of Social and Family Affairs” and substitute “Department of Social Protection”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 31:

In page 18, line 8, to delete “Combat Poverty Agency” and substitute “General Register Office”.

From 1 July 2009, the Combat Poverty Agency and the Office for Social Inclusion have been integrated to form a new division within the Department of Social Protection. The integration of both bodies is in accordance with the Government decision announced in budget 2009. As a division within the Department of Social Protection, it automatically comes within the remit of the Ombudsman. I signalled on Committee Stage of the Bill that I would introduce an amendment to put beyond any doubt that the administrative actions of the General Register Office, GRO, are within the remit of the Ombudsman. Because of its close relationship with the Department of Social Protection, the GRO operates on the basis that its administrative actions are reviewed by the Ombudsman even though it is not explicitly listed in Schedule 1 of the Act. For the purpose of ensuring clarity with regard to its inclusion within the remit of the Ombudsman, it is proposed to make explicit reference to the GRO in Schedule 1 of the Bill. This amendment will not result in any practical change with regard to the policy of the Ombudsman vis-à-vis the GRO, but will serve to ensure there is no room for doubt about its inclusion.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 32:

In page 18, lines 12 and 13, to delete “Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs” and substitute the following:

“Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs”.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 33:

In page 20, lines 8 to 10, to delete “, the National Economic and Social Forum and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance”.

[97]As part of the Government’s rationalisation programme, a decision was taken to amalgamate the three constituent bodies of the National Economic and Social Development Office, by absorbing the National Economic and Social Forum, NESF, and the National Centre for Partnership and Performance, NCPP, into the National Economic and Social Council, NESC. The NESF and NCCP have been dissolved with effect from 1 April 2010, by orders made under section 34 of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act 2006.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 34:

In page 20, to delete line 16.

The Postgraduate Medical and Dental Board is listed as an exempt agency in Schedule 2 of the Bill. It is now appropriate to delete the reference to that board, since it was abolished and its functions transferred to the HSE with effect from 1 January 2009 under the Medical Practitioners Act 2007.

Amendment agreed to.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I move amendment No. 35:

In page 20, line 18, to delete “Radio Telefís Éireann” and substitute “Raidió Teilifís Éireann”.

RTE is currently listed as an exempt agency in Schedule 2 of the Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill 2008. This amendment reflects the slight change to the title of RTE made by section 113 of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

  9 o’clock

I undertook on Committee Stage to indicate the position with regard to commencement of the legislation. I propose a commencement date of 1 January 2011, provided the Bill has been enacted. The resource issue has been addressed in the context of the 2010 Estimate for the Office of the Ombudsman. Despite the emphasis on reducing public service numbers and expenditure across the board, the Minister has proposed an employment control framework ceiling of 93 for the Office of the Ombudsman for each of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012. The office currently has 89.6 whole-time equivalent staff members. On the issue of resources, I can confirm that the potential to merge the Office of the Commission for Public Service Appointments with the Office of the Ombudsman is being explored and the indications are that this will yield administrative advantages for both offices, which would make additional resources available for the new work of the Ombudsman.

I appreciate the need to resource the office adequately to implement the provisions of this Bill and the position can be reviewed within the context of the overall Civil Service employment control framework later in the year. Mindful of the current Exchequer situation, I understand that the Ombudsman is engaging in a strategic review of the office and the deployment of resources.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  When does the Minister of State expect the amalgamation of the two bodies will take place and will it involve a reduction in staff between the two? He has indicated the current employment figure for the Office of the Ombudsman is the equivalent of 89.6 whole-time staff. What is the situation in the other body? The Minister of State has indicated a commencement date of 1 January 2011. Effectively, a commencement date of 1 January 2011 is six months off. Is there a particular reason it will not take place before that date?

[98]Deputy Martin Mansergh:  The Government will be in a position to bring forward possible further amendments to the Bill relating to this situation in the course of its passage through the Seanad, which of course will come back before this House. There also is the question of the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, and the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The present position is that HIQA and the National Treatment Purchase Fund are listed in Schedule 1 as reviewable agencies and as such are being brought within the remit of the Ombudsman. However, given ongoing changes to bodies listed in the Schedules due to the Government’s rationalisation programme, the Government will continue to review the bodies included within the Ombudsman’s remit during the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas. The Government is still addressing and discussing the merger of the two offices and it will require some time to work out the precise details with both, but naturally the Government is anxious to further this as quickly as possible.

Amendment agreed to.

Bill reported with amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Bill will be sent to the Seanad.

Bill entitled an Act to amend the Health Act 2004 to provide, in the public interest, for the furnishing by the Health Service Executive of information and documents to the Minister for Health and Children and to provide for matters connected therewith.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

In bringing the Health (Amendment) Bill before this House, I do so on the basis that all Members share the common view that the work of the independent review group on child deaths is of the utmost importance and urgency. The publication of the Bill last Friday fulfilled the Government’s commitment to act decisively to progress the work of the group through enabling legislation. I am now seeking the support of Deputies for the Bill to ensure that it is passed into law before the summer recess.

The Bill is short and focused and has been referred to in this House and elsewhere as emergency legislation. It certainly is the case that its principal purpose is to make certain that the work of the independent review group can proceed in an expeditious manner by addressing the legal difficulties that constrained the handing over of case files by the Health Service Executive. There is also a more general information dimension to the Bill and that relates to ensuring that the HSE keeps the Minister fully informed on all matters of which he or she needs to be aware in a timely and appropriate manner. I will set out the specific measures in the Bill, in greater detail, later in this statement.

How we care for our children helps defines us as a society. It is the hallmark of a caring society that it strives to do the best it can for all its children. Within the Government, I carry [99]a particular responsibility to protect and advance the rights of children. This is especially so when, for whatever reasons, vulnerable children become known to the child protection services or are placed in care. The death of any child is never a statistic. It is a tragedy and an emotional and deeply upsetting time for the family. When such a death occurs while the child is in the care of the State, there is an onus on the State to act. The circumstances surrounding the death must be comprehensively examined not simply out of respect to the young person concerned and his or her family but also to prevent, wherever possible, similar tragic occurrences and to improve our overall care and protection arrangements.

The House will be aware that I established the independent review group on child deaths on 8 March 2010. The group is comprised of Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr Geoffrey Shannon. A third person of international standing will be appointed when the existing members have completed an initial examination of documentation provided by the HSE. The group was asked by me to examine existing information on deaths of children in care and first to validate the categorisation of children who died from natural and non-natural causes. In respect of those children who died from non-natural causes, the group has been asked to examine existing reviews and reports prepared by the HSE or others on their behalf and based upon this information to provide, on an anonymised basis, key summary information regarding each child and the circumstances leading up to his or her death. The review will focus in particular on the relevant involvement of State services with the child and his or her family and examine the strengths and weaknesses of such involvement. The group is also to make recommendations on how child protection services can be strengthened in so far as learning can be identified from the reports and reviews completed. I consider this review to be very necessary and it is imperative that the group be in a position to fully discharge its remit.

To date, the group has been furnished with some preliminary information by the HSE regarding the deaths of children in care over the past ten years, young adults up to 21 years of age who were in the care of the HSE in the period immediately prior to their 18th birthday or who were in receipt of aftercare services under section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991, as well as on a third category, children known to the child protection system. However, to complete its task, the review group needs access to individual case files. This has not proven possible to date in light of legal concerns identified by the HSE relating to the provision of information to the group.

The Taoiseach outlined to the House on 26 May 2010 the nature of the legal advice to the HSE. Concerns were identified regarding the in camera rule, which in child care proceedings is concerned primarily with the protection of the identity and privacy of the individual child, section 31 of the Child Care Act 1991, which imposes a prohibition that can be lifted with the approval of the courts on the publication or broadcasting of matters which might lead the public to identify a particular child that has been the subject of proceedings under certain parts of that Act, data protection legislation which regulates the collection, use and disclosure of personal information relating to living identifiable individuals and categorises health information as sensitive and therefore deserving of additional protection and finally, the issue of consent to the disclosure of personal or confidential information, including, as appropriate, the consent of surviving relatives.

In order to address the legal issues concerned, which are complex in nature, the Office of the Attorney General has worked closely with the Department of Health and Children in preparing the Bill to ensure that the legislation meets its policy objectives. The point is sometimes made that the legal problems and delays encountered with the release of files to the independent review group could have been avoided if the review had been carried out by the [100]HSE itself or under its auspices. While the delay is very much regretted, I have no regrets about establishing an external independent review. Indeed, since I established the group, events have demonstrated clearly that only an independent and transparent review process offers any possibility of rebuilding public trust in our child care system. We now for the first time have national data from the HSE to indicate how many children died while in State care or where they had been in contact with the care system. We need the review group to examine this information more closely to establish the facts and to ensure that the learning from reviews conducted is shared.

The overall purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the legislative base for the provision of information by the Health Service Executive to the Minister for Health and Children so as to enhance the Minister’s ability to fulfil his or her role and functions, including political accountability to the Oireachtas, and to create a safe channel of communication for sensitive information from the HSE to the Minister. It does this in the following ways. First, it places a duty on the executive to provide information on its own initiative and without delay to the Minister. Second, it gives the Minister power to require in the public interest detailed information and documents from the executive free of legal prohibition and to use such information and documents as necessary for the performance of his or her functions. Third, it also allows persons appointed by the Minister to undertake reviews etc. to similarly use such information and documents. Before going into the detailed provisions of the Bill, Members will be aware that the legislation will cover the entire remit of the executive. This is to make certain that a similar situation to the present one could not arise in providing information to the Minister or persons conducting reviews etc. on behalf of the Minister in any area of health and personal social services covered by the executive, such as, for example, the care of the elderly.

The Bill contains two sections. Section 1 is the substantive provision and section 2 sets out the Short Title and collective citation. Section 1 of the Bill inserts a new Part, Part 7A, furnishing of information and documents, into the Health Act 2004. This explains the numbering of the provisions in the Bill, that is, it is proposed they become sections 40A to 40F of the Health Act 2004. Section 40A provides a definition of “document” so as to ensure that it is wide-ranging enough for the purposes of the Bill. A “document’” means a book, record or other written or printed material, a photograph, any information kept in a mechanical or electronic device, and any audio or video recording.

The Minister for Health and Children requires a range of accurate, timely and quality information to discharge her functions to formulate policy and assess the performance of the health system as well as ensure that she can provide appropriate political accountability to the Oireachtas. Provisions are already in place under the Health Act 2004 that require the HSE to provide information and allow the Minister to issue directions requiring the provision of information. However, in preparing the Bill, the opportunity was taken to strengthen the existing situation in a particular way.

The intention of section 40B, the duty of the executive to furnish information, is to ensure that the Minister is appropriately briefed by the HSE on all matters that she needs to be aware of in a timely and appropriate manner. It requires the executive to monitor and keep under review occurrences and developments concerning matters relating to its object and functions. The HSE must inform the Minister, without delay, of any occurrence or development that, in the opinion of the executive, the Minister is likely to consider significant for the performance of her functions. In addition, it must similarly inform the Minister of any other occurrences or developments that fall within a class of occurrence or development of public interest or concern [101]that has been specified in writing by the Minister. This power to specify will ensure that the Minister can be kept fully informed of important issues relevant to the public interest or concern. There is also provision for the issue of guidelines by the Minister on how the information under this section is to be provided by the HSE and where those guidelines have been made the executive must comply with them. That will help make certain that the information is provided in the manner required.

Section 40C, a requirement to furnish information and documents, and section 40D, the Minister may share information and documents in certain circumstances, are the ones that are most relevant to the work of the independent review group. The purpose of section 40C is to require the executive to provide information or documents to the Minister. It provides that the Minister can, where he or she considers it necessary, in the public interest, for the performance of his or her functions, require the executive to provide him or her with any information or documents in its possession or control that he or she specifies. The section lifts existing legal prohibitions in any enactment or rule of law which would prevent the provision of the information and documents concerned in areas such as consent requirements, non-disclosure or confidentiality provisions and in camera rules. The requirement must be complied with by the executive within the time specified by the Minister and in any event without delay. The Bill only lifts the in camera rule for the purposes of allowing information to flow from the HSE to the Minister which means that the rule continues to be of full force and effect on the Minister in terms of publications. The requirement to satisfy the public interest test is a further safeguard. That is why we see this provision as creating a “safe channel of communication” for sensitive information to pass from the HSE to the Minister.

Sections 40B and 40C are modelled to some extent on sections 40 and 41 of the Garda Síochána Act 2005. While each section is independent of each other, it may well be that following on from information provided under section 40B by the executive the Minister may consider it appropriate or necessary to require further information or documents under section 40C. That could arise, for example, where the HSE provides information on a matter under section 40B but indicates that it is constrained in providing further details, for example, personal sensitive information, due to privacy issues. In such a scenario, the Minister could exercise his or her powers under section 40C to ensure that full details are made available to him or her.

Consequently, while section 40C is critical for the work of the independent review group, its application goes much further. Essentially, section 40C will enable the Minister for Health and Children to require from the HSE, in the public interest, any information or documents he or she needs for the purposes of performing his or her functions. While it should not be necessary to use this power frequently, it will ensure that the Minister will have the information and documents he or she needs for his or her role and functions. In the same way, section 40D is about ensuring that where the Minister has appointed a person or persons to examine or inquire into a matter and he or she considers the information or documents received under section 40B or 40C are relevant to the examination or inquiry that he or she can give access to that material to the persons concerned. That will enable them to use the information and documents in line with the terms of reference of their appointment.

As Deputies will note, section 40D does not give the persons appointed by the Minister the power enjoyed by the Minister under section 40C to require information or documents directly from the executive. That is because the relationship in the Health Act 2004 is between the Minister and the HSE and, therefore, it is appropriate that the power to require information or documents under section 40C should be confined to the Minister. Where there are difficulties in investigations and reviews, as in the review of child deaths, the Minister can require the [102]information and documents from the executive and arrange for its use by any review or investigation team appointed by him or her.

Section 40E, use of information and documents, provides that the Minister may use information and documents provided under the Bill as he or she requires for the performance of his or her functions. Taken together with section 40C, this acts as a safeguard to ensure that the Minister can only request and use information and documents under this Bill for the performance of his or her functions.

Section 40E also addresses the publication of such information and documents and provides that the current legal position is unchanged, namely, that nothing in the Bill permits publication, in whole or in part, of information or documents received if such publication would not otherwise be lawful. That is in keeping with the general objective of the Bill, which is about correctly balancing the public interest with the individual’s legal and constitutional rights, including the right to privacy.

Section 40F, saver, makes it clear that nothing in the Bill limits or otherwise restricts the power of the Minister under the Health Act 2004 or any other enactment to issue directions to or require information from the executive. Similarly, nothing in the Bill affects, except to the extent required by the Bill, the functions of the executive or the Minister. That means that the Bill does not affect the operational independence of the executive as set out in the Health Act 2004.

As there is no commencement provision in the Bill, it will become law on being signed by the President. I am considering whether to seek to have an early signature motion moved in the Seanad to have the Bill signed quickly by the President upon enactment.

In the course of preparing the legislation, officials from my office met with the Ombudsman for Children, the Data Protection Commissioner and senior officials from the Ombudsman’s office. As always, those discussions were constructive and helpful. The Data Protection Commissioner was concerned that any release of sensitive personal information should be consistent with data protection principles, in particular, that any disclosure of such information without consent should have a necessary public interest dimension. I share the commissioner’s view. My objective throughout the Bill is to have a proportionate response to correctly balance the public interest and respect the individual’s legal and constitutional rights, including the right to privacy. That is why there is an express public interest criterion in section 40C.

Both the Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children raised issues about the consistency of application of the in camera rule by the HSE in releasing information to them for the performance of their functions and the general operation of the rule. The Ombudsman has stated that the in camera rule is complex and wide-ranging and that some modification would be helpful. The Ombudsman for Children has called for the rule to be flexible enough to allow reasonable access to information, where such access would serve the public interest, while ensuring that adequate safeguards are in place to respect the rights of children and the privacy of the parties. She has also called for legislation to clarify the law with regard to the sharing of information in the best interests of the child.

The matters raised by the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children are important and it is appropriate that they receive the time and attention they deserve. That would not have been possible given the timeframe within which this Bill had to be prepared. Moreover, the in camera rule has implications beyond the health sector. The current position in regard to the in camera rule is that strictures are put in place by way of the Child Care Act 1991 that prohibits the [103]publication or broadcast of material that may lead to the identification of a child who is in care or who has been in care. This restriction is in place for sound policy reasons and there is no intent on the part of Government to dilute that right to privacy.

I am mindful, however, that there is a need to examine proceedings under the 1991 Child Care Act to ascertain how cases are decided in normal circumstances. These cases are heard in the District Court where judgments are rarely written and there is no facility for recording such judgments. The third report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children makes such a recommendation. A valuable piece of research was carried out by Dr. Carol Coulter in respect of family law reporting and was published in October 2007 by the Courts Service. I would very much support a similar approach to child care proceedings and will examine opportunities to undertake such research. Legislation already exists that enables the publication of anonymised information in respect of children. Section 3 of the Child Care (Amendment) Act 2007 amends section 29 of the Child Care Act 1991. Section 3(7) states:

The Minister may, after consultation with the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, make regulations specifying a class of persons for the purposes of subsection (5) if the Minister is satisfied that the publication of reports prepared in accordance with subsection (5)(a) by persons falling within that class is likely to provide information which will assist in the better operation of this Act, in particular in relation to the care and protection of children.

I will give consideration to making regulations in order to specify persons to conduct such research and analysis that will assist in the operation of child care legislation, specifically in regard to child protection.

Deputies will also have read in the press today the comments of the Ombudsman for Children on the Bill. By way of background, I should explain that, given the important role that the Ombudsman for Children plays in the child care area, I arranged for her to have a copy of the draft Bill and my officials offered her a briefing also in advance of publication. I received her detailed comments last week and they have been considered carefully in my office. As her paper makes clear, she acknowledges that some of the issues she raised were never intended to be addressed in the Bill. However, the Ombudsman for Children made certain points relevant to the Bill and the independent review group that I wish to address directly. She queried the independence of the review group in the sense that it is the Minister rather than the review group which sources information and documents from the HSE.

From the outset, a key to the review process was to provide a mechanism that was independent and also external to the HSE. The appointment of Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons to the review group and their standing in the child care community is an indication that the Government is committed to a robust and independent approach to the review.

The reality is that the review group is free to source any information it wishes from the HSE. However, as we are all aware, certain individual case files that it needs from the HSE could not be made available to the review group, or even the Minister, because of legal concerns previously outlined. As already stated, one of the key purposes of the Health (Amendment) Bill and the reason the Government has attached such urgency to it is to ensure that the review group can access the individual case files that it needs to undertake its work fully.

As a result of the Bill, the Minister for Health and Children will be able to require from the HSE, without legal prohibitions and in the public interest, any information or documents she needs for the purpose of performing her functions. The way this will work for the review group is that it will advise the Minister of information or documents that it needs which might have [104]legal issues associated with them. The Minister will be able to require the HSE to provide those documents directly to the review group under the terms of the legislation.

It is appropriate that it is the Minister who requires the HSE to provide the information to the review group because it is effectively an agent of the Minister. When such information is provided to it, it can use the information in the same way as the Minister can without any need to revert to the Minister for approval. Accordingly, there is no question of the Minister being able to tell the review group how to use the files or otherwise dictate how it does its work.

There is no perfect way to achieve independence in inquiries and reviews and, in that regard, I am satisfied that the arrangements under which Geoffrey Shannon and Norah Gibbons are carrying out their review are appropriate, reasonable and independent.

The Ombudsman for Children also raised the matter of publication including that it is the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs that would publish any report from the independent review group. As I stated, the decision was taken from the beginning not to interfere or amend the present law on the publication of reports. Moreover, it is the Minister of State at the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who has public and political accountability for child services. Consequently, it is reasonable that he should publish any report commissioned by him and undertaken on his behalf. I have already given a commitment that the report on the independent review group will be published.

I have read the comments of the Ombudsman for Children in respect of the perceived lack of institutional independence of the child death review panel established by the HSE. It is important to put the establishment of this panel in context. The death review mechanism precisely follows the HIQA Guidance for the Health Service Executive for the Review of Serious Incidents including Deaths of Children in Care. That guidance, according to HIQA, is intended to create a standard, unified, independent and transparent system for the review of serious incidents, including deaths of children in care in Ireland. The guidance outlines the purpose of national review, the national review panel and team and the review process. The guidance also addresses the timing of review, benchmarks for individual reviews, publication and external reporting and monitoring of the review process.

The process that will guide future reviews of child deaths was not drafted by me but by HIQA following my request last July for such guidance to be produced. The HIQA guidance is instrumental in providing a transparent and accountable death review mechanism.

As regards the independence of the process, I place my faith in HIQA and the approach that body has recommended. The guidance provides that in the event that HIQA or the Minister believe that a review process has not been completed satisfactorily, HIQA can carry out a statutory investigation under the Health Act 2007. Section 9.10 of the guidance reads:

The Authority may decide, or be requested by the Minister, to conduct a review or investigation under the Health Act 2007, if the review process has not been completed satisfactorily or the findings are indicative of wider concerns. The findings of this review will be published by the Authority.

The guidance also states: “SSI [the social services inspectorate of HIQA] will monitor all reports to ensure that the review process is in compliance with this guidance.”

Although a system or process should not be dependent on the composition of its membership to assert its independence, it is important to look at the names that comprise the review panel. [105] Few will doubt the independence and rigour that the respective individuals will bring to the process. I thank them for their willingness to co-operate.

The policy decision was taken at an early stage that the Health (Amendment) Bill should deal only with the relationship between the Minister and the HSE. The sole focus and purpose of this Bill is to cover the provision of information and documents by the operational arm of the health service, the HSE, to the person who has political and other accountability for the health service, the Minister for Health and Children, in a way that is necessary for the Minister to fulfil her role and functions. However, the present Bill in no way affects the current rules applicable to the HSE in supplying information to statutory bodies and persons. They remain unchanged and the Minister expects the executive to co-operate fully and consistently with such bodies in the performance of their functions.

It is recognised that this legislation will involve, in some instances, the disclosure to the Minister of very sensitive personal information by the HSE. However, it is the view of the Government that the measures in the Bill are balanced and essential if the democratic imperative of ministerial accountability to the Oireachtas for the health system is to be met and public confidence in the HSE is to be improved. More immediately, of course, the Bill is necessary for the work of the independent review group.

I want to make a point I have made before, namely, I am committed to learning from shortcomings that are identified through reviews and reports into our services in order to make improvements for children and families. This Bill is an important element in that process. I commend it to the House.

Deputy Alan Shatter:  I will start by dealing with the general issues that arise under the Bill and I will then deal with the review that is to take place into the deaths of children in the care of the State.

This Bill is a monument to the total failure of the Government, through the Health Act 2004, when it created the HSE, to put in place a body that was democratically accountable and over which Ministers had a capacity to exercise any degree of oversight. It is quite extraordinary that the HSE was created as an entirely autonomous body based on a perception that it was the role of Ministers to develop policy and the role of the HSE to deliver services, and that never the twain do properly interact. What we have since the year in which the HSE was created, not just in the child care area but right across the health service, are proclamations of policies from Ministers around a broad range of areas that sounded worthy and reformist and as if things were going to get better in some shape or form. The announcements were usually made in a flurry of publicity and praise was given to Deputy Harney, the Minister for Health and Children, or the succession of Ministers of State who have occupied positions in the Department of Health and Children since the HSE was created. What the Minister and successive Ministers of State concealed from the House until the debacle over the death of children in care was that, in truth, half the time neither the Minister nor the Ministers of State had one whit of knowledge as to what was going on in the HSE. Far too many medical scandals only came to ministerial notice when the victims of medical failures went public or the broadcast or print media published or broadcast revelations of failure.

In the child care area, a broad range of issues and disasters were never brought to the Minister’s attention. Let me give one classic example. We are waiting for the results of the inquiry into what has become known as the Roscommon incest case. We know the family at the centre of that case first came to the notice of the health boards in 1989 and again in 1996, and that social and child care services were involved with the family from 1996 onwards until [106]2000, in which year a court case was taken to try to prevent the children from being taken into care or oversight by social services. In 2004, the children were finally taken into care and some years later there were horrific revelations of the brutality and sexual abuse those children suffered from both of their parents. The first time the Minister learned of any of this was in January 2008, when the mother was prosecuted.

There was reportage in the newspapers which then forced the HSE to respond and ultimately resulted in the Minister requiring that there be some sort of inquiry into what occurred.

However, if the health boards did not know in 2000, certainly from 2004 onwards it was known by them, and then by the HSE from 2005 when it was formed, that there had been an appalling systemic failure yet again of the child care service to protect those children but no one told the Minister, either the senior Minister, Deputy Harney, or the then Minister of State, Deputy Brian Lenihan. A succession of Ministers of State with responsibility for children, including Deputy Barry Andrews, knew nothing about it until the matter was published because the body, the HSE, which the Government created, and those at managerial level within that body, felt that there was no obligation on them to inform the Government of a massive failure of that body with regard to children.

It is incredible that a body with the budget given to it by Government could have been created which had no specific legal obligations in the main statute to report to Government on major issues of concern when things went wrong. It also does not appear from that 2004 legislation that there was any specific obligation on that body to properly respond within any timescale to issues raised by Ministers, and hence the problem in which the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews found himself.

There have been misleading statements made inside and outside this House by members of Fianna Fail, from the Taoiseach down, as to why we are where we are with the issue of children who died in the care of the State. That issue was first raised in a Dáil question in this House in February 2009, and then in March 2009 in an Adjournment Debate matter when the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, quite properly replied to me based, I presume, on the information available to him. I was looking for the numbers of children who had died while in the care of the State and the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, told me the matter was being investigated. Nothing happened. In July 2009, when everyone went on holidays, the HSE announced it had formed a group to look into the issue, and again nothing happened.

Finally, when Fine Gael published the report into the tragic death of Tracey Fay, and all hell broke loose and this issue was again raised, we were told that the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, finally asked the HSE for that information. I do not believe that because Deputy Barry Andrews, in fairness to him, is not that negligent. No doubt he sought it earlier and no doubt he found he had insurmountable difficulties in getting it and that he had a lack of co-operation from the HSE. The way the system works is Ministers do not disclose that because it makes it look as if they are not competent. The Minister of State’s difficulty derived directly from the provisions in the 2004 Act which meant when he asked for something from the HSE, he was a mere supplicant and he had no control or power over it or its failures. With the different pieces of information, we were, first, told 20 children died in the care of the State, then it became 21, then it became 23 and then it became 37 and eventually, we got to the figure of 188. The truth is the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, despite what he says, to this day is not quite sure he can rely upon these figures.

On why the group was appointed, under Mr. Geoffrey Shannon and Ms Nora Gibbons, two good and decent competent persons, by my recollection — I am sure the Minister of State will [107]correct me if I am wrong — it was appointed when the figure had reached 23 and he did not believe the HSE, and he decided to put in place an independent group to try to ascertain the real figures. That is indicative of a system failure, not only within the HSE, a body or quango formed by Deputy Barry Andrews’ senior Minister which, essentially, was responsible to no one, but within the Department responsible for children which lacked sufficient powers to obtain vital information within a short period of time.

The Bill, in so far as it tries to address some of these issues, is welcome. It is a recognition of the reality of the ludicrous position in which the Government put itself and this Parliament when the legislation was enacted to create the HSE. The Government essentially removed all concept of parliamentary accountability for the running of health services and tried to immunise Ministers from ever being held accountable to this House for anything that went wrong. It was a case of, “What I do not know cannot hurt me and, presumably, if I do not press to look for it, it still will not hurt me” until we had the scandal of not even being able to ascertain the numbers of children in the past decade who died in the care of the State.

Of course, the HSE is an obsessively secretive organisation and I suspect that part of the reason the Minister experienced difficulty in getting that information, and part of the reason some of the information I sought first in the spring of 2009 is still missing is because if we got the full information, it would be a commentary on the gross negligence of the HSE and the utter failures of middle management within the HSE to put in place proper systems to ensure the delivery of a child care service which implemented the child protection guidelines. We now know the number of children who died in the care of the State or the number of children about whom, to use HSE speak, there were “concerns” after reports that they were at risk, but what we still do not know and what the HSE states it cannot calculate is the number of children who died having been reported to be at risk in circumstances in which no action of any description was taken by the HSE, or where there was some sort of brief assessment in which the conclusion was there was no reason to have “concerns” and then a child subsequently died.

There is a considerable volume of information missing, which will not be reviewed and which, I believe, is ascertainable and may exist within the HSE but is there a line manager within the HSE who wants to publicly admit that because of his or her failure to ensure application of child protection guidelines, hundreds more children died in the past decade? Is there anyone in the HSE at the most senior level or junior level of management who wants to acknowledge that? Essentially, we still have a cover-up of the real extent to which children, reported to be at risk who the State failed, have died. We do not know the numbers.

Before dealing with the provisions of the Bill I want to say something else. On the assumption that what the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, told the Dáil on 4 March 2009 was true, which is that the HSE was going to provide information about children who were reported to be at risk who died and children in care who died, I assume that when the HSE failed to produce that information to the Minister of State to facilitate him providing the information he had promised to this House, there was activity within the Minister of State’s office and something was done to find out what the reason for the delay was, and at the same time there was activity on other issues. The Minister of State was under pressure to publish from me. He was under pressure to publish, not only the report into the death of Tracey Fay but also the report into the death of David Foley. The Minister of State promised, at one stage, the reports would be published in October, and they were not. Then Fine Gael published the Tracey Fay report in March and, subsequently, a truncated or censured version of that report some six weeks later was published by the HSE, which published also a completely unsatisfactory report into the death of David Foley.

[108]I felt it was of some importance to find out the extent to which the Minister pursued the HSE on these important issues of public concern and the extent to which the HSE either failed to co-operate with the Minister or obstructed the Minister, and I submitted a freedom of information request to the Minister’s office on 27 May 2010. In that request, I sought copies of all correspondence, e-mails and records of any communication exchanged in the past two years between the Office of the Minister for Children and the HSE relating to the children who had died since 1 January 2000 and either were in care or had been reported to the HSE or the former health boards as being at risk. I was seeking to gain access to correspondence of a basic nature that would have revealed no confidential details about identifying individuals. Rather, it would have detailed what had been done and what difficulties the Minister of State had experienced.

On 9 June 2010, I received an extraordinary reply. I was told that I was being written to in order to be advised of the costs involved in my request. The response reads:

One such cost is that of locating and gathering together from within this Department the records you have sought. This process is called “search and retrieval” in the Act. . . . I have been in contact with the Child Welfare and Protection Policy Unit, who takes responsibility for looking after your request. They have given us an estimate that it will take over 50 hours to efficiently complete the “search and retrieval” work on your request. The prescribed amount chargeable for each hour is €20.95, this results in an overall fee of €1,089.40.

I was provided with a breakdown of the fee. To get the information, I was requested to pay an initial deposit of €544.70.

Were the Minister of State or his officials to focus on finding information about children who had died in care, I would expect a simple process. Either a file within the Department would contain all of the relevant communications or, were we really computerised, it would be inside a computer programme whereby it would all come out upon a button being pressed.

I want to read for the record of the House my response to the freedom of information unit, sent on 15 June 2010. It reads:

I refer to your letter of 9 June 2010. It is unbelievable that the information maintenance system within the Department of Health and Children is so shambolic that officials cannot readily identify and locate the correspondence-e-mails and records requested in my Freedom of Information application of 27 May 2010.

After this, I recited what I was seeking:

Due to the importance of the subject matter it would be expected that a file would be maintained either manually or on computer which contained all of the relevant information. The charge proposed is outrageous and unacceptable. I wish to appeal your decision to impose the fee detailed in your letter.

We have heard about the incapacity of the HSE to maintain coherently information on children at risk, assessments undertaken and those awaiting assessments. Much has been stated about the new computer system that will be sanctioned by the Minister for Finance when someone finally regards this matter as a priority.

Is the Minister of State informing the House that his Department is so disorganised that information such as this, something on which I presume he has been keeping a watchful eye, [109]cannot be retrieved easily from e-mails or correspondence between himself and the HSE seeking the number of children in care or reported to be at risk who died? Would it take 50 hours of work? Is he suggesting that, if he asked his officials about whether he could review the file, he might get it 2.5 days later after people spent 50 hours trying to find out where they put all the stuff? This is extraordinary and I ask that the information be made available. It is outrageous and I am seeking an explanation as to how it could take 50 hours to find it.

The Bill seeks to impose certain obligations on the HSE. According to it, the HSE shall:

(a) monitor and keep under review occurrences and developments concerning matters relating to its object and functions, and

(b) without delay, furnish the Minister with information regarding—

(i) any such occurrence or development that, in the opinion of the Executive, the Minister is likely to consider significant for the performance of his or her functions

It confers an obligation on the executive to furnish that information. This applies to all of the Ministers of State and the Minister. Is it not extraordinary that, until now, there was no obligation on the HSE to inform the Minister of State of occurrences or developments in the HSE or the child care services that would be considered significant for the performance of his functions? Is this not an absolute condemnation of a structure, responsibility for the creation of which lies with this Government and its immediate predecessor? The Minister for Health and Children has tolerated this structure since 1 January 2005. A pretence is made that she knows what is going on in the health service when, in truth, she has no clue on a day-to-day basis. What she is told is dependent on the whim of officials in the HSE. Unfortunately for the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, he was put in exactly the same position where child care services were concerned.

The HSE will now be obliged to inform the Minister of “any other occurrence or development that falls within a class of occurrences or developments of public interest or concern that has been specified in writing by the Minister”. We know why this provision has been included. Even with the first provision, the Minister does not trust the HSE to keep her informed. On her behalf and on behalf of all of the Ministers of State, she will need to detail in writing the class of occurrences or developments of public interest or concern about which she must be kept informed. Under the legislation, there does not seem to be an obligation to publish the information. There is a reference to the effect that the Minister may issue guidelines, but I do not know whether they and the list she must give the HSE are one and the same. When will that list be furnished to the HSE, what work, if any, has been done on it to date, will it be published and will it be laid in draft form before this House for consideration by Deputies so that it might be amended? Should the legislation not be amended so that the list would be presented as a statutory instrument to which Members of this House could have regard?

The same should apply to the guidelines. Under the Bill, the “Minister may issue guidelines in relation to the furnishing of information under subsection (1) and, if he or she does so, the Executive shall comply with those guidelines”. Will they simply go from the Minister’s office to the HSE, will they be published and will they be laid before the House? If they are inadequate, will there be any mechanism for Deputies to amend them? It does not appear as if this issue has been addressed in the Bill as published. It is one of myriad defects in legislation that is deeply and seriously flawed.

[110]The Bill states the HSE must furnish information to the Minister “without delay”. What does this mean? What timeframe constitutes “without delay”? In HSE speak, “without delay” could mean five years based on the length of time it has taken to fulfil other functions following ministerial requests. The Bill reads: “The Minister may, where he or she considers it necessary in the public interest to do so for the performance of his or her functions ... require the Executive to furnish him or her with such information or documents as he or she may specify.” What is meant by “the performance of his or her functions”? I would suggest that this provision be amended to read “his or her functions, including political accountability to the Oireachtas”. The only function she has currently appears to be in the area of policy, not in the delivery of services. If something goes wrong in the delivery of service, the HSE is exempt from its obligation to furnish information and documentation. Will exchanges simply be about policy issues the HSE is considering or a policy communication from the Minister on which the HSE has a view? The woolly drafting of this legislation is another fundamental flaw in the manner in which it is being dealt with.

Section 40C(3) states: “Nothing contained in an enactment, and no rule of law, relating to the non-disclosure or confidentiality of information or documents, shall operate to prohibit the Executive from furnishing the Minister with information or documents under this Part, or render such furnishing unlawful.” This allows information to go from the HSE to the Minister in a broad range of circumstances but there is no reference to how the Minister can publish information. This is a major problem and one we have seen in the child care and medical areas.

I recognise the individual’s entitlement to privacy and to preserve confidentiality but we must balance that and make available information that, in the public interest, should be in the public domain. This issue is not adequately addressed in the Bill. The HSE can be required to provide information to a Minister and the Minister is supposed to be accountable to this House but the information given to the Minister may have to be kept secret. Information of a critical nature, relating to events in our health or child care services, can still be given while preserving confidentiality with regard to the identity of individuals affected. This has not been adequately teased out and there is no purpose in the Minister having information of public importance if the information cannot be properly communicated to the Dáil pursuant to the Minister’s constitutional duty.

I refer to the provisions with regard to inquiries, which are not confined to the review group into the deaths of children in care. These are broad provisions that allow the Minister to request information and documentation the inquiry team needs from the HSE, where an inquiry must be conducted. The HSE will be obliged to provide the information. Taking the example of the review group, I agree with the critique of the Ombudsman for Children. This is an unnecessarily circuitous route for obtaining information. If individuals are appointed to conduct an independent inquiry into a particular matter affecting our health or child care services, those individuals should determine the information and documentation they require. The HSE, or any other body involved in the delivery of services on behalf of the State, should be required to furnish the information and documentation to the individuals at their request. There is no reason for the circuitous route proposed. It is not appropriate and undermines the independence of any inquiry that might be conducted.

The most incongruous provision is listed under “use of information and documents”: “Where information or a document has been furnished under section 40B or 40C, nothing in this Part is to be taken to permit publication, in whole or in part, of the information or document if such publication would not otherwise be lawful.” The Minister of State got into all sorts of [111]hassle with the HSE over the concept of confidentiality in carrying out family assessments and, in the case of the senior Minister, confidentiality with regard to medical issues and, in respect of children, the operation of the in camera rule in court proceedings. If a review group conducting an inquiry is to have access to information to facilitate its work, how can the group properly publish essential information if part of the information it receives is incapable of being published? We return to the lunacy of what occurred with the Monageer report, with seven recommendations blanked out and sections of the report blanked out. In the case of the report into the death of Tracey Fay, one can contrast the document laid before this House by Fine Gael and the truncated, edited, unsatisfactory document the HSE subsequently published. In no circumstances can it be suggested there is public accountability or transparency adequate to address what needed to be addressed.

I will conclude in two sentences. This is an important Bill and we need to get it right. Substantial amendments are needed. I have no difficulty taking the debate on Committee Stage tomorrow but I ask the Minister of State not to take Report Stage until next week so that we have a real, considered debate on the Bill on Committee Stage in order to give the Minister of State time to reflect on what was said, to give this House time to ensure rushed legislation is not inadequate legislation, that we have an opportunity to ensure the Bill addresses all of the issues and others I will address on Committee Stage and that the inherent flaws are tackled and resolved so that we finish with a robust item of legislation enacted in the public good.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I refer to the issue on which Deputy Shatter finished, that this Bill is rushed legislation. It is very important legislation and we want to ensure we get it right. We are talking about the deaths of children in care and trying to have the report produced by two respected people, with broad knowledge and compassion in this field. I know they will do the best job they can but we want to give them the tools to do the best they can. This legislation is designed to ensure they can get the relevant files in the possession of the HSE on the deaths of children in care. On behalf of the Labour Party, I have no wish to obstruct or delay the legislation. However, I want time to debate the amendments the Labour Party proposes. We must ensure we get this right. We have had many investigations on a range of issues in the health area that have affected people’s lives deeply. We must ensure we get the widest amount of information in these reports. These should be transparent in so far as the public understands it will be told the full information available so that we can learn from the reports and have faith that we found out everything.

This requires balancing of rights. The in camera rule is an attempt to balance the rights of privacy with the right of information so we can learn from what happened. I received an e-mail containing the report of the Ombudsman for Children last night. I had an opportunity to read it and I share the concerns expressed by the Ombudsman for Children in respect of the process undertaken here. I am not sure the legislation allows us to do what we should do in the best interests of children. The two people concerned should be able to instigate the retrieval of the information they need rather than the cumbersome process presented in this Bill, whereby the Minister requests it from the HSE, the HSE gives it to the Minister and the Minister decides what the group will need and then gives it to them.

Debate adjourned.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy O’Donoghue who has five minutes.

[112]Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  I am not due to take this Adjournment matter. I gather the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, is taking it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Would Deputy O’Donoghue mind waiting?

Deputy John O’Donoghue:  No.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the Deputy does not mind I will call Deputy Costello.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I understood I was first.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this important issue of the need for the Minister for Health and Children to outline her plans for resolving the bed and space crisis in the accident and emergency unit of the Mater hospital.

The position has been fairly dire for many years. The circumstances in very many accident and emergency units are unacceptable in normal health terms. They are located in prefabricated buildings. The space area is inadequate and they are very often in corridors. Trolleys are used as beds and people are in chairs. The existing set-up in the Mater hospital leaves much to be desired but a worse state of affairs will be reached with the announcement that 60 beds are due to close, with the possibility of an additional 20 beds closing. A bottleneck has been continuing for many years and in terms of the number of people on trolleys or chairs, the trolley count is always in the high twenties. It used to be quite low in mid-summer. In the past it might have been in the high twenties in the middle of the winter, but in the summer months the trolley count is as bad as it was some years ago in the winter.

The position is not improving. It is deteriorating by the day. There are continual delayed discharges. People are coming in at one end but they are not leaving at the other, and the reason for that almost beggars belief because the thrust of the Minister’s policy was to ensure there would be step-down facilities in the community. The Minister, who is six years in her position, promised that from the outset in her ten point plan. The problem is that the number of delayed discharges continues to rise. Bed blockages are increasing in number and the promised step-down facilities have not been delivered. Neither is there any relationship with the local authorities to ensure that necessary adjustments to homes are made in time to allow people move back into the community and into their own homes. The position is dire.

I had a call today from the daughter of an 88 year old woman who told me her mother had been attending the fracture unit in the Mater hospital for 13 days. She eventually got a bed tonight but the staff in the fracture unit made it clear that they needed the bed for hospital treatment. That type of treatment, or lack of treatment, for somebody as elderly as that woman, and the pain and suffering they are put through, is wrong, and eventually they end up in the accident and emergency department waiting to be received.

I will give the Minister some examples. Yesterday, the acute unit in the Mater hospital could only contain nine patients at any given time. There are only nine beds. The staff got a call that somebody had been sent up from Sligo and now they were being sent back to Sligo because a bed was not available for them. That type of operation is expensive. It is poor treatment and bad medical practice. It is a case of constant overcrowding and confusion.

Everybody recognises that when people get in, the quality of the services from the doctors and the nurses is superb. The problem is the mismanagement, the failure to do anything about it and the fact that it has been going on so long, yet there is still no light at the end of the tunnel.

[113]Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. I thank Deputy Costello for raising this matter.

The HSE and the Government are determined that patients will continue to have emergency services that are accessible and responsive to their medical needs, and integrated with other hospital and primary care services.

Accordingly, the Minister has been monitoring the position in emergency departments very closely. While there have been clear improvements in most hospitals in the past few years, a small number of emergency departments continue to regularly record relatively high numbers of patients waiting over six hours and thus fall short of the current target set by the Health Service Executive of having patients registered in emergency departments either admitted or discharged in under six hours.

The Minister met with the chairperson, chief executive officer and members of the HSE management team earlier this year to review progress and to ensure that all possible steps are being taken to minimise the waiting time for patients awaiting admission. She asked them to focus on seven hospitals. Each of those hospitals, one of which is the Mater hospital, have developed hospital specific action plans to drive performance improvements. Those plans have been agreed by senior hospital management and clinical directors. The plans have also been assessed and approved in conjunction with the quality and clinical care directorate.

A key component of the Mater’s action plan is the operation of the pilot Mater Smithfield rapid injury clinic, which acts as a satellite service to the Mater hospital’s emergency department and has the capacity to reduce significantly patient waiting times as it has the potential to cater for 30% of the cases which have been presenting to the hospital’s main emergency department.

Since it opened last April, this dedicated injury clinic has treated over 1,700 patients, with access on the basis of public eligibility. The clinic, which is allowing the Mater’s emergency department to concentrate more on managing serious illness and major trauma, is staffed by a team of specialist emergency nurse practitioners and doctors and led by the Mater consultants in emergency medicine. The clinic opens on Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

On 17 June last, the Mater hospital reported 70 delayed discharge patients, which is a reduction from a high of 121 in June 2009. Many of those delayed discharges can be addressed by way of the fair deal scheme.

The Minister, Deputy Harney, has also asked the HSE to streamline the administrative processes for dealing with applications under the fair deal scheme to ensure that patient discharges to a suitable long-stay facility are not delayed unnecessarily.

The most recent weekly report for emergency department activity at the Mater hospital indicates some improvement in performance. For the week ending 20 June, at 2 p.m. each day no patient was waiting in excess of 24 hours for admission following the decision to admit them compared to five for the same period in 2009. The numbers waiting between 12 and 24 hours was 18, compared to 30 for the same period last year. The hospital continues to focus on process improvement to facilitate the discharge of patients at the earliest point possible.

At the Minister’s request, the HSE is also putting in place a system of early warning measures to ensure that corrective action is taken as soon as problems are identified. The Mater has been instructed to ensure that all escalation measures are implemented and reviewed as necessary and that appropriate liaison arrangements with primary and community services are in place.

[114]In the longer term, the Mater hospital is engaged in a significant building programme, which includes the provision of a new emergency department built to modern standards of functionality and space. The building programme also provides for 12 new operating theatres, providing a net increase in theatre capacity, and a new radiology department. These facilities will significantly address operational efficiency issues within the emergency department. The building programme is due to be completed in 2012 and is currently on schedule.

The overall task for the health services this year is to meet patients’ needs and deliver the best possible services within the resources made available from taxpayers. The Minister and her Department will continue to engage with the HSE, and especially hospitals experiencing significant problems in this area, to secure improvements in the emergency department performance.

Deputy John O’Donoghue:  The Skellig Rock is one of only three world heritage sites in Ireland and of enormous religious, historical and archaeological importance. Thousands of visitors from around the world have been attracted to it down through the centuries. Few have left it without having their lives enhanced by the experience. The Office of Public Works, OPW, deserves great credit for the manner in which it has lovingly restored and maintained the structures on Skellig rock which are of enormous importance to our heritage.

  10 o’clock

A limited number of licences have been issued to boatmen who operate passenger boats from the mainland to the Skellig Rock and back. This helps contain the numbers visiting the rock, thereby limiting the possibility of damage through overcrowding or overvisiting. Recently, the OPW decided to dramatically shorten the traditional summer season at Sceilig Mhichíl. Both ends of the season are affected. In fact, the OPW has reduced the season by three months. This year a new OPW visitor guide was issued to all Sceilig Mhichíl ferryboats for distribution to all persons intending to visit the island. It contains a restriction for visits to the site outside the OPW advertised season which begins only from 25 May. Newly erected signs placed on the Skelligs also contain this notice to visitors. The boatmen have been informed similar notices will be sent to all tourism offices, guesthouses, etc, presently.

This reduction in the open season will have a devastating effect, not only on the ferryboats which may go out of business but also on the wider tourism industry of the south west already struggling in these difficult economic times. The traditional season has always been 21 April to 31 October. It is crucial that this be maintained. The OPW claims that Sceilig Mhichíl is inaccessible in April and May and that it cannot place guides and equipment on the island then. This is nonsense. Hundreds of tourists have landed there in these months for more than 45 years.

The boatmen were first informed by letter from the OPW in 2007 that the season would be formally defined and would only run from 18 May to 24 September that year. The OPW also offered that if for this year it was not able to set up residence on the island by 18 May, a guide would be in position at Portmagee to travel out with one of the passenger boats any day it was deemed possible to land on the island. This obvious solution was also reported in the 2008 UNESCO report which stated the OPW was prepared to look at the season and the provision of shore-based guides.

The provision of shore-based guides in April, May and October to travel to and from the island with the ferryboats, as initially suggested by the OPW, is the answer to keeping the [115]traditional operating season open. It is the means of maintaining much needed jobs in the region. Yet, this offer has now been withdrawn and ruled out by the OPW once more.

I request the Minister to facilitate and accept the solution of shore-based guides in April, May and October to facilitate the boatmen, visitors and the tourism industry in south Kerry. In these difficult economic times, it behoves the Government and its agencies to assist people in making a livelihood, particularly in peripheral regions. It is disappointing in this case that the Government agency in question, the OPW, has come to a unilateral decision which dramatically affects the livelihoods of many in the tourism industry in south-west Kerry.

It is hard enough to make a living in peripheral regions in good economic times; even more so in difficult times. It is not the function of a State agency to inhibit people from making a living. The OPW’s decision to unilaterally impose this ban on travelling to the Skellig Rock is an inhibiting factor in enabling people from making a living from tourism in south-west Kerry during the summer season. It is unacceptable. The arguments that the rock is unsafe or that people cannot land there in other months are spurious. It has been proved by data taken from the weather station at Valentia that the months in question have better weather conditions than the OPW claims for the other months.

The Minister must direct the OPW to maintain the status quo ante and ensure the Skellig Rock remains open, as it has done for the past 45 years.

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  Skellig Michael is a unique place. It is the best-preserved and most spectacularly situated early Christian monastic site in the world. Visiting it is a uniquely memorable experience; I visited it twice, once with my mother, once with my son. Most of the structures are in excellent condition, giving it an unusually high level of authenticity. Its importance is recognised internationally, having a much coveted UNESCO World Heritage Site status, the retention of which, as shown by the recent case of Dresden, is not unconditional.

The isolation of the site has been instrumental in helping in its preservation. In the 1970s, only four boats regularly brought visitors to the island. This number increased through the 1980s and the early 1990s to such an extent that visitors were causing noticeable wear to the access steps, part of the monument which are of dry-stone construction and consequently vulnerable to damage. Repairs had to be carried out on a weekly basis to maintain them and keep visitors safe. In addition to damage in the monastery, the large numbers visiting the site increased the risk of accident and caused problems of congestion.

The monastic enclosure is almost entirely constructed of dry-stone, which is vulnerable and can be easily damaged. By the early 1990s, the most important paving on the site had been considerably damaged by the volume of visitors passing over it. Accordingly, it was necessary to protect it from further damage by putting a new paving on top and, consequently, it can no longer be seen. Similar paving was also at risk.

It was in the context of this damage being caused to the site that the OPW in the mid-1990s made the decision that, if the site was to survive, there would have to be a limit placed on the numbers allowed to visit each year. Despite much discussion on how to limit numbers, it was felt nothing could be achieved without the agreement of the boatmen. A meeting took place in Cahirciveen in December 1994 between OPW representatives and 19 boatmen. The OPW view put forward at that meeting was to limit the number of licences to 15. However, compromise was agreed and 19 licences were issued but on the basis that over time this number would reduce to 15 when boatmen retired.

[116]At that time, responsibility for policy in the heritage area rested with the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands. In March 1995, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, having considered the outcome of the meeting held in Cahirciveen the previous December, formally approved the issuing of 19 permits for the 1995 season. Certain conditions attached such that the permit would apply only to the 1995 season; it would not be transferable to another operator; only one trip per day could be made in respect of each permit; boats could arrive at the pier not earlier than 9.30 a.m. and would leave not later than 5 p.m.; boats could not carry more than 12 passengers; boats had to have a valid passenger boat licence issued by the Minister for the Marine; and the permit could be withdrawn at any time, should any of the conditions not be complied with. Since then the number of permits issued has reduced to the optimum number of 15. This has occurred due to retirement of four of the operators, who it was agreed in December 1994, were entitled to a permit to land passengers.

The issue of the length of the season is related to the permits. Since the introduction of the permit system in 1995, the OPW has defined the season as late May to late September. This was always intended to mean the period of the year when the OPW had a guide presence on the island. This is essential for both the protection of the heritage of the island and for the safety of visitors. In 2007, the OPW was more specific stating the season would be from 18 May to 24 September. This brought more certainty when, subject to weather conditions, boat operators can land visitors on the island.

Part of the difficulty in previous years was not being able to set up guide accommodation on the island because of bad weather. Taking on board the broad recommendations of the Skellig Michael safety review, two weeks are required to make the necessary safety checks and undertake any repairs required to ensure the island is made safe for visitors and guides coming out.

The landing of visitors outside of when our guides are present is not acceptable from the OPW’s viewpoint in terms of both the security of the site and the safety of the visitors. For example, some years back one of the crosses from the island disappeared when there was no guide presence. There is also a record of damage being caused to the site out of season, damage not normally associated with the prevailing weather.

The other issue is safety. When OPW guides are present on the island, a daily visual inspection of the steps and other places where visitors traverse is undertaken. This allows any necessary repair work such as removal of fallen stones etc. to take place before visitors arrive on the island. Without the presence of OPW guides, such inspections do not take place. In such circumstances, it is possible that visitors are being landed on the island when damage has been caused to the steps, for example, or there has been a rock fall or landslide and no one is present to advise them of this situation. In such circumstances, there is a risk to the safety of those people visiting the island. In addition, when OPW guides are on site, detailed arrangements are in place with the emergency services on the mainland in the event of an incident. No such arrangements are in place in the absence of OPW guides.

Tragically in 2009, two fatalities took place on Skellig Michael. One of these accidents took place when the site was officially closed and there was no OPW guide presence. The Office of Public Works engaged a consulting engineer with specific expertise in risk management to undertake a safety review of Skellig Michael. The objective of this review was to examine, assess and review the current health and safety regime, operational requirements, arrangements, controls and restrictions and staff structure, as they relate to works, guides and visitors and access, to ensure a safe environment on Skellig Michael insofar as is reasonably practicable. [117] The report was published in April this year and a number of recommendations were made. In the view of OPW, both for the security of the island and the safety of visitors it is essential that visits only take place during the official opening period. To do otherwise is to leave OPW open to accusations that it is not properly protecting one of the three world heritage sites on the island of Ireland.

At the request of public representatives, I have agreed to meet with the boat operators again shortly with regard to their concerns about the length of the season and other conditions of the permit system and the implications of the acceptance of the safety review. I understand the importance of Skellig Michael from a tourist point of view and the livelihood of the boatmen. However, these must be integrated with other considerations. The safety report advised that OPW would consider extending the season in the context of a satisfactory resolution of other issues with the boatmen. I will study carefully what the Deputy has stated this evening.

Deputy John Cregan:  I acknowledge the co-operation of the office of the Ceann Comhairle to allow me to raise this important issue for my constituency. I also acknowledge the presence of the line Minister, Deputy Pat Carey. I am pleased he will have the opportunity to realise the significance of this disastrous decision for two community based drugs initiatives, one in Newcastle West, dealing with the greater west Limerick area. This programme has one employee. The second programme is also a community based programme and is based in Kilmallock. This covers the greater south Limerick area. It has one employee. I am unsure how many such programmes or support organisations are in place in Limerick city, Cork city or Dublin city, but I believe there are many. However, in my constituency there are two, one in Newcastle West and one in Kilmallock.

Both centres are being closed down because of difficulties with resources. I acknowledge that given the times in which we live, all statutory bodies are obliged to examine their budgets and live within their means because, unfortunately, there have been shortfalls in funding as a result of the economic situation in which we find ourselves. However, I am amazed that closing down these two programmes completely has been identified as the way to make up this shortfall.

In the case of Newcastle West, at present some 17 young people are met on a one-to-one basis. Many of these people have been referred by other State agencies, such as the probation service, Mental Health Ireland, HSE social workers and the Garda. These people have been left high and dry with no one to pick up the pieces and no support. The situation in Kilmallock is similar. I understand approximately 118 young people between the ages of 14 and 23 years were seen on a one-to-one basis between February and June 2010. This results from a referral system involving State agencies as well.

At I stated at the outset, the greatest issue is that there is no one to pick up the slack. We are continually trying to promote drug awareness. These two projects are run under the auspices of Foróige, a fantastic organisation which keeps people out of harm’s way, brings them into a central place and works with them through various projects. Some months ago, I was proud when the Minister’s predecessor, the Minister of State with responsibility for drug strategy, Deputy John Curran, came to the Newcastle West Foróige building and met those involved in the project. It was commendable to recognise the efforts of these people. Unfortunately, these people do not appear to have the necessary clout. We are in the sticks and we are seen as a small set-up, which is all the more reason to be supportive of such projects. There are many groups and organisations, whether statutory or voluntary, throughout cities and larger provin[118]cial towns which deal with such issues. Unfortunately, in this situation there is only one project in Newcastle West with one employee and one project in Kilmallock with one employee. At issue is the wages of two people. I am appalled and I believe it is a disgraceful decision. I fully understand that the Mid West Regional Drugs Task Force has autonomy, makes its own decisions and has been given independence. However, I appeal to the Minister to call on the relevant people to go back and look into their hearts to see if they can justify the decision taken. I am certain the task force has a substantial budget to promote drug awareness and I am disgusted, to say the least, that it has decided to go down this route. I look forward to the reply from the Minister.

Deputy Pat Carey:  I thank Deputy Cregan for raising this important matter and I hope to address his concerns. My Department has overall responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the national drugs strategy 2009-2016. Solid progress is being made on the implementation of the various actions of the strategy across its five pillars of supply reduction, prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and research. This is in line with the Government’s commitment to address problem drug use in Ireland in the most comprehensive way possible.

One of the recent highlights was the introduction of regulations by my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, under the Misuse of Drugs Acts that make the possession and sale of a wide range of psychoactive substances illegal and subject to criminal sanctions. In addition, legislation is being drafted by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform that will make it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances that are not prohibited under the Misuse of Drugs Act, but which have psychoactive effects on humans.

The Garda Síochána and the Customs Service continue to prioritise the targeting of those involved in the supply of drugs and I congratulate them on their recent successes in this area, both nationally and abroad.

From 2002 up to 2009, approximately €197 million has been made available for drugs initiatives funded by my Department, in the main through the 14 local and the ten regional drugs task forces. In 2009, some 340 projects under the local drugs task forces were supported to the value of almost €22 million. Approximately €10 million was expended to support 146 projects in regional drugs task force areas. Further funding in 2009 also supported 14 cocaine-specific projects, with an allocation of approximately €0.55 million; ten rehabilitation-specific projects, with an allocation of €0.35 million; and three drug-related projects dealing with homeless people, which received an allocation of 0.46 million.

In addition, capital expenditure of almost €2.12 million in 2009 supported six large scale projects, predominantly in the regional drugs task force areas, including targeted funding for Limerick city. In 2010, in excess of €31 million in current funding is being made available to fund the activities of the task forces, of which approximately €21 million is being allocated to the local task forces and €10 million to the regional task forces. This funding will support some 500 initiatives that the task forces have prioritised for investment in their respective areas. In addition, recently I announced that funding of €600,000 is being made available for small-scale capital projects in the task force areas, building on the success of a similar initiative in 2009. Applications for funding from my Department are made through the relevant local or regional drugs taskforce.

It is a matter for each taskforce to decide which projects to fund, based on agreed priorities for their areas and within the overall budget available to them. During 2010, in light of the economic climate, all taskforces, including the mid west regional drugs taskforce, were asked [119]to identify savings across their areas of responsibility. I appreciate that there have been difficult choices to make but each drugs taskforce is required to work within their allocated budgets.

The overall funding for the taskforces this year is less than it was in 2009. In response to the reduced budget, the mid west regional drugs task force withdrew funding to projects that did not have a pay element from January to June 2010 and continued to fund projects with pay costs until the end of June 2010. During this period, an independent evaluation of all projects was carried out to ascertain the best practices and the best use of resources.

Independent consultants carried out the evaluation which was in two parts. First, it addressed the key actions for the taskforce and how they were being addressed and re-assessed the mid-west regional drugs taskforce’s priorities into specific actions under the five pillars of the national drugs strategy 2009-16. Second, it assessed all funded projects for their appropriateness, best practice and value for money.

Arising from the evaluation, eight projects were not recommended for continued funding. In regard to the seven projects, including the ones mentioned by Deputy Cregan, the evaluation recommended a re-configuration of this youth intervention to a central project to ensure better co-ordination, specialist support and intervention and best value for money. These projects will not be funded after the end of June 2010 but youth services will be brought together to develop one re-configured project to address this need. Two working groups have been set up by the taskforce to identify key priorities for education-prevention and for treatment-rehabilitation in accordance with the evaluation findings.

It was agreed that all of the existing funded youth projects be invited to participate in this process. I understand that both groups came together at the end of May and put a joint proposal to the taskforce to put in place a substance misuse team which will address the prevention and treatment actions for the under 18s. The taskforce agreed this proposal and is costing the proposal at present.

Through my co-ordination role across the strategy, Deputy Cregan will appreciate that I am working hard to ensure that the optimum use is made of the available resources, which will again total a substantial amount. As part of this, every effort will be made to protect front-line services to the greatest extent possible. I am satisfied that the investment being made, including the approximately €1.6 million made available to the mid west regional drugs task force in 2010, will continue to address problem drug use in a meaningful and real way and will protect front-line services to the greatest extent possible.

I am well aware of the work being done by the taskforces and I am satisfied that they continue to make a positive impact on the drugs problem in Ireland. I undertake to have this issue examined in greater detail and I will communicate with the Deputy shortly. I hope to meet some members of that regional drugs task force fairly soon and I will get an update.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I welcome the Minister, Deputy Carey, and thank the Office of the Ceann Comhairle for facilitating this matter. The Foyle Area (Control of Fishing) Regulations 2010 were made on 2 June 2010 and have been operational since 11 June 2010. The Loughs Agency, with the approval of the North-South Ministerial Council and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan, introduced the regulations in exercise of the powers conferred by section 13(1) of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952.

The Minister, Deputy Ryan, stated that the regulations have been introduced because “the numbers of migrating salmon counted going upstream in the Rivers Mourne, Faughan, Roe and [120]Finn are below the specified stock level target numbers”. In practice the regulation prevents 28 commercial fishermen, ten draftnet fishermen and 18 driftnet fishermen who did not opt into the voluntary buy-out scheme three years ago from fishing Lough Foyle for salmon in 2010. Last week the Minister of State, Deputy Conor Lenihan, told me in response to a parliamentary question that these 28 fishermen will not be provided with loss of earnings compensation.

This is a flawed fishery management framework. Everybody understands and supports the principle of conservation. Our marine industry is in trouble and it will die completely if we do not have fish stocks. That is accepted. However, the fishery management framework that underpins this regulation assumes that commercial fishermen are exclusively responsible for depletion of fish stock. That is a very simplistic and naive argument.

The Foyle Area (Control of Fishing) Regulations 2010 is the 20th conservation regulation imposed on Lough Foyle commercial fishermen since 2007 and the Government still has not taken any action to curb predator seals and cormorant birds that forage on fish stocks in Lough Foyle. A study entitled Assessment of Harbour Seal Predation on adult salmonoids in a Pacific Northwest Estuary written by Bryan Wright, Susan D. Riemer and Robin F. Brown notes that harbour seals consumed one fifth of the estimated salmon run in the marine site they chose for the purposes of research. The study calls for a new fishery management framework with reference to control of abundant nature species.

I refer to the seal population. The Irish Marine Institute estimated in 2000 that 6,976 seals live off the Irish coast. That was ten years ago. There is no comprehensive up-to-date study but we know that seal populations have exploded since top predation ended.

I refer to the Lough Foyle cormorants and seals. In the case of Lough Foyle salmon, cormorants eat the smolts, the young salmon, that leave the lough for salt water and then seals kill the mature salmon that return. The adult seal eats 1.9 kg of salmon per day. The seal also kills for sport. Multiplied over a year and leaving aside salmon killed by seals for sport, the adult seal may eat up to 730 kg of salmon per annum. The average seasonal return of a Lough Foyle commercial net fisherman is 650 kg, which is less. One seal kills more salmon stock than one commercial salmon fisherman. Anecdotal evidence confirms that there are more than 28 seals in Lough Foyle. Seals are killing more Lough Foyle salmon than commercial fishermen.

I refer to the case for compensation. The livelihood of 28 commercial fishermen is seriously damaged by this ban. These men did not sign up to the salmon hardship fund offered to salmon fishermen in 2007 because they did not anticipate this ban.

Will the Government commission a survey on the number of predator seals and cormorants on Lough Foyle? Does it agree that the fishery management framework needs to be broadened to possibly include control of abundant predator species? Is either of the Foyle Fisheries Act 1952 or the Foyle Area (Control of Fishing) Regulation 2010 subject to derogation?

This debate is not facile and the solutions are not simplistic. I spoke to Michelle Gildernew, MLA, the Minister’s counterpart in Stormont yesterday. I understood her say that it is a very black and white issue. There is no salmon so commercial fisherman are banned.

There is an opportunity to allow fishermen to fish on a small scale with small boats, small quotas and for a limited number of days at sea. It would get people back working. It is an opportunity for the Government to get people along the coast working again. I ask the Minister not to bring the debate down to a facile level, that is, that commercial fishermen are destroying the stock. They are not because they are not even fishing.

[121]Deputy Pat Carey:  I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Conor Lenihan. The Foyle Area (Control of Fishing) Regulations 2010 were made by the Loughs Agency which as Deputy McHugh knows is a North-South body under the co-sponsorship of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. The Loughs Agency is responsible for the protection and conservation of inland fisheries in the Foyle and Carlingford areas.

The 2010 regulations were made following a long period of consultation and development in order to meet the agency’s national and international obligations, including the requirements of the European Habitats Directive. The regulations provide for a practical and equitable response to falling salmon numbers in the Foyle system. They allow for the suspension or restriction of angling or the use of nets on the Rivers Mourne, Faughan, Roe and Finn when necessary to conserve stocks, especially in times of drought or flood.

This addresses the fact that salmon stocks in the Foyle system were no longer meeting sustainability targets. There was particular concern over the impact of commercial fishing on the remaining stocks which only met 40% of their management targets last year. It should be noted that the issue of declining stocks has been the subject of a formal compliant to the European Commission in May 2010.

The complaint maintains that the use of 18 driftnet and ten draftnets within the Foyle system is not consistent with the requirements of the Habitats Directive. It argues that this fishing is indiscriminate in nature as it catches salmon from the weakest rivers in the system as well as from those that meet their conservation targets.

The Deputy will be aware that salmon stocks exploited in Lough Foyle by the commercial interceptory fishery up to 2006 had been achieving their conservation limits. However, scientific advice for 2006 indicated that a rationalisation of the fishery was necessary both to protect stock levels and to maintain the future viability of the commercial fishery. In May 2007, approval was given by the North-South Ministerial Council for the introduction of a suite of salmon conservation measures to be administered by the Loughs Agency. Regulations agreed by the council provided the agency with the necessary powers to manage wild salmon stocks in the Foyle and Carlingford areas. This was in compliance with the EU habitats directive and the recommendations of the North Atlantic Salmon Conservation Organisation.

At that time, a hardship scheme was introduced in recognition of the impact that cessation of the mixed stock fishery at sea would have on traditional salmon fishermen. The scheme was introduced by the Loughs Agency in conjunction with its sponsor Departments — the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland. It was offered on a voluntary basis to former drift and draft net licence holders who were active during the period 2002 to 2006. The salmon hardship scheme was intended to provide a measure of relief to individual licence holders in line with the degree of hardship arising from the closure of the interceptory fishery seaward of Lough Foyle. The scheme was jointly funded by the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive. The total cost of the scheme was €3.8 million.

The number of drift nets that operated in the Foyle area reduced significantly from 112 to 18 and the number of draft nets which operated within the Lough and River Foyle decreased from 50 to ten. It should be stressed that the commercial nets-men who have not been issued with licences in 2010 were made aware in 2007 that if they did not accept the scheme, any future suspension or closure of the fishery would not attract hardship payments.

[122]In the circumstances, there is no question of the suspended commercial interceptory fishery being reopened until stock levels allow. While there can be understandable sympathy for those impacted by the necessary suspension, introducing a new hardship scheme for fishermen who decided not to avail of the scheme previously introduced is not an option at this time. These fishermen made a choice to continue fishing rather than take the hardship scheme when there were serious concerns about the scale in the decline in salmon numbers in Ireland and Northern Ireland. However, if stock levels improve to a point where there is a harvestable surplus, then the regulations allow for the reopening of the fishery.

With regard to the Deputy’s supplementary questions, I will arrange to have them examined by the Minister and the Department and I will ask him to communicate directly with the Deputy.

The Dáil adjourned at 10.45 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 June 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 3, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 4 to 35, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 36 to 42, inclusive, answered orally.

  43.  Deputy Shane McEntee    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of hospital beds closed nationally for which most recent information is available; the reason these beds are closed; the details of Health Service Executive plans to close an additional 1,100 inpatient hospital beds in 2010; the location of these beds; her views on the impact that this will have on patient services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25820/10]

  46.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of acute hospital beds which are closed here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25964/10]

  52.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of beds closed to date regarding Health Service Executive plans to close 1,100 inpatient hospital beds in 2010; if she will list the hospitals affected by these closures; her views on the impact that this will have on patient services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25804/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 46 and 52 together.

Service delivery is about access to appropriate care for patients, not the number of beds in the hospital system or the number of consultants employed. The focus of the health service must be on the quality of service outputs and the patient outcomes being achieved for the resources available. This approach mirrors that being taken in health systems throughout the world. The 2010 National Service Plan commits the HSE to treating people more effectively by reducing costs and reforming the way services are provided, without reducing access to appropriate services.

[124]The most recent validated information on bed closures in the acute hospital system relates to the week ending 17 January 2010. At that time, 689 inpatient beds and 37 day beds were closed for cost containment, infection control, refurbishment or seasonal closure of facilities. In 2009, the combined number of inpatient and day case discharges was 3% greater than in 2008, despite the difficult situation in relation to resources. The HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan, which I approved earlier this year, maintains the focus from previous years on increased efficiency and commits to delivering broadly the same level of overall hospital activity that took place in 2009. Analysis of performance data from the hospital system has shown that, although many improvements have already been implemented, there is still substantial scope in many hospitals for more efficient and appropriate care processes, informed by best practice both in Ireland and internationally.

This involves moving treatment, where feasible, from inpatient to day cases, a reduction in emergency admissions and a further increase in day cases. The continued shift to day case care is intended to deliver an increase of 6.5% over the day case target in the 2009 Service Plan. For conditions requiring inpatient admission, there is also a particular emphasis on reducing the significant length-of-stay variation between hospitals for similar procedures. Hospitals are also working to reduce admissions through active demand management, primarily targeting cases requiring diagnostics only and those where patient needs can be addressed other than by inpatient admission, including on a day basis or in the primary care setting. The HSE is also working closely with the NTPF to facilitate treatment for patients who have been waiting longest for admission.

While there is no proposal in the Service Plan to close a specific number of beds, these more efficient processes, together with some planned reduction in inpatient treatments, mean that less inpatient bed capacity will be required during 2010. Hospitals must manage their bed complement in line with planned activity levels and the requirement to remain within their allotted budget for the year. The exact number of beds available will vary from time to time depending on such factors as planned activity levels, maintenance and refurbishment requirements and staff leave arrangements at any particular time of the year.

Further developments which are enabling more efficient and appropriate care involve the establishment of acute medical and surgical assessment units and using medical admission units for emergency admissions. Hospitals are also achieving improvements through better bed utilisation strategies, proactive discharge planning and improved access to senior clinical decision-making. As well as the significant measures being taken to increase efficiency within hospitals, the HSE is implementing initiatives, such as access to post-acute care to manage delayed discharges, which enable a greater proportion of people’s care needs to be met in the community setting, closer to where they live.

The delivery of planned activity in 2010 also requires a renewed focus on appropriate use of resources and control of costs across the pay and non-pay areas. Staff redeployment and greater flexibility on the movement of resources to follow the patient will also be required. With the recent ratification by the Public Services Committee of the ICTU of the terms of the Croke Park Agreement, I look forward to a productive engagement between health service employers and staff interests to implement an agreed agenda for change within the health sector. This will further support the more efficient and appropriate provision of health services, while providing a basis for confidence about pay levels and security of employment in the Public Service for the future.

I am confident that the range of measures I have described will continue to achieve significantly more efficient and appropriate use of resources, without compromising on the standard or levels of patient services.

  44.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the way she expects to achieve savings of €30 million in the dental treatment services scheme for medical card patients; the services that will be withdrawn or reduced for medical card holders; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25827/10]

  172.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the dental treatments that are covered under the medical card scheme; the treatments that have been removed from the medical card scheme in the past five years; the reason these treatments were removed; if she will ensure they are reinstated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26255/10]

  189.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the definition of a clinical emergency regarding the provision and repair of dentures under the dental treatment services scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26339/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 44, 172 and 189 together.

The Government’s decision in Budget 2010 to limit the funding available to the Dental Treatment Services Scheme (DTSS) was made in view of the current position of the public finances and the 60% increase in expenditure in the DTSS over the past five years. The Health Service Executive (HSE) has introduced measures to contain DTSS expenditure at the 2008 level of approximately €63 million. Under the new measures the range of treatments available are being prioritised. Some treatments which had previously been available in the Scheme, for example, dental cleaning and polishing have been suspended. Other treatments, such as oral examinations and fillings, will continue to be provided but will be limited in number or frequency. More complex, non-routine treatments, such as protracted periodontal treatments, will be available only in the case of clinical emergencies.

In the Dental Treatment Services Scheme, an emergency is determined by the treating clinician, the contracted General Dental Practitioner, in agreement with the local HSE Principal Dental Surgeon (PDS), or a delegate who is also a clinician. Emergency and/or urgent provision and repair of dentures will include circumstances which will impact on the patient’s functional ability to eat and speak. Other clinical criteria, such as aesthetics may be considered as urgent issues since they may seriously impact on quality of life. As always, certain categories of patients who are most vulnerable, such as those with special needs, will always be prioritized for care.

Denture repairs will be carried out where in the opinion of the contracting dentist there is a clinical emergency. These measures have been introduced to protect access to emergency dental care for medical card holders and to safeguard services for children and special needs groups. The HSE will monitor the ongoing effect of these changes from a clinical and budgetary perspective. The dental and oral health services currently provided through the HSE Public Dental Service will not be affected by these changes to the DTSS.

  45.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, during her visit to New Zealand, she examined its no-fault compensation scheme for injury as a result of medical negligence and treatment; her views on whether parents of children with cerebral palsy must strive for years to get compensation for injuries at birth; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25796/10]

[126]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I and my officials held a number of meetings with senior health officials and with the Minister for Health during my recent visit to New Zealand. In the course of those meetings we discussed the role of the Accident Compensation Corporation and the general no fault compensation scheme that operates there. As the Deputy may be aware, an advisory group was established in 2001, to examine the equity, effectiveness and appropriateness of existing arrangements for compensating persons who suffer cerebral damage at, or close to the time of birth, and to make such recommendations as the Group sees fit. The Group has yet to complete its work. I will await the Group’s report before giving further consideration to a wider no fault compensation scheme for the health services.

In this country, compensation in many cases involving cerebral damage is dealt with under the Clinical Indemnity Scheme of enterprise liability. Cerebral Palsy is a complex condition which can be caused by, inter alia, prematurity, developmental brain malformation, neurological damage to the developing brain, hypoxia or medical error. I understand that the average time from the institution of proceedings to the ultimate resolution of a typical CP case is now approximately 4 years as a result of the introduction of Enterprise Liability.

Question No. 46 answered with Question No. 43.

  47.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will confirm that all X-rays in all hospitals are reported by consultant radiologists; the date that the Health Service Executive audit on the extent of unreported X-rays at hospitals across the State will be completed and published; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25807/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  It is critical that learning takes place from all patient safety incidents. My Department has been working very closely with the Directorate for Quality and Clinical Care in the HSE to ensure that this happens.

It is not and has never been necessary for all x-rays in all hospitals to be reported by a consultant radiologist. However, arising from the recent events in Tallaght Hospital, the Faculty of Radiology, in conjunction with the HSE, has developed a national guideline which sets out the circumstances in which it is appropriate for X-rays to be read by a radiologist or by another clinician. This guideline has been communicated to all hospitals and is being implemented. This will require that hospitals develop standardised operating practices and systems for audit. The HSE will also audit the operation of these standardised operating practices in hospitals quarterly in future. The HSE have informed me that the work on the audit is continuing and it is expected that this work will be completed and the audit published in the coming weeks.

Question No. 48 answered with Question No. 42.

  49.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the arrangements that are in place when non-consultant hospital doctors change job on 1 July 2010; the impact of the European working time directive on NCHDs and services offered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25842/10]

  60.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of unfilled non-consultant hospital doctor posts in hospitals here; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that hospitals face a shortage of doctors due the fact that new visa arrangements are [127]discouraging non-EU doctors from coming here; if she will make changes to the visa requirements to address these concerns; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25823/10]

  117.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if an assessment has been made of the likely effect of the shortage of non-consultant hospital doctors from July 2010; the plans that are in place to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25911/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49, 60 and 117 together.

Reports from the Health Service Executive (HSE) indicate reductions in applications for Non-Consultant Hospital Doctor posts, particularly in emergency medicine, anaesthesia, general medicine and in smaller hospitals. As at 16 June, the HSE reports that there were about 289 outstanding vacancies projected for 1 July, in Senior House Officer and Registrar posts, but they anticipate that this figure will reduce as NCHDs are offered contracts over the coming weeks. Currently, since 1 January 2010, there are about 150 NCHD vacancies.

The main focus of my Department has been to work with the HSE to minimise any impact on services. In addition to changes in work practices, such as reductions in tiered on-call and better cross cover arrangements, the HSE has commenced a recruitment process with a range of medical recruitment agencies. In addition, the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive have, in the last week, agreed revised arrangements regarding employment permits and immigration registration for non-EEA doctors who are recruited to the Irish public health service. In particular, Senior House Officers and Registrars from non-EAA countries will be given two year visas and will not require a work permit.

The HSE agreed on 15 June, to a proposal by various stakeholders, that all existing training posts, where possible, will continue to be recognised by the Medical Council as training posts for one further year from 1 July 2010. This will directly deal with the more immediate patient safety concerns raised in relation to the possible placement of a large number of junior doctors on the General Division of the Register of Medical Practitioners. Compliance with European Working Time Directive is a separate challenge to hospitals and to the HSE in relation to the employment of Non-Consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs). Compliance with the directive is good for patient safety. It serves no good purpose to have over-stretched, over-tired junior doctors treating patients.

I am satisfied every effort has been made and will continue to be made, by my Department and the HSE, to ensure that patients will continue to have access to hospital services that are safe, responsive to their medical needs, and integrated with other hospital and primary care services.

  50.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is considering separating child care services from the Health Service Executive in view of the opinions expressed by the chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25896/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Child Care Act 1991 provides that it shall be a function of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and protection. I advised the House in the course of the recent debate on the Implementation of the Ryan [128]Commission recommendations that it is not my intention to separate the child welfare and protection service from the HSE.

A fundamental aspect of a successful child care system is the ability to access early interventions such as therapy services delivered by health professionals or supports offered by a public health nurse. In particular, there is an essential requirement to integrate our child protection services as part of the development of multidisciplinary services. There is also a risk that any decision to create a separate service would lose ground as it would take several years to establish a new structure with valuable time lost in the bureaucracy of creating a new entity.

  51.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to develop a national strategy on the diagnosis, treatment and care of people with dementia; the date that this strategy will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25774/10]

  64.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made in developing a national strategy for the care and support of Alzheimer’s patients and their families; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25903/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 64 together.

As the Deputy is aware, dementia is a most distressing condition both for those suffering from it and their families, and presents a significant and growing challenge to health and social services. Alzheimer’s disease represents about 70% of the cases of dementia. People are living longer and as a consequence are more likely to develop some form of dementia. While dementia is not solely related to age, the prevalence is higher in older people and increases with age. It is estimated that about 5% of people over 65 years of age have some form of dementia with this figure rising to 20% for people over 80 years of age. The demographic make–up of Irish society is changing. The population is growing older and the number of people aged over 65 is estimated to almost triple over the next 30 years.

As I have indicated previously, my Department has started the process of developing a policy on dementia that will support the delivery of long-term care services having regard to future demographic trends and the consequential increase in demand for long-term care. This policy will be developed on the basis of the best evidence available from national and international sources. Officials in my Department have engaged with relevant stakeholder groups on the first stage of the process which is to assemble the research and evidence upon which the policy will be developed. I expect this will be received in 2011, at which stage work on the policy will commence formally.

However, in the interim I would also like to advise the Deputy that the Health Service Executive (HSE) is currently exploring the potential for changes in care pathways for people with dementia, and will make recommendations for the future provision of dementia care across all health and social services. An audit is underway within the HSE of the current specialist dementia care services available both in residential/hospital and community services. This audit will inform future planning and development of services for people with dementia. The educational needs of staff will also be identified to inform any future staff requirements for working in the area of dementia care. This work will also feed into the overall dementia policy formulation.

Question No. 52 answered with Question No. 43.

[129]

  53.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if caring organisations that are funded through the Health Service Executive to deliver services are being compensated in situations when they are forced to replace front-line staff that are not exempted under the public service moratorium; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that many such organisations have, in effect, suffered major funding cuts because of the moratorium; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25904/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Government has made it clear that a critical part of its strategy to restore the public finances is to achieve sustainability in the cost of delivering public services relative to State revenues. To help achieve this goal, it will be necessary to restructure and reorganise the public service and to reduce public service numbers over the coming years.

The Employment Control Framework for the health sector provides for a net reduction in employment of 6,000 in wholetime equivalent (WTE) terms from March 2009 to the end 2012 and consequential pay roll savings. Based on numbers reductions already achieved in 2009, the net target reduction to end 2012 is 4,560 WTE. Therefore, the net target reduction in numbers in 2010, and in each of the following two years, is 1,520 wholetime equivalents. The Government decision has been modulated to ensure that key services are maintained insofar as possible in the health services, particularly in respect of children at risk, older people, persons with a disability, mental health services, and cancer services. The Framework, accordingly, provides for a number of grades and posts that are exempt from the moratorium on recruitment and promotion.

In addition, the HSE also has some degree of flexibility under the Framework to sanction the filling of certain other posts (both within its own organisation and in voluntary service providers funded by it) on an exceptional basis provided it achieves the overall target reductions in both staffing levels and pay costs. The requirement is that a post or posts of equivalent value must be suppressed in order to meet the cost of the post being filled.

Against the background of reduced budgets and staffing levels in the health sector, a reorganisation and restructuring of work is required not only to maintain the level, quality and safety of services but also to expand the range and accessibility of community services in order to avoid the necessity for hospital attendances. The new Public Service Agreement, which was ratified last week by the Public Services Committee of ICTU, clears the way for the implementation of a major transformation programme for the health sector to commence on a collaborative basis involving unions and employers. The programme is designed to achieve significant cost efficiencies while protecting the quality and effectiveness of services to the public.

The foregoing arrangements apply across the publicly funded health services and there can be no question of exempting voluntary service providers or providing them with additional funding. This would undermine the strategic objectives of Government policy which are to reduce staffing levels and achieve payroll savings in order to bring the public voluntary finances into sustainable balance. Voluntary providers, in common with the HSE, need to identify, and implement under the Public Service Agreement, whatever changes in staffing levels, skill mix and work practices are necessary to protect services within the reduced level of funding now available.

  54.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her policy in relation to the delivery of nursing home care; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that public nursing homes facilities, (details supplied) in County Westmeath, are being wound down and that beds are being closed at other facilities; the consequences that this is having on the pro[130]vision of respite care for families; if it is her intention to privatise the delivery of nursing home care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25844/10]

  89.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will intervene to prevent the closure of Loughloe House, Athlone, County Westmeath; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25965/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 89 together.

This Government is committed to supporting people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible and to support access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate. Loughloe House, is one of two long stay facilities in Athlone. The second is St Vincent’s Community Nursing Unit, (CNU) which is situated in the town centre. They are relatively close to each other. In St Vincent’s CNU there are currently approximately 60 residents. There is one management structure for the two units.

Loughloe House has been inspected by HIQA. Numerous concerns have been raised in the course of this inspection process both in terms of the physical infrastructure and in relation to management/staffing issues. Concerns also exist regarding the fire safety precautions at the home. With these considerations in mind, the Health Service Executive has decided that it has no option but to proceed with the orderly, phased closure of Loughloe House.

There will be a consultation process with Loughloe House residents and their families with a view to organising transfers to private and public nursing homes in the surrounding areas. The HSE has also agreed to put in place an independent advocate to assist the residents of Loughloe House and their families with the relocation. The overall level of provision of long stay beds in the Longford Westmeath Local Health Office area will remain in excess of the 4.5% level currently deemed as adequate to meet needs and there are more than sufficient vacancies to cater for the residents of Loughloe House.

I understand that there was a reduction in respite provision in this area as the future of Loughloe House was being considered. However, the HSE has informed me that the previous level of provision of respite care is now in the process of being restored. The safety of the residents is our first concern. We owe them a duty of care. I am sure this House will agree that quality care and patient safety comes first and all patients should receive the same high standard of quality-assured care.

It is not my intention to privatise the delivery of nursing home care. The Deputies will be aware that under the Fair Deal, the same level of State support is available for public, private and voluntary long-term nursing home care recipients. This meets one of the objectives of Towards 2016, namely that State support should be indifferent as to whether a person is in public or private care.

  55.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide details on which hospital accident and emergency units will close or limit opening hours as a result of health service cutbacks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25795/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  My Department understands from the HSE that it is not limiting emergency department opening hours, at present, as a result of health service cutbacks. The focus for 2010 is to continue to provide for emergency and elective admissions in hospitals by a continued shift to day case treatments and the development of a [131]number of initiatives such as Medical Assessment Units and their use for emergency admissions. The HSE is also engaged in significant reconfiguration initiatives aimed at ensuring the best care is available to patients. The result of all of these efforts is the enhancement of ED services in some hospitals (e.g. Limerick Regional, Galway University, Cork University, Waterford Regional) and the transformation of other hospitals into urgent care centres with appropriate secondary care services.

  56.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will publish the legal advice on which is based the claim that the files for children who died in State care or when known to child care services cannot be passed to the special investigation team established by the Minister of State with responsibility for children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25966/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I established the Independent Review Group on Child Deaths on the 8th of March 2010. The Group is composed of Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr Geoffrey Shannon. A third independent person of international standing will be appointed to the Group when an initial examination of documentation has been completed by the two appointed members. The Group has commenced work and it is the intention that it will report within a period of six months.

The Taoiseach outlined to the House on 25 May, the nature of the legal advice to the HSE regarding the release of documentation to the Group. The advice identified concerns in relation to:

the in-camera rule which in childcare proceedings is concerned primarily with the protection of the identity and privacy of the individual child,

section 31 of the Child Care Act 1991 which imposes a prohibition, that can be lifted with the approval of the courts, on the publication or broadcasting of matters which might lead the public to identify a particular child that has been the subject of proceedings under certain parts of that Act,

data protection legislation which regulates the collection, use and disclosure of personal information relating to living identifiable individuals and categorises health information as sensitive and therefore deserving of additional protection, and

the issue of consent to the disclosure of personal and confidential information including (as appropriate) the consent of surviving relatives.

The Health (Amendment) Bill, 2010 was published on 18 June 2010 and circulated to Oireachtas members. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the legislative base for the provision of information by the Health Service Executive to the Minister for Health and Children so as to enhance the Minister’s ability to fulfil his or her role and functions (including political accountability to the Oireachtas) and to create a “safe channel of communication” for sensitive information between the HSE and the Minister. The Health (Amendment) Bill will facilitate the work of the Independent Review Group on Child Deaths and it is hoped that it will be enacted before the summer recess.

  57.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to oblige [132]health insurance providers to cover primary care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25917/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  International evidence is that people’s best health can be achieved much more cost-effectively by a greater emphasis on primary care services, in order to avoid hospitalisation or prolonged stays in hospital. Health insurance has its role to play in this in Ireland. On 27 May 2010, the Government announced a new strategy for the private health insurance market. As part of the package of reforms announced, I signalled my intention to extend the minimum benefits for health insurance to cover areas like primary care and preventive health measures.

The Health Insurance Authority is about to engage in a consultation process with insurers and others with a view to reporting to me on possible amendments to the minimum benefits regulations. This consultation will form the basis for the development of a new set of regulations which, for the benefit of all, will fit better with a more modern healthcare delivery system involving primary care to a greater degree, and reducing the dependence on acute hospital care.

  58.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the role her Department plays in the health of prisoners; if this is under review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25921/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Irish Prison Service is responsible, in the first instance, for the provision of health and associated regime services within the prison system. At each prison level, healthcare delivery is managed by the prison doctor, nurse manager and visiting healthcare professionals. There is however a high degree of co-operation between the Irish Prison Service and the HSE at national and local levels to support prison health services with access to primary and secondary community health and social services.

  59.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide details on when legislation to ban the sale and distribution of substances sold in head shops and the closure of head shops will be introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25829/10]

  85.  Deputy P. J. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether her response to the import, production, sale and supply of dangerous head shop products has been completely inadequate to date; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that thousands of persons continue to be put at risk as new legal highs such as Whack and the cocaine substitute Amplified and other new drug products have entered the market; if she will confirm that legislation to ban the sale and supply of such products will be introduced before the Dáil goes into recess; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25846/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 85 together.

I completely reject the suggestion that the Government’s handling of the issue of so-called “legal highs” has been inadequate. I would remind the House that in light of the health risks associated with these products the Government made an Order on 11 May declaring a large number of substances, commonly referred to as “legal highs”, to be controlled drugs under the [133]Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, with immediate effect. Approximately 200 individual substances were controlled by this legislation. The substances controlled include:

synthetic cannabis-type substances (contained in SPICE products),

BZP-related substances (sold as party pills),

Mephedrone and similar substances (sold as bath salts or plant food),

GBL and 1,4BD (often referred to as liquid ecstasy).

It is now a criminal offence for a person to import, export, produce, supply or possess these legal high substances. Possession and supply are subject to serious criminal sanctions of:

up to 7 years imprisonment and/or a fine for unlawful possession, and,

on indictment, up to a maximum period of life imprisonment for unlawful supply.

These Regulations have had a significant impact on headshops, removing the vast majority of their products from the market, and as a consequence a large number of headshops have closed.

The Government has always acknowledged that attempts would be made to circumvent these regulations. Since these substances were brought under control, other substances have been coming onto the market that are currently not subject to controls under the Misuse of Drugs Act. My Department is working closely with the Department of Justice and Law Reform, the Gardaí, the Customs Service, the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, and others to monitor closely the emergence of new psychoactive substances. I will not hesitate to seek Government approval to ban additional substances if any of them pose a risk to public health.

Initial analyses indicate that the products ‘WHACK’ and ‘Amplified’ contain new cocaine-type substances. As these substances have anaesthetic effects they fall within the scope of the medicinal products legislation. These products do not hold licences from the IMB or the European Medicines Agency. The IMB has been visiting head shops and removing these products from the market. The IMB has also been removing a number of other products from head shops which are known to contain medicinal products. My colleague the Minister for Justice and Law Reform last Friday published the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010. This bill will make it a criminal offence to sell or supply substances which may not be specifically controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts but which have psychoactive effects.

Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 49.

  61.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of money the State will have to inject into VHI in order for it to achieve solvency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25763/10]

  90.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of public money she plans to invest in the VHI in advance of privatisation; her views on keeping the VHI in public ownership; the date on which she intends to introduce legislation to facilitate privatisation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25893/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 90 together.

[134]A key element of the Government’s strategy for the future of the private health insurance market, is to establish VHI Healthcare in a position where it is authorised by the Financial Regulator and therefore regulated for prudential solvency purposes on the same basis as its competitors. The Government has committed to making a substantial capital investment into the VHI in order to secure its authorisation as a matter of urgency. The procedure for authorisation necessitates that VHI not only have sufficient capital in place to satisfy the requirements of the Financial Regulator, but also to display that it can sustain the necessary capital over a three to five year period. This will require VHI to demonstrate that it has a robust business plan in place which will satisfy these requirements. As Minister responsible for the VHI, I and my officials will be in close contact with the Board and management to ensure that such a business plan will be in place.

The actual amount of capital which will be required will be determined between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Health and Children in light of the advice of experts. The level of capital required will be affected by a number of issues, including the amount of reinsurance and/or subordinated debt which the VHI may secure. It is not possible to specify precisely at this time what the figure for capitalisation will be. The timing for capitalisation and sale of VHI will depend on a number of factors, which will be decided by Government in light of the advices of the experts on the appropriate sequencing and structure of the disposal of the company. These experts will be appointed on foot of a competitive tendering exercise which I expect will take place shortly.

In relation to the plans for the State to divest itself of ownership of VHI, the Government’s objective in so doing is to support the community rated private health insurance market and thus to protect older and sicker people. This requires risk equalisation (RE) to ensure that this happens.

In general terms, there are no specific health policy reasons for the State to own a private health insurance company, especially when the State is in a position to implement community rating supported by RE, and sets minimum benefit requirements for all health insurers. The planned RE scheme will require financial transfers between companies in the health insurance market. It is imperative that the Government is judged by all to be even-handed in this policy. The State should design and operate the RE scheme totally fairly and impartially as between each player in the market and be seen to do so. It is important that there should be no grounds for complaint against the RE scheme in the context of the State setting up the scheme while owning a company that would receive payments under that scheme. It is also important that the RE scheme should not be delayed in its operation, or limited in its scope, because of queries about the State’s ownership of one company in the market. Accordingly, the Government has decided that VHI should not remain in public ownership.

  62.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has received the report of the cardiovascular policy group; if and when she will publish the report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25909/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I launched the report of the Cardiovascular Policy Group on 10 June. The full report is available on the Department’s website. The policy report addresses the spectrum of cardiovascular disease, including prevention and management and how these should be integrated to reduce the burden of these conditions. Prevention includes measures that individuals can take themselves as well as population intervention and areas where intersectoral action is necessary. Management of cardiovascular dis[135]ease covers all aspects of health care from childhood through to old age, from pre-hospital emergency care to rehabilitation and palliative care.

The report is set out along the following lines:

Burden of cardiovascular disease and recent trends

Prevention and health promotion

Primary care

Hospital and emergency care services

Rehabilitation and continuing care

Workforce planning

Framework for quality in cardiovascular health

The HSE is developing an implementation plan to give effect to the policy recommendations for which it has lead responsibility.

  63.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the new chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive will commence working; if their job description is the same as that of their predecessor; if they have been asked to focus on any particular elements of the job; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25898/10]

  238.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) was offered the position of chief executive of the Health Service Executive and was then allowed negotiate their salary; if a further person (details supplied) was offered the same salary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26803/10]

  239.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the pension rights and entitlements which will accrue to a person (details supplied) as chief executive of the Health Service Executive in addition to their salary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26804/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to takes Questions Nos. 63, 238 and 239 together.

I am informed by the Health Service Executive that Mr. Cathal McGee will take up his appointment as Chief Executive Officer on 1st September 2010, to succeed Professor Brendan Drumm, whose term of office ends in mid-August. In accordance with Section 17 of the Health Act 2004, the HSE Board is responsible for making this appointment. There was an extensive recruitment process undertaken by the Board to fill this position. Details of the recruitment process, including interactions with other potential candidates, are a matter for the Board of the HSE and so this aspect of your question has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

However, I can confirm that the HSE sought approval to offer the proposed appointee a higher salary than the rate set by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. I believed that the proposed remuneration package was appropriate, given the scale of the job and the need to secure the services of a new CEO, who I am assured is of the highest calibre. On that basis, my Department sought and received sanction from the Minister for Finance for the remuneration package, including a pension contribution of 25% of basic salary [136]to a private pension fund, nominated by the appointee, in lieu of membership of the HSE Superannuation Scheme.

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 51.

  65.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of social workers that have been appointed to date in view of the 270 additional social workers to be recruited by the Health Service Executive as promised in the implementation plan of the Ryan report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25788/10]

  79.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made on the appointment of 200 extra social workers promised for 2010; if they will be allocated for child protection or if some will have other functions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25895/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 65 and 79 together.

One of the principal commitments in the Ryan Implementation Plan is the need to ensure that all children in care have an allocated social worker and a care plan. To this end, the Government has committed to filling 270 HSE social worker posts by the end of 2011 and to the frontloading of this initiative in 2010 with the filling of 200 posts. This initiative is designed to target resources at front line services in order to ensure that the HSE fulfils its statutory obligations. The Oireachtas has voted that the necessary finance be provided and the filling of these posts has been exempted from the public service moratorium on recruitment and replacement of staff. There is an explicit commitment in the HSE Service Plan for 2010, as laid before the Oireachtas, that these posts will be filled.

I met with senior HSE representatives, including the Chairman of the Board, in recent weeks to review the progress being made in this regard. The HSE has advised me that approximately 400 candidates are being interviewed from June, in order to form a new panel of suitable candidates to fill all 200 posts in the current year. It is expected that offers will be made immediately afterwards. The 200 extra social workers will undertake a range of statutory child care functions, as per the recommendations of the Ryan Report. The recruitment of these additional social workers is critical in terms of progressing the Implementation Plan and in ensuring the allocation of a named social worker to each child in care and to the availability of care plans for all of these children. I have been assured by the HSE that the matter is being afforded the highest priority both by the Board and by senior management. I have requested an update from the HSE on the additional number of social workers recruited to date in 2010.

  66.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the date the inquiry team set up by the Health Service Executive on 9 March 2010 to investigate the circumstances that led to the non-reporting of nearly 58,000 X-rays and the failure to process thousands of general practitioner referral letters at Tallaght Hospital, Dublin 24 will complete its work; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25810/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  My Department understands from the Health Service Executive that the review team expects to conclude its work by mid-July. I welcome the completion at the end of April this year of the process of reading and reporting [137]on x-rays that were previously not read by consultant radiologists at Tallaght Hospital and also the management of GP referral letters at the hospital and the fact no further delayed diagnoses were found other than the two initially identified.

  67.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the cost of rolling out retinopathy screening nationally in view of the recommendations of the Health Service Executive expert advisory group on diabetes to roll out diabetic retinopathy screening nationally; if the retinopathy screening programme planned for the west is operational; the position regarding the expansion of diabetic retinopathy screening to other areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25840/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  We were informed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) that the pilot retinopathy screening programme for the west has started. The HSE is currently examining ways of delivering a national retinopathy screening programme and to implement the recommendations contained in the Diabetes Expert Advisory Group report, from within existing resources. Work so far has focused on the establishment of the integrated model of care and the establishment of the paediatric and adult diabetes service implementation groups throughout the country.

  68.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the date on which the referendum on the rights of children will be held; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25894/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs presented a copy of the third and final report of the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children to Cabinet in early March. The Cabinet decided that in view of the complex nature of the issues involved, all Ministers and Government Departments should consider the report and examine the implications of the proposed wording for their areas of responsibility.

A Senior Officials Group, working under the auspices of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Social Inclusion, was reconvened to guide the interaction and coordinate the responses of all Government Departments. The Group comprises senior representatives of all of the key departments whose responsibilities might be affected by the proposals, as well as the Attorney General’s Office. The group has met twice and will complete its work shortly. The Government is giving priority attention to this matter but will need some time to consider the various and complex legal issues at the heart of this report, which was the product of two years of deliberation by the JCCAC.

  69.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of parliamentary questions received by her Department since the commencement of industrial action by employees; the number and percentage of questions that have not been answered due to industrial action by staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25813/10]

  76.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the extent of the restriction on her in replying to parliamentary questions and letters; the categories of information that are denied to her because of industrial action; if it includes information in relation [138]to reports conducted by bodies other than the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25892/10]

  110.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the steps she is taking to ensure that parliamentary questions are answered by her in view of the fact that questions are referred by her to the Health Service Executive for reply and many other questions are not replied due to industrial action if she has any proposals for change which will result in a restoration of normal parliamentary accountability in responding to parliamentary questions. [25734/10]

  255.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the proposals she has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to her Department are responded to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26905/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 69, 76, 110 and 255 together.

Industrial action in relation to the processing of Parliamentary work by members of IMPACT and the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) commenced from 1st March 2010. A total of 1725 Parliamentary Questions were taken by my Department during the period from 3rd March 2010 to 11th June 2010. Of these, 1044 (60 %) have not been answered due to industrial action by certain staff both within my Department and in the Health Service Executive.

While I fully appreciate the frustration of Deputies who have been unable to obtain information through the usual Parliamentary channels, the situation has recently improved regarding the processing of PQs insofar as members of IMPACT who work in the HSE have suspended their industrial action with immediate effect and have resumed the handling of Parliamentary work. However, industrial action by the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) remains in place and this is affecting the ability of my Department to process certain PQs and representations, in particular those where my Department would refer issues on to the HSE for direct reply. This is because direct referrals are usually dealt with by Clerical Officers.

During the period of industrial action by members of IMPACT, access to financial and other management reports relating to the HSE was very limited. This situation is now returning to normal. I am not aware of any difficulties in relation to accessing information in relation to reports by agencies or bodies other than the HSE.

Responding to the information needs of the Oireachtas is a priority for my Department and I very much regret that in recent months it has not been possible to provide a substantive response to many Parliamentary Questions due to industrial action. All Parliamentary Questions affected by the action have been answered by my Department to the effect that the industrial dispute prevented the supply of substantive answers, and Deputies have been consistently advised to raise the question again in due course should the matter remain of ongoing concern. This approach was designed to prevent a backlog of questions building up, and thereby further affecting both the quality and timeliness of the response provided to members of the Oireachtas.

The Deputies will be aware that a significant proportion of the questions related to individual cases where the information being sought through the Parliamentary process might be obtained by alternative means. Upon cessation of the industrial action by the Civil and Public Services Union normal handling of Parliamentary work by Clerical Officers will immediately resume.

  70.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if and when it is planned to introduce extra chronic illness and preventive programmes similar to heartwatch, at primary care level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25914/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  Changing Cardiovascular Health: National Cardiovascular Health Policy 2010-19, which I launched earlier this month is consistent with previous policy on chronic disease, Tackling Chronic Disease. The new policy recommends new clinical prevention guidelines for GPs and that these should be incorporated into structured prevention programmes in primary care, from within existing resources. It envisages that these prevention activities may form the basis of the cardiovascular element of any future GMS contract agreement. However, other means by which they can be advanced will be explored such as developing them as part of the emerging primary care teams (which would facilitate the required broader multi-disciplinary approach) using the resources currently deployed in the Heartwatch Programme.

In line with the Government’s policy document Primary Care, A New Direction, the Health Service Executive is refocusing its services to give people direct access in the community to multi-disciplinary primary care teams including general practitioners, nurses, health care assistants, home helps, physiotherapists and occupational therapists. This is designed to maintain people in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, decrease hospital attendances and facilitate early hospital discharge and supported care at home. Intervention in and management of chronic disease is particularly suited to this approach and involves the primary care teams and the hospital sector working closely together. The HSE has identified 530 Primary Care Teams and 134 Health and Social Care Networks to be deployed by 2011. Up to the end of March 2010, 236 teams were operational.

  71.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the number of staff dealing with medical card applications in south Dublin has been reduced from nine to two in the past 18 months; if her further attention has been drawn to the fact that some individuals suffering from chronic illnesses who qualify for a medical card are being issued with temporary medical cards with a two month validity and are required to re-apply several times a year for a new card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26513/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  72.  Deputy Michael Noonan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the EU has commenced proceedings against the State in the European Court of Justice regarding the VHI’s derogation; the position regarding these proceedings in view of the recent announcement in relation to the VHI; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25831/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Arising from a derogation under the Non-Life Insurance Directives, VHI continues to be exempt from prudential solvency requirements. The Voluntary Health Insurance (Amendment) Act 2008 provided for the VHI to acquire sufficient funding in terms of its capital reserves to enable it to make an application to the Financial Regulator for authorisation. In the context of the Government’s announcement on the 27th May 2010 on the future strategy for the private health insurance market, I have [140]recently extended the date as provided for by the Act, to 1 January 2012. I remain firm in my conviction that VHI should be properly authorised and that the derogation should be lifted.

The EU Commission commenced proceedings against the State in the European Court of Justice regarding the VHI’s derogation earlier this year. The State has forwarded a comprehensive written defence to the Court and currently awaits the European Commission’s reply to that defence. It should be emphasised that since the State’s defence was submitted, the Government has made significant decisions regarding the capitalisation and sale of the VHI. These decisions will form part of any negotiations with the Commission and as part of the State’s defence of the proceedings as the case progresses.

  73.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if, in view of her plans to free up 1,000 public beds through the co-location plan, building work has begun at any of the eight co-location sites; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25800/10]

  100.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason she is going ahead with the building of co-located private hospitals in view of the closure of so many public hospital beds because of cutbacks; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25920/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 100 together.

The Renewed Programme for Government re-affirms the Government’s commitment to the current co-location programme, the purpose of which is to make available, in future years, in the most cost effective way, public acute hospital beds for public patients by transferring private activity, with some limited exceptions, from public acute hospitals to co-located private hospitals. Preferred bidders have been selected for six co-located projects at Beaumont, Cork University, Limerick Regional, St James’s, Sligo and Waterford Regional Hospitals. Project agreements have been signed for the Beaumont, Cork, Limerick and St James’s projects. Planning permission has been granted for the first three of these projects. Planning permission has been granted by the local authority for the St James’s project but has been appealed to An Bord Pleanála. Two other projects are at earlier stages of the procurement process.

The co-location programme is a complex public procurement process. It is a matter for each successful bidder to arrange its finance under the terms of the relevant Project Agreement. The co-location initiative, like other major projects, has to deal with the changed funding environment. The HSE is continuing to work with the successful bidders to provide whatever assistance it can to help them advance the projects. The HSE has estimated that, from the start of building, the overall construction and commissioning period for the projects will range from about 28 to 36 months depending on the scale of the project.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 42.

  75.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when she will bring the heads of the Bill to regulate sunbeds to Cabinet; the length of time it will take before the Bill is drafted, published and brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25899/10]

[141]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I intend to submit a Memorandum to Government shortly seeking approval to draft a General Scheme of a Bill to restrict the use of sunbeds. This Memorandum will, inter alia, take into account recommendations from a wide range of bodies including the World Health Organisation, the Irish Cancer Society, the Environmental Health Officers’ Association and the National Cancer Control Programme in the HSE. Subject to Government approval, work will commence on drafting the legislation needed.

Question No. 76 answered with Question No. 69.

  77.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will introduce legislation to regulate and inspect home care services; the estimated cost of regulating home care services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25836/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  The priorities in relation to services for older people in recent times have been the introduction of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme and the bringing into force of new regulatory standards for the long-term residential care sector. Allied to these significant initiatives for the residential sector, various aspects of community based services have also been progressed by the Department and the HSE. This includes an expansion of the Home Care Package Initiative nationally this year through an additional €10 million given in the last Budget, and the publication in December last of an independent Evaluation of Home Care Packages commissioned by the Department. This Evaluation was undertaken by PA Consulting Group. With reference to the possible regulation of home care services, the July 2008 Report of the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance recommended, among other things, the extension of any licensing systems in health care to the primary, community and continuing care service.

More recently, in July 2009, the Law Reform Commission (LRC) published a consultation paper entitled Legal Aspects of Carers. This considers the legal issues surrounding home care and makes a number of provisional recommendations in the area of standards and regulations generally, including vetting, training and supervision. It also provisionally recommends giving a function to the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) in relation to professional home care. Any such changes would require primary legislation and detailed stakeholder consultations.

The Department accepts the need for a more standardised approach to the regulation of home care generally, whether by public or private providers. This year the HSE intends to:

finalise standardised access and operational guidelines for delivery of Home Care Packages;

adopt a voluntary code of Quality Guidelines for Home Care Support Services for Older People;

progress a Procurement Framework for home care services; and

introduce Procedural Guidelines for the Home Help service to standardise access to and allocation of Home Help hours.

The Department is also considering at present possible ways to effect the recommendations of the LRC in the context of any changes to legislation, including regulation and inspection, in the area of home care for older persons generally.

  78.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her policy on the retention of services at Roscommon Hospital and at Portiuncula Hospital, County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25735/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Government is committed to ensuring the delivery and maintenance of the best quality health service possible and in providing the highest standard of patient care, in an effective and efficient way, within the resources allocated. As part of the HSE plan to develop integrated structures in the HSE West region, a Clinical Director for Acute and Continuing Care has been appointed to Galway University Hospital. This post encompasses the role of the previous General Manager in Galway University Hospital and includes responsibility for Portiuncula and Roscommon Hospitals. This appointment has been made to ensure greater integration of services, to provide additional support to the hospitals concerned and to ensure that safe quality care is delivered.

I am satisfied that these developments will enhance the capacity for collaboration in service provision, provide a more strategic approach to the management of the hospitals and other services concerned and ensure the provision of better and safer services to the people of the region. Portiuncula and Roscommon Hospitals, as part of the new integrated structure, will continue to play an important role in the provision of health services to the populations of East Galway, Roscommon and the other areas which they serve.

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 65.

  80.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her policy regarding the administration of the National Treatment Purchase Fund pilot scheme for 2010 whereby patients are provided with first time access to orthopaedic consultants at outpatient level; if the scheme covers such appointments in every Health Service Executive area; if not, the reason for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25733/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The NTPF has operated an outpatient department (OPD) pilot programme since 2005. The objective of the outpatient programme is to reduce waiting times for outpatient consultations for an agreed volume of public patients on public hospital waiting lists and to operate this programme over a number of surgical and medical specialties. All Health Service Executive regions are participating in the scheme. During 2010, it is planned that the NTPF will offer 8,000 first time appointments, of which 1,800 will be allocated to orthopaedic patients. The remainder of appointments will be allocated to ENT, rheumatology, dermatology, neurology, opthalmology and general surgery.

Since the launch of the pilot programme, almost 90,000 people have received offers of specialist appointments and of these approx 44,000 have taken up the offer. The HSE is engaged in a number of measures to improve access to and the efficiency of outpatient services. The HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan contains performance targets for OPD services of a 1:2 new-to-return ratio and a non-attendance rate of not more than 10%. In its Service Plan, at my request, the HSE is committed to developing new indicators, in conjunction with the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). These will measure median waiting time from:

GP referral to attendance at outpatient

Outpatient attendance to admission where this is indicated,

and GP referral to hospital admission.

[143]Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 42.

  82.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the implications of the implementation of the new payment structure for nursing home care under the fair deal scheme for community hospitals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25958/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As the Deputy is aware, the Nursing Homes Support Scheme commenced in October 2009. The commencement of the scheme brought about a fundamental change in the way in which long-term nursing home care is funded and, consequently, the way in which nursing homes and community hospitals, including the community hospital referred to by the Deputy, are funded. In the past, many of these facilities were allocated a lump sum annually. In contrast, the new scheme supports the individuals in need of long-term residential care, not the facilities providing the care. This means that funding follows the patients and ensures that these facilities are not being funded for empty beds.

The legislation underpinning the Nursing Homes Support Scheme requires all nursing homes, including any facility which previously received funding under Section 39 of the Health Act 2004, to negotiate and agree a price for the cost of care with the NTPF should they wish to participate in the scheme. This is a necessary feature of the scheme due to the commitment by the State to meet the full balance of the cost of care over and above a person’s contribution. The NTPF has statutory responsibility for the negotiation of prices and is independent in the performance of its function. In carrying out this function, the NTPF has particular responsibility to ensure value for money for both the individual and the State.

Finally, as stated above, the Nursing Homes Support Scheme only applies to long-term nursing home care. Nursing homes and community hospitals can continue to have separate agreements with the HSE for the provision of other services, e.g. day care, respite and convalescence.

  83.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding her plans to introduce reference pricing; the amount that will be saved from the introduction of reference pricing; her views on whether some categories of medicines are not suitable for substitution; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25816/10]

  118.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the discussions she has held on the substitution of generic medicines for branded products; if these proposals will be implemented in 2010; the amount of money expected to be saved by this measure; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25919/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 118 together.

The Government has decided to introduce a system of reference pricing combined with generic substitution of medicines. This will promote price competition and deliver ongoing savings for both the State and for patients. Last week, I launched a report, prepared by a joint working group made up of officials and healthcare professionals from my Department and the HSE, which sets out a proposed model for the operation of generic substitution and reference pricing in Ireland. As part of its work the group met with a wide range of stakeholders and received a number of written submissions. Further consultation will take place as part of the regulatory impact analysis. I expect to see significant progress on the implementation of this [144]initiative, including the identification of legislative and administrative changes required to give it effect in 2011.

Reference pricing will deliver direct savings by limiting reimbursement to a common reference price for groups of interchangeable medicines. Indirect savings will also occur as a result of increased price competition. The level of savings will depend upon a range of factors. These include the number and type of products included in reference groups, the relative and absolute prices of products within reference groups and the market response for each reference group. It is anticipated that reference pricing will be initially targeted at high volume products that have the potential to achieve significant savings. It is also of strategic importance that this model is in place as a significant number of drugs are due to come off patent in the coming years.

There are some categories of medicines that are not suitable for substitution. With a system of generic substitution, it is important that all decisions about the interchangeability of medicines are evidence-based and take into account best practice elsewhere. It is envisaged that an expert group will provide guidance on this matter.

  84.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of operations cancelled during 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25817/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Owing to industrial action by staff in the HSE for most of the year to date, data on cancelled operations in acute hospitals in 2010 is not available at present. Now that the industrial action has ended, work is underway in the HSE to collate and validate data in this regard. I am conscious that the cancellation of a hospital procedure can be inconvenient and stressful for both patients and their families. Every effort is made to avoid cancellations where possible.

Unfortunately, cancellations are a feature of hospital systems, in Ireland and internationally, because priority must be given to emergency cases and patients in urgent need. It is important to point out that all cancelled procedures are rescheduled unless there are clear clinical grounds for a period of postponement. While data is not comprehensive, the level of cancellations in the Irish public system appears to be broadly in line with other hospital systems internationally. In 2009, for example, it is estimated that cancellations accounted for about 1.4% of all inpatient and day case activity.

It should be noted not all cancellations are a result of hospital capacity or patient availability. Cancellations also occur for clinical reasons, where a patient may not be deemed fit for surgery on a given day by the clinician. For example, the pre-admission assessment might indicate postponing a procedure for clinical reasons such as weight, immune system issues or blood pressure. While it is unfortunate that any patient would have a procedure cancelled, patients waiting over three months can be referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). The HSE works with the NTPF to ensure that, where appropriate, patients can avail of treatment under this scheme.

In 2010, the HSE is focusing on improving the efficiency of acute hospital services by shifting to day case care where appropriate and by seeking performance improvements such as surgery on the day of admission and reducing inappropriate lengths of stay. There is a particular focus on reducing the variance between different hospitals for similar procedures. By reducing costs and reforming the way services are provided, I am confident the HSE will maintain access to services and continue to improve health outcomes for the population.

Question No. 85 answered with Question No. 59.

  86.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the fact that a significant number of ambulances are out of service for several hours at a time due to their trolleys being used for patients in accident and emergency; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that on 25 May 2010 eight Dublin fire brigade ambulances were detained at the Mater Hospital, Dublin 1, one of which was tied up for more than seven hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25770/10]

  180.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will address the situation whereby ambulances are frequently left waiting for hours outside the Mater and Beaumont hospitals, Dublin, because they cannot retrieve their trolleys; the strain and potential danger that this puts on the service when ambulances are not available for other emergencies which also causes pressure on the fire brigade service; if she will ensure that this potentially dangerous situation is addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26305/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 180 together.

The emergency ambulance service in the Greater Dublin Area is provided by Dublin City Council in the first instance. When operational circumstances so require, the HSE National Ambulance Service provides supplementary capacity to ensure that the necessary cover is maintained. Where necessary, this involves the use of available ambulance resources from other counties in the region. Staff and management take specific measures to ensure ambulance cover is maintained, with patient safety the utmost priority. This is what happened on 25th May last. On that day

Delays at the Mater Hospital occurred at 4.30pm. After contact from the HSE Liaison Officer, all vehicles, but one, were released rapidly.

At 8.30pm, there were eight ambulances held. The eight ambulances comprised six of the Dublin Fire Brigade’s total of eleven, and two HSE vehicles.

The National Ambulance Service liaison immediately addressed the situation, including consultation with the Emergency Department Staff, CEO on call and the nursing administration.

By 9.30pm, four ambulances were released. By 10.30pm, all ambulances were available.

One ambulance was at the hospital in excess of six hours, owing to the clinical circumstances of the particular patient concerned.

The HSE is in discussion with the major Dublin hospitals with a view to identifying safe and effective measures which will help to minimise the period for which emergency ambulances are held at hospitals after arriving with patients.

  87.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of adults and children currently residing in residential centres for people with disabilities; if she will provide a list of these centres; when she will introduce legislation to regulate and inspect residential centres for people with disabilities; the cost of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25832/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Health Service Executive estimates that there are 9,000 persons with disabilities resident in [146]approximately 1,200 centres across the country, which includes approximately 150 centres that provide residential or respite care to some 300 children with disabilities. I have asked the HSE to furnish the Deputy with the most up to date list of these centres. As the Deputy will be aware, the National Quality Standards: Residential Services for People with Disabilities, published by the Health Information and Quality Authority in May 2009, relate to adult services. These standards will provide a national framework for quality, safe services for adults with disabilities in residential settings.

Given the current economic situation, to move to full statutory implementation of the standards, including regulation and inspection, presents significant challenges at this time. Notwithstanding the difficulties of immediate statutory implementation, my Department, the HSE and HIQA have agreed that progressive non-statutory implementation of the standards should commence and become the benchmark against which the HSE assesses both its own directly operated facilities and other facilities that the HSE funds.

The Department of Health and Children is liaising with the HSE in terms of implementing the HIQA standards on a progressive non-statutory basis within existing resources. Currently every service provider is required, as part of its service level agreement with the HSE, to have appropriate mechanisms in place to assess quality and standards for the delivery of all services. This agreement requires all service providers to comply with relevant legislation, statutory regulations, codes of practice and agreed guidance documents in relation to the standards associated with the service in question. Providers of care are required to set out in detail the specific actions or plans to maintain and monitor quality and service standards. Examples of such actions would include audit tools appropriate to the service, service and service user evaluations and satisfaction surveys. The Department is also engaged in ongoing discussions with HIQA regarding the resources which would be required to implement a mandatory scheme of registration and inspection of residential services for persons with disabilities.

In tandem with this work, and arising from the Ryan Commission report, the Department of Health and Children is preparing detailed proposals in relation to the protection of vulnerable adults with disabilities who are currently in institutional care. I will be bringing these proposals to Government in the near future.

Children with disabilities in generic residential centres under the Child Care Act 1991 are covered by the standards and inspection regimes already applying to those centres. There are a number of other centres providing residential or respite care to children with disabilities. Children who reside in these centres are not in the care of the State, although they are cared for by the State. The majority of these centres are run by voluntary organisations funded by the HSE and are not included in the inspection regime under the Child Care Act 1991. In relation to the children with disabilities in these other residential centres, the Ryan Commission report recommends that “all services for children should be subject to regular inspections in respect of all aspects of their care”. The implementation plan for the recommendations of the Ryan Commission report contains a commitment that the Health Act 2007 will be commenced to allow the independent registration and inspection of all residential centres and respite services for children with a disability by December 2010.

  88.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the date that legislation will be published to enable the Health Service Executive to transfer files to the appointed independent review group to examine deaths of children in care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25784/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Health (Amendment) Bill, 2010 was published on 18 June 2010 and circulated to Oireachtas [147]members. The Bill will commence second stage passage in the Dáil today. The purpose of the Bill is to strengthen the legislative base for the provision of information by the Health Service Executive to the Minister for Health and Children so as to enhance the Minister’s ability to fulfil his or her role and functions (including political accountability to the Oireachtas) and to create a “safe channel of communication” for sensitive information between the HSE and the Minister. The Health (Amendment) Bill will facilitate the work of the Independent Review Group on Child Deaths.

Question No. 89 answered with Question No. 54.

Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 61.

  91.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if an audit has been carried out on all recommendations from all reports on cases of misdiagnosis in recent years to ensure that they are being implemented; if not, if she will initiate such an audit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25901/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Currently a national review relating to the misdiagnosis of miscarriages is being implemented by the Health Service Executive, which aims to complete it within a 6 month period, to publish its findings, and to learn from the experience in terms of implementing recommendations. Other national reviews relating to misdiagnosis have been undertaken in the area of cancer services. The learning from these has led to the implementation of extensive change in the configuration and delivery of cancer services nationally. The learning from these reviews is informing not only ongoing changes in other areas of the cancer services, but also providing the model for the Health Service Executive to implement arrangements for the management of other chronic diseases on a programmatic basis.

It is important to appreciate that reviews are only one lever in improving the safety and quality of services through learning from experience. A clear aim of any developing healthcare system must be to reduce, as far as possible, the extent of necessary recourse to reviews. Measures to achieve this are central to the Government’s agenda for change in our health services. Initiatives within the extensive change programme that are taking place include statutory protection for protected disclosure provided under the Health Act 2007, recently commenced provisions under the Medical Practitioners Act to commence mandatory competence assurance for doctors, and provisions to provide legal protection around open disclosure, adverse event reporting and clinical audit, which are to be included in the Health Information Bill to be published this year.

More widely, strengthening the culture of safety and quality across the health services will be underpinned by the introduction of Standards for Better, Safer Healthcare being prepared by the Health Information and Quality Authority, with a view to launching public consultation on the draft Standards next month. Once adopted, the application of the Standards will be reinforced by legislation for the mandatory licensing of public and private healthcare providers which my Department is currently preparing. A further support to strong cultural focus on the safety and quality of care is being examined by my Department in regard to establishing a National Framework for Clinical Excellence, including the promotion of clinical audit.

The measures being taken at a national level will align very well with the consistent core message from reviews that safety and quality of care needs to be at the centre of the activities of individual health service personnel, the systems within which care is provided, and the organisations that are responsible for providing that care.

  92.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of applications received under the fair deal scheme to date; the number of applications that have been processed to date; the average time it takes to process an application; the number of applications refused support through the fair deal scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25839/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  93.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Health Information and Quality Authority audit into foster care files in Dublin North-West and Dublin North-Central, which found more than 200 placements with unapproved foster parents and that some children in State care have not had a visit from a social worker for up to ten years or more, will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25767/10]

  168.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Health Information and Quality Authority audit into foster care files in Dublin North-West and Dublin North-Central, which found more than 200 placements with unapproved foster parents and that some children in State care have not had a visit from a social worker for up to ten years or more, will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26185/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 168 together.

I have been informed by HIQA that the reports the Deputy refers to are currently out with providers for factual accuracy checking. Once this process is complete the reports will be sent to the Board and to the Minister for Health and Children and the final reports will be published online by the Authority.

  94.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the midlands diabetes project has been evaluated and, if successful, if it will be extended to other areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25925/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  The Health Service Executive has informed me that the Midlands Diabetes Care Programme has been extensively evaluated since its initiation and to date three detailed audits have taken place with the third audit due for launch and publication in the coming weeks. The audits have consistently demonstrated extremely positive results which compare very favourably with international best practice in diabetes care. The findings of these studies will inform the work of the new National Diabetes Programme recently set up in the Quality and Clinical Care Directorate.

  95.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason only 1.1 million vaccines of the 3 million vaccines bought, were administered to the population in view of the Health Service Executive campaign on swine influenza; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25783/10]

[149]

  122.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if it is planned to administer any further vaccinations against H1N1; her plans for the surplus vaccines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25906/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 122 together.

My Department and the Health Service Executive had been preparing for some years for the probability of an influenza pandemic. As part of these extensive preparations, a National Pandemic Preparedness Plan was published in 2007. Ireland put in place advance purchase agreements with two vaccine manufacturers prior to the declaration of the pandemic and secured a total of 7.7m doses of pandemic vaccine. Upon receipt of the World Health Organisation declaration of a pandemic in April 2009, this Plan was immediately put into operation. Vaccination was considered to be a key strategy to be used to mitigate the effects of the H1N1 pandemic. An extensive media and publicity campaign was launched regarding the benefits of vaccination and every person in the country was offered the vaccine.

The public pandemic vaccination campaign came to an end on 31st March 2010. Following a full assessment of the current situation, the risks of a second wave, the availability of vaccine and other factors, the National Public Health Emergency Team decided, following advice from the National Immunisation Advisory Committee, that those in the “at risk” group should continue to be vaccinated. This means that up to September 2010, the vaccine will continue to be available free of charge through GPs and Maternity Units to these particular groups. The vaccine will also be available to those travelling to the southern hemisphere during the upcoming influenza season.

The HSE had contracts in place for the provision of pandemic vaccine with two pharmaceutical companies, Baxter and GSK for a total of 7.7m doses. Baxter supplied a total of 619,200 doses and the HSE terminated this contract in December 2009. GSK has supplied 2.35 million doses and the HSE has agreed with GSK that no further vaccines will be delivered and that HSE will only pay for the 2.35m doses received to date. In line with good practice in other countries and the WHO, all elements of the handling of the Pandemic are currently under review in my Department and the HSE with a view to updating and strengthening our influenza preparedness.

  96.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if there have been inpatient charges imposed on patients who are ready for discharge under the terms of the nursing homes Act, but whose application under the Act has not been completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25913/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  97.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has had any engagement with the Department of Education and Skills regarding the damage heavy schoolbags can do to children’s shoulders and backs, as well as deterring them from walking to school; if this will be addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25922/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  This Department has had no communication with the Department of Education and Skills regarding this matter.

  98.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the nature of the investigations that are underway into the recent death of an ambulance worker; the guidelines that are in place to protect the safety of staff and patients travelling in ambulances; if structural examinations of ambulances are being carried out as a result of the accident; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25908/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I was very saddened to hear of the tragic death of an HSE paramedic while he was on duty earlier this month. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere condolences to the family and colleagues of the person involved.

I understand that the HSE, the Health and Safety Authority and the Gardaí are conducting investigations into this accident. I have arranged for the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to the measures in place to ensure the safety of patients and staff travelling in ambulances.

  99.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when she expects to publish the report on the funding of health care (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25924/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I established the Expert Group on Resource Allocation and Financing in the Health Sector under the chairmanship of Professor Frances Ruane, Director, ESRI in April last year to examine how the existing system of resource allocation within the Irish public health service can be improved to support better the aims of the health reform programme. The Group was asked to report to me and the Minister for Finance in April 2010. The Expert Group has made considerable progress on this complex issue and intends to produce a robust, evidence-based report that will inform public policy on health resourcing, with a particular emphasis on actions in the short and medium term. The Chair has recently informed me that the Group is close to finalising the report and expects to present it to me by the end of June.

Question No. 100 answered with Question No. 73.

  101.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the information from the chief executive officer of the Health Service Executive that social workers are being withdrawn from primary care teams in order for the organisation to comply with child care regulations; if this is contrary to her policy to develop primary care and also to concentrate on early intervention and preventative action; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25897/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The HSE has a statutory obligation under the Child Care Act, 1991 to promote the welfare of children who are not receiving adequate care and attention. The HSE has been provided with additional resources of over €14M in the current year to strengthen child welfare and protection services in line with the recommendations of the Ryan Commission. This includes funding for the recruitment of 200 additional social workers dedicated to this service.

The HSE acknowledges the important role of Social Workers in Primary Care Teams and the need to orient service delivery towards early intervention and whole family involvement. I understand that each HSE Area was requested to review the workload of Social Workers, in [151]order to assist in meeting the legislation requirements in respect of Child Protection services. This involves reviewing case load management to ensure that the statutory requirements are met. The decision does not, in most cases, involve Social Workers beingredeployed or removed from Primary Care Teams, but facilitates the prioritisation of child protection.

  102.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she is satisfied with the Health Service Executive collection and reporting of outpatient waiting lists; the action that she will take to improve outpatient reporting and communication between hospitals and general practitioners on outpatient waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25834/10]

  103.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a list of waiting times for outpatient appointments for each speciality in each region of the country; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that public patients have to wait years in many cases for an appointment, having been referred by their general practitioner; the way this is being addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25910/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 103 together.

The improvement of access to outpatient services, which are a key access point to the acute hospital system and involve over three million attendances annually, is a priority for the health service. It is essential that people are afforded timely access to outpatient services when they require them and that these services function effectively as part of an integrated acute hospital and primary care system. The HSE is engaged in a number of measures to improve access to and the efficiency of outpatient services. The principal aims of the National Outpatient Department Service Improvement Programme are to:

Increase the number of new patients seen

Reduce the numbers who do not attend for scheduled appointments (DNAs)

Reduce waiting times for patients and

Ensure that all patients are seen within 30 minutes of their appointment time.

The HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan has performance targets for OPD services of a 1:2 new-to-return ratio and a non-attendance rate of not more than 10%. In its Service Plan, at my request, the HSE is committed to developing new indicators, in conjunction with the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). These will measure median waiting time from:

GP referral to attendance at outpatient

Outpatient attendance to admission where this is indicated, and

GP referral to hospital admission.

Outpatient waiting list data is currently collected primarily at individual hospital level. The HSE is developing a system to provide standardised and comparable national outpatient waiting list data by hospital and specialty. The availability of such information will assist clinicians and health service managers in further improving the performance of outpatient services. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to respond directly to the Deputies in relation to outpatient waiting times by region and specialty.

  104.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will outline the new EU programme through which people may have treatment in other member countries; the date on which it comes into force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25916/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  On 2 July 2008, the Commission presented a proposal for a “Directive on patient’s rights in cross-border healthcare”. The draft Directive aims to facilitate access to safe and high-quality cross-border healthcare and promotes cooperation on healthcare between Member States, in full respect of national competencies in organising and delivering healthcare. The draft directive was brought forward by the Commission to codify and clarify the application of European Court of Justice case law on patients’ rights in cross-border health care. This case law has established that, as part of EU freedoms to obtain services and freedom of movement, patients have the right to access health care in another member state and be reimbursed for this up to the cost of the treatment in their own state.

The directive provides no new entitlement or eligibility for citizens beyond the entitlement and eligibility to services that they enjoy in their home member state. The directive, does however, provide legal clarity for patients and member states in cases where rights to cross-border health care exist but the mechanisms to ensure these rights are respected are not clear. While it can be expected that citizens will, in the main, opt to receive health care close to where they live, there may be circumstances where it may be beneficial or preferable to receive health care abroad, for example in the case of patients who wish to access expertise available in another Member State, e.g. in the case of certain highly specialised treatments. This directive will provide for increased patient choice in the area of healthcare and facilitate patients who wish to access care in another Member State. The directive recognises that member states are responsible for the organisation and delivery of health services and medical care and, in particular, they are responsible for determining which rules apply to the reimbursement of patients and the provision of health care. In addition, the directive provides for cooperation in a range of areas such as e-health and networks of centres of reference.

The directive has been subject to negotiation under the French, Czech, Swedish and Spanish Presidencies and more recently at the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council (EPSCO) which took place in Luxembourg on 7th/8th June when political agreement was reached. The next step involves the Council and the European Parliament engaging in negotiations with a view to reaching a “Second Reading” agreement. These negotiations are expected to commence in September. Only when agreement is reached between the Council and the European Parliament can the directive be transposed into law. Ireland will continue to proactively participate in the negotiation process in so far as this is provided for. At this stage it is not possible to predict the outcome of these negotiations nor when any directive that is agreed may come into force. I trust the above clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

  105.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will review the operation of the National Treatment Purchase Fund; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25736/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  To date the NTPF has successfully provided over 170,000 public patients with inpatient procedures, outpatient appointments and MRIs. The median waiting time for medical and surgical patients is now 2.5 months. The Fund’s 2010 activity targets involve treating 20,000 inpatients and providing 3,000 MRIs and 8,000 outpatient appointments and it anticipates meeting these targets. At my request, and given its [153]success in reducing the numbers waiting for longer than twelve months, the NTPF is working actively with the HSE to focus particularly on patients waiting more than nine months for treatment.

I have no plans to review the NTPF’s statutory remit. Its operation is subject to ongoing monitoring and review, to ensure that resources are used efficiently and are targeted so that they achieve the greatest benefit for patients. I have emphasised to the Fund the need for maximum cost-effectiveness, consistent with safe and effective care. I have asked it to seek even better value from private hospitals and the Fund has successfully negotiated price reductions for certain high-volume procedures. In addition, it will not purchase services where the price is not acceptable. The Comptroller and Auditor General’s Report for 2008 examined the NTPF’s arrangements for the procurement of treatment. The Report concluded that, relative to the casemix benchmark, procedures purchased from private hospitals by the NTPF generally cost less than those carried out in the publicly funded hospital system.

  106.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when it is expected that the large number of applications for medical cards, psychological assessments, speech and language therapy, mortgage and rent support, home help and other essential support services provided by the Health Service Executive will be dealt with; if any effort is being made to ensure that the necessary staffing levels are redirected and maintained to ensure the delivery of such vital services at this time; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25985/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As these are service matters they have been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  107.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the impact that the closure of 62 beds in Beaumount Hospital, Dublin 9 and 80 beds at the Mater Hospital, Dublin 1 will have on patient care; the consequence that this will have for her and Health Service Executive plans to move from inpatient to day care treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25792/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The introduction of the Nursing Home Support Scheme has enabled both the Beaumont and Mater hospitals to significantly reduce the number of delayed discharges and therefore reduce the number of inpatient beds that are required. The average number of long-stay patients (excluding patients awaiting rehab) in Beaumont averaged 105 in the first four months of 2009, compared to an average of 78 in the corresponding period this year.

A Medical Short Stay Unit and a Medical Assessment Unit have also been established in Beaumont hospital to improve access to patient care. Furthermore, priority being given to a range of measures to use existing beds more efficiently. These include development of a Surgical Short Stay Unit in AB Clery Ward, Short Stay Elective Orthopaedic & Plastic Surgery admissions in Banks Ward, Surgical Oncology in St Luke’s Ward and a Rapid Response Rehab Unit within an existing medical ward.

Currently, the Mater Hospital has 70 delayed discharge patients, which is a reduction from a high of 121 in June 2009. The reduction in the number of beds fluctuates with demand but it is currently at 20. A Rapid Injury Clinic which has been set up at the Mater Smithfield site has improved access to patient care, which has seen over 1,000 people since it opened in April 2010. The Health Service Executive has advised my Department that currently both the Mater [154]and Beaumont Hospitals expect to deliver services in line with the HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan.

While public debate tends to focus on bed numbers, it is much more meaningful to measure the actual number of patients treated. In 2009, the combined number of inpatient and day case discharges was 3% greater than the equivalent figure in 2008, despite the difficult situation in relation to resources. The preparation of the HSE’s 2010 National Service Plan, which I approved on 5 February, maintains the focus on increased efficiency and targets broadly the same level of overall hospital activity as in 2009. This involves a shift from in-patient to day cases, a reduction in emergency admissions and a further increase in day cases.

While there is no proposal in the Service Plan to close a specific number of beds, the reduction in in-patient treatments will mean that less capacity will be required in this area during 2010. The exact number of beds available at any one time will fluctuate depending on such factors as planned activity levels, maintenance and refurbishment requirements and staff leave arrangements. Beds may also be closed from time to time in order to control expenditure, given the need for every hospital to operate within its allotted budget for the year.

Meeting the agreed efficiency targets will require increased access to the specialist skills and senior clinical decision-making available in Medical Assessment Units, to diagnostics and to other ambulatory care services. The HSE will also focus on minimising length of stay, with a particular focus on reducing the current variation across different hospitals for similar procedures. It will also work to increase same day of surgery admission and to protect inpatient beds for elective surgery in order to reduce waiting times. By reforming the manner in which services are provided, I am confident that the HSE can deliver the volumes of service provided for in the plan, while at the same time continuing to improve service quality and patient outcomes.

  108.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of community mental health teams that have been established; the number that are fully staffed; if the staffing of these teams is fully protected from the moratorium on staff recruitment; the further staff that will be appointed to these teams in 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25907/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The 2010 Employment Control Framework for the Health Services provides for an exemption from the moratorium for up to 100 psychiatric nursing posts where they are required to support the implementation of A Vision for Change. The allocation of these posts to particular service locations/geographical areas will be identified by the National Care Group Lead for Mental Health in consultation with the Department of Health and Children. In relation to the number of community mental health teams, as this is a service matter, the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  109.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if there are plans to limit the time home helps can spend on specific tasks; the other measures or proposals planned that will affect the provision of home help services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25918/10]

[155]Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  Government policy is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. This is realised through a range of community services such as Home-Help, Home Care Packages, Meals-on-Wheels, and Day/Respite care. Such supports have the added objectives of reducing inappropriate admissions by older people to acute hospital or long-term residential care.

The HSE has responsibility for the delivery of the Home-Help service, in line with the HSE National Service Plan 2010. This Plan commits the Executive to provide 11.98 million Home-Help hours nationally this year to over 54,000 people. The target for 2010 for Home-Help hours is unchanged over the 2009 figure. Arising from an independent Evaluation of Home Care Packages, published by the Department in December last, the HSE recently established a Task Group to progress this year various improvements in home care provision generally. These include:-

introduce standardised access and operational guidelines for the delivery of Home Care Packages;

adopt a voluntary code of Quality Guidelines for Home Care Support Services for Older People; and

progress a new Procurement Framework for home care services.

In addition, the HSE is also developing Procedural Guidelines for the Home Help service which will standardise access to and allocation of Home Help hours to assist the Executive in managing the scheme in an equitable way across the country. The various Guidelines now being prepared are intended to allow the HSE adopt a more standardised approach nationally this year to the provision of home care services. They will be finalised to achieve this objective, while acting as improved guidance in relation to operational issues such as that raised by the Deputy, without compromising the key principle to retain flexibility to best meet the Home Care needs of each individual.

Question No. 110 answered with Question No. 69.

  111.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the existence of a group of influential persons who were advising the Health Service Executive South on the reconfiguration of services; the status of this group and the extent to which its views determine the delivery of services to the users of the public health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25900/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I am aware that in order 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 healthcare fields. Its purpose is to support and advise the HSE as appropriate in relation to the reconfiguration of acute hospital services in the region and to bring practical experience to bear from outside the health field. The advisory board members receive no remuneration for their participation and give their time and advice voluntarily. The board is purely advisory, and has no executive or decision-making functions.

I welcome the fact that senior people from a range of disciplines are willing to offer a fresh perspective on important issues in health care. The HSE indicates that the membership of the advisory board is as follows.

Membership of the Advisory Board
Mr Micheal O’FlynnChairman
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
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, HSE South
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
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 advise on the implementation of enterprise strategy for Ireland
Member of 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 Valu 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
President of the European Surgical Association.

  112.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if an outreach cancer centre is still planned for County Donegal; if it will be linked to Galway or Northern Ireland; the services it will provide; the timescale for same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25912/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The goals of the National Cancer Control Programme are improvements in cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survival through a national service based on evidence and best practice. Under the Programme, all cancer diagnostic, surgical and radiation oncology services are being transferred to four managed cancer control networks, each with two cancer centres. This process was completed in 2009 for breast cancer diagnostic and surgical services, all of which are now located in the eight centres plus one outreach centre at Letterkenny General Hospital, linked to University Hospital Galway. Similarly, it is intended that the number of hospitals performing rectal cancer surgery will be reduced progressively to the eight cancer centres plus Letterkenny.

In April 2008, Minister Michael McGimpsey of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSS&PS), Northern Ireland announced the provision of a satellite centre (linked to Belfast City Hospital) to be located in Altnagelvin in Derry, which would be established by 2015. It will provide the additional radiotherapy capacity needed to meet an anticipated increase in cancer in Northern Ireland and the North West of Ireland. It also recognises the potential for cross border co-operation in the development of this resource. I welcomed the announcement by Minister McGimpsey and I have informed him that I will make a capital contribution towards the project. Officials from my Department and their counterparts in Northern Ireland continue to hold discussions in this regard.

A business case for the satellite radiotherapy service at Altnagelvin has now been finalised and is awaiting approval by Minister McGimpsey. My Department and the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme have nominated representatives to the Cross Border Sub Group, the Project Board and the Service Design and Workforce Planning Subgroup for the project. Cancer patients in the North West requiring radiation oncology treatment are referred to St. Luke’s Hospital Dublin or to University Hospital Galway. A Service Level Agreement is also in place with Belfast City Hospital, but a very small number of patients take up the option to avail of services there.

  113.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made regarding the value for money and policy review of disability services; if a steering committee has been established within her Department to oversee the review; the way service users and service providers have been and will be consulted to help inform the review; when she expects the review to be concluded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25959/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  A Review of the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Disability Services in Ireland is being undertaken as part of the Government’s Value for Money Reviews for 2009-2011. This in-depth review of disability services will assess how well current services for people with disabilities meet their objectives and support the future planning and development of services. The evaluation will focus on the current provision of disability services and explore the way forward for the development of services within a value for money and policy framework. The objectives of the review are to:

[158]Examine disability services in Ireland funded by the Health Service Executive, including the statutory and non-statutory sectors;

Deliver a comprehensive analysis of data in relation to services and service providers; and

Review current policy objectives and provide policy objectives for future service provision.

A Steering Group has been established to oversee the VFMPR and is meeting today for the sixth time. The Steering Group is chaired by an independent chairperson, Mr. Laurence Crowley, and has two other independent members, as well as members drawn from the Disability Sector, Department of Health and Children, the Department of Finance and the HSE. A Project Team and a Policy Expert Reference Group reporting to the Steering Group meet on a regular basis to progress the work of the review. Steady progress is being made with the review, however some slippage in terms of the expected end date has occurred because of the breadth and complexities of the services under review. Difficulties have also been experienced in accessing data essential to the progress of the review due to industrial action affecting the Health Service Executive.

A public consultation process was undertaken in late 2009 and attracted almost 200 responses from a wide variety of respondents including service users, family members and service providers. The Project Team has provided a report to the Steering Group on a statistical analysis of the responses. A thematic analysis of the responses is nearing completion and a final report on the consultation is being drafted. The National Disability Authority (NDA) also conducted 15 focus group consultations with people with disabilities, their families, advocates and frontline service providers in March 2010 to inform its advice to the review. I understand that the NDA is currently formulating an Advice Paper incorporating the results of the consultation, together with other relevant research.

The Policy Expert Reference Group is nearing completion of a report to the Steering Group on a new policy framework for the provision of disability services and has taken cognisance of the findings of the public consultation process in developing this policy framework. Further consultation on aspects of the draft policy may be considered before it is ratified by the Steering Group. I expect that substantial progress on completing the overall Review will have been made by the end of this year.

  114.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of persons who have cancelled or not renewed their private health insurance in the past year; if an assessment is being done of the implications of this for the public health care system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25963/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Health Insurance Authority (HIA) recently announced the findings of a national survey of the private health insurance market in Ireland. The survey includes an analysis of the effects of the recession on the attitudes and behaviour of consumers of private health insurance.

In addition to its survey, statistics recently published by the HIA show that the size of the health insurance market peaked with 2.3 million customers at the end of 2008 and declined to 2.25 million by the end of March 2010. In the 15 month period between the end of December 2008 and the end of March 2010, the market decreased by just over 50,000 customers. This [159]represents a decrease of just 2.3% over that period, meaning that private health insurance coverage remains high overall, with over 50% of the population retaining cover. In its announcement regarding the findings of the survey, the HIA stated that continuing demand for health insurance is illustrated by the fact that:

Satisfaction levels with health insurance are high across a range of areas. 93% are satisfied overall.

Consumers typically view health insurance as a necessity rather than a luxury.

It is the second most valued employee benefit after a pension.

41% of those without health insurance say they are likely to purchase it.

Persons resident in the State, even those who hold private health insurance cover, also have eligibility for certain health and social care benefits under the public health system. The HIA’s research has found that those who have cancelled or not renewed their private health insurance cover are more likely to be younger and less likely to have a significant need to make a claim against their policy. Therefore, a decrease of just 50,000 mainly younger, healthier people over the fifteen month period since December 2008 is a relatively small figure which it is not considered will have a major impact on the public health service.

Given the effects of the current economic situation, it is inevitable that there would be some impact on the numbers insured. However, given the findings of the HIA’s survey, it is clear that those who hold such insurance will continue to hold it for so long as is possible. In that regard, it is considered that the numbers insured will continue at a high level going forward.

  115.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to put in place a supplementary Lourdes hospital redress scheme to properly acknowledge and appropriately respond to the needs of the 35 cases not included under the terms of the original redress scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25960/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Government approved the establishment of a Redress Board to administer an ex-gratia scheme of redress for certain former patients of Dr Neary. The Board which was chaired by Judge Maureen Harding Clark has concluded its work and all awards determined have been notified to successful applicants. I consider that the Scheme of Redress approved by the Government on the advice of Judge Clark represents a reasonable response to the findings of the Lourdes Hospital Inquiry in all of the circumstances. In a number of cases details of former patients of Dr. Neary were forwarded by the Department to the State Claims Agency for their consideration with the agreement of the Minister. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on the specific circumstances of these cases.

  116.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the measures that are being taken to address the growing number of cases of measles here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25915/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  My Department, through the office of the Chief Medical Officer, has a function in the management and monitoring of policy implementation in the area of immunisation. Through regular meetings between officials in my [160]Department and the HSE the importance of adherence to the immunisation schedule is stressed. In recent months the priority for these meetings has been to monitor MMR uptake rates and measles outbreak data. The measles outbreak which commenced in Kerry in August 2009 was confined locally at first but subsequently spread to other areas of the country. A national Measles outbreak control team was convened in October 2009 to coordinate and improve control measures.

376 measles cases were notified up to 16 June in 2010 (provisional data). The outbreak is currently on the decline. Since April, on average eight cases per week were reported (range 3-12 cases per week) in comparison to 21 cases on average up to the end of March (range 15-54 cases per week). Last week the number of cases notified was down to seven. However, the fact that any measles cases are occurring is always of concern.

Control measures implemented during the course of the outbreak included:

Raising awareness of the outbreak among the communities affected, among GPs and clinicians in hospitals who are caring for these communities or patients using letters, leaflets, posters, radio, newspapers etc. The communications stressed the importance of vaccination, seeking medical attention if needed and advice on how to prevent spreading infection.

Communication and guidance materials have been developed to improve management of measles in the community and prevent further cases occurring. These are available on the HSE HPSC website.

The prime public health efforts have been on increasing vaccination coverage with MMR vaccine for those who were unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated either through GPs or through specific vaccination teams who went out to communities and targeted population groups at particular risk.

All HSE areas sought to ensure that school vaccination teams delivered the school MMR vaccination programme at 4-5 years of age (some areas deliver this programme through GPs). Additional work has been undertaken by all HSE areas to identify those children who are due the first dose of MMR vaccine but have not received it and to call them for vaccination.

HSE has worked closely with Pavee point and HSE traveller health unit staff to ensure that travellers are aware of the need for MMR vaccine and are given an opportunity to avail of immunisation services.

Although the outbreak is abating there continues to be concern that, until all children are age appropriately vaccinated, measles transmission will continue to occur. All children due their vaccines but who may have missed out on them are urged to seek vaccination from their GP. In addition, a campaign is required in schools in the near future to ensure that all children are offered an additional opportunity to get the MMR vaccine if they are incompletely vaccinated.

Question No. 117 answered with Question No. 49.

Question No. 118 answered with Question No. 83.

  119.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the new [161]integrated regional structures have been implemented in the Health Service Executive which are designed to provide closer co-operation between primary, community and hospital services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25902/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE has worked closely with my Department to implement changes to drive operational performance and accountability at local level, to provide clinical leadership to improve quality and standards and to deliver hospital and community services in a fully integrated way. Significant changes have already taken place nationally across the HSE, with the introduction of the Quality and Clinical Care and the Integrated Services Directorates. A Regional Director of Operations has been appointed for each of the four regions. The HSE is currently finalising plans for the sub regional structures to ensure the integration of primary, community and hospital services and is in discussions with my Department about this matter.

  120.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will order a full review of consent policies within the maternity system here and initiate national guidelines for clinical practice in maternity care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25962/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE has recently established a clinical programme for Obstetric care led by Professor Michael Turner of the Coombe Women’s and Infants University Hospital. An important priority in the programme will be the development and implementation of National Guidelines for clinical practice. I expect that, in relation to matters of consent, the provision of obstetric services in accordance with these guidelines, as is the case in all other health services, will meet with ethical guidelines set by the Medical Council in 2009. In addition the Miscarriage Misdiagnosis Review announced by the HSE this week will inform the development of the proposed National Guidelines.

  121.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she intends to review the structural and operational procedures in the Health Service Executive having particular regard to increased public concern at its failure to deliver the degree of reliable services at all levels throughout the country notwithstanding the existence of competent and dedicated personnel within the service who are becoming increasingly frustrated by the bureaucracy of the system and whose talents and abilities are not being utilised in the delivery of a properly structured modern health service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25984/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The HSE was established on 1 January 2005 as a single, national authority with responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services. It replaced the seven regional health boards, the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the three area health boards and a number of other agencies. The important issue is monitoring the HSE and working together to improve its performance. What is needed is better performance of services, rather than restructuring of organisations.

I believe that the focus must be on improving performance further and achieving greater integration in the delivery of services to patients, by building on the progress that the HSE has achieved across a number of fronts in reforming our health and personal social services. The strategic reasons for establishing the HSE as a single national authority remain as valid as ever. Reform of our public health system was driven by the need to bring about improvements in [162]services to patients and other users through the organisation and delivery of consistent national services, based on objective standards and implemented in a uniform manner across the country that made the most beneficial, effective and efficient use of taxpayers’ money.

The work now underway to implement a national cancer control strategy was made possible by the unified HSE structure. Similarly, the implementation of national uniform standards for nursing homes across the country has been greatly facilitated by a single structure, and the implementation of primary care and chronic illness strategies also requires a single national management structure. Over time these strategies will deliver real and tangible benefits that would not have been possible to achieve under the previously fragmented system.

Question No. 122 answered with Question No. 95.

  123.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason six executives or higher executives in the National Treatment Purchase Fund were exempt from the moratorium; the level of salary these executives earn; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25905/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  In September 2007, my Department sanctioned eight temporary negotiator posts at Grade VII level, remunerated at €47,015 —€57, 015 (1 January, 2010) for the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to enable it to undertake additional responsibilities assigned to it under the Fair Deal programme. Those responsibilities related to the negotiation of private nursing home bed prices under the programme. All costs associated with the recruitment of those temporary staff were met from within the NTPF’s existing financial resources. The temporary contract appointments were made on a phased basis, and most of those recruited have completed their assignment and are no longer employed by the NTPF. A number of the positions had not been filled by the time the general moratorium on recruitment in the public service was introduced, and a partial exemption from the moratorium was accordingly obtained by my Department from the Department of Finance in order to facilitate the filling of the remaining posts.

  124.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Taoiseach    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26407/10]

The Taoiseach:  Neither my Department nor the agencies under its aegis, have Government or commercially run canteens, cafes or restaurants on their premises. Consequently, the issue of serving food locally sourced does not arise.

  125.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26570/10]

[163]The Taoiseach:  The information sought is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  126.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Taoiseach    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26585/10]

The Taoiseach:  No bonuses have been awarded to staff under the aegis of my Department over the past three years.

  127.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Taoiseach    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26600/10]

The Taoiseach:  The information sought is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  128.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Taoiseach    the proposals he has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26908/10]

The Taoiseach:  My Department has procedures in place to ensure that all correspondence received, including representations made by members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public, is dealt with appropriately. My Department’s Customer Charter contains a commitment that all written correspondence will be acknowledged within three working days of receipt, or within one working day of receipt in relation to emails. The Charter also commits my Department to issuing a full response to all correspondence within 15 working days of receipt or, where this is not possible, an interim reply is issued explaining the position and advising when a substantive response will issue. Copies of my Department’s Customer Charter are available at www.taoiseach.gov.ie.

  129.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    when redundancy payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26287/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  My Department administers the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) in relation to redundancy matters on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. There are two types of payment made from the SIF — rebates to those employers who have paid statutory redundancy to eligible employees, and statutory lump sums to employees whose employers are insolvent and/or in receivership/liquidation. I can confirm that my Department received a statutory lump sum claim for the individual concerned on 1 December, 2009, claiming inability to pay [164]on behalf of the employer. I can advise the Deputy that this claim has been processed for payment by my Department and that payment of the amount due to the individual issued on 30 April, 2010.

  130.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 64 of 27 May 2010, if he has met with the chairman of the mid-west jobs task force; if he has responded to him on his intentions regarding the recommendations of the task force; when he will circulate the updated response as promised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26289/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I have recently met with Mr Denis Brosnan, Chairman of the Mid-West Task Force. A copy of the updated response was forwarded to the Dail on 21 June for circulation to Deputies.

  131.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26402/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  There are no Government run canteens, cafes or restaurants operating in my Department or in the Offices of my Department. There are two very small canteens in two buildings occupied by my Department and the Offices of my Department which are commercially run. The commercial operator of those two small canteens has indicated that all foods are sourced locally. I am not in a position to provide information on this matter in relation to the Agencies of my Department, as this is a day-to-day matter for the Agencies concerned.

  132.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if he will provide a list of the members of the Asia strategy; if those involved in devising the Asia strategy will be engaged in drafting a new trade strategy for the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26430/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Asia Strategy was drafted by officials of my Department in consultation with relevant Agencies, Departments and key stakeholders. Oversight of that Strategy was undertaken by a High Level Group, chaired by the Secretary General of my Department and comprising senior Public and Private Sector representatives. The Asia Strategy covered the period 1999 — 2009.

A new Strategy for Trade, Tourism and Investment, currently being finalised, is being drafted by officials in my Department with the assistance of Forfás and in consultation with all the relevant Government Departments and State Agencies. In addition, exporters themselves and their representative bodies were consulted. The Minister for Trade and Commerce, Mr. Billy Kelleher T.D., held two round-table meetings with businesses and bodies such as the Irish Exporters Association, IBEC, Irish Diary Board, ISME and SFA. The new integrated strategy will focus on high growth emerging markets, as well as on our existing key trading partners and its aim will be to increase our economic engagement in these key markets, grow exports and create jobs in Ireland.

  133.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 131 of 26 May 2010, the number of prosecutions that were taken by the National Employment Rights Authority against employers in the hotel and accommodation sector for breaches of employment legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26485/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  As I informed the House in my previous response, a total of 87 employment rights prosecutions were initiated by the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, in 2009. Of these, three related to the hotels sector, one each in counties Dublin, Laois and Westmeath respectively.

  134.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive their redundancy payment. [26493/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  My Department administers the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) in relation to redundancy matters on behalf of the Department of Social and Family Affairs. There are two types of payment made from the SIF — rebates to those employers who have paid statutory redundancy to eligible employees, and statutory lump sums to employees whose employers are insolvent and/or in receivership/liquidation. I can confirm that my Department received a lump sum claim for the individual concerned on 26 November 2009 and I can advise the Deputy that the claim is at an advanced stage of processing. Payment is expected to issue to the individual within the next two to three week period.

  135.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26563/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I interpret the Deputy’s question as relating to credit cards held by my Department where any costs incurred on the cards are paid directly by the Department. My Department does not operate credit cards of this nature. However, my Department recognises that certain staff may incur substantial up-front costs in the course of their official business. In this context, my Department can facilitate the issuing of a corporate charge card by a commercial provider to staff who demonstrate a business need for such a card. This arrangement is intended as an alternative to staff members using their personal credit cards to cover costs such as hotel accommodation and other official expenses necessarily incurred in the course of their official duties.

Staff who are issued with corporate charge cards under this arrangement hold individual accounts with the issuing credit card company. Each card holder is responsible for paying any balances due on his/her account directly to the credit card company. In this context, it would not be appropriate to provide the names of the officials holding these cards.

Staff are entitled to reclaim from my Department travel, subsistence and other official expenses incurred in connection with their official duties, in accordance with Department of Finance regulations and applicable rates. Reimbursements of this nature are paid directly to the officers concerned who may use the refunds to settle their charge card accounts. However, [166]any charges on the cards in excess of the refundable rates are a matter for the officers to discharge directly with the credit card company.

At present, 16 staff of my Department hold corporate charge cards under the arrangement outlined above. Provided the individual cardholder has settled his/her account with the credit card company in full and on time each month, no pre-set credit limit is placed on the card by the provider. However, the card company monitors the spend on the cards, and any out-of-pattern spend or ramp-up in spend on a card is blocked at the point of sale. In addition to these controls, my Department monitors overall monthly balances on accounts.

Some other staff of my Department choose to use personal credit cards for business-related transactions and claim reimbursement of these expenses in accordance with Department of Finance regulations. My Department pays Government Stamp Duty on all corporate and personal charge/credit cards used for official transactions. The total cost of Stamp Duty paid on these cards from 2007 to the present is set out on the following table:

Year Amount
2007 3,976.82
2008 1,944.50
2009 1,470.00
2010 to date 1,240.00

  136.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26578/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The awarding of bonuses to staff in semi-State or similar bodies coming under the aegis of my Department is a day to day matter for those bodies and I have no function in the matter.

The CEOs of a number of agencies under the aegis of my Department are eligible to participate in a Performance Related Award Scheme approved by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, with the consent of the Minister for Finance. The Schemes, which are based on the Department of Finance’s Guidelines on Performance Related Awards in non-commercial state bodies, provide for a maximum award of 20% of total remuneration. Approval for such awards is a matter for the Board of the relevant body. These Performance Related Awards have for the most part been suspended since March 2009.

  137.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26593/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The following tables provide details of the amounts paid in expenses by my Department to each advisor in the last [167]three years in the course of the performance of his or her official duties. Travel and subsistence expenses shown on the table include expenses incurred on official business at home and abroad, with the exclusion of air fares. The cost of air fares in respect of each individual is shown separately.

The air fare costs on the tables do not include any travel which may have been undertaken using the Government jet where an advisor may have been accompanying a Minister. The costs of use of the Government jet are borne by the Department of Defence. Nor do the air fares include the costs of air travel arranged by agencies of my Department in relation to trade missions or other international travel. While my Department reimburses travel expenses incurred by the agencies on behalf of Departmental staff and advisors in some situations, it would not be practicable to identify costs which may have been reimbursed in respect of the individuals concerned going back over three years.

Ms. Deirdre Gillane

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan.-Dec. 2009 Jan-June 2010
Total expenses 794.03 726.34 0 0
of which:
— Travel 492.70 114.28 0 0
— Subsistence 301.33 573.16 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 38.90 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Mr. Christopher Mannion

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 2,896.44 892.72 0 0
of which:
— Travel 1,927.95 806.46 0 0
— Subsistence 968.49 86.26 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Mr. Jerry O’Connor

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 5,009.91 5,558.05 0 0
of which:
— Travel 690.00 1,114.70 0 0
— Subsistence 3,009.32 3,949.15 0 0
— Official Entertainment 1,083.30 353.75 0 0
— Incidentals & Miscellaneous 227.29 140.45 0 0
Air Fares 38.73 281.39 0 0

[168]Mr. Dermot Murphy

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 0 0 0
of which:
— Travel 0 0 0 0
— Subsistence 0 0 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Mr. Sean Perry

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 3,427.50 8,445.80 5,206.37
of which:
— Travel 0 1,838.55 3,822.32 2,713.95
— Subsistence 0 1,588.95 4,623.48 2,492.42
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Mr. Michael Shovlin

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 0 5,238.89 1,059.37
of which:
— Travel 0 0 115.30 0
— Subsistence 0 0 5,049.67 1,049.37
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
— Incidentals & Miscellaneous 0 0 73.92 10.00
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Mr. Declan Ryan

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 317.90 0 0
of which:
— Travel 0 29.00 0 0
— Subsistence 0 288.90 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

[169]Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 0 0 0
of which:
— Travel 0 0 0 0
— Subsistence 0 0 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 1,012.91 0 0

Mr. Bernard Mallee

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 0 0 568.01
of which:
— Travel 0 0 0 350.03
— Subsistence 0 0 0 217.98
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

Ms. Deirdre McDonnell

Category of expenditure June-Dec. 2007 Jan.-Dec. 2008 Jan- Dec. 2009 Jan.-June 2010
Total expenses 0 0 0 0
of which:
— Travel 0 0 0 0
— Subsistence 0 0 0 0
— Official Entertainment 0 0 0 0
Air Fares 0 0 0 0

  138.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of Industrial Development Authority jobs created in north Tipperary in each of the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the location of these jobs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26786/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Forfás Annual Employment Survey reports on job gains and losses in companies that are supported by the industrial development agencies. Data is compiled on an annualised basis and is aggregated at county level. It is therefore not possible to provide information for individual locations throughout the county. Data for 2010 will be available in early 2011.

Details of the number of new jobs created in each of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 are set out in the following tabular statement.

[170]

Table showing the number of new jobs created in IDA supported companies in North Tipperary in each of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Year 2007 2008 2009
Number of new jobs created 9 13 0

  139.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the action he will take to promote a site in County Tipperary (details supplied) and attract jobs to the area with potential investors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26787/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  While the former Taro building in Roscrea, Co. Tipperary is in private ownership, the State development agencies remain available to assist in marketing the site and plant to any prospective buyers. It should be noted that Shannon Development’s efforts in Roscrea are concentrated on marketing the Roscrea Business & Technology Park and that whatever about the outcome on the Taro building, there is a lot of industrial space ready for occupation in Roscrea.

The Roscrea Business & Technology Park has been fully serviced and landscaped to match the needs of both manufacturing and international services clients. The 26 acre park has potential for some 225,000 sq. ft of manufacturing, services and office space. A total of 10 development sites are at the core of the Roscrea Business & Technology Park. Sites may be subdivided or extended to suit the specific requirements of project promoters.

Shannon Development is in the process of developing marketing material in conjunction with the Roscrea Chamber of Commerce to promote and market Roscrea town & environs and Roscrea Business & Technology Park nationally and internationally. The focus of this marketing material will be on attracting investment into Roscrea Business & Technology Park.

IDA Ireland’s strategy for the Mid West Region, including North Tipperary is:

to transition to a knowledge economy by winning new FDI in innovation driven, high value, high skills sectors

to work with the existing company base to expand their presence by increasing the number and scale of functions being carried out and by adding further strategic functions

to promote balanced regional development

to provide modern property solutions with supporting infrastructure

to work with local authorities and other partners to influence the creation of the right infrastructural environment to help win new FDI throughout the region.

The investment projects that IDA now seeks to attract to the Mid West, including North Tipperary, are much different to those of the past, relying principally on the skills of its people and on a strong business and educational infrastructure to pull investment to the county. IDA’s strategy is to re-position the region as a hotspot for knowledge based industry, while focusing on marketing the area as a key location for investment by building on the strengths already evident in the county. IDA is also working closely with the existing base of employers to encourage additional investment, particularly in activities such as R&D, customer support and back office functions.

  140.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if his attention has been drawn to any problems reported to the Companies Registration Office concerning small limited companies failing and unable to afford the fees to lodge accounts thus obstructing the disposal of assets such as property; if there are any legislative solutions to any such problems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26811/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Companies Acts 1963 to 2009 provide that a private limited company is required to file an annual return once in each calendar year. An annual return consists of the relevant form and a set of accounts whether audited or unaudited. Each company has nine months and 28 days from its accounts year-end date to complete and file its annual return. The fee for filing an annual return on time is €20.00 for an electronic filing and €40.00 for a manual filing. The cost reflects the different levels of work involved in both filings.

However, once a company is late in filing its annual return it becomes liable to pay late filing penalties and to file audited accounts in both the current year and the subsequent year. Late filing penalties are charged at a rate of €100.00 plus €3.00 for each further day the company is late to a maximum of €1,200 for each year. To assist companies to meet their filing obligations, each calendar year the Companies Registration Office notifies each company by letter of its forthcoming annual return date approximately a month before its due date. Furthermore, it notifies the company and all its directors that the company has failed to file approximately six weeks after its annual return date.

I am satisfied that the fee for filing an annual return on time i.e. €20.00 for an electronic filing and €40.00 for a manual filing is reasonable. I am also satisfied that the Companies Registration Office makes all reasonable efforts to assist companies meet their statutory filing obligations.

  141.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the proposals he has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26901/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I can confirm that my own Office and the Offices of the Ministers of State at my Department endeavour to respond to all representations made to us as expeditiously as possible notwithstanding the volumes received. My Department commits the same effort to processing representations as speedily as possible from Oireachtas Members where the representation is made directly to officials. Occasionally, there may be some delay in replying to representations where the volume may spike at a particular time of the year, or in the event that the matter raised is complex or requires extensive research before a reply can issue.

  142.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the position of service providers who sign up to participate in the early childhood care and education scheme regarding the payment of rates; the conditions under which such providers are exempt from the payment of rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26380/10]

[172]

  143.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    if providers of child care participating in the early childhood care and education scheme are exempt from paying local authority rates; the steps a provider should take if they are presented with a bill for rates by their local authority; if he will provide official certification for providers which will ensure providers are exempt from rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26443/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 143 together.

The Valuation Act, 2001 maintains the long-standing position that all commercial facilities — including all pre-school childcare facilities such as playschools, pre-schools, crèches and Montessori schools — are liable for rates. However, providers of sessional places for 38 weeks of the year under the Early Childhood Care & Education Scheme (ECCE) are exempt from rates where: 1. the property is used exclusively for the 38 week sessional ECCE funded pre-school services and for no other purposes such as child minding, as a crèche funded by private fees or any other commercial use. 2. the expenses incurred in providing the ECCE pre-school sessional services are defrayed wholly or mainly out of monies provided by the Exchequer. 3. the educational services are available to the general public.

Any individual ratepayer who has concerns about the valuation of their property or of any part thereof, including its ratability or the method of calculation may, on payment of a statutory fee of €250, apply to the Valuation Office for a revision of the valuation. If dissatisfied with the outcome, they may appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation in the first instance and subsequently to the independent Valuation Tribunal. There is also a further right of appeal to the High court and ultimately to the Supreme Court on a point of law.

When the valuation of any property is revised, an individual certificate or notice of the valuation is issued as a matter of course to the occupier or his/her agent and a copy is also sent to the local authority. This certificate indicates the status of the subject property, post revision, i.e. whether it is rateable or exempt. On receipt of a certificate, indicating exemption, the local authority will not demand rates from the occupier in keeping with the decision of the Commissioner. I should point out that the Commissioner of Valuation is independent in the exercise of his duties under the Valuation Act, 2001 and that as Minister for Finance, I have no function in decisions in this regard.

  144.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Finance    when he expects the remit of the Freedom of Information Act 1997 to be extended to include the vocational education committees; if he will note that progress on this issue has been repeatedly delayed for 13 years; when the relevant legislation will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26230/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Officials of my Department have been working on extending the remit of the Freedom of Information Acts in a number of areas including that of the Vocational Education Committees. I hope to seek Government approval later this year for the legislative process which will bring these bodies under the Act.

  145.  Deputy Niall Blaney    asked the Minister for Finance    the progress of work in relation to carbon tax on solid fuels, that is, coal and commercial peat; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26233/10]

[173]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I announced in the Budget that a carbon tax at a rate of €15 per tonne is being introduced on fossil fuels. The tax was applied to petrol and auto-diesel with effect from midnight, 9 December 2009; and applied from 1 May 2010 to kerosene, marked gas oil (also known as ‘green diesel’ or ‘agricultural diesel’), liquid petroleum gas (LPG), fuel oil and natural gas. The application of the tax to coal and commercial peat is subject to a Commencement Order.

Solid fuels as indicated above are subject to a commencement order; this is to allow time for issues such as fuel poverty and the sourcing of coal of a lower environmental standard from Northern Ireland to be addressed. A number of Government Departments, including the Department of Finance are exploring options for how best to offset the impact of the carbon tax on low-income households. With regard to the sourcing of coal from Northern Ireland, work has already commenced on this matter within the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government. In addition, the Department of Environment, my Department and the Revenue Commissioners have met with the Solid Fuel Trade Group in this regard.

  146.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    if consideration has been given to allowing mortgage holders who are in difficulty to access additional voluntary contributions made to pension funds in order to meet repayment commitments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26258/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The rationale for giving various tax reliefs to statutory and Revenue-approved pension savings schemes is to encourage and promote savings over the long term in order that individuals will have an adequate replacement income in old age. Any proposal, however well intentioned, that would allow pre-retirement access by individuals to retirement savings could significantly reduce the quantum of pension savings available to those individuals in retirement.

Emerging demographic indicators point to increasing numbers of people living longer and healthier lives with more of their lives spent in retirement than previously. In those circumstances, I think it is important to protect pension savings to ensure an adequate post-retirement income. Revenue approval of occupational pension schemes is given on the basis, essentially, that benefits may generally only be paid at the point of retirement (usually from age 60) or death, whichever is the earlier. Similar rules apply in the case of personal pensions such as retirement annuity contracts and PRSAs. I have no plans to amend these provisions. In the case of occupational pension schemes, however, subject to the terms and conditions of the particular scheme rules, employees may take “early retirement” benefits anytime from age 50. However, where early retirement is chosen, benefits will be restricted.

  147.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will expedite a tax clearance certificate in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26362/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a Tax Clearance Certificate issued to the person in question on 8 June 2010.

  148.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of [174]commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26404/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  There are three commercially run canteens operating within my Department. These canteens are located in the Department’s offices at 7-9 Merrion Row, Lansdowne House and Tullamore. In all cases the canteens are operated by external contractors. The situation regarding bodies under the aegis of my Department is as follows:

Revenue Commissioners

The Revenue Commissioners have four commercially run canteens in operation in buildings occupied by Revenue staff. A soup/sandwich delivery service is also available to one building.

Office of Public Works

The Office of Public Works have two canteens for staff in Trim and Dublin, these are operated under concession and run by private commercial operators.

The State Laboratory

The State Laboratory is located in the Backweston campus near Celbridge, the Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is also located on the same campus. There is a canteen on site for the use of both organisations which is operated by a commercial contractor. The sourcing of food in all of the above commercially run canteens is a matter for the respective canteen management.

  149.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will ensure that the financial contribution to addressing climate change is separate from and additional to the overseas development aid budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26422/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In the context of preparations for last year’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, the Taoiseach at the European Council in December 2009 pledged a voluntary contribution from Ireland of up to €100m over the period 2010-12. The total voluntary contributions pledged from all EU Member States amounts to €7.2bn over 2010-12. The disposition of this sum will be settled in the context of the current estimates process.

  150.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    his view of the possible implications of AIB’s proposed sell-off of its northern subsidiary, First Trust Bank, in relation to the development of a single island economy through structured co-operation which has been widely acknowledged as a key aim of public policy here; his views on whether this is a partitionist policy and should not become his policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26484/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The AIB subsidiary, known as First Trust Bank, is a separate Northern Ireland company. AIB is obliged to examine all restructuring [175]options in the context of their substantial capital needs outlined in my Statement of 30 March 2010. At this stage AIB has offered the particular Northern Ireland company for sale. Economic development on both sides of the border is best developed through a strong banking sector on both sides. This means a recapitalised AIB and First Trust Bank owned by a strongly capitalised parent. I would remind the Deputy that Bank of Ireland and Ulster Bank will remain all Ireland operations.

  151.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26565/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  There are currently two Departmental credit cards in use within my Department. The cards are held by a member of staff in the Corporate Services Division (CSD) and the Centre for Management and Organisation Development (CMOD) respectively. Each card has an expenditure limit of €5,000.00. The cards are used exclusively by officials in my Department for the purchase of a variety of goods and services. In addition to the two Departmental cards, a further three members of staff currently hold credit cards which have been issued for official purposes by my Department. The annual breakdown of the amount spent on each card is contained in the table.

CSD CMOD
2008 11,163.12 2008 7,849.31
2009 6,410.72 2009 4,717.70
2010 812.86 2010 2,799.15

  152.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26580/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In relation to those semi-state or similar bodies within the remit of my Department, I have been advised that the following is the position:

Institute of Public Administration

Since the 1 January 2010 the Institute of Public Administration (IPA) falls under the auspices of the Department of Finance. The Institute of Public Administration suspended its performance related award scheme indefinitely in 2009 in line with the civil service scheme, consequently no performance related award payments have issued since the IPA has operated under my Department’s aegis.

National Treasury Management Agency*

The remuneration packages of all NTMA staff are negotiated on an individual contract basis and are confidential.

* This covers NTMA, SCA, NPRF, NDFA and NAMA.

[176]

Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB)

The following parameters were in place for 2007 and 2008 for the CEO:

2007 bonus range was from “No bonus” to £8k.

2008 bonus range was from “No bonus” to £10k.

Over the last 3 years, one bonus payment has been paid.

The SEUPB had indicated that a Special Bonus Scheme allows SEUPB to reward exceptional performance in particularly demanding tasks or situations at any time in the year. Special Bonuses take the form of taxable, non-pensionable, lump sum payments. Special Bonus payments can start at any amount but it is anticipated that Bonuses will normally fall within the range of £250 (min) –£500 (max).

For the period 2007 to 2009 the following Special Bonus amounts were paid:

2007: nil

2008: £3,400 (8 staff)

2009: £2,100 (5 staff)

National Lottery

In the time available, it has not been possible to obtain the information requested by the Deputy. However, I am advised that in relation to the CEO, this information is contained in the Company’s Accounts. Other information will be provided directly to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  153.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26595/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Since June 2007 my Department has had the following Special Advisers (as defined under Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act, 2007: Mr. Gerry Steadman (from 30 September 2004 to 7 May 2008). Mr Steadman acted as Special Advisor to my predecessor, Mr Brian Cowen TD. Mr. Colin Hunt (from 11 September 2006 to 14 June 2007). Mr. Hunt concurrently performed the special adviser role to my predecessor, Mr Brian Cowen TD and the then Minister for Transport, Mr Martin Cullen TD. However, he was engaged under a single contract of employment with the Minister for Transport and was paid by that Department. Ms. Cathy Herbert (from 7 May 2008 to date). Dr. Alan Ahearne (from 18 March 2009 to date).

Gerry Steadman Alan Ahearne
June 07 – June 08
EU travel — Subsistence 227.81
Home Travel — Mileage 2,631.58
Home Travel — Subsistence 451.81
Other travel — Subsistence 563.42
June 08 – June 09
EU travel — Hotel Accommodation 225.00
EU travel — Public Transport 21.34
June 09 – June 10
EU travel — Hotel Accommodation 494.68
EU travel — Subsistence 217.00
Other travel — Mileage 37.80
Other travel — Other receipted expenses 33.32
Other travel — Public Transport 7.27
Other travel — Subsistence 300.20

Ms Herbert did not claim any expenses during the period.

  154.  Deputy Edward O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork did not receive a higher tax refund for the year 2009. [26770/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the taxpayer received a smaller tax refund for the year 2009 because health expenses relief is granted at the standard rate for expenses incurred from 1st January, 2009.

  155.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether section 35 of the Credit Union Act 1997 restricts the amount of money credit unions can lend to members over five or ten years; his views on whether this could cripple many credit unions nationwide and gives powers to the Financial Regulator to impose lending restrictions; if he will defer the amendments to section 35; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26788/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  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 instrument which has protected the financial stability of the credit union movement over many years. The funding of credit unions is predominantly provided on a short-term basis in the form of on-demand savings and consequently the Section 35 limits are necessary for the protection of the financial stability of credit unions.

The effect of the amendment contained in the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010 is to increase from 20% to 30% the limit on the proportion of a credit union loan book comprising loans over 5 years. Credit unions have been seeking the amendment for some time. It represents, however, a significant weakening of this asset and liability tool in order to enable an increased capacity for credit unions to reschedule loans. For this reason, it is accompanied by some balancing measures which will allow for a framework for implementation by the Registrar of [178]Credit Unions including requirements in relation to liquidity, provisioning and accounting transparency.

As I indicated during the Committee Stage debate on the Bill in Dáil Éireann last week, these requirements are to be implemented under the framework in a prudent, balanced and proportionate manner, in line with reasonable conditions and generous transitional arrangements. Following meetings with a number of Deputies and with the credit union representative bodies, I have reflected on concerns expressed to me and I will be bringing forward amendments to the relevant provisions in the Bill at Report Stage. The changes represent a reasonable compromise but they are as far as I can go.

There is a balance to be struck between meeting members’ needs to reschedule loans and ensuring the stability of the credit union sector overall. We must act now in a prudent and preventative manner. 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 and I would not be happy to defer the amendments to Section 35.

  156.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of money allocated to Kilkenny County Council for flood relief projects; the location of each; if he will fund a scheme at a location (details supplied); the number and location of other projects in the county for which funding has been applied for and the location of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26862/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  To date, a total of €746,500 in funding has been allocated to Kilkenny County Council under the ongoing OPW scheme which commenced in 2009 to provide funding to local authorities to carry out minor mitigation works to address localised flooding problems. Funds were allocated in respect of projects at Kilmacow, Graiguenamanagh, Thomastown, Callan, Mullinavat and Gowran. The Council also submitted an application for funding to undertake works at Dungooly, Mooncoin. The application did not meet the minimum cost benefit eligibility criteria of the scheme.

The Office of Public Works has not received an application from the Council for funding in respect of flood mitigation works at Ballyragget to date. It would be open to the Council to submit such an application under the scheme. If an application is received, it will be assessed in accordance with the relevant eligibility criteria, and having regard to the total funding available for flood mitigation works this year.

  157.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will restore the full season at Skellig Michael which has been reduced by the Office of Public Works by three months with serious consequences for the local tourism sector. [26886/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The Office of Public Works has a guide service on Skellig Michael between mid/late May and late September/early October each year. The island is officially open during this period. The Safety Review of Skellig Michael which has recently been published recommends that the official opening period for Skellig Michael should be advertised publicly, and safety literature draws attention to the fact that visits are restricted to the opening period.

  158.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be furnished with a certificate of tax credits for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26894/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the person concerned is not registered on their records and there is no record of the person’s request. I would suggest that the individual should supply full details of the request to Ms. Geraldine Boyle, Kildare Revenue District, Athy Business Campus, Castlecomer Road, Athy, Co Kildare, and the matter will be dealt with.

  159.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    when a tax refund will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26895/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that Ms. Geraldine Morrissey, Kildare Revenue District, last wrote to the person concerned on 24 March 2010. A full response to that letter has not been supplied and is awaited.

  160.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Finance    the proposals he has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26903/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In addition to ensuring that, at a minimum, all representations are replied to, my Department is committed, under its Quality Customer Service Action Plan to replying to 75% of correspondence within 20 working days. New procedures for answering Ministerial representations were introduced in June 2001 when the average rate of reply was 60%. Since then the average rate of reply during the initial 20 day working period has been in the high 70s even reaching the high 80s on occasion. Our procedures are monitored and updated regularly to ensure that our commitment to responding to representations in a timely fashion is maintained.

  161.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if it is a new procedure to ask those applying for medical cards to produce bank statements and if she will clarify the situation in respect of a person (details supplied). [26244/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  162.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has accepted and implemented all of the recommendations contained in Guidelines for Implementation of Article 5.3 of the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control; if she will outline which recommendations have not yet been accepted and implemented; the reasons for non-acceptance or non-implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26275/10]

[180]Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  Ireland has signed and ratified the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC). Article 5.3 of the FCTC states- “In setting and implementing their public health policies with respect to tobacco control, Parties shall act to protect these policies from commercial and other vested interests of the tobacco industry in accordance with national law.” Non-binding guidelines to assist parties in meeting their obligations under Article 5.3 were adopted at the third Conference of the Parties in 2008. Parties are encouraged to implement these guidelines to the extent possible in accordance with their national law.

  163.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will allow a child to avail of the free preschool year in 2010 in view of the fact that the child’s date of birth is only seven days past the cut-off date for eligibility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26320/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have responsibility for implementing the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, which was introduced in January of this year. Children will qualify for a free pre-school year place when they are aged more than 3 years 2 months and less than 4 years 7 months at 1 September each year. This means that children born between 2 February 2006 and 30 June 2007 will qualify in September 2010. From the information provided by the Deputy, the child in question is not eligible for the scheme in September this year but will be eligible in September 2011.

The objective of the ECCE scheme is to make early learning in a formal setting available to all children in the key developmental year before they commence primary school. To achieve this, services participating in the pre-school year will be expected to provide appropriate age related activities and programmes to children within a particular age cohort. Targeting the pre-school year at a particular age cohort is clearly fundamental to the scheme and it is necessary, therefore, to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range within which children will participate in the scheme each year.

In setting the minimum and maximum age limits, account was taken of a number of factors, including the fact that the majority of children commence primary school between the ages of 4 years 6 months and 5 years 6 months. Notwithstanding this, the ECCE scheme provides for an eligibility range of almost 17 months. The upper age limit does not apply where children are developmentally delayed and would benefit from participating in the pre-school year at a later age.

As in the case of any scheme introduced, cases will arise where individuals fall outside the conditions which apply. However, it is necessary that the scheme is delivered within a structure which supports the best delivery of pre-school education and it is considered therefore that the age range provided for is appropriate. Arrangements are already in place for the pre-school year which is due to commence in September 2010 and these do not provide for any amendment or reduction in the lower age for eligibility.

  164.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Sligo who is in receipt of €104 per week in mobility grant is entitled to the increased payment of €202 per week in view of the person’s circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26364/10]

[181]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  165.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) has an entitlement to apply for back-to-school allowance for the year commencing September 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26388/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  166.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the membership and terms of reference of the working group to develop a national strategy for the provision of rehabilitation services and when it is expected to report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [27079/10]

  254.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide further information on the working group which is developing a national strategy for the provision of rehabilitation services; the person who established the group and the members of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26891/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 166 and 254 together.

The Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive (HSE) established a Working Group in July 2008 to develop a national policy and strategy for the provision of neuro-rehabilitation services. The Working Group consists of key stakeholders and experts in the field of neuro-rehabilitation and is chaired by James O’Grady, Disability Policy Advisor to the Office for Disability and Mental Health at the Department of Health and Children. Along with officials from the Department and the HSE, membership has been drawn from agencies such as the National Rehabilitation Hospital, MS Ireland, Headway, Acquired Brain Injury Ireland and BRÍ and neuro-rehabilitation practitioners including a Neurologist, Physiotherapist, Speech and Language Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Geriatrician, Advance Nurse Practitioner and a General Practitioner.

The Working Group’s Terms of Reference included the development of an appropriate policy framework for neuro-rehabilitation and a preferred model of care for the provision of neuro-rehabilitation services. The policy development has been informed at all stages by the new delivery structures being developed by the HSE and by the realities of the economic situation, both in the short to medium term. The Group has now completed its work and the draft report is being considered by the Department and the HSE, with a view to publication in the next couple of months.

Question No. 167 answered with Question No. 42.

Question No. 168 answered with Question No. 93.

  169.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of operations cancelled during 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26186/10]

[182]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Owing to industrial action by staff in the HSE for most of the year to date, data on cancelled operations in acute hospitals in 2010 is not available at present. Now that the industrial action has ended, work is underway in the HSE to collate and validate data in this regard.

I am conscious that the cancellation of a hospital procedure can be inconvenient and stressful for both patients and their families. Every effort is made to avoid cancellations where possible. Unfortunately, cancellations are a feature of hospital systems, in Ireland and internationally, because priority must be given to emergency cases and patients in urgent need. It is important to point out that all cancelled procedures are rescheduled unless there are clear clinical grounds for a period of postponement. While data is not comprehensive, the level of cancellations in the Irish public system appears to be broadly in line with other hospital systems internationally. In 2009, for example, it is estimated that cancellations accounted for about 1.4% of all inpatient and day case activity.

It should be noted not all cancellations are a result of hospital capacity or patient availability. Cancellations also occur for clinical reasons, where a patient may not be deemed fit for surgery on a given day by the clinician. For example, the pre-admission assessment might indicate postponing a procedure for clinical reasons such as weight, immune system issues or blood pressure. While it is unfortunate that any patient would have a procedure cancelled, patients waiting over three months can be referred to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF). The HSE works with the NTPF to ensure that, where appropriate, patients can avail of treatment under this scheme.

In 2010, the HSE is focusing on improving the efficiency of acute hospital services by shifting to day case care where appropriate and by seeking performance improvements such as surgery on the day of admission and reducing inappropriate lengths of stay. There is a particular focus on reducing the variance between different hospitals for similar procedures. By reducing costs and reforming the way services are provided, I am confident the HSE will maintain access to services and continue to improve health outcomes for the population.

  170.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that a person (details supplied) will be given an earlier date on the waiting list for University College Hospital Galway. [26228/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  171.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reasoning behind the reduction by the Health Service Executive of €4 million from the budget of an organisation (details supplied) in Dublin 7, one of the immediate effects of which will be the closure of a respite house; and if the budget for disabilities and special needs is being allowed a separate entity within the HSE when money is being allocated by the Department of Health and Children. [26243/10]

  182.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the Health Service Executive is withdrawing funding from a facility (details supplied) in Dublin 7; if programmes and services for intellectually disabled clients are being cut; if staff numbers are being cut back thereby compromising this valuable service; and the reason parents were only just informed of these cuts without prior adequate warning. [26310/10]

[183]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 171 and 182 together.

The Government’s commitment in the area of disability is consistent. Significant additional resources have been provided for services and supports in this area under the Multi-Annual Investment Programme (MAIP) 2006-2009, as part of the National Disability Strategy. Overall approximately €1.6 billion is allocated by the HSE and is spent annually on disability programmes (residential, day care, respite, assessments and rehabilitation services). With the exception of service development funding allocated under the M.A.I.P., under the Health Act 2004, it is a matter for the HSE to decide on the most effective allocation of resources to meet the health and personal and social support needs of the population, including the needs of people with disabilities. The National Service Plan which is laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas sets out the quantum of services, including disability services, to be provided in any financial year by the HSE out of resources allocated to it.

I am very much aware of the valuable contribution the Daughters of Charity services makes to the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities in Dublin. During the period of the Multi Annual Investment programme, the Daughters of Charity Services received funding from the HSE in the region of:

Year € million
2005 85.126
2006 94.748
2007 101.301
2008 106.790
2009 110.542

This sustained level of additional investment reflected the significant growth and development in the Daughters of Charity Services throughout this period.

Arising from the introduction of cost containment and efficiency measures in the 2010 budget, the HSE advised all agencies providing services on its behalf of their financial allocations for 2010 and the required adjustments. The HSE is aware of the challenges service providers, including the Daughters of Charity, are experiencing and the particular difficulties facing all health services in 2010. In this context, it is vital that all providers work creatively and co-operatively to ensure that the maximum level of services are maintained for service users within the funding resources available.

The HSE plans to maintain access to appropriate treatments and services for clients during 2010 despite the current resource pressures. The HSE is aware of the challenges which this reduction in allocations will present to organisations in ensuring they meet the needs of service users and in planning for emergencies that arise throughout the year. It is recognised that the maintaining of service levels within available resources will require significant levels of co-operation, change, flexibility and creativity. The HSE will continue to work in partnership with the Voluntary service providers in dealing with issues that arise from funding allocations, to ensure the needs of service users are prioritised and addressed.

Disability Service Providers have been requested to submit their plans for the maintenance of service levels within available resources taking the following into consideration:

Review all items of expenditure which do not immediately and directly impact on frontline services and consider where rationalisation can be effected in other areas

[184]Review the manner in which services are delivered

Identify any opportunities to reduce costs by sharing services and or activities with other Agencies (statutory or non-statutory)

Reduce cost of back office administration functions, all other unnecessary costs, and consider rationalisation of general management structures

The HSE will continue to work with the voluntary service providers to streamline costs, and further identify and improve areas where efficiencies can be achieved that do not impact on frontline service delivery.

Question No. 172 answered with Question No. 44.

  173.  Deputy James McDaid    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of support groups that have been created in the past ten years dealing with victims of child sexual abuse and the names of these groups that have received State funding. [26260/10]

  174.  Deputy James McDaid    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of State and church funding that has been allocated to each of the support groups in the area of child sexual abuse in the past ten years in view of the fact that as they are registered charities, accounts should be available to include State and church funding. [26261/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 174 together.

I do not have specific details available regarding the number of support groups established in the past 10 years dealing with victims of child sexual abuse. Prior to the establishment of the HSE in 2005, the Department allocated certain funding to support groups. This information is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible, together with details of any relevant grants approved since 2000 from National Lottery proceeds. My Department has asked the HSE to reply to the Deputy with regard to grant funding since 2005. The Department does not hold the requested information regarding Church funding allocated.

  175.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) will receive treatment that has been approved by her consultant; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26271/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  176.  Deputy Olwyn Enright    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Offaly has been assessed by staff of the Dún Laoghaire rehabilitation hospital, County Dublin; when this person can expect to be given a date for admission; if she will provide an update on this case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26274/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[185]

  177.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon will receive a decision on an application; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26285/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  178.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on the incidence of anorexia nervosa here; if she has discerned any identifiable trends in respect of the condition; the treatments which may be available from the Health Service Executive; the supports available to patients who must use privately provided treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26303/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  Anorexia nervosa is undoubtedly a very serious health condition. Epidemiological data from other jurisdictions suggest an annual incidence of 10 cases of anorexia nervosa per 100,000 population for females and 0.5 for males. Admissions to Irish psychiatric hospitals and units with an eating disorder diagnosis in 2008 was 243 compared to 188 in 2003. However, comparison of admissions rates should be interpreted with caution as all hospitals did not provide data in previous years. In relation to the treatment and supports available, as this is a service matter, the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  179.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that the treatments required are provided as a matter of urgency in respect of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26304/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 180 answered with Question No. 86.

  181.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when surgery will be carried out on a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26306/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 182 answered with Question No. 171.

  183.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide an update on a matter (details supplied). [26311/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I have consistently emphasised the need to improve facilities and services to persons with cystic fibrosis. Capital funding has been provided for the development of outpatient facilities for patients with CF treated at Beaumont Hospital. HSE funding enabled the construction of a three storey building consisting of two floors each of 14 single rooms, and 8 bed HDU and two additional ICU rooms (within existing ICU). The project is in two phases and the first phase (decanting) was completed at the end of 2009 and the second phase is currently underway. The Deputy’s question has been referred [186]to the HSE for direct reply in relation to the current position concerning the specific service issues raised.

  184.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a matter (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [26312/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  185.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a decision not to make a diagnosis of ADHD before the age of six in respect of a person (details supplied) in Cork is a medical or a policy decision; if treatment is available under the Disability Act in such cases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26321/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  186.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will arrange appropriate transport for a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26327/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters, I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  187.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of home care packages that were given out in each of the past three years in County Mayo in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26331/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  188.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26333/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[187]Question No. 189 answered with Question No. 44.

  190.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the home care package scheme is still available; the funding that has been put in place in County Mayo for the scheme in 2010 and in each of the past three years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26340/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  The guiding principle of Government policy in this area is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. This is realised through a range of community-based supports such as Home-Help, Meals-on-Wheels, Day/Respite, and Home Care Packages.

Despite the serious economic constraints experienced in recent times, the Government has continued to prioritise improving services for older people. This is reflected in the €10m additional funding provided in the last Budget to expand Home Care Packages nationally, thus bringing total investment for this Initiative this year to €130 million. It is estimated that the additional funding will assist up to 1,000 extra recipients compared to the 2009 position. In total, therefore, the HSE National Service Plan approved for this year commits to provide Home Care Packages to around 9,600 people at any one time or to some 13,000 clients over the course of the year.

The management of packages in County Mayo, including funding and availability, is a matter for the HSE in line with agreed resources, on-going service priorities or any other relevant factors. I wish to advise the Deputy that, due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU), it is not possible to request the Executive to supply the detailed information sought in relation to the Mayo area. This represents the current position but if this remains of continuing concern to you, however, I would invite you to raise it with me again in due course.

  191.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding a medical card application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; the reason for the delay in processing same and the lack of correspondence in relation to the claim; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26343/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  192.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application for fair deal support under the nursing home support scheme in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26345/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  193.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the full guidelines and procedures for applying for and obtaining a home care package grant in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26348/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  194.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding a medical card application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay in processing the application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26356/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  195.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the strategic plan for the care of the elderly in the Kildare-west Wicklow area of the Health Service Executive has or is being reviewed; if so, the areas that are under investigation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26366/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  196.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of patients on trolleys in Naas General Hospital, County Kildare, for each day of the past month; the number of patients in the hospital awaiting discharge; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26367/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  197.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the plans or proposals her Department or the Health Service Executive has in relation to the provision of respite and long-term care for patients in the Kildare-west Wicklow area of the HSE; if such plans or proposals are examining the closure of any facility (details supplied) within the HSE area or if the reduction of the number of beds in such facilities is being reviewed; if the closure or reduction of facilities is being planned or proposed, the alternatives that are being put in place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26370/10]

[189]Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  198.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if dental treatment will be completed under the dental treatment services scheme for a medical card holder (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26373/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  199.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an appeal for a full medical card in respect of a person (details supplied); when a decision will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26378/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  200.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application for a full medical card in respect of a person (details supplied); when a decision will be made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26379/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  201.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be given an appointment for the outpatient clinic in Merlin Park Hospital, Galway. [26386/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  202.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will assist in the case of a nursing home (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26394/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  This Government places great importance on the policies and practical reforms we are implementing to ensure patient safety and quality-assured health services. The Health Act, 2007 provides for the registration and inspection of all nursing homes. Inspections are carried out by the Chief Inspector of Social Services, part of the Health and Information and Quality Authority.

It is important to have effective mechanisms to maintain and enhance public confidence in the delivery of quality residential care. Residents, their families and the public need to be reassured that the Authority is monitoring the care people receive. Since 1 July, 2009 all nursing [190]homes, public and private, are registered under the Health Act, 2007 (Registration of Designated Centres for Older People) Regulations 2009 by the Chief Inspector. All nursing homes (public and private) are also inspected under the new Care and Welfare Regulations and patient-focused, quality Standards.

The functions of the Minister in relation to HIQA and the Chief Inspector are also prescribed in the Act. As the registration of designated centres is clearly and specifically one for the Chief Inspector, it would not be appropriate for me to intervene in any registration process. I am sure the Deputy will agree that lessons had to be learned from the well publicised incidents in nursing homes over the last few years and from reports such as that of the Leas Cross Commission of Investigation, published just last year. This new independent system of regulation and inspection underpins quality and safety for residents in nursing homes.

  203.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 with a disability has been refused service. [26416/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  204.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the refusal by the community welfare officer of further assistance to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 16. [26418/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  205.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) in Dublin 20 has not been granted a medical card. [26420/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  206.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will include Crohn’s disease as a long-term illness allowing sufferers to be entitled to a long-term illness card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26437/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There are currently no plans to extend the list of eligible conditions covered by the Long Term Illness Scheme. Under the Drugs Payment Scheme no individual or family pays more than €120 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines. The scheme is easy to use and significantly reduces the cost burden for families and individuals incurring ongoing expenditure on medicines.

In addition, people who cannot, without undue hardship, arrange for the provision of medical services for themselves and their dependants may be entitled to a medical card. In the assessment process, the Health Service Executive can take into account medical costs incurred by an individual or a family. Those who are not eligible for a medical card may still be able to avail of a GP visit card, which covers the cost of general practice consultations.

  207.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the actions being taken to tackle a six-month backlog of medical card applications at the Coolock office, Dublin, of the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26438/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  208.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the length of time a person (details supplied) in County Dublin must wait to have their medical card application processed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26439/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  209.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26457/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  210.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount of funding allocated to each local authority from the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs dormant accounts youth cafe funding scheme on a county basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26500/10]

  214.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason an application for funding under the dormant accounts youth cafe funding scheme was refused in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26542/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 210 and 214 together.

On 12 April last, I announced details of the Youth Café Funding Scheme. This is the first dedicated youth café funding scheme in Ireland. 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.

The youth café funding scheme is being administered by POBAL on behalf of my office. Applications for the scheme are now closed and a short-list of applicants has been prepared for further detailed consideration by POBAL. The short-listing of applications was carried out by local city and county development boards, in accordance with the terms of the scheme. The boards made their decisions based on the official criteria and appraisal of application guidelines. A copy of these guidelines was supplied to all applicants. In arriving at their final decisions in relation to the short-listing of applications, the boards also based their decisions on local knowledge and expertise.

[192]The scheme is a competitive one with each CDB asked to nominate the best projects in their respective area. Applicants who were not successful at the preselection stage should approach their local city or county development board if they wish to receive specific feedback on the reasons why they were not short-listed. At the appraisal stage, final decisions on allocations of funding will be made based on those applications who most successfully meet the terms and criteria for the scheme.

The €1.5million will be paid out under two Strands. Strand 1 is concerned with improving existing youth cafés through small scale refurbishments. The maximum amount that can be awarded by each City/County Development Board (CDB) to applicants is €10,000. Each CDB can only recommend a maximum of three projects for grant aid under this strand. Strand 2 is aimed at new youth cafes. The maximum amount that can be awarded by each CDB to applicants is €100,000. Each CDB can only recommend one project for such grant aid. Announcements in relation to the next stage of the scheme will be made later in the year once the short-listed applications have been examined.

  211.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reassurances that she can give to the people in County Limerick whose family members are attending an organisation (details supplied) in view of the fact that they are concerned that the proposed cuts to the service will have a major impact on its ability to continue providing the necessary services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26501/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  The Government’s commitment in the area of disability is consistent. Significant additional resources have been provided for services and supports in this area under the Multi-Annual Investment Programme 2006-2009, as part of the National Disability Strategy. Overall approximately €1.6 billion is spent annually by the health services on disability programmes (residential, day care, respite, assessments and rehabilitation services).

I am very much aware of the valuable contribution the Brothers of Charity Services make to the provision of services to people with intellectual disabilities in Limerick. During the period 2005 — 2008, the Brothers of Charity Services nationally received over €631 million in funding from the HSE. In 2009, approximately €177 million was provided to fund these services. This sustained level of investment reflects the significant growth and development in the services provided by the Brothers of Charity over the past five years.

Arising from the introduction of cost containment and efficiency measures in the 2010 budget, the HSE advised all agencies providing services on its behalf of their financial allocations for 2010 and the required adjustments. The HSE is aware of the challenges which this reduction in allocations will present to organisations in ensuring they meet the needs of service users and in planning for emergencies that arise throughout the year. In this context, it is vital that all providers work creatively and co-operatively to ensure that the maximum level of services are maintained within the funding resources available.

The HSE plans to maintain access to appropriate treatments and services for clients during 2010 despite current resource pressures. The HSE is very much aware of the importance of respite service provision for the families of both children and adults with disabilities including the impact the absence of respite service provision can have on other services, for example residential and day-care. Respite services throughout the country are being reviewed on an ongoing basis, and the majority of Local Health Offices have reported that services are being [193]maintained, albeit with some difficulty. In all areas, Disability Managers are working closely with agencies to ensure that those with the most urgent needs are prioritised. There has been a continued expansion in the availability of residential support services, particularly planned or emergency centre-based respite services, which have grown substantially. A total of 4,599 people availed of this type of service in 2008, allowing them to continue living with their families and in their communities.

The HSE is working in partnership with the Voluntary Service Providers in dealing with issues that arise from funding allocations, to ensure the needs of service users are prioritised and addressed and that frontline delivery is given priority. Disability Service Providers, including those in the Limerick area, have been asked to submit their plans for the maintenance of service levels within available resources, and to discuss with HSE management how current challenges can be addressed. As part of this process, the Brothers of Charity Services have prepared a detailed document for discussion with HSE personnel at local level. In response to the Brothers of Charity proposal to close one respite service on the 14th June, affecting 19 service-users, local discussions are taking place regarding the implications of this for users of its respite service, and the HSE is endeavouring to ensure that an alternative service will be made available.

The HSE are aware of the pressures the Brothers of Charity Services are experiencing in maintaining existing service levels and responding to the respite needs of service users. While significant changes have been applied to frontline services, in many cases these changes have not necessarily resulted in service reduction, but in a different model of service delivery being applied.

The HSE will continue to work in partnership with the Brothers of Charity in dealing with issues that arise from service cuts, to ensure the needs of service users are prioritised and addressed. However, any planned reductions, must be risk assessed and risk managed by the Brothers of Charity. There are also plans to develop a local forum in Limerick of all service providers (both Physical & Sensory & Intellectual Disability), with a focus on the needs of service users now and in the future.

  212.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will be facilitated with an appointment. [26503/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  213.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of children on the waiting list for orthodontic treatment in the North Lee area, the number of orthodontists currently active in dealing with this list; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26509/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 214 answered with Question No. 210.

  215.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamen[194]tary Question No. 23 of 10 June 2010, the proportion of the population covered by the medical card scheme and the doctor only medical card scheme on this date in 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26548/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I understand the Deputy’s question is referring to the number of medical card and GP visit card holders in 2008. Details of the number of medical card holders and GP visit card holders are provided to my Department each month by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and reflect the position after new cards have been added and other cards, as appropriate, have been removed from the HSE’s database. The monthly figures for 2008 are provided in the following table.

Date Medical Card Holders GP Visit Card Holders
01/01/2008 1,276,178 75,589
01/02/2008 1,280,510 76,094
01/03/2008 1,288,621 76,710
01/04/2008 1,292,086 77,269
01/05/2008 1,302,779 79,021
01/06/2008 1,306,470 80,035
01/07/2008 1,312,293 81,047
01/08/2008 1,319,856 81,655
01/09/2008 1,324,477 82,198
01/10/2008 1,338,261 84,053
01/11/2008 1,339,776 84,395
01/12/2008 1,347,349 84,933
01/01/2009 1,352,120 85,546

  216.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of departmental credit cards in use in her Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26567/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There are four corporate credit/charge cards for official business purposes currently in use in my Department. The credit limit on the card issued to me as Minister is €5,000 and that of the card issued to my Private Secretary is €10,000. The two remaining cards are charge cards with no specified limit and are issued to a nominated officer in my Department’s Finance Unit and the Registrar of the Adoption Board. These cards are used to cover a range of costs such as publications, seminar and conference fees, annual membership fees, transport costs and software purchases where payment by credit card is required. Information on the amount spent in respect of each card for the past three years is being collated by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  217.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within her [195]remit in each of the past three years; if she will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26582/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The Performance Related Award Schemes in operation in non-commercial State-sponsored bodies were introduced following a decision by the Government on the implementation of the recommendations of the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in the Public Sector. Awards made under the schemes approved by my Department and the Department of Finance are a matter for the Boards of the non-commercial State-sponsored bodies concerned and must be in accordance with the principles set out by the Review Body. In this regard, awards should be related to the achievement of highly demanding and challenging targets and stretch objectives which are difficult but not impossible to achieve.

The schemes are currently suspended. Details of awards made to individual officers under the approved schemes by the various bodies are not disclosed on the basis that they are confidential to the individual concerned. I can, however, confirm that, in respect of 2007, a total of €49,858 was awarded under three such schemes and that €22,255 was awarded under one such scheme in respect of 2008. No awards were made in respect of 2009.

  218.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of special advisers her Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if she will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26597/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  There have been 8 special advisors in my Department since June 2007. The following table sets out their names, periods of employment and their relevant Minister/Minister of State.

Name Special Advisor to From To
Patricia Ryan Minister Harney 14/06/2007 To date
Derek Cunningham Minister Harney 14/06/2007 To date
Oliver O’Connor Minister Harney 14/06/2007 06/05/2008
John O’Brien Minister Harney 14/06/2007 31/12/2007
Liam Cullen Minister Andrews 13/05/2008 to date
Philip Hannon Minister Smith 20/06/2007 06/05/2008
Sean Fitzpatrick Minister Devins 20/06/2007 06/05/2008
Cathy Herbert Minister Lenihan 01/06/2007 14/06/2007

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to expenses and travel is currently being collated by my Department and I will forward the information directly to the Deputy.

  219.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the records that are maintained within her Department concerning communication between her, the Minister of State with responsibility for children and departmental officials relating to children who have died since 1 January 2000 who were in care or who had been reported to either the Health Service Executive or the former health boards as being at risk. [26613/10]

[196]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  The Department holds certain records regarding children who died in the care of the State since 1 January 2000. These records relate in some situations to specific cases and include direct representations made to me by interested parties. In addition, the issue of child deaths is the subject of regular dialogue with my officials.

  220.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of ultrasound machines in obstetric departments around the country; the locations of each of these machines; the age of each of these machines; the frequency of calibration of each of these machines; the numbers of users of each of these machines; the rank and experience of each of the users of each of these machines; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26621/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  221.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will receive the result of an appeal against a decision not to grant them a medical card. [26624/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  222.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the shortage of beds at Crumlin children’s hospital, Dublin, which has resulted in operations for hip relocations being cancelled on an ongoing basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26727/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  223.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of theatres, beds or wards closed at Crumlin children’s hospital, Dublin, in the past three years; the duration of each closure; and the reason for same. [26728/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  224.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the bed capacity, the number of operating theatres and the number of nursing and other medical and non-medical staff for each of the State’s paediatric hospitals. [26729/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  225.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the proposed bed capacity, the number of operating theatres and the number of nursing and other medical [197]and non-medical staff proposed for the new paediatric hospital at the Mater site, Dublin. [26730/10]

  227.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the comparative specifications of the new paediatric hospital on the Mater site, Dublin, in comparison to the three combined existing paediatric hospitals, in relation to family rooms and wards, public and private beds, consulting rooms, observation rooms, theatres, accident and emergency, intensive care units, outpatients, kitchens, canteens, open space and grounds, staff and visitor car-parking, administration and offices and other aspects of modern day hospitals. [26732/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 225 and 227 together.

Work done originally on the proposed activity for the new hospital and an ambulatory and urgent care centre was undertaken by international health service consultants, RKW, in 2007. These projections were further developed by health service planning experts working for the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in consultation with the hospitals and the HSE throughout 2008 and 2009. Projected activity for both facilities was further reviewed and agreed with the HSE 2010. These projections take into account an expected 16.2% increase in child population growth up to 2021 (CSO projections) and reflect international and best practice trends in acute paediatric healthcare, especially in relation to increased ambulatory care (day care and out-patient care) with less reliance on in-patient care to treat children.

Projected activity for 2021 for in-patient care is 27,542 discharges, and on this basis it is planned to provide 392 in-patient beds in the hospital on the Eccles Street site. Ambulatory care (day care and out-patient services) will be provided in both the hospital and the ambulatory and urgent care centre at Tallaght. The projected activity for day care for 2021 is 28,303 discharges, and on this basis it is planned to provide 81 day care beds (53 in the hospital and 28 in the A&UCC at Tallaght). Out-patient activity is projected for 2021 is 202,836 attendances, and on this basis it is planned to provide 84 consulting examination rooms (58 in the hospital and 26 in the A&UCC at Tallaght). There are a total of 20 operating theatres/procedure rooms proposed for the hospital and ambulatory and urgent care centre to accommodate all in-patient and day care procedure requirements.

The workforce plan for the hospital and ambulatory and urgent care centre is being developed at present. The new hospital is being designed to meet the future acute healthcare requirements for children and young people. Direct comparisons with facilities built in the two previous centuries are not appropriate or helpful. The new hospital, which will be a specialist paediatric tertiary centre on one site, and the ambulatory and urgent care centre at Tallaght are being designed to accommodate a new National Model of Care for paediatric healthcare, to reflect international trends in the delivery of services with its growing emphasis on ambulatory care and to incorporate the latest advances in medical technology and ICT. Children and families are directly involved in the hospital design to ensure it is child-centred and family-focused. Extensive engagement with the staff in the existing hospitals is also taking place in the design development process. All the facilities mentioned in the Deputy’s question are planned for inclusion in the new hospital.

  226.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether the 2014 completion date for the opening of the national paediatric hospital is realistic in view of the fact that no planning permission has been sought to date. [26731/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Applications for planning permission are to be made by the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in July and [198]August 2010 for the hospital at Eccles Street and in the 4th quarter of 2010 for the Ambulatory and Urgent Care Centre at Tallaght. This follows on from a comprehensive process of stakeholder consultation planning and design by the Board. The Development Board, in projecting the project timelines for construction and commissioning of the hospital including operational readiness by the end of 2014, has taken into account an estimated time period for processing planning applications.

Question No. 227 answered with Question No. 225.

  228.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if long-term residential or community care will be made available in respect of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26748/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  229.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will reconsider the decision to refuse payment for child care in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26749/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have responsibility for implementing the free Pre-School Year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, which was introduced in January of this year. Children will qualify for a free pre-school year place when they are aged more than 3 years 2 months and less than 4 years 7 months at 1 September each year. This means that children born between 2 February 2006 and 30 June 2007 will qualify in September 2010. From the information provided by the Deputy, the child in question is not eligible for the scheme in September this year but will be eligible in September 2011.

The objective of the ECCE scheme is to make early learning in a formal setting available to all children in the key developmental year before they commence primary school. To achieve this, services participating in the pre-school year will be expected to provide appropriate age related activities and programmes to children within a particular age cohort. Targeting the pre-school year at a particular age cohort is clearly fundamental to the scheme and it is necessary, therefore, to set minimum and maximum limits to the age range within which children will participate in the scheme each year.

In setting the minimum and maximum age limits, account was taken of a number of factors, including the fact that the majority of children commence primary school between the ages of 4 years 6 months and 5 years 6 months. Notwithstanding this, the ECCE scheme provides for an eligibility range of almost 17 months. The upper age limit does not apply where children are developmentally delayed and would benefit from participating in the pre-school year at a later age.

As in the case of any scheme introduced, cases will arise where individuals fall outside the conditions which apply. However, it is necessary that the scheme is delivered within a structure which supports the best delivery of pre-school education and it is considered therefore that the age range provided for is appropriate. Arrangements are already in place for the pre-school [199]year which is due to commence in September 2010 and these do not provide for any amendment or reduction in the lower age for eligibility.

  230.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason it is not possible to make verbal contact with the regional appeals officer dealing with medical cards or any of his staff in Mallow, County Cork. [26756/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  231.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow. [26773/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  232.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will take the necessary action to attach to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 6 a full clinical team, including a consultant psychiatrist, psychologist, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists as was attached to it until approximately six years ago to provide essential services for the educational needs of 60 children attending the school with emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties, that such a clinical team be provided in conjunction with a clinic (details further supplied) or through the appointment of appropriate staff directly to the school; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that many of the children attending the school are in urgent need of structured and regular occupational therapy and or speech and language therapy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26774/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  233.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if medical card holders are entitled to elastic stockings; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26776/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  234.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26779/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[200]

  235.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3. [26785/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I understand the Deputy’s question refers to the provision of a medical card. As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  236.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide clinical psychology and speech and language services and also occupational therapy services to a school (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26789/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  237.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when the Health Service Executive will confirm the go-ahead for a new consultant haematologist for Letterkenny General Hospital, County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26793/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Questions Nos. 238 and 239 answered with Question No. 63.

  240.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26805/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  241.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for new glasses in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26806/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  242.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26807/10]

[201]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  243.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26808/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  244.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26809/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  245.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26810/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  246.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will state who the members of the independent review group on child deaths will be; when these persons will be appointed; and the timescale for the work of this group. [26813/10]

  247.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the independent review group on child deaths has been allocated a budget; and if so, if any has been spent to date. [26814/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 246 and 247 together.

The Independent Review Group on Child Deaths was established on 8 March 2010 and commenced work on April 28th 2010. The Group is composed of Ms Norah Gibbons and Mr. Geoffrey Shannon. A third independent person of international standing will be appointed when an initial examination of documentation has been completed by the two appointed members. The Group’s report will be presented to me and will be laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas and published. It is intended that the Group will complete its review within a period of six months.

The Review Group has commenced work and a budget has been approved in respect of their work. Invoices paid to date in respect of set up costs amount to €1120.01. Ms Gibbons and the Administrative Assistant to the Group are employees of Barnardos who are to be reimbursed accordingly. Mr Shannon is to be paid an agreed stipend to cover his participation.

  248.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a medical card will be approved in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [26856/10]

[202]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  249.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to a previous parliamentary question, if an independent inquiry rather than an in-house HSE inquiry will be conducted into the treatment of a patient at a hospital (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if the inquiry will also investigate the reason the hours of work were cut in respect of the whistleblower; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26857/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I have asked the Inspector of Mental Health Services and the HSE to examine the issues raised and to report to me as soon as possible. I will inform you of the outcome.

The Health Act 2004 as amended by Health Act 2007 provides for the making of protected disclosures by health service employees. The purpose of the amendment is to facilitate employees to disclose matters of concern to an authorised person and to provide statutory protection against penalisation in their employment and against civil liability. This applies to all employees of the HSE, agencies funded by the HSE and bodies established under the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961. The authorised person in the HSE can be contacted at: HSE Authorised Person, PO Box 11571, Dublin 2; telephone number 01-6626984.

  250.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26874/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  251.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a medical card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26876/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  252.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will ensure that the Health Service Executive will provide funding towards the treatment of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26879/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  253.  Deputy Joe Behan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the capital grants that may be availed of by community cancer support centres to assist in the purchase of premises; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26880/10]

[203]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Community cancer support centres may apply to my Department’s National Lottery Fund. Funding is provided on a discretionary basis to assist voluntary agencies with once-off capital grants for purchase/refurbishment of premises. Information on how to apply for this funding is available on my Department’s website at www.dohc.ie. Groups and organisations may also apply to the HSE which also has discretionary once-off National Lottery funding for assistance with viable projects linked with the provision of health and personal social services. The HSE has in the past also provided funding from its overall service budget to organisations whose work complements that of HSE providers. I have referred this Question to the HSE for direct reply on the present position regarding availability of such funding.

Question No. 254 answered with Question No. 166.

Question No. 255 answered with Question No. 69.

  256.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a medical card approval was not awarded from the cessation date of a previous medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if this person will be compensated for their medical expenses from the date of cessation of the previous medical card to the issue date of their over 70 years medical card. [26920/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  257.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding 50 new beds at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Waterford; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26924/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  I regret that due to industrial action by members of the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU) 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.

  258.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount by which the national roads programme has gone over budget since it was launched in the National Development Plan 2000-2006, wherein it was supposed to cost approximately €6 billion. [26299/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  On publication of the National Development Plan (NDP) in 1999 the estimate of the cost, and the nominal amount in the NDP for the National Roads Programme was €6.96bn (in early 1999 prices). Subsequent to this estimate in 1999 a major expansion in the programme took place including:

the inclusion of the Dublin — Waterford M14;

the scope of many of the projects including upgrading of routes, higher road standards, and additional cost of land acquisition; and

[204]significant construction cost inflation.

The reasons for increases from initial estimates, drawn up in advance of detailed scheme design, to the more refined scheme estimates were examined in some detail by the Comptroller and Auditor General and major independent evaluations on the national roads programme by Fitzpatrick’s Associates in 2002 and Indecon in 2003. The C&AG Report, and the other evaluations, acknowledged that the national roads investment programme was, in general, well managed, in particular, as regards factors within the control of the National Roads Authority (NRA).

  259.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Transport    his plans to publish the document on designated parking badges and bays. [26278/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I understand that the Deputy is referring to the review of the Disabled Parking Scheme which has been carried out by my Department. I have received the report of this review and considered and approved its recommendations. Work on implementing these recommendations is under way in my Department. The report will be published in the near future.

  260.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Transport    if the final decision by An Bord Pleanála on the Dublin Bay infill is the end of the matter. [26313/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  As a trade dependent island, the provision of adequate and efficient port capacity is very important for our economy. My Department has commissioned a number of studies on the matter over the last decade. The Dublin Port Study carried out by my Department under the NDP and published in August 2009 provides the most recent analysis of future traffic and capacity projections at our commercial seaports. The study highlighted the need to develop significant additional port capacity by 2025-2030.

My Department intends to carry out a Ports Policy Review later this year, and this will provide an opportunity to consider recent planning decisions in relation to port infrastructure. The port companies are responsible for the management and development of the ports. Individual projects, such as Dublin Port’s proposed reclamation, are an operational matter for the port companies themselves.

  261.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport    his view on the European Commission’s proposals to permanently exclude self-employed lorry and coach drivers from EU working time regulations; if he has opposed this proposed change to EU working time rules in view of the fact that it may threaten the safety of all road users and drivers’ health and put small hauliers here out of business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26351/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Directive 2002/15 — the Working Time Directive for Mobile Workers — applies to self-employed drivers, among other mobile workers. Following a detailed study and impact analysis of various options in relation to the implementation of the Directive, and in line with that study’s recommendations, the European Com[205]mission made proposals to amend the Directive, including a proposal to exclude genuine self employed bus and truck operators from the scope of that Directive. On that basis Ireland supported the Commission’s proposals, as did the majority of other Member States.

I understand that following the recent rejection by the European Parliament of the Commission’s proposals in relation to self-employed drivers, the Commission is now reviewing the position. The outcome of the Commission’s review is awaited and when their position is known, I will assess the situation at that time.

  262.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26408/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Department of Transport has canteen facilities for staff in three buildings in Dublin. These facilities which are not open to the general public, are operated by private contractors under agreements which do not stipulate where produce is sourced. Canteen arrangements in agencies are a matter for the agencies concerned.

  263.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26572/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  There are 5 credit cards in use by my Department. The names of the authorized signatories and the credit limit of each is set out in table below. I regret that due to industrial action by members of the CPSU I am not at present in a position to provide the further information sought.

Name of authorised signatory Limit
Fintan Towey 5,000
Jurgen Whyte 12,700
Brian Hogan 10,000
Chris Reynolds 3,000
Derek McConnon 25,000

  264.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26587/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Bonuses awarded to staff of semi State or similar bodies are a matter for the agencies involved.

  265.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Transport    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26602/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The number of special advisors in the Department of Transport since 2007 is five. Their names are:

Mr. James Fegan

Ms Olive Stephens

Ms Tanya Harrington (to date of resignation 30th June 2009)

Mr. Sean Fitzpatrick (temporary replacement for Ms. Olive Stephens)

Ms Stiofan Nutty (Special Advisor to Minister of State)

I regret that due to industrial action by members of the CPSU I am not at present in a position to provide the further information sought.

  266.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Transport    his views regarding the decision by Aer Lingus to suspend transatlantic services from Shannon Airport for three months next winter; if he was informed in advance of this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26766/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I regret the decision of Aer Lingus to suspend transatlantic services from Shannon for 11 weeks in winter 2010/11. However, I am satisfied from a meeting I had with the Aer Lingus CEO on 15 June 2010 that the airline is maintaining employment at the airport and I welcome the fact that Aer Lingus has reiterated its commitment to the Shannon market. The CEO also advised me that the decision to suspend services for 11 weeks (when seasonal demand is at its lowest) would help maintain the viability of the transatlantic services throughout the remainder of the year.

I understand that the decision was made following a detailed review of route profitability and that, since 1995, Aer Lingus has lost a total of €163 million on its transatlantic flights from Shannon during the winter months with an average operating loss per winter season of almost €11 million. I am encouraged to note that two other carriers (Delta and Continental) are expected to continue to provide regular connectivity from Shannon to the US during winter 2010/2011, availing of Shannon’s US preclearance facilities.

  267.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Transport    the proposals he has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26910/10]

[207]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I regret to advise the Deputy that due to industrial action by members of the CPSU I cannot at present ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas are responded to while this action continues.

  268.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the reason a person (details supplied) has not received a decision regarding a Garda interview completed six years ago. [26227/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Recruitment to An Garda Síochána is a matter in the first instance for the Public Appointments Service and then for the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána. I have no role or function in the process. The Public Appointments Service can be contacted by the applicant at Chapter House, 26-30 Abbey Street Upper, Dublin 1, by telephone at Lo-Call 1890 44 99 99 or by e-mail at info@publicjobs.ie.

  269.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for a visitor’s visa by a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26231/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can confirm to the Deputy that the person concerned created an on-line visit visa application on 7 June 2010 under the application reference number supplied. However, the necessary documentation in regard to this application has yet to be submitted to the Honorary Consul of Ireland in Karachi.

  270.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 278 of 30 March 2010, the position regarding an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26234/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A valid application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in January 2008. All valid applications are dealt with in chronological order as this is deemed to be the fairest to all applicants. The average processing time from application to decision is now at 26 months. More complicated cases can at times take more than the current average, while an element of straight forward cases can be dealt with in less than that timescale. Officials in the Citizenship Division inform me that further processing of the application is ongoing and the file will be submitted to me for a decision in due course.

The length of time taken to process each application should not be classified as a delay, as the length of time taken for any application to be decided is purely a function of the time taken to carry out necessary checks. There is a limit to the reduction in the processing time that can be achieved as applications for naturalisation must be processed in a way which preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure that it is not undervalued and is only given to persons who genuinely satisfy the necessary qualifying criteria.

  271.  Deputy Charles Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if a protocol [208]exists or guidelines are in place in respect of the appointment of District Court judges to districts in which they have formerly had an established legal practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26235/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Permanent assignments of District Court judges are made by the Government following consultation with the judge concerned and the President of the District Court. Temporary assignment of judges to a District other than their permanent assignment may be made by the President of the District Court with the judge’s consent. In addition, the President of the District Court may temporarily assign ‘moveable’ District Court judges to any District as the need arises. As a majority of the 64 serving District Court judges were solicitors prior to their appointment, it is not always possible to make assignments to a District other than that in which they were formerly based.

  272.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for renewal of green card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26236/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed that the person to whom the Deputy refers was granted permission to remain in the State in February of 2003 under the arrangements then in place for the non-EEA parents of Irish citizen children. The most recent extension of that permission to remain expired on 15 April, 2010. I understand that, on foot of correspondence received, the case of the person concerned is being examined at present and I expect a decision to issue shortly.

  273.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if he will use his discretionary powers to overturn the decision to deport in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26245/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am satisfied that the application for asylum made by the person concerned was fairly and comprehensively examined before a decision to refuse it was arrived at. I am equally satisfied that the representations he submitted for consideration under Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), together with all refoulement issues, were given the fullest consideration before his Deportation Order was made. This being the case, the decision to deport him is justified.

However, 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 the 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 an operational matter for the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

  274.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26249/10]

[209]Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed reply to his recent Parliamentary Question, No. 118 of Thursday, 22 April 2010, in this matter. The position in the State of the person concerned is as set out in that Reply.

  275.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for leave to remain in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26250/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed reply to his earlier Parliamentary Question No. 656 of Tuesday, 19 January 2010. The person concerned has submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the application for Subsidiary Protection is refused, the position in the State of the person concerned will then 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.

  276.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the status members of a personal security detail have here while accompanying a member of a foreign government on a visit to Ireland; the powers they have to deal with protesters they may encounter in the course of a visit; the way members of the Garda are instructed to react when members of such a security detail use physical force to deal with protesters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26269/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The details of the members of high level foreign delegations visiting Ireland, including any accompanying security personnel, are notified to the Department of Foreign Affairs in advance of a delegation’s arrival and that Department liaises with my Department and the Garda Síochána on relevant security-related aspects. The members of visiting Government delegations would enjoy the privileges and immunities appropriate to their status. However, all members of visiting delegations are required to respect and to comply with Irish law. The powers available to members of a personal security detail are no greater than those enjoyed by any citizen in similar circumstances. Members of the Garda Síochána are conferred with statutory powers in pursuit of their functions to preserve peace and public order and to prevent, detect and investigate breaches of the criminal law.

  277.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    when a decision will issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary who has applied for naturalisation. [26280/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A valid application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in January 2009. All valid applications are dealt [210]with in chronological order as this is deemed to be the fairest to all applicants.The average processing time from application to decision is now at 26 months. More complicated cases can at times take more than the current average, while an element of straightforward cases can be dealt with in less than that timescale.

The length of time taken to process each application should not be classified as a delay, as the length of time taken for any application to be decided is purely a function of the time taken to carry out necessary checks. There is a limit to the reduction in the processing time that can be achieved as applications for naturalisation must be processed in a way which preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure that it is not undervalued and is only given to persons who genuinely satisfy the necessary qualifying criteria.

  278.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of prisoners in each prison here in tabular form; the ideal prisoner level for each prison here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26290/10]

  283.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    his plans to reduce the level of overcrowding in prisons here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26295/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 278 and 283 together.

I wish to inform the Deputy that on 18 June, 2010, there were 4,304 prisoners in custody as compared to a bed capacity of 4,066. This represents an occupancy level of 106%. The following table provides a breakdown of the population and bed capacity of each prison/place of detention.

Prison/Place of Detention Bed Capacity No. in Custody
Arbour Hill Prison 148 152
Castlerea Prison 351 385
Cloverhill Prison 431 471
Cork Prison 272 299
Dóchas Centre 85 133
Limerick Prison (male) 290 309
Limerick Prison (female) 20 22
Loughan House 150 150
Midlands Prison 516 531
Mountjoy Prison (male) 590 697
Portlaoise Prison 359 266
Shelton Abbey 100 100
St. Patrick’s Institution 217 222
Training Unit 107 114
Wheatfield Prison 430 453
Totals 4,066 4,304

As the Deputy will appreciate the Irish Prison Service must accept all prisoners committed by the Courts into its custody and does not have the option of refusing committals. It is the case [211]that there has been a consistent increase in the total prisoner population over recent years. This situation is particularly apparent over the past 12 months during which time the total number in custody has increased by 432. This represents a rise of over 11% in the numbers in custody.

The Inspector of Prisons, in his 2008 Annual Report, acknowledged that overcrowding in prisons is an international problem, not just unique to Ireland. The Irish Prison Service has been engaged in an extensive programme of investment in prisons infrastructure which has involved both the modernisation of the existing estate and the provision of extra prison spaces. Since 1997 in excess of 1,720 new prison spaces have come on stream in the prison system. These include the new prisons in Castlerea, the Midlands, Cloverhill, the Dóchas Centre and new accommodation in Limerick, Portlaoise and Castlerea prisons and at the open centres in Shelton Abbey and Loughan House.

Current projects will see in excess 200 prison spaces provided in the short term by means of the opening of a new block in Wheatfield. In addition, we hope to proceed in late 2010 with a new accommodation block in the Portlaoise/Midlands prisons complex which will provide 300 prison spaces in the medium term. Also in the short term, work is due to commence on converting an administrative building on the Dóchas site into a new accommodation block. This accommodation will provide approximately 50 spaces and is due to be completed in September/ October, 2010.

The Deputy will also be aware of the Government’s commitment to developing a new prison campus at Thornton Hall, County Dublin. The new prison facility will provide accommodation for 1,400 cells with operational flexibility to accommodate up to 2,200 in a range of security settings. The development is now proceeding on a phased basis with phase one comprising essential enabling works required for the development, including the construction of the dedicated access road, perimeter wall and off-site services. Tenders for the construction of the access road were published in March of this year and tenders for the construction of the perimeter wall will be published in September. Phase 2 will include the development of the main prison campus. The detailed appraisal is underway in accordance with Department of Finance Capital Expenditure Guidelines and the new business case is at an advanced stage of preparation.

  279.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of prison officers employed in each prison for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26291/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am advised by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that the current staffing levels and configurations for each of the prisons were established in the context of the Change Agreement reached with the Prison Officers’ Association in 2005. The Agreement involved substantial changes to staff deployment, which could only be achieved over time. The staffing level for each prison was determined following an analysis of all the tasks that were required to run the individual prison. At present, staffing levels and configurations are quite close to what was envisaged when the Agreement was reached with the Prison Officers Association.

The Deputy will appreciate that in a large organisation such as the Irish Prison Service, surpluses and shortfalls in staffing have to be managed on an ongoing basis and there will be short periods where staff levels are either under or above target levels. The staffing levels for [212]each prison at the end of each year from 2006 to 2009, and current levels in June 2010, are as follows:

Institution 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006
Mountjoy 538.5 511.5 567.5 529.0 500.5
Dochas Centre 81.5 88.0 99.0 91.5 90.0
St Patrick’s Institution 208.0 218.5 235.0 233.0 198.0
Cork 211.5 214.0 234.5 226.0 229.0
Limerick 209.0 215.0 226.0 219.0 215.0
Castlerea 191.5 197.5 174.5 165.0 159.5
Cloverhill 344.0 348.5 397.0 360.0 341.0
Wheatfield 314.0 314.0 362.0 315.0 304.5
Portlaoise 284.0 305.0 312.0 306.0 295.0
Arbour Hill 105.5 108.5 115.5 115.0 110.0
Training Unit 61.0 59.0 68.0 69.0 72.0
Midlands 340.5 339.5 365.0 348.5 344.0
Loughan House 49.0 49.0 52.0 47.0 46.0
Shelton Abbey 52.5 53.5 51.5 43.0 44.0

In addition to the staff assigned to each of the prisons there are also staff assigned to a range of important support services. These include: 145 staff assigned to the Prison Service Escort Corp which are responsible for transporting prisoners between prisons and to courts, hospitals and other destinations, 157 staff assigned to the Operational Support Group which is responsible for security screening and security searching within prisons, 28 staff assigned to the Building Services Division which is responsible for building and maintenance and a small number (45) of other prison grade staff that are assigned to tasks related to training, procurement and logistics. I have been informed by the Irish Prison Service that, on 12 June 2010, the number of staff serving in the Prison Service as a whole was 3333.5. The year end figures for 2009, 2008, 2007 and 2006 are 3,417, 3506.5, 3347.5 and 3305 respectively.

Increases in staffing levels, where they occurred, have been related in the main to the opening of new prisoner accommodation at these prisons. This includes the opening of new prisoner accommodation at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey in 2008, Castlerea and Portlaoise in 2009, and Mountjoy in 2010. Other factors that have led to increases in staff numbers on a temporary basis include the practice of initially assigning new recruits to large Dublin prisons for a period before they, or more senior colleagues, are assigned elsewhere in the system. This has led to temporary increases in large Dublin prisons such as Mountjoy and Cloverhill at certain times.

The staffing levels in each prison are mediated by a number of factors; these include retirements, recruitment and transfers. During 2009, in particular, there was a significantly higher level of retirements than would be expected in a normal year, with 192 staff retiring from the Prison Service in that year. Retirements have continued at a higher than normal rate through to 2010, although the rate is slower than in 2009. These retirements have been offset by the recruitment of 122 Recruit Prison Officers during 2009 which built on significant recruitment that took place in 2008, and the recruitment of 61 Recruit Prison Officers in 2010 to date. For that reason the Prison Service has been able to absorb the high levels of retirements while maintaining acceptable staffing levels.

[213]

  280.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of prison officers injured in the line of work in each of the past five years; the prison in which they were working; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26292/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  In the time available it has not been possible to compile the details requested by the Deputy. I will be in contact with the Deputy when the information is to hand.

  281.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of prison officers on sick leave in each prison here for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26293/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am advised by the Director General of the Irish Prison Service that there has been a welcome and significant decrease in the level of sickness absence in the Irish Prison Service since 2005. The number of sick leave days taken in the Prison Service has dropped from 81,503 in 2005 to 58,515 in 2009, a decrease of 22,988 days. It is worth noting that the sick days per capita rate decreased from 26.49 in 2005 to 17.25 in 2009.

Year Days Per Capita
2005 81,503 26.49
2006 82,580 26.27
2007 71,651 21.64
2008 67,988 19.84
2009 58,515 17.25

Records show the number of Prison Officers who took sick leave in each prison for the past 5 years between 2005 and 2009 and up to 18th June 2010 are as follows:

2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005
Arbour Hill 89 116 117 114 100 71
Building Services Division 14 14 18 13 13 3
Beladd House 6 12 11 13 8 3
Castlerea 176 199 177 160 146 121
Cloverhill 272 300 303 321 334 366
Cork 184 221 225 219 211 214
Dochas 72 88 82 92 74 82
Limerick 188 228 234 213 194 160
Loughan House 38 50 45 41 36 11
Midlands 306 350 365 358 322 355
Mountjoy 408 457 485 466 423 422
Operational Support Group 106 116
Prison Service Escort Corps 117 137 138 141 116
Portlaoise 264 302 305 301 286 205
Shelton Abbey 51 48 49 42 36 23
St. Patrick’s Institution 178 204 221 217 185 156
Training Unit 58 65 64 69 68 49
Wheatfield 228 271 286 281 263 279

[214]By way of clarification I should say that the Prison Service Escort Corps (PSEC) was operational from February 2006 and the Operational Support Group (OSG) was operational from mid 2008. I have also been advised that OSG Sick leave records for 2008 were recorded in parent prisons and are reflected in the above table. The Director General of the Irish Prison Service will continue to proactively monitor sick leave across the prison estate.

  282.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the current annual cost of keeping a prisoner in prison; his plans to increase the use of community service orders rather than prison sentences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26294/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As the Deputy is aware the Courts are independent in the exercise of their functions and they decide on the appropriate sentence following conviction for any particular crime. The Community Service Scheme provides a very useful disposal option for the courts and one I hope will be used more in the future. In fact, the operation of this scheme was the subject of an independent review which I published last October. Broadly speaking the review found that the Scheme had the capacity to be used to a far greater extent.

Based on this, and other recommendations contained in the review, the Probation Service of my Department is leading the drive to substantially increase the number of persons that could potentially be placed on Community Service. The Probation Service has restructured the delivery of Community Service nationally under the governance of a dedicated Community Service Unit and has designed a new model of Community Service. The implementation of the new model is being piloted in the Dublin area. The pilot is intended to trial and refine the efficiency of operation.

At present the most common non-custodial sanction used by the Courts, is the imposition of a fine. The new Fines Act makes provision for the use of non-custodial options for the non-payment of fines such as Community Service. This new legislative provision will provide an extension to the use the Courts can make of the Community Service sanction in less serious offence cases.

I should also add that the most recently published Discussion Document of the White Paper on Crime series, ‘Criminal Sanctions’, includes an examination of the use of non-custodial sanctions generally, such as Community Service. A consultation seminar was held at the end of May and the closing date for written submissions has been extended to the end of July. The opinions received at the consultation seminar and from submissions will inform future plans.

I am confident, having regard to the independence of the Judiciary, that the work of the Probation Service to encourage greater use of the Community Service option by the courts will result in greater numbers being placed on the Scheme. The average cost of providing a prison space in 2009 was *€77,222. This was a decrease on the 2008 cost (€92,717) of *€15,495 or 16.7%. The decrease in the average cost of an available, staffed prison space between 2008 and 2009 is the result of a 5% decrease in total costs, combined with a 14% increase in available spaces.

The decrease in costs is primarily due to a *€15.5 Million reduction in salary costs arising from the Government’s Public Service pay control measures and the effects of retirements and the moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the Public Service. The increase in available spaces is primarily due to the completion and opening of major new accommodation blocks at Castlerea (116 spaces) and Portlaoise (200 spaces) prisons, in addition to a number of other [215]capacity increasing projects across the prison estate. As in previous years, the numbers of available spaces in each institution are based on figures as at 31st December — this may distort the average cost, in an institution where new prison accommodation is commissioned during the year.

Breakdown of the cost in respect of Open, Closed and High Security prisons

Security Regime 2008 2009 % Change
Open *60,150 *50,521 -16%
Closed *90,837 *79,308 -13%
High Security *155,306 *75,892 -51%
Overall average cost per available staffed space *92,717 *77,222 -17%

Question No. 283 answered with Question No. 278.

  284.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding ground rents, including the liability of a householder for such rents; and if it is intended to abolish ground rents by legislation or by referendum. [26354/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The position is that Part III of the Landlord and Tenant (Ground Rents) (No. 2) Act 1978 already contains a statutory scheme whereby any individual may, at reasonable cost, acquire the fee simple in their dwelling house. The scheme is operated by the Property Registration Authority. I should add that a landlord is statute barred from claiming more than 6 years arrears of ground rent and section 27 of the 1978 (No. 2) Act provides that a landlord cannot re-enter or take possession of premises in respect of which payment of the ground rent is in arrears.

A legal challenge to the constitutionality of the purchase price provisions of the ground rents legislation was heard in the High Court in 2005. While the Court’s judgment upholding the constitutionality of the legislation was delivered in early 2006, it was subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court heard the appeal some months ago and reserved its judgment. The operation of the law in this area continues to be reviewed in my Department.

  285.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26405/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can inform the Deputy that no Government run canteens, commercially run cafes or restaurants are operating in Government buildings in my Department with the exception of the Irish Prisons Service, the Courts Service and An Garda Síochána as set out below.

The Irish Prison Service (IPS) operate one Government run canteen at the Irish Prison Service Training Centre, Beladd, Portlaoise. There are twelve commercially run cafés or restaurants operating in IPS buildings: 2 at Wheatfield & Cloverhill Places of Detention, [216]Clondalkin, Dublin 22; 3 at Mountjoy Complex, St Patrick’s Institution & Arbour Hill, Dublin 7; 3 at Midlands Prison, Portlaoise Prison and Portlaoise Coffee Shop, Dublin Rd, Portlaoise, Co Laois; 1 at Limerick Prison, Mulgrave Street, Limerick; 1 at Cork Prison, Rathmore Road, Cork; 1 at Castlerea Prison, Harristown, Co Roscommon; and 1 at IPS Headquarters, Longford.

It is the policy of the Irish Prison Service to subject all tenders to the EU Open procedures as described in the European Parliament and the Council Directive 2004/18/EC on the co-ordination of procedures, or the award of public works, public supply and public service contracts, and as set out in SI 329 of 2006 European Communities (Award of Public Authorities’ Contracts) Regulations 2006. With regard to sourcing food locally, this is a matter for the contractor appointed to manage the cafés or restaurants.

In relation to the Courts Service: the canteen in Phoenix House is operated under contract from the Courts Service by a catering contractor on a commercial basis and is open to staff and the public; the Public Restaurant at the Four Courts is operated by a catering contractor on a commercial basis under licence from the Office of Public Works; in the Criminal Courts of Justice (CCJ), there is a commercially run cafe — the CCJ is run on the basis of a pubic private partnership (PPP) and the PPP company have subcontracted the provision of this cafe service; and in the Four Courts, the Bar Council operates a canteen/restaurant for barristers on a commercial basis and the Law Society operates a small cafe for legal practitioners on a commercial basis. With regard to sourcing food locally, this is a matter for the contractor appointed to manage the canteens or restaurants.

As it has not been possible to obtain the information requested from An Garda Síochána in the allocated time frame, I will forward this information to the Deputy when it comes to hand.

  286.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if a visa application in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6W will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26412/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 245 of 5th May, 2010. The position remains unchanged. To date EU Treaty Rights Section has not received a satisfactory reply from the applicant or their legal representative.

  287.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if he will support a safety and security action plan for an area (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [26415/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the area referred to is in the Clontarf Sub-District. Local Garda management is aware of anti-social behaviour in the area, which has been designated as a public order hot-spot. One Sergeant and six Gardaí are attached to the Community Policing Unit at Clontarf Garda Station. These community Gardaí liaise with the local community and business groups in the District, including in the area referred to.

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. The area is also subject to targeted patrols, particularly at weekends. Local Garda management closely monitors and keeps under review patrols and other operational strategies in place, [217]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 conducive to the improvement of the quality of life for residents. Community policing is a central feature and core value of policing policy.

  288.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of non-European Economic Areas students attending colleges here from 2005 to 2009, broken down by sector of study and country of residence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26428/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  While the particular information sought by the Deputy is not readily available nor maintained by the immigration authorities, the available statistical information, as set out below, may be of interest. Table 1 outlines the total number of students registered in Ireland for the years 2006 to 2009. Table 2 provides a snap shot of the position as of 11 March 2010 for non-EEA Students by education sector and top five nationalities. It should be noted that non-EEA national students attending courses for less than 90 days are not required to register with the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

Table 1: Total Number of Non-EEA Students registered in Ireland each year from 2006 to 2009

2006 2007 2008 2009
33,056 39,720 44,942 45,518

Table 2: Statistics by Nationality on Non-EEA Student Immigration to Ireland as at 11 March 2010

Nationality English Language Further Education Higher Education Other Total
Chinese 2,006 2,226 3,770 90 8,092
Brazilian 3,160 861 112 65 4,198
Mauritian 795 2,760 76 12 3,643
American 8 54 2,307 172 2,541
Indian 13 1,174 1,213 130 2,530
Other 2,075 3,131 5,410 1,273 11,889
Total 8,057 10,206 12,888 1,742 32,893

  289.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if he will provide details of the number of visa applications received during the period 2003 to 2007 for a college (details supplied); if he will provide a breakdown of the number of those visa applications approved and refused; the country of residence of those applications approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26429/10]

[218]Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I must advise the Deputy that during the period concerned electronic records were not maintained in such a way as to facilitate the extraction of the details requested.

  290.  Deputy Paul Connaughton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the reason for the delay for a coroner’s report to be delivered to the relatives of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26450/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The coroner is an independent office holder with responsibility under the law for the medico-legal examination of sudden, unexplained, violent or unnatural deaths. In certain such cases, a post-mortem examination may be required. It generally takes some weeks or months before the report is received by the coroner, due to the factors involved. In this case, I understand from the Galway North Coroner that the post-mortem results were received in less than 4 months, which I understand is within usual timeframes, and that the coroner issued a Coroner’s Certificate within 3 working days of receipt of these results.

  291.  Deputy Catherine Byrne    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the immigration status of a person (detail supplied); when a decision will issue on their application for naturalisation; the length of time this person is entitled to remain in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26454/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As the name and reference number supplied by the Deputy do not match, it is not possible to definitively identify the person to whom the Deputy is referring in her Question. However, if the Deputy wishes to re-submit her Question with the correct details included, I will be happy to provide a substantive response.

  292.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of children officially deemed to be missing here in each of the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26507/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The information requested by the Deputy is currently being researched by the Garda authorities. I will contact the Deputy when the information is to hand.

  293.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the action the Garda will take to ensure that a community (details supplied) is safe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26556/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I have requested a report from the Garda authorities in relation to the matter referred to by the Deputy. I will contact the Deputy again when the report is to hand.

  294.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26568/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  Six members of staff in my Department are supplied with credit cards where the outstanding balances are paid directly by the Department to enable them to procure goods and services as part of their official responsibilities. The average annual expenditure limit on these cards is €8,500. Accurate information on detailed expenditure on these cards is not readily available prior to 2008, but from January 2008 to May 2010 the average annual expenditure was approximately €4,700 on each card.

As the Deputy will be aware, credit cards of this nature are no more than a tool which facilitates the efficient discharge of business. Indeed, in many ways it is not possible to procure some goods or services without a credit card where, for example, suppliers insist on advance payment.

  295.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26583/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to payments under the high level scheme of performance-related awards in Semi-State or Non-Commercial State-Sponsored Bodies under the aegis of my Department. There is only one such body, the Legal Aid Board, and awards were made to its Chief Executive in 2008 in respect of 2007 and in 2007 in respect of 2006. No awards were made in respect of 2008 or 2009. Details of individual awards made under the scheme are not disclosed on the basis that they are confidential to the individuals concerned.

  296.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26598/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  There have been three Special Advisors employed in my Department over the period since June 2007. Ms Cathy Herbert was appointed Special Advisor by my predecessor on 14 June 2007 and held the position up to 6 May 2008. I appointed Mr Ciarán Ó Cuinn (Programme Manager) and Mr Richard Moore (Press Advisor) on 7 May 2008. Special Advisors are entitled to claim travel and subsistence expenses in accordance with relevant Department of Finance Circulars, the details of which are considered personal to the individuals concerned. They are not entitled to individual entertainment allowances.

  297.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding the status of legislation to give the Garda and the probation service new statutory powers in the monitoring of released sex offenders; the details of these new powers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26603/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Sex Offenders Act 2001, which includes provisions relating to the registration of sex offenders, post-release supervision of sex offenders and sex offender orders, is being evaluated as part of a major review of the criminal law governing sexual offences.

I will first have to seek Government approval before I publicly give details of my legislative proposals. However, speaking generally, I expect, inter alia, to bring forward proposals to put risk assessment by the relevant authorities on a statutory basis and make the application process for a sex offender order easier. I am planning greater approximation of the laws North and South of the border, in particular in relation to the operation of the respective notification systems, so that sex offenders can gain no advantage in living in or visiting either side of the border. I am also considering what additional information offenders might be required to give to the Gardaí in the context of notification requirements for the sex offenders register. When the review is complete I will seek Government approval for the necessary legislation.

  298.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding a visa application in respect of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26607/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the visa applications referred to have been approved.

  299.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if land dealing transactions will be dealt with as soon as possible in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26738/10]

Minister for Justice 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.

  300.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding the residency application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Waterford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26740/10]

[221]Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Immigration Division of my Department that the person concerned made an application for residence in the State based on his marriage to a Lithuanian national on 19 May, 2010. On 1 June, 2010 EU Treaty Rights Section wrote to the applicant requesting further documentation in relation to his application for residence in the State. To date EU Treaty Rights Section has not received a reply from the applicant.

  301.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if he will make a statement in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Laois. [26752/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  With regard to the person (details supplied), I am advised by the Public Appointments Service that the person was successful in Stage 1 of the selection process of the 2008 Recruit Prison Officer competition and was placed number 592 in order of merit. Two hundred and thirty-six candidates were called to Stage 2 of the selection process of which 150 were successful. Thirty-seven of these have commenced employment with the Irish Prison Service.

  302.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the reason for the delay regarding the application for the renewal of a green card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26771/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that the person referred to by the Deputy made an application for further leave to remain in the State on 23 September, 2009. As there was conflicting information documented in this case, clarification was sought as to the status of the person referred to. Officials in my Department inform me that they are now in a position to make a decision in this case and they will be in touch with this person shortly.

  303.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [26772/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The person concerned applied for asylum on 17 December 2003. In accordance with Section 9 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended), he was entitled to remain in the State until his application for asylum was decided. His asylum application was refused following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Arising from the refusal of his asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 29 December 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against him. The person concerned initiated Judicial Review proceedings in the High Court, challenging the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal in his case. The Judicial [222]Review proceedings were struck out on 31 July 2007 meaning that the earlier decisions of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal and the Minister stood.

The position in the State of the person concerned now falls to 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.

  304.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of applications waiting to be processed at Thurles vetting unit, County Tipperary; the average waiting time for vetting; the actions being taken to tackle the backlog, if any; the consequences of a lengthy waiting time for those who apply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26790/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Garda Central Vetting Unit (GCVU) provides employment vetting for a large number of organisations in Ireland registered with the Gardaí for this purpose and which employ persons in a full-time, part-time, voluntary or training capacity to positions where they would have substantial, unsupervised access to children and/or vulnerable adults. The GCVU has managed a substantial increase over recent years in the numbers of vetting applications it receives — 187,864 in 2007; 218,404 in 2008 and 246,194 in 2009. At present, there are approximately 65,000 vetting applications in the course of being processed.

The processing time for vetting applications fluctuates during the year due to seasonal demands when the volume of applications received from certain sectors can increase. Additional time may be required to process an individual vetting application in cases where clarification is required as to the details provided or where other enquiries need to be made, for example, when the person in question has lived and worked abroad. There will always be a reasonably significant time period required to process a vetting application. However, the Gardaí make every effort to reduce this to the minimum possible consistent with carrying out the necessary checks. I am informed by the Garda Authorities that the current average processing time for vetting applications received at the GCVU is in the region of 10 to 12 weeks given that demand is particularly high at present.

The allocation of Garda resources, including personnel, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. An additional five persons were assigned to the Vetting Unit recently, bringing the total to 83 personnel currently assigned there, including six Gardaí and 77 Garda civilian personnel. A further five additional personnel are being recruited on a temporary basis and it is intended that these persons will commence work shortly. Overall, this represents a very significant increase in the level of personnel assigned to the unit, which stood at only 13 before the current process of development in Garda vetting began in 2005.

  305.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position with regard to the forthcoming Garda recruitment drive; the age limits that will be in place; if current age limits on serving members of the Garda Reserve who wish to become gardaí will be examined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26802/10]

[223]Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 provide that in a competition for full-time membership of An Garda Síochána, the assessment shall take into account any service by the candidate as a Reserve member of the Garda Síochána, and shall give due recognition to evidence of satisfactory service as such a member. Admission as a trainee Garda is contingent on the prospective applicant being under 35 years of age. This upper age limit was set in 2004 following consultation with the Commissioner and there are no plans to amend it.

  306.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the number of persons charged and or convicted of using computer technology for downloading child pornography images here in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26868/10]

Minister for Justice 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.

  307.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    when a travel document will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26869/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) informs me that the Travel Document Unit has not received an application from the person in question for an Irish Travel Document. I am advised that this child entered the State under the Family Reunification process using their own national passport to which an Irish visa was affixed and that a Travel Document will not issue as this passport is currently valid.

  308.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    when a travel document will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26870/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) informs me that the person named by the Deputy was declared a refugee in 2003 and has since attained Irish citizenship. No travel document will issue as this person now has an entitlement to an Irish passport. The reference number quoted by the Deputy relates to a different person who is a daughter of the person named. I am advised that this child entered the State under the Family Reunification process using her own national passport to which an Irish visa was affixed. A recent application for a Travel Document was refused as this passport is currently valid.

  309.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26871/10]

[224]Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my previous replies to his Parliamentary Questions. I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that a further letter issued to the person referred to by the Deputy on 18th June 2010 advising that they write directly to Family Reunification INIS regarding the matter concerned. I am further informed by INIS that on receipt of a response from the person referred to by the Deputy the case will be considered further.

  310.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26872/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question 160 on the 27 May, 2010. The position remains as stated.

  311.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding an application for residency in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26873/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  As the name and reference number supplied by the Deputy do not match, it is not possible to definitively identify the person to whom the Deputy is referring in his Question. However, if the Deputy wishes to re-submit his Question with the correct details included, I will be happy to provide a substantive response.

  312.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the reason for the delay in a decision on an asylum application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo. [26892/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  If an application for asylum has been made by the person concerned, I would like to make the Deputy aware that it is not the practice to comment on asylum applications that are pending.

  313.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the proposals he has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26906/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can assure the Deputy that the expeditious processing of Oireachtas Members’ correspondence remains a core customer service related function across all areas of my Department. Regrettably, in recent months it has not been possible due to industrial action to process certain types of correspondence, including correspondence from Members of the Oireachtas. However, in view of the recent ratification of the Croke Park Agreement my Department believes that normal working processes will shortly be restored. In that context arrangements are being made to ensure that all unprocessed correspondence is dealt with as quickly as possible.

  314.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the rights of a US citizen to an Irish passport (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26324/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The individual in question may qualify for Irish citizenship by descent through Foreign Births Registration or through naturalisation. Under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Acts, 1956 to 2004, the basic requirement for obtaining citizenship by descent, through Foreign Births Registration (FBR), is that an applicant’s parent was an Irish citizen at the time of the applicant’s birth. A person born outside Ireland with a parent who was born in Ireland is automatically an Irish citizen by descent. A person born outside Ireland with parents who were born outside Ireland and a grandparent who was born in Ireland may become an Irish citizen by FBR. An individual resident in Ireland seeking to apply for citizenship through Foreign Births Registration should contact the Consular Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs at Hainault House, 69/71 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, telephone number 4082555. Further information and application forms relating to the Foreign Births Registration process are available on the Department of Foreign Affairs website, www.dfa.ie. An individual seeking to apply for citizenship through naturalisation should contact the Department of Justice and Law Reform.

  315.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will review the passport application of a person (details supplied) who applied via passport express; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26440/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The application in question was received in the Passport Office on 26 May, 2010. The applicant informed the Passport Office of her impending travel and arrangements were made for the passport to be collected on Friday 18 June at the Passport Office in Molesworth Street.

  316.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26464/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  There are no canteens or commercially run cafes in any of the office premises used by my Department.

  317.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26566/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for two Votes: Vote 28 Foreign Affairs and Vote 29 International Cooperation. The Department operates a restrictive policy for the use of corporate credit cards for official expenditure. The use of credit cards in making payments is subject to the same authorisation and control procedures as other forms of payment. While the credit card companies require [226]that the accounts be operated by named authorised signatories, it must be stressed that they are used exclusively for official, rather than personal use and commingling is not allowed.

There are currently 6 official credit cards in use by the Department in Ireland (3 for Vote 28 and 3 for Vote 29). A list of authorised signatories for these official credit cards; the credit limits on the cards, and details of the amount spent on each card in the past three years are set out in the following tabular form. Please note that credit limits do not apply in the case of American Express cards, but that these accounts must be paid in full every month. Official credit cards may be permitted for use at Missions abroad subject to Headquarters approval and compliance with the Department’s policies on use of official credit cards. There are currently 12 official credit cards in use by Missions, all of which relate to Vote 28 Missions.

I regret that it is not possible to provide the Deputy with a breakdown of the annual bills in the time available. The use of official credit cards may be permitted for officials who, because of the nature of their work, need to make official payments on credit from time to time. Credit cards are typically used to make occasional flight and hotel bookings, for representational purposes and for making sundry payments, at short notice, where cash may not be acceptable or where the cost involved would otherwise be too great to be met from an officer’s own resources. The issue of a credit card to the Department’s librarian is to facilitate the purchase on-line of books and information materials relevant to the work of the Department, and the Finance Unit credit card is used for miscellaneous purchases and subscriptions.

Office Holder of Credit Card Number of Cards Credit Limit Authorised Signatories Amount Spent 2007 Amount Spent 2008 Amount Spent 2009
Vote 28 (Foreign Affairs Headquarters)
Minister’s Private Secretary 1 N/A (AMEX) Sinead Ryan 124 (Cancelled in 2009)
Private Secretary/ Minister of State (Vote 28) 1 N/A (AMEX) John Freir 5,186 2,898 955
Secretary General 1 N/A (AMEX) Dermot Gallagher 1,795 Cancelled
Chief of Protocol 1 N/A (AMEX) Kathleen White 2,765 190 295 (Cancelled in 2009)
Deputy Chief of Protocol 1 N/A (AMEX) Joseph Brennan 699 766 793 (Cancelled in 2009)
Head of Anglo Irish Division 1 N/A (AMEX) Patrick Hennessy 3,409 4,492 272 (Cancelled in 2009)
Finance Unit (Vote 28) (VISA) 1 5,000 Anne O’Keeffe 1,565 806
Librarian (VISA) 1 4,000 Orla Gillen 16,593 16,437 9,476
Minister’s Advisers × 2 (one card each) 2 N/A (AMEX) Richard Moore 2,540 1,512 Cancelled May 2008 60 (Stamp Duty arising in 2008)
Ciaran O Cuinn
Vote 29 (Irish Aid)
Minister of State 1 N/A (AMEX) Minister of State Peter Power N/A 2,109 976
Minister of State Michael Kitt 65 886 N/A
Minister of State Conor Lenihan 485 N/A N/A
Private Secretary to Minister of State 1 N/A (AMEX) Owen Feeney N/A N/A 194
Sheila Duffy N/A 3,562 5,708
Ultan Waldron 1,694 N/A N/A
Finance Unit 1 5,000 Michael Tiernan 715 156 63

  318.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26581/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  There are no state agencies operating under the remit of my Department.

  319.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26596/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  There are currently three special advisors* engaged by my Department. The roles and functions carried out by the special advisors are as set out in Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997. I am satisfied that the special advisors contribute to the effectiveness of the work of my Department in a manner and to an extent that fully justifies the associated costs. A total of seven special advisors (including press advisors) have been engaged by my Department during the period in question. Their names and travel and subsistence expenses claimed are detailed in the following table..

Travel & Subsistence Expenses

2007 June-December 2008 2009 2010
Paddy Banks 926
Deirdre Gillane 380 1,389 617
David Grant* 627 116 1,544
Christy Mannion* 393 3,631
Richard Moore 1,331 2,690
Jerry O’Connor* 2,675 4,304 873
Ciaran Ó Cuinn 1,473 2,023

Special advisors do not have personal entertainment allowances, although an advisor who undertakes official entertainment in the course of their duties is entitled to reimbursement. Such expenditure by Mr. Jerry O’Connor, who in his capacity as media advisor would be expected to engage in intensive networking and contact building activities, amounted to €3,382 for part of 2008, €2,829 in 2009 and €1,265 to-date in 2010. In the time available, it has not been possible to collate entertainment expenditure records for Mr. Richard Moore, who served in a similar role with my predecessor during the period prior to May 2008.

  320.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    his plans to approve and launch the national action plan on UN Security Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security [229]in July 2010; if he is satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation with the relevant stakeholders in respect of the UNSCR 1325; the number of times the relevant consultative group has met; the amount of money that has been spent to date on the national action plan process and the associated cross learning initiative; if he will provide a breakdown of the precise allocation of resources and details on specific budget lines to support the implementation and monitoring of the NAP in the coming year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26769/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The Conflict Resolution Unit within the Department of Foreign Affairs is taking the lead role in the development of Ireland’s National Action Plan on UNSCR Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The Resolution calls for an increase in the participation of women in peacemaking and peace building processes; the protection of women and girls in armed conflict; and the incorporation of a gender perspective into peacekeeping and peace building processes. 2010 is the 10th anniversary of the resolution and the Government will have approved Ireland’s National Action Plan on 1325 in time for events in New York in October to mark that anniversary.

The plan is being drafted through extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders. An Interdepartmental Reference Group on UNSCR 1325 was established to ensure that the development of the Plan is informed by the views of relevant government departments. The group includes representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs (the Development Cooperation Division, Anglo-Irish Division; Human Rights Unit, International Security Policy Unit and Conflict Resolution Unit); the Department of Defence; the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform; the Irish Defence Forces; and an Garda Síochána. The Group has met nine times since its first meeting in March 2009. In consultation with the Reference Group, an in-depth audit was issued to the Secretaries General of relevant government departments to identify areas where mechanisms relating to UNSCR 1325 are already in place, as well as gaps that may currently exist. The information gathered has served as a basis for the development of the National Action Plan.

A Consultative Group with representatives from civil society and academia was also established to exchange information with the Interdepartmental Reference Group and to receive and comment on drafts of the National Action Plan. The Group includes representatives of the Joint Consortium on Gender Based Violence; the Irish Red Cross; the National Women’s Council of Ireland; Trócaire; UNIFEM Ireland; Akidwa; Amnesty International and a number of Universities. The Group was convened on 8 February 2010 and has met four times to date, with another meeting scheduled for 22 June 2010. The Group was formally invited to provide observations on the structure and content of the National Action Plan on 9 February 2010 and was asked to circulate a questionnaire prepared by the Conflict Resolution Unit on the content and structure of the National Action Plan to as wide a constituency as possible in order to receive observations from any interested parties; the questionnaire was placed on the Department’s website to facilitate this.

A consolidated submission was made by members of the Group on 20 April 2010, the content of which has proven most useful for the drafting of the National Action Plan. I am satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation with these and other relevant stakeholders in respect of UNSCR 1325 and the draft National Action Plan. In addition to this consultative process, the Conflict Resolution Unit is leading an innovative Cross-Learning Initiative on Women, Peace and Security involving participants from Ireland/ Northern Ireland, Liberia and Timor-Leste. The Initiative is designed to draw upon the experiences of those directly affected by [230]conflict on how best to promote and protect women’s leadership and interests in conflict resolution and peace-building and is being chaired by Ireland’s Special Envoy for UNSCR 1325, Nuala O’Loan.

As part of the initiative, high-level participatory events have been held in Northern Ireland (June 2009), Timor-Leste (December 2009), and Liberia (April 2010). Each four day event has focused on one of the ‘3 Ps’ of UNSCR 1325 — Participation, Protection and Perspectives — and brought together representatives from government and civil society groups that have particular expertise in dealing with the issues under discussion. The participants from Northern Ireland were selected in consultation with DemocraShe, a Northern Ireland women’s leadership organisation, and included: Women into Politics, the Community Dialogue Organisation, Women’s Resource and Development Agency (WRDA), Training for Women Network (TWN), Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform (NIWEP), Women’s Support Network (WSN), Northern Ireland Rural Women’s Network, Northern Ireland Local Government Staff Commission, Women’s Resource and Development Agency, National Women’s Council of Ireland, WAVE Trauma Centre, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Omagh Women’s Aid, Foyle Women’s Aid, Interaction Belfast, the Northern Ireland Policing Board, West Belfast Partnership Board, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, and the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform. A similar range of organisations participated from Liberia and Timor-Leste. The final report of the initiative is currently being prepared and will be formally presented to the UN in advance of the tenth anniversary events. It is hoped that the report of the conclusions of the process will feed into policy discussions at the United Nations, and indeed into other policy communities such as the EU, AU and OSCE.

Considerable resources have been devoted to Ireland’s National Action Plan process within the Department of Foreign Affairs and in other Departments. In 2009, €485,000 was devoted from the Department’s Stability Fund specifically to fund the cross-learning initiative and consultation with women affected by conflict. This is in addition to funding of €220,000 allocated to support international organisations, including UNIFEM, for their work on global indicators. These resources were made available in addition to the considerable human and financial resources already devoted to UNSCR 1325 related activities across Government. The final figure for expenditure on UNSCR 1325 related activities for 2010 is not yet available.

The National Action Plan is envisaged as a ‘living document’ and will be reviewed annually to monitor implementation and in order to incorporate changing realities; this will allow the National Action Plan to set achievable goals which can be built upon at each review. The Department of Foreign Affairs will have overall responsibility for monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the National Action Plan. To facilitate co-ordination and the exchange of information, the Inter-Departmental Reference Group and the Consultative Group will continue to meet regularly to review progress on the implementation of the National Action Plan.

In the first year of operation of the National Action Plan, civil society representatives are invited to consult widely with their membership and networks and to make proposals for alterations to the National Action Plan in time for the first annual review of the National Action Plan in July 2011. In addition to this, a formal review of the National Action Plan will take place after three years.

  321.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the proposals he has [231]to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to his Department are responded to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26904/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  Procedures for dealing with Ministerial correspondence, including representations made by Members of the Oireachtas, have been in place in my Department for a number of years. Related guidelines were formalised in line with requirements under the 2002 Civil Service Customer Charter Initiative and were most recently up-dated in October 2009. Under the guidelines the division handling the correspondence is required to submit a draft reply to my correspondence office within 14 days in order to facilitate compliance with the commitment in the Customer Charter that replies will issue within 20 working days. Where the response time cannot be achieved (e.g. where the material for reply is not readily available) the division is required to provide an interim reply. Every effort is made in my Department to ensure that correspondence is replied to promptly. To date in 2010 my correspondence office has received almost 2,000 items of correspondence, including representations from Members of the Oireachtas, and correspondence from other Foreign Ministries and Governments, and members of the public. This compares with almost 3,000 such items received during the whole of 2009.

  322.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    if moneys were granted under the local authority swimming pool programme to community organisations in 2009 and 2010; if so, the names of the organisations granted funding under this programme in 2009 and 2010; if applications for a new round of the programme are currently being accepted; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26329/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The current round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme, operated by the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport provides grant aid to a maximum of €3.8m to Local Authorities, towards the capital cost of new swimming pools or the refurbishment of existing pools. Where a project is being undertaken by an organisation other than a local authority, the project must be considered, supported and submitted by the relevant local authority with which the Department then engages in the administration of the grant under the Programme. The current round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme has been closed to new applicants since the 31 July 2000.

Under the current round of the programme, 57 applications were received, of which 45 projects have been completed and opened to the public, 2 are under construction, or about to start construction, and 10 other projects are at various stages of the programme. The priority now is to work with the relevant local authorities in completing the remaining 12 pool projects, which are included in the current round. Since the current round commenced in 2000, total expenditure to date has amounted to €144.08m million and this has leveraged a total investment of some €400m in respect of the 47 pools. The allocation of €7.5m in 2010 will be sufficient to meet commitments arising in 2010 under the current round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme. The following payments made in 2009 and 2010 under the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme are shown hereunder in tabular form.

Pool Project Local Authority Grants Paid in 2009 Grants Paid in 2010
Arklow Wicklow 117,451
Finglas DCC 190,461
Clonmel Tipperary South 82,097
Cobh Cork 190,461
Drogheda Louth 190,461
Jobstown SDCC 380,921
Letterkenny Donegal 380,921
Clondalkin SDCC 380,921
Askeaton Limerick 380,921
Portarlington Laois 387,460
Portlaoise Laois 380,921
Longford Longford 380,921
Thurles Tipperary North 380,921
St.Michael`s House DCC 370,000
Birr Offaly 149,820
Bray Wicklow 380,921
Greystones Wicklow 380,921
Claremorris Mayo 1,665,669
Roscrea Tipperary North 2,082,356
Ferrybank Wexford 2,815,907 612,386
Dundrum DRCC 380,921
Tullamore Offaly 380,921
Total 11,670,433 1,374,229

No decision has been taken on launching a new round of the Programme.

  323.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in her Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in her Department and agencies; if there is a policy in her Department to source food locally; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26465/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  There are no Government-run or commercially run cafés or restaurants in my Department. Canteen space is provided in both the Killarney office of my Department and in the National Archives (which forms part of my Department), but no canteen facilities are provided privately or publicly save any financed by the staff themselves. Accordingly, the issue of a policy to source food locally does not arise. The availability or otherwise of canteen facilities in the agencies under the aegis of my Department is a matter for the agencies themselves.

  324.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the number of departmental credit cards in use in her Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each [233]of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26571/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  My Department currently has seven operational credit cards for use in respect of official expenditure by the authorised card holder. The names of the signatories and associated credit limits are listed below.

Names Credit Limit
Mr. Con Haugh 6,350 (minimum)
Mr. Niall Ó Donnchú 6,350 (minimum)
Mr. Paul Bates 6,350 (minimum)
Ms Susan McGrath 6,350 (minimum)
Mr. Kevin Lonergan 6,350 (minimum)
Mr. Joseph Healy (General Departmental card) 6,350 (minimum)
Mr. Keith Ashmore (Private Secretary to Minister) 10,000

The amount spent in respect of each of these cards in each of the last three years is listed below.

2008 2009 to 18 June 2010
Mr. Con Haugh Sec Gen 1,413.02 721.85 608.15
Mr. Niall O’Donnchú 1,349.06 997.31 823.32
Mr. Paul Bates 230.00 230.00 230.00
Ms Susan McGrath 2,767.51 1,076.00 230.00
Mr. Kevin Lonergan 124.00 230.00 368.90
Mr. Joe Healy Dept Cr Card 2,720.70 8,967.04 4,838.80
Mr. Keith Ashmore 19.05

  325.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within her remit in each of the past three years; if she will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26586/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  In respect of the staff in semi state or similar bodies under the aegis of my Department whose remuneration includes bonuses, decisions to award payments in any instance are not made by me as Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport but, rather, by the boards of the agencies concerned, subject to the terms and criteria contained in the agreed associated remuneration schemes. Accordingly, the bases of any such awards are matters for the boards of the agencies concerned. Furthermore, the payment of bonuses is suspended pursuant to the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009, and the relevant agencies under the aegis of my Department have been requested to implement these provisions. I have requested information from the agencies with regard to the amounts of bonuses paid in the relevant period and will forward this to the Deputy.

  326.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the [234]number of special advisers her Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if she will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26601/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  Since June 2007, my Department has had four special advisors namely, Mr. Frank Lahiffe, Mr. Tom Rowley (advisors to the late Minister Brennan), Ms Michelle Hoctor (advisor to former Minister Cullen) and my advisor, Ms Averil Power. The total amount claimed on expenses (which would include mileage, subsistence and entertainment) for each year since June 2007 and the related breakdown is detailed below:

Expenses claimed Jun-Dec 2007 2008 2009
Frank Lahiffe 3,818.29 3,717.37
Tom Rowley 6,771.27 5,095.56
Michelle Hoctor 2,667.77 985.74
Averil Power
Total 10,589.56 11,480.70 985.74

There have been no expenses claimed for 2010. The total amount spent on foreign and domestic travel by air and related breakdown for each year since June 2007 is detailed below:

Club Travel Jun-Dec 2007 2008 2009
Frank Lahiffe 3,112.40
Tom Rowley 3,112.40
Michelle Hoctor 5,996.70 183.55
Averil Power
Totals 6,224.80 5,996.70 183.55

There has been no expenditure incurred by advisors in relation to official entertainment since June 2007.

  327.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the proposals she has to ensure that representations made by Members of the Oireachtas on behalf of members of the public to her Department are responded to; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26909/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The Department endeavours to meet the following standards in relation to responding to written correspondence, as set out in our Customer Charter 2010. Written representations are acknowledged within 5 working days of their receipt, with a definitive reply provided to the vast majority of them within 20 working days. In cases where there will be a delay in replying, an interim reply is normally issued, explaining the position, before the 20-day period expires. In addition, where written representations are made directly to my Office or to the Office of the Secretary General within the Department, such representations are entered into an electronic Correspondence Tracking [235]System so that their progress may be tracked until the issuance of a final reply occurs. If customers feel that the Department’s customer service commitments in respect of representations are not met, they have access to a complaints and redress service via the Department’s Customer Services Manager.

  328.  Deputy Andrew Doyle    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of Government-run canteens operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; the number of commercially-run cafes or restaurants that are operating in Government buildings in his Department and agencies; if there is a policy in his Department and agencies to source food locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26401/10]

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  I am advised that there are no Government-run canteens in operation in any of the Government buildings occupied by my Department or by State bodies/agencies funded from my Department’s Vote Group. With regard to commercially-run cafés or restaurants, I am advised that a commercially run café is in operation in the National Disability Authority. There is also a café operating in Údarás na Gaeltachta which is subsidised by the agency itself and, thus, could not be considered to be commercial in the strictest sense. I am advised that the sourcing of food in both of these facilities is undertaken in the context of ensuring value for money, while also supporting local producers.

  329.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of departmental credit cards in use in his Department; the names of the authorised signatories of same; the credit limit of same; the amount spent in respect of each card in each of the past three years with a breakdown of the annual bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26560/10]

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  There are two credit cards operated by my Department, which are held by the Private Secretaries to the Minister and to the Minister of State. The Private Secretaries are the authorised signatories in each case. The credit card limits are €6,300 and €7,000 respectively. The amounts paid in respect of both credit cards for each year from 2007 to date are set out in the following table:

Table: Credit Card payments in respect of the Offices of the Minister and Minister of State

Year Office of Minister Office of Minister of State Total
2007 3,863 65 3,928
2008 2,805 3,634 6,439
2009 1,211 879 2,090
*2010 30 1,597 1,627

  330.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht [236]Affairs    the amount that has been awarded in bonuses to staff in each of the semi-State or similar bodies within his remit in each of the past three years; if he will provide a breakdown of these bonuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26575/10]

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  I am advised that bonuses of the nature referred to by the Deputy have been paid in the case of a number of bodies/agencies funded from my Department’s Vote Group only in respect of the CEO or equivalent officer in those bodies. Relevant details in respect of the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 are outlined in the table below. For completeness and transparency, I have included Pobal and also provided details for 2010 to date, including any bonus payments made in that period in respect of any prior year.

Body/Agency Name Total bonus amount paid 2007 Total bonus amount paid 2008 Total bonus amount paid 2009 Total bonus amount paid 2010 to date
Commissioners for Charitable Donations and Bequests Nil Nil Nil Nil
Dormant Accounts Board Nil Nil Nil Nil
Western Development Commission Nil Nil Nil Nil
Údarás na Gaeltachta €25,426 €18,121 €3,900 Nil
An Coimisinéir Teanga Nil Nil Nil Nil
Pobal Nil Nil Nil Nil
Waterways Ireland STG£7,250 (in respect of 2005) STG£8,000 (in respect of 2006) Nil STG£8,500 (in respect of 2007)
Equality Authority €20,802 (in respect of 2006) €21,559 (in respect of 2007) Nil Nil
Equality Tribunal €14,600 (in respect of 2006) €13,400 (in respect of 2007) Nil Nil
Human Rights Commission Nil Nil Nil Nil
National Disability Authority Nil Nil Nil Nil
Family Support Agency €15,874 €557 Nil Nil
An Foras Teanga, comprising:
Ulster-Scots Agency STG£976 Nil Nil Nil
Foras na Gaeilge Nil Nil Nil Nil

  331.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    the number of special advisers his Department has had since June 2007; the names of same; the amount each has claimed in expenses in each of the past three years; the amount that has been spent on travel, including foreign travel, and entertainment for each adviser in each of the past three years; if he will provide a detailed breakdown of these costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26590/10]

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  At present, there are two special advisers in my Department reporting to me — my special adviser, Mr John Regan, and my media adviser, Mr Seán Tadhg Ó Gairbhí. In addition, one special adviser — Mr Stephen Dineen — reports to the Minister of State at my Department with responsibility for Equality, Integration and Human Rights. None of these advisers has claimed any expenses to date in 2010.

The aggregate expenses claimed by the preceding advisers reporting to the then Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs in the period from June 2007 to March 2010 (one [237]special adviser, Mr Pádraig Ó hUiginn, and two media advisers over the period, Ms Éadaoin Ní Mhonghaile and Ms Layla de Cogan Chin) are set out in the tables below. These constitute travel & subsistence expenses and the cost of flights. No entertainment expenses were claimed. In all cases, travel and subsistence was paid in respect of absences on official business and in accordance with Department of Finance guidelines.

Table 1: Expenses claimed by the special adviser to then Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

Year Home Expenses Foreign Expenses
Subsistence Travel Total Subsistence Travel Total
2007 (from 1st June) 469 1,061 1,530 132 132
2008 461 1,493 1,954 1,098 924 2,022
2009 661 1,567 2,228 107 107
2010

Table 2: Expenses claimed by the media advisers to then Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs