Dáil Éireann

07/Jul/2010

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions

Ceisteanna — Questions

EU Summits

Requests to move Adjournment of Dáil under Standing Order 32

Order of Business

Report of Committee on Procedure and Privilege on Parliamentary Standards: Motion

Technical Amendments to Standing Orders: Motion

Withdrawal of Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008: Motion

Ministerial Rota for Parliamentary Questions: Motion

Orders of Reference and Records of Committees: Motion

European Council: Statements

Allocation of Time: Motion

Priority Questions

Overseas Missions

Irish Red Cross Society

Defence Forces Strength

Reserve Defence Force

Naval Service

Other Questions

Naval Service

Defence Forces Recruitment

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Equipment

Departmental Staff

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Property

Message from Seanad

Adjournment Debate Matters

Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages

Economic Issues: Motion (Resumed)

Message from Seanad

Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill 2010 [Seanad]: Second Stage

Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill 2010 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stage Section 1

Road Traffic Bill 2009: From the Seanad

Cystic Fibrosis Services: Statements

Adjournment Debate

Services for People with Disabilities

Local Authority Mortgages

Special Educational Needs

Written Answers

Defence Forces Recruitment

Ordnance Disposal

Defence Forces Policy

Irish Red Cross

Departmental Expenditure

Foreign Conflicts

Departmental Expenditure

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Recruitment

Defence Forces Strength

Military Ranges

Decentralisation Programme

Commemorative Events

Cyber Security

Defence Forces Reserve

Decentralisation Programme

Defence Forces Remuneration

Ombudsman Reports

Defence Forces Inquiries

Army Barracks

Defence Forces Reserve

Departmental Appointments

Departmental Expenditure

Defence Forces Training

Departmental Expenditure

Defence Forces Equipment

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Strength

Census of Population

Departmental Expenditure

Unemployment Levels

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Redundancy Payments

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Agencies

Employment Support Services

Job Creation

Departmental Agencies

Work Permits

Industrial Development

Employment Statistics

Departmental Staff

Job Creation

Industrial Development

Job Creation

Departmental Staff

Architectural Heritage

Public Sector Staff

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

Departmental Reports

Tax Collection

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Expenditure

Banking Sector Regulation

National Asset Management Agency

Departmental Properties

Departmental Agencies

Local Authority Funding

Tax Code

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

Semi-State Bodies

Departmental Staff

Decentralisation Programme

Departmental Appointments

Flood Relief

Library Projects

Tax Code

Court Accommodation

Decentralisation Programme

Departmental Expenditure

Health Services

Hospital Accommodation

Youth Services

Departmental Expenditure

Hospital Accommodation

Hospital Services

Accident and Emergency Services

General Medical Services Scheme

Medical Cards

Health Service Staff

Departmental Bodies

Tobacco Control

Medical Cards

Drugs Payment Scheme

Health Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Health Services

Medical Cards

Preschool Services

General Medical Services Scheme

Medical Cards

Ambulance Service

Health Services

Departmental Reports

Hospital Procedures

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Reports

Hospital Services

Health Services

Medical Cards

Health Service Allowances

Health Services

Hospital Waiting Lists

Health Services

Long-Term Illness Scheme

Hospital Referrals

Hospital Services

Child Care Services

Health Services

Departmental Staff

Health Services

Departmental Expenditure

National Car Tests

Departmental Staff

Departmental Staff

Proposed Legislation

Departmental Expenditure

Courts Service

Residency Permits

Family Law Provisions

Prison Building Programme

Prison Accommodation

Closed Circuit Television Systems

Prison Accommodation

Citizenship Applications

Garda Investigations

Asylum Applications

Deportation Orders

Garda Operations

Residency Permits

Citizenship Applications

Visa Applications

Garda Disciplinary Proceedings

Departmental Properties

Visa Applications

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

Prison Staff

Courts Service

Asylum Applications

Departmental Staff

Prison Education Service

Departmental Expenditure

Passport Applications

Departmental Expenditure

Passport Forgery

Police Certificates

Overseas Development Aid

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Consumer Protection

Swimming Pool Projects

Sport and Recreational Development

Audiovisual Industry

Sports Capital Programme

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Security of the Elderly

Consumer Protection

Community Development

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Insurance

Departmental Expenditure

Social Welfare Benefits

Private Rented Accommodation

Social Welfare Code

Departmental Bodies

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Code

Social Welfare Benefits

Pension Provisions

Social Welfare Appeals

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Naval Service Vessels

Defence Forces Training

Defence Forces Deployment

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Training

Departmental Staff

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Property

Defence Forces Training

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Property

Air Corps Equipment

Defence Forces Recruitment

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Warmer Homes Schemes

Building Regulations

Foreshore Licences

Departmental Expenditure

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Planning Issues

Flood Relief

Special Areas of Conservation

Coursing Meetings

Local Authority Housing

Architectural Heritage

Water Services

EU Directives

Water and Sewerage Schemes

State Bodies

Local Government Reform

EU Directives

Fire Stations

Harbours and Piers

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Departmental Staff

Proposed Legislation

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Staff

Energy Conservation

Departmental Expenditure

Complaints Procedures

Alternative Energy Projects

Offshore Exploration

Alternative Energy Projects

Departmental Staff

Departmental Expenditure

Afforestation Programme

Complaints Procedures

Grant Payments

Milk Quota

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

Grant Payments

Departmental Staff

Grant Payments

Departmental Expenditure

Job Creation

School Accommodation

Departmental Expenditure

School Staffing

School Transport

Adult Education

FÁS Training Programmes

School Curriculum

Pension Provisions

FÁS Training Programmes

Departmental Expenditure

Schools Building Projects

Departmental Staff

School Curriculum

Schools Building Projects

Youthreach Programme

Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme

Training Programmes

Departmental Staff

Schools Building Projects

Departmental Staff

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I rise today to speak for those who have no voice for themselves. Last week I raised with the Taoiseach the consequence of Government action in not controlling costs. We now have a situation in which thousands of people — members of families — are forced today to march on this House to protest at the cutting of respite care for the disabled and mentally challenged. Last week the Taoiseach defended his decision. I have considered his reply and I fundamentally reject it.

Last year the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, an association of organisations providing health care services in the voluntary sector, sat down with the Health Service Executive. It faced up to its responsibility in this time of national crisis and agreed on a range of cuts amounting to €15 million, plus all the reductions in public sector pay and so on. The federation said to its constituent members around the country that because this was a time of national crisis, it was prepared to face up to its responsibility and take its fair share of cuts. Then, because the HSE was unable to control its costs in other areas in which there were overruns, it came back and took another €11 million from the voluntary sector. This is what is causing the problem. It is causing thousands of families to march today for their loved ones who have no voice and cannot speak for themselves.

The Taoiseach defended this position last week. The report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes outlines so many ways in which the Government [2]could have taken different decisions, thus ensuring that the services provided to those with disabilities, particularly respite care, could continue. For example, the report points out a possible saving of €154 million through rationalisation of State agencies. In the Vote of the Department of Health and Children alone, savings of €1.2 billion could have been made by choosing from a menu of options. However, the Government has allowed a situation to develop in which an extra €11 million has been savagely cut from these organisations by the HSE, with the consequence——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Do we have a question, Deputy?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——that people who look after adults with a mental age of three or four are now under serious pressure. The House goes off tomorrow for the summer recess, leaving this absolute mess behind. In the interest of the thousands of families involved in this on a 24-hour basis, is the Taoiseach prepared to take executive action on this and to put a stop to the madness? Is he prepared to allow the voluntary organisations, which are prepared to take their share of responsibility, to be able to continue to provide services in Caherdavin, Swinford, Cabra and other places around the country where closures are having to take place? Will he put a stop to this madness today?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach:  There is no such decision.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There is. Already €2.5 million has been cut and they are looking for another €2 million. There is such a decision.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There is such a decision.

The Taoiseach:  There is no such decision.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Deputy McCormack woke up very cranky this morning.

The Taoiseach:  I want to make it very clear. It is not acceptable to me or the Government that respite services will be cut and as far as I am concerned, that will not happen.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It has happened in Limerick already.

The Taoiseach:  The Minister, Deputy Mary Harney, and the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, are meeting the Brothers of Charity today. I have indicated that there are other savings to be found in terms of management, layers of management, HR systems and purchasing and procurement. There is no such decision and this is not a time to scare people who are vulnerable. There are 25,000 people in receipt of services——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is the Taoiseach’s actions that have scared people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption please.

The Taoiseach:  The Government has increased spending in this area by 400% and I am proud of what we have done in this area. I was a sponsor of that work myself when I was Minister of Health and Minister for Finance. I remind Deputy Kenny that he was a member [3]of a Government that would not even provide €1 million for emergency services for people. That is his record.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Shame on the Taoiseach.

The Taoiseach:  I assure Deputy Kenny that the discussions that are taking place will ensure that those people will not be affected, and I will not take any nonsense from the Deputy on that.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach should be ashamed of himself.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can we have Deputy Kenny, without interruption? I call on Deputy McCormack to allow his party leader speak.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The first time I asked the Taoiseach a question on Leader’s Questions, I asked about a woman in hospital. The Taoiseach’s response was that it was too facile to raise such a case. I reject the charge the Taoiseach has made today. Shame on him and his Government for allowing what is happening to happen. The Taoiseach has said that no such decision has been made. If not, why are thousands of people marching to the House today? I will tell him why. This is their cry for help. Who speaks for these people? The Taoiseach certainly does not these days.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Kenny does not anyway.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach has chosen to increase the entertainment budget in Departments, which is up by 66% this year or €1.2 million. This money is being spent for entertainment and clinking of glasses and €289,000 of it is being spent in the Taoiseach’s Department. The travel budget for Departments is up by €2.4 million this year. Would that money not provide these services and allow these places remain open? The Taoiseach has chosen not to make any redundancies in the HSE corporate body, despite the fact that the chief executive told my party there were at least 2,500 people in the system who did not know what their jobs were or know where they fitted into the system, but yet they had jobs for life. The Taoiseach has chosen not to implement any of the rationalisation options mentioned by McCarthy, which would save €150 million. He has chosen not to do that, but has allowed another soft touch, and allowed the HSE savage the budget for these voluntary organisations.

I reject what the Taoiseach is saying here. It is fine for him to talk about governments of 13, 15 or 20 years ago. When the Government of 1994-1997 handed over the economy, it was in surplus for the first time in 27 years. It now looks as if we will have to sort it out again. The Taoiseach has come in here time after time and said he will always accept responsibility for his actions and that he stands over all his decisions. Yes, he does that, but he does not accept their consequences. He does not understand or seem to understand——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Or care.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——what is happening in thousands of households around this country. He may well smile about it.

The Taoiseach:  I am not smiling.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach may say it is not happening, but he should go and ask the sisters, the Daughters of Charity and the Brothers of Charity and those who are providing voluntary services. These organisations faced up to their responsibility. They agreed to take [4]cuts across the board, including pay cuts, and to do the same work for less. However, because the Government has not been able to either govern or manage the sector, the HSE, with its overruns in other sections, has imposed these extra cutbacks on the voluntary sector that provides the best service and value for money of any department under the HSE. The Taoiseach’s response last week and this week is indicative of a Taoiseach and Government who have lost compassion and do not understand the difficulties, stress and pressure these people now face. The Taoiseach will go down in history as the one who presided over the failure to listen to the call of these people on the Government to help them. They are crying out for help.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can the Deputy please put his question?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach is going down the wrong road. There are other options he could have chosen. He will go away for the summer and leave this 24-hour a day situation for thousands of families in his wake. Shame on him and his Government.

The Taoiseach:  I would rather put the facts than get involved in rhetoric with the Deputy. He should just explain his record in this area. With regard to our record, I am making it clear——

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach, without interruption please.

The Taoiseach:  I wish to make the point again that no decision has been made.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is already done.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy made two assertions that decisions have been made to cut services. That is not the case.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  On a point of information, the respite centre in Limerick has been closed for the past three weeks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot discuss this matter. The Deputy should resume her seat.

The Taoiseach:  Discussions are taking place today and tomorrow——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach should go down to Limerick and see the place that has been closed.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  On a point of information, the Taoiseach is misleading the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must proceed on the basis that the person in possession be allowed speak. The same protection will be extended to the Deputy. I ask Deputy McCormack to resume his seat. One speaker at a time.

The Taoiseach:  I want to make it clear to Deputy Kenny that discussions are taking place today and tomorrow with Ministers and the providers of these services to find the efficiencies and savings that can be found without affecting front line services in the way that has been suggested. Officials from the HSE stated on radio this morning it is not the intention to affect front line services.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is already done.

[5]Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is already done.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  On a point of information——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy McCormack should resume his seat or I will ask him to leave the House.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is misleading the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume his seat.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  He is misleading the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is tempting fate. He will be out until the autumn if he does not resume his seat.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The decision is already made in Limerick.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume her seat. Can we have one speaker at a time? The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The centre in Limerick is closed.

The Taoiseach:  What I find appalling is Deputy Kenny’s failure to recognise that no such decision has been taken——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is untrue.

The Taoiseach:  ——and that discussions are taking place with a view to ensuring that front line services are protected to the greatest extent possible.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The respite centre in Limerick is closed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Does the Taoiseach not remember meeting the people he met three weeks ago in Limerick?

An Ceann Comhairle:  One speaker at a time. The Taoiseach is in possession.

The Taoiseach:  We, as a Government, have provided 400% more for disability services than when Fine Gael was in office. Our record in this area——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is not going where it should go.

The Taoiseach:  When I came into office there had been people from Fine Gael and the Labour Party in Government before me who had not been able to provide €1 million for emergency services. My commitment in this area has been proven and there are discussions taking place to ensure that the most vulnerable are not affected and that they find other savings than what may have been suggested by anybody else. That is my statement to the people today. That is the commitment on which I intend to achieve an outcome. With all due respect, despite the Deputy’s continued efforts to suggest otherwise, decisions have not been taken in respect of what we want to see taking place as a result of the ongoing discussions.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is not true. Decisions have been taken and there have been cutbacks of 4%.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  There have been cuts in services.

[6]Deputy Noel J. Coonan:  The Taoiseach needs a couple of weeks over the summer to come back to the real world.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is deceiving the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will Deputy McCormack resume his seat?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is deceiving the House and I will not let anybody away with that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy must resume his seat or I will have to ask him to leave the House.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  It is very hard to listen to what is being said.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  Go home so.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy Gilmore.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The people who will be on the streets of Dublin and other cities today have not dreamed this up, they are not imagining it. There have been cuts: Bawnmore in Limerick is closed; the facility on the Navan Road is closed; and Galway is threatened with closure or cutbacks in the services being provided. Last Friday all the service providers got letters informing them of the cutbacks that are taking place. Parents and carers of people with disabilities are understandably very agitated to the point that they are out on the streets because of their fear that they will lose their respite care which in some cases is one day a week or one weekend in every six. This care enables them, as they would put it themselves, to have a life for those couple of days on which care is provided.

It is fair to say that the people who are on the streets today felt that the days of having to protest, of having to walk on the streets in order to bring attention to the needs and difficulties they have in providing care for members of their family who suffer with disabilities were over. They also thought the days of having to publicise the circumstances, difficulties and personal cases of their loved ones in order to embarrass the Government into providing the necessary care were over. I have two questions for the Taoiseach. First, will he give a guarantee today to every parent and carer of persons with disabilities that they will not lose their respite care? Second, will he give an assurance that there will be no cutbacks in the services provided to people with disabilities?

The Taoiseach:  It is not a question of embarrassment for the Government. This Government has committed itself with money and with resources to extending these services, which were in an appalling state before we came into office. The facts speak for themselves and Deputy Gilmore was a member of that Government. He should not suggest to me that I have any cause for embarrassment in that respect.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Taoiseach was also in government at that time.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Howlin was Minister for Health.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  The Taoiseach was my Cabinet colleague and Deputy Bertie Ahern was Minister for Finance.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach must be allowed to speak without interruption.

[7]The Taoiseach:  Deputy Quinn gave me the extra €1 million for emergency services. Then there was the era when Fergus Finlay was the second most powerful man in the Government.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  That was 1994 to 1997 — does Deputy Howlin remember that?

The Taoiseach:  However, let us leave that aside because we are talking about now.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Yes, let us talk about now.

The Taoiseach:  Exactly. I want to make it clear that this Government has a record of improvement and increase of services for these people, and rightly so, which I will stand over against any predecessor in any office. I am looking at Deputy Quinn in that respect.

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  Will the Taoiseach answer the question?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  At least we did not bankrupt the country.

The Taoiseach:  The second point I want to make is that I have indicated both to the Ministers and to those providing the services that there is a need for them to change whatever arrangements they have — and they have allocated a lot of money — to make sure the people who require the services obtain the services. However, there will have to be changes made in non-front-line services.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There have already been cutbacks of €2.5 million.

The Taoiseach:  What I would expect from responsible Deputies in this House is to indicate that they agree that those non-front line services should be changed so that those who require them get them.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is ridiculous, service providers are at the pin of their collar.

The Taoiseach:  Whatever is required within those organisations or between those organisations will happen.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach does not have a clue. It is very vexing, a Cheann Comhairle.

The Taoiseach:  That is precisely what is going on at the moment with Ministers meeting those providers of services. Given the moneys that are being provided — of a total of €1.2 billion, €900 million will go to intellectual disability, which is an awful lot more than when Deputy Gilmore was in office, and some €300 million to those with physical and sensory disability — I am confident that those people who require the services on the front line will obtain them. However, it will require change. Perhaps if Deputy Gilmore were to stand up in the House and explain, as I will, that it is those people who are not in the front line who have to take the efficiencies and not those in the front line, then we have a way of going forward in this situation.

Deputy James Bannon:  Will the Taoiseach abolish the HSE?

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Will the HSE withdraw its threat to services?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I asked the Taoiseach two simple questions, neither of which he answered. What he has given me in reply is an Ard-Fheis speech. I have no problem with that; [8]I will engage with him any time and anywhere in political back and forth and we can each give as good as we get. That is not the issue today.

Deputy Dermot Ahern:  If the Deputy had any policies we could engage with him.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  When we rise tomorrow for whatever length of time, whatever number of months the Taoiseach chooses to close down Dáil Éireann, parents and carers of people with disabilities will have to see how they are fixed over that two or three-month period in terms of providing care. They do not want to know what this Government or that Government did or what the Taoiseach did as Minister for Health. They have simple requirements and I want the Taoiseach to answer their questions. First, will they have the respite care or not? Second, are there going to be cuts in the services they are getting?

The Taoiseach can have any arguments he wants with the HSE, and the HSE can have whatever arguments it needs to have with the service providers. Perhaps that should be done. The line Ministers need to take a hands-on approach if that is what must be done. However, the bottom line must be the point of view of persons who have a family member with disabilities for whom they are providing care in the home. Those people are at their wit’s end and are stretched and strained trying to provide that care. They want to know whether they will still have their respite care or if it will be taken away from them as has already happened in some cases.

I have asked two questions. Will these people retain their respite care and are there going to be cuts in services? The Taoiseach must do whatever he has to do, with the HSE and with service providers, in order to make it happen. The Taoiseach is Head of Government; it is he who makes things happen.

The Taoiseach:  That is precisely what the meetings today, tomorrow and during the course of this week are about. That is in stark contrast to the suggestion by a Deputy opposite that decisions have already been taken.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Will the Taoiseach give us a commitment?

The Taoiseach:  I am not interested in the politics of it; that is the point. I am making the situation clear to the House, as I am making it clear to the most vulnerable people in our society. I stand over the record of this Government in regard to that. Whatever is required to make sure the most vulnerable people are not affected, that is my requirement and that is what I am saying.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is exactly what the Government is not doing.

The Taoiseach:  Regardless of what I hear from Deputy McCormack, that is the purpose of the discussions that are ongoing.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I will not take that from the Taoiseach.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Will the Taoiseach answer the questions?

The Taoiseach:  That is the commitment I am giving. It is in stark contrast to when Deputy McCormack’s party was in office — when it had the opportunity to act its commitment was nil.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There have been cutbacks of €2.5 million.

[9]An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy McCormack must resume his seat. Leaders’ Questions are concluded.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  If the Ceann Comhairle had permitted me to raise this matter on the Adjournment there would be no argument now.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to resume his seat, he is disrupting the business of the House. We are moving on to Questions to the Taoiseach.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  When will the respite centre in Limerick reopen?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Leaders’ Questions are concluded.

  1.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach     if he will make a statement on his participation in the European Council meeting on 17 June 2010 [26251/10]

  2.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    if he will make a statement on meetings he has had on the margins of the European Council meeting on 17 June 2010 [26252/10]

  3.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his participation in the EU summit in Brussels on 17 June 2010 [27260/10]

  4.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    if he will report on his attendance at the June meeting of the European Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27644/10]

  5.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Taoiseach    the meetings he had on the margins of the European Council meeting of 17 June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27962/10]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, together.

  11 o’clock

I attended the June meeting of the European Council on Thursday, 17 June. Since I will make a statement to the House following the Order of Business today I will confine myself to providing a summary account of the proceedings. Much of our discussion at the council focussed on the progress being made by the EU to address the current economic and financial challenges, including, in particular, the work being carried out by the taskforce chaired by the European Council President. We also agreed conclusions to the effect that member states should introduce systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions and publish the results of bank stress tests. The council also endorsed the 2020 strategy for jobs and growth.

In addition, the council discussed the European Union’s input into the G20 meeting, which took place in Toronto on 26 and 27 June, the UN millennium goals, climate change, Icelandic accession, the Estonian adoption of the euro and Iran. While I had no formal meetings on the margins of the council, I held brief discussions with several of my European Council colleagues. In particular, I spoke with Prime Minister Cameron. This was the first time we met since he became Prime Minister. The council meeting took place two days after the publication of the [10]Saville report and I repeated my appreciation of his response to the report. We agreed to meet bilaterally in London the following week.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I wish to ask the Taoiseach about three of the conclusions reached at the summit. First, each Government must now submit a draft budget for 2012 for the approval of the Commission by the spring of next year. How will this system work in practice? In our system, budgets are not normally finalised until some days prior to their delivery. We do not know what they contain until they are delivered. How much information will be required to be submitted to the Commission? Will the budgetary system here need to be changed to conform to this new requirement? Will the information being submitted to the Commission be made available to the House?

Second, the Council agreed that member states should introduce systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions. To what is it intended these levies and taxes will be applied? Will they apply to profits, balance sheets or transactions? What rate will likely apply? To whom will the revenue go? Will it go to national governments or to the European Union?

Third, it was agreed that the introduction of a global transaction tax should be explored further. However, I note that the idea of a transaction tax was not agreed at the G20 summit. Is it intended that this proposal will be progressed as an EU project on a unilateral basis?

The Taoiseach:  I do not envisage any support for it to be progressed as an EU project. It is a question of trying to get a wider consensus around this issue. The mobilisation of capital and financial services, the provision of financial services in industry and the jobs this provides make it important that a wider consensus applies rather than simply one involving Europe. That was the basis upon which the transaction tax issue was being discussed and put forward. We would prefer to see a consensus emerge but not one restricted to the EU only.

I refer to the question of levies. As the Deputy will see from the conclusions, the discussion related to levies or other mechanisms being provided against the banks in an effort to repay or to recognise the fact that taxpayers have had to step in throughout Europe in all counties as a result of the impact of the financial crisis on the banking system. This is something we are doing at the moment through the guarantee scheme. It is a matter for national governments to decide how that should be dealt with. National circumstances differ from country to country.

I refer to the budgetary question. This does not involve a change in our budgetary procedures. It is a question, rightly in my opinion given what has taken place in the financial area generally throughout Europe, of the need for better and more effective surveillance and monitoring by the European Commission and the European Central Bank of budgetary policies to ensure the obligations under the Stability and Growth Pact are adhered to. It is a question of providing macro-economic data sooner and setting out the overall strategy of governments using peer review as a means of ensuring that the Stability and Growth Pact issues are dealt with effectively. This is the issue. It is not a question of producing a budget in March that will not be effected until December.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  As I understand it, the Government has already submitted its targets and projections for 2013 and 2014 to the Commission. What additional data will be provided next spring for 2012? As I understand it, the Government has already submitted to the Commission its targets and budgetary objectives to comply with the Growth and Stability Pact until 2013 and 2014. What additional information will be submitted next spring in respect of the 2012 budget that the Commission does not have already?

[11]I refer to the targets set out for 2020. Several targets were set out, including an objective of a 75% level of employment of men and women between the ages of 20 and 64 years. Given the significant size of the live register, how is it proposed that we will reach this target? How far off that target are we already?

I refer to research and development. I understand a target of 3% of GDP for research and development was agreed. This would involve a doubling of the amount committed to research and development here. When can we expect to see progress being made on that target?

The Taoiseach:  Much progress has been made in research and development. The Deputy will recall that when we came into office in 1997, no moneys were provided in this area, as was the case in many other areas. Thankfully, we have been able to improve the situation over a period. I refer to the EU funded research programmes for which the Irish Commissioner has responsibility. We believe that the seventh framework research programme will provide opportunities for Ireland to obtain co-funding in several areas due to the well-regarded research programmes we have built up over the years since we came into office. There is a question of national and EU funded improvements to be considered.

I refer to the question of participation rates, etc. The percentage of our participation rate is somewhere in the mid to high 60s at the moment. These matters will continue to be examined. There is no doubt that the taxation policies in the past have enabled us to see a great improvement in the participation rates. The number of jobs created during the good times amounted to 600,000. They enabled females, who in the past had more traditional roles, to come back into the workforce. That is a welcome social change and it has been a major contributor to economic growth and prosperity in the past.

I refer to the question on budgetary issues. This matter will now be taken up by ECOFIN in terms of the detail required and discussions will take place in the coming months in this regard. It is important to point out that it is not a question of the detail of budgets being decided upon in March. It is a question of ECOFIN, the eurogroup, the ECB and the Commission being satisfied with the overall budgetary strategy. I welcome that the Labour Party Leader acknowledges a plan is in place which must be adhered to. I look forward to everyone in the Opposition being able to come forward with detailed proposals of how we should meet these budgetary targets in a realistic way. The Deputy can be sure the Government will seek to adhere to the plans that we have agreed, as challenging as they are.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach, in replying both to these questions and to leaders’ questions, seems to have a fascination with 1997.

The Taoiseach:  It is just a reminder.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Does he remember that in 1997 the public finances were in surplus but they are now in serious deficit, we were creating 1,000 extra jobs a week while the current Government has been losing 2,000 jobs a week and he inherited an economy from the outgoing Government, which was in a healthy state, and has made an absolute mess of it?

The Taoiseach:  Yes, I also remember that the Deputy was a member of a Government that, even with the surplus, decided that 30 bob was enough for an old age pensioner. I also recall that with the surplus it decided that €1 million was sufficient for emergency disability services. I have heard all the political rhetoric and hypocrisy that passes for current political dialogue as a result of the present situation. I stand over my record; the Deputy should try to stand over his.

[12]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I would not stand over the Taoiseach’s record too much because he made a mess of it and all the Ministers with him.

The Taoiseach:  That is what the Deputy voted for. Is it not hard to take it?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach should get used to it.

The Taoiseach:  It was the Deputy’s socialist philosophy then to give 30 bob to an old age pensioner with a surplus.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  In the context of the current economic challenges, as the Taoiseach referred to it, discussed at the recent EU Council meeting, he indicated in his reply that the detail of the budget is not what will be submitted for so-called scrutiny and peer review, as has been indicated theretofore. What extent of the budgetary intentions and detailed information concerning budget 2011 must be submitted by the Government to Brussels in advance? Can he give the House some sense or understanding of that? Will that apply to the current year? Has information been provided? Will more information be provided in advance of the representatives of the Irish people, the Members of this House, having the opportunity to learn the Government’s intentions regarding budget 2011? How does the Taoiseach reconcile that arrangement with, say, the pillars of democracy and national sovereignty? It strikes me as strange and challenges my understanding of these important tenets. Where is this at? What level of information must be provided? When is it to be provided? Will he comment further specifically on the provision of budgetary information to Brussels?

The Taoiseach:  As I have explained, detailed budgetary decisions at a national level are not required to be provided in March of the previous year. That is a misunderstanding of the situation. The role of the Eurogroup and ECOFIN generally is to improve monitoring and surveillance of broad economic policies. Broad economic guidelines are set out, there are requirements under the Stability and Growth Pact and agreements are being reached with the many countries in excessive deficit procedures at the moment, including our own country. As Deputy Gilmore indicated, we have set out in detail what the budgetary adjustments have to be in the coming years. If they are agreed, they have to be pursued and dealt with.

By giving an indication of the commitment of Government in March to meet these targets, it reinforces confidence in the plans being implemented and reassures markets that the plans will be dealt with in the way envisaged. Other countries have specific requirements in that regard. The vast majority of countries in the Eurogroup are in excessive deficit procedures and there are procedures in place once that happens, which require governments to show how they intend getting back within the 3% deficit limit set out in the Stability and Growth Pact. This is a question of increased and improved surveillance and monitoring by the Eurogroup and ECOFIN generally of budgetary policies in line with the pact’s requirements.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Is it the case that this proposal does not apply to the current year if March is the critical month of action? Has the information for budget 2011 been provided? Will there be a continual feed of information between March and the presentation of the budget to the democratically elected Members representing the people of this State?

The Taoiseach mentioned the Stability and Growth Pact. Does he accept that during the boom years the pact, which compels member states to operate within a 3% budget deficit, was routinely ignored by many of the larger member states and this State was presented by many as an example of best practice, as a succession of governments adhered to the pact’s requirement regarding budget deficits? However, the budget deficit is now of the order of 12.8% of GDP and the Government is promising Brussels we will return to the pact’s requirement by [13]2013. Is that not cutting the expectation too fine? The year, 2013, is a short distance around the corner and the reality is in trying to meet such a target date, the Government has had to impose severe cuts in public services resulting in job losses across a range of sectors and a failure to recruit essential front line staff because of the embargo in situ. The measures employed to reach the target are hurting people on a daily basis. Would it not have been better to have set a more realistic target and spread the pain over a longer time, thereby lessening the pain and reducing the impact on people’s lives? Would that not have been a better approach rather than setting a problematic target, which is causing enormous difficulties and will continue to do so over the period ahead?

The Taoiseach:  The advocation, as we heard earlier, of the status quo plus is not an option of any Government in this country for the foreseeable future. We require transformation agreements and they has been agreed in the public service agreement we have negotiated with trade unions across a range of sectors, including for health and disability services. The fiction being portrayed by Opposition party leaders is that we can maintain services on the basis of existing service delivery arrangements but that is not possible and, therefore, we need to be prepared to implement changes to the non-front line delivery of services in as many areas as possible to protect to the greatest extent we can those who require services. The status quo plus is not an option but it is being advocated by the Opposition because that is a nice, handy way of suggesting to the public how politics can run in this country. Unfortunately, it is not politics as usual.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What is the Taoiseach talking about?

The Taoiseach:  I have just explained the Deputy’s advocation of status quo plus is not an option.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  What is status quo plus? The standing ovation has gone to the Taoiseach’s head.

The Taoiseach:  The standing ovation has not gone to my head. I have made this point frequently. The fact that the Deputy does not have the responsibility to deliver the service enables him to have the luxury of talking out of both sides of his mouth every day of the week and getting away with it.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Who uses the phrase, “status quo plus”? Where did the Taoiseach get that?

The Taoiseach:  I get it from the advocacy of the Deputy’s argument,——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach made it up——

The Taoiseach:  ——which suggests that he wants to maintain services and do this, that and the other——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——like he made up everything else. He made up the bank figures as well.

The Taoiseach:  ——but he will find out in due course that it is not possible.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach is making it up as he goes along.

The Taoiseach:  No, I am not making it up.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  He is making it up; nobody used that phrase.

[14]The Taoiseach:  I am obviously getting under the Deputy’s skin——

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Nobody uses that phrase.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore, please desist.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  No, the Taoiseach is twisting things.

The Taoiseach:  He can give it but he cannot take it. That is his problem.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach is twisting things.

The Taoiseach:  As regards Ard-Fheis speeches, I heard the Deputy’s speech and I know all about the suggestions he has been making regarding those areas. He got his kick and his bounce out of it, and the best of luck to him.

Regarding the realities we must deal with, which is a different question, and the issue that arises with the budgetary situation, the Deputy suggests that we should prolong the time. That is not possible. The European Commission has sat down with the Government and we had to indicate the position so we could continue to fund deficits as we correct the public finances. These deficits we are funding are quite substantial. Even over the period we are talking about they will be substantial. We also, of course, want to get growth into the economy as a way of also helping to finance these issues. All the policies we have taken and the adjustments we have made are indicating that despite the difficulties with volatility in financial markets, and we hope they will not become more volatile, Ireland is regarded as having taken the right decisions. They clearly impose difficulties on our people but that will be case regardless of who governs this country and wishes to take on the responsibility of dealing with the issues as they are, rather than as they would like them to be. This Government is committed to doing that.

The relationship with the European Union and our membership of a common currency require us to play by the rules. It is not correct to state that during the good times a vast number of people were in excessive deficit. There were some countries, three that I recall from my term of office. Germany was one of them but it got itself back within the rules within a reasonable period of time. Of course, the costs of unification of that country were huge. However, it put its public finances in order and is a major paymaster of the European project. The situation with Ireland is that we have a challenge on our hands. We have an agreed plan with the European Union as to how we will move from the current position to where we need to be. Yes, it involves major challenges that will not be easily complied with but that must be done. The reason they must be complied with and the reason we have the support of the financial markets at present is that Ireland is, in fact, showing its determination with those issues it can control, which include its expenditure and taxation policies, to move along the line envisaged in those plans.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I did not refer to what the Taoiseach has described as the status quo plus. My questions are inspired by the fact that I recognise a status quo minus, minus, minus by every week.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, this series of questions is about European Union matters, not budgetary matters.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I remind you, a Cheann Comhairle, that the Taoiseach’s opening reply said that the context of the current economic challenges was part of the agenda discussed and I am quite legitimately following up on that. It was the Government which put forward the proposals regarding 2013. Why did it set such a difficult timeframe? Who was it to [15]impress? My questions are serious and reasonable. Would it not have been preferable to extend the deadline expectation to lessen the impact on so many of our citizens who are currently suffering as a consequence of the very restrictive deadline imposed and the cuts that have had to be introduced to try to meet the deadline? It takes no cognisance, sadly, of the huge pain being suffered by so many ordinary, decent people as exemplified in the streets of this city and other towns today, which deeply disturbs me.

I am asking a legitimate question. Why was such a strict and tight deadline chosen? The Taoiseach said it was agreed with the European Union. The Government did not have to agree this. It was the Government that put forward the idea of 2013 and now it is trying to deliver on something that is causing enormous distress on a daily basis and, make no mistake, real hardship for people. I have a legitimate point of view. I accept that these are difficult and challenging times and whoever is in the Taoiseach’s seat would have to face them, but there are other ways of facing them. Again, would it not have been wiser to have spread the pain over a greater period of time and thereby lessen the impact?

The Taoiseach:  How long does the Deputy think it is sustainable to be spending €50 billion with an income of €32 billion? How long does he think one can maintain that and expect to be funded at a time when markets are so volatile? If we do not make these changes now, what is the level of adjustment that will have to be made eventually to find a sustainable position? Those are the real questions and choices that must be debated publicly, in this House and outside.

The Deputy suggests there is an option to continue providing services greatly in excess of what is being provided by the taxpayer in a way that is sustainable. That is the ultimate contradiction. It is not possible to do that. It is not possible even though, thankfully, as a result of policies we pursued during the good times, we were able to reduce our debt and provide ourselves with some head room to take on greater indebtedness as we make this adjustment. We see other countries that do not have that head room being obliged to make even more serious decisions, which are providing for real cutbacks in services across the board. In fact, if they do not make those decisions, others will make them for them because they will not be in a position to fund their states. That is how serious the situation is. The idea that there is some type of holiday whereby we can pass it on for another few years and to suggest that as a way forward is not the real world. We need to recognise the seriousness of our situation and discuss what the options are within that realistic framework, rather than suggest there is an alternative unrealistic framework.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Perhaps the Taoiseach should recognise that the two banking reports indicated that 75% of the crisis was home grown. He does not refer to that very often.

When does the Taoiseach expect to publish the national reform programme? The EU 2020 strategy adopted at the Council on 17 June provides for a plan for jobs and smart sustainable growth. It is accepted that the strategy will assist EU member states to emerge from this crisis with the capacity to deal with the problems of the future. Five headline areas are outlined — job creation, improved research and development investment, reduction of greenhouse gases by 20% compared with 1990 levels and increasing the share of renewables in final energy consumption by 20%, improving education levels and particularly reducing school drop-out rates to less than 10%, and promoting social inclusion through a reduction in poverty. These are laudable headlines. When the national reform programme is published by the Government is it expected that the five headlines adopted at the Council meeting will be addressed in it in some detail?

[16]The Taoiseach:  This is a strategy for from now to 2020. Obviously, all these targets are issues for governments to pursue over that period. There are different requirements, priorities and levels of adjustment required to meet those targets in various countries. This country has made a great deal of progress on these targets as a result of our successive social partnership programmes over many years. The ability to improve social outcomes as a result of our economic policies has been significant. Many progressive policies have enabled this to happen. I refer to increased participation rates and increased investment in education. The challenge of unemployment obviously requires us to look at active labour market policies again to see how, despite the economic difficulties, we can address the issues as we did in the past. That will be an ongoing framework of work for Government.

Deputy Kenny made the point about the Regling report. This report made it very clear that the issues of lending policies within banks were primarily responsible. It also refers to the regulatory situation and to macroeconomic policies and fiscal policies of Government which I have spoken about and which I will defend as to our situation at the time. Hindsight is a great leveller for everybody. I refer to the Deputy’s point about the targets set out in Europe 2020. These targets now provide the benchmarking for the work of successive Governments over the course of the next decade.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In December 2008, the Government published its framework for sustainable economic renewal which contained 125 action points. I have referred previously to one of those points which was new, the innovation fund of €500 million. I ask the Taoiseach to clarify the position. My understanding is that nothing has yet been spent with regard to this fund. Is this €500 million still intact? Is there a programme for expenditure in the innovation area of the €500 million identified in that report? How does the line Minister propose to deal with it or spend it? I am concerned by the recent remarks by the chief executive of Science Foundation Ireland about the concerns for our programme for innovation and the decrease in the number of doctoral students. This is an important point in that plan and €500 million is a very substantial amount of money. I believe in innovation and research——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is going off on a tangent in his series of questions.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I ask the Taoiseach to clarify what is the current status of that fund.

The Taoiseach:  I have explained in previous replies to Deputies that this is not simply about Exchequer-funded money; this about bringing forward a fund to increase interest from venture capital companies in start-up companies in Ireland and perhaps also enticing companies that might otherwise set up in Europe to look at Ireland as a good location for start-up and development of businesses. Much work has been undertaken in this area and this work is ongoing. It is being undertaken by the National Treasury Management Agency personnel and the personnel in my Department and in the Department of Finance.

The Deputy will know this has not been a very good time for venture capital investment because of the recession and the change in the economic climate. However, much detailed work has been ongoing and I still remain confident that this innovation fund can become a reality and that there will be opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses to look to it as a source of capital investment for the future for building up businesses and trying to provide a framework in which those successful start-up companies, in particular, technology-led companies, would consider further investment for expansion and remain in ownership Ireland rather than looking to sell the intellectual property rights attached to many of these companies to bigger operators outside the country. It is a private market and these are business issues at [17]the end of the day but we need to provide an opportunity for people to look at other options for how companies with future real high growth potential are developed in this country.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  I wish to ask two questions of the Taoiseach. The first is with regard to Europe 2020 which has a set of aims and projects to be achieved. If these are not to be aspirational, how can they be made consistent with the Stability and Growth Pact and what is to be achieved within that? With regard to the emphasis on a return to growth, all of the European evidence shows there is a dangerous lag between the technical return to growth and any reduction in unemployment. Given the rise in unemployment, which creates a new circumstance that should be taken into context if interpreting the Stability and Growth Pact, how, then, is Europe 2020 to become meaningful when it is contradicted by the requirement of the pact?

The Taoiseach referred to the UN millennium development goals. My second question is whether the European Union’s common position is one that will be based on additionality for where the goals are being missed and flexibility between expenditure between the goals where specific countries are involved.

The Taoiseach:  The context for this debate on the broad economic policy or direction of Europe is to do with making Europe, as a regional economy, far more competitive than it is today. The potential growth rates in Europe, as things currently stand, are less than will be anticipated in other regions of the world with which we are competing. The question of competitiveness and how we build the prospect for employment growth is based on economic growth.

It is true to say that in the aftermath of recession, particularly one as deep and as widespread as this, the question of achieving growth, in terms of the process of how growth is achieved, such as increasing demand which has been depleted and building up companies that are more competitive, has meant that people have had to look at their cost base, including their labour cost base. The question of how to increase productivity is a fundamental part of how economic growth is achieved. This involves investment in education and it also involves correction in the public finances and there is no way around that. We cannot create jobs in a vacuum and neither can we create jobs on the basis of continuing lagging of competitiveness in Europe vis-à-vis other regions of the world.

The Europe 2020 strategy is balanced in this respect, in my view. It speaks about social outcomes and social outputs as well as economic targets. The European model has been characteristic in that respect of not just looking at economic growth for its own sake, as would be the case in other countries such as China and India, for example, without any real effort being made to deal with social outcomes. The market economy we have in Europe provides for the prospect of social as well as economic improvements.

To answer the Deputy’s question, with regard to member states, now that these strategies have been set out, we will set national targets as part of the process of preparing what are called national reform programmes to meet these set targets and these will be outlined in the coming months and years as we progress these targets. On the reason the headline targets are so few, one of the lessons to be learned from the Lisbon strategy has been that perhaps there were far too many targets and far too many boxes being ticked without the overall picture being considered. The headline targets with regard to employment, as has been referred to in an earlier question, aim to raise to 75% the employment rate for women, including through the greater participation of young people, older workers and low-skilled workers and the better integration of legal migrants.

[18]The Deputy will be aware of the various other targets set in research and development, greenhouse gas emissions, renewables and education levels across Europe, etc. The targets also include the reduction of poverty in which it is aimed to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion by the implementation of the strategy across the European Union.

The Deputy may disagree but, in my view, the Stability and Growth Pact is an absolute necessity, particularly in the context of the current volatility in the financial markets. It is questioned by others whether Europe has the political will to put public finances back in order. The consequences of not doing so have been very severe. We can look to other European countries where that has not happened and very serious adjustments have not only been contemplated but implemented.

With regard to the international development area, we seek to continue our serious commitment. Europe is the largest contributor of international aid in the world. In discussions leading up to the adoption of the strategy, I did not detect any lessening of the commitment. There was recognition that Europe can play a role in that area and that Governments must meet their commitments as best they can.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  I appreciate the reply. In the Finnish economy, the gap between the growth recovery and the reduction in unemployment was five years. If the Taoiseach decides not to invest in the social economy, demand collapses as evidenced by what is happening across Europe. Will the Taoiseach consider whether Europe 2020 becomes merely aspirational because of the obduracy in sticking to strategies of economic adjustment that are collapsing employment and depressing demand?

Regarding the world millennium development goals, the UN meeting in September will hear that specific goals are not being achieved in specific parts of the world. The issue is whether there will be additionality in the pledges and additionality in the delivery and whether people can move from one non-performing part of the world across each of the aid goals.

The Taoiseach:  Consumer demand is an important factor in growth rates and the potential to return growth to depressed economies. I take that point. In our country, with a relatively small domestic consumer market, export-led growth is of far greater importance than to larger countries with a domestic consumer market where domestic spending is a bigger factor in recovery. With 50% of our exports to the US and UK combined, we look to those economies recovering. Being a small open economy, what happens elsewhere has a determinant effect on how quickly we can establish growth and employment as a result. We know there is a lag between establishing economic growth and employment growth. Companies and businesses must be satisfied that the change in the economic cycle is such that they can take on more labour to produce more goods and services on the basis of recognised extra demand.

I hear what Deputy Higgins says in respect of the Finnish experience. Finland did a remarkable job in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union when the country lost 40% of its market almost overnight. Through research and development and investment in important areas like education and a good business environment——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  A social economy.

The Taoiseach:  I take the point that it is a good example of how one tries to make an adjustment. Lessons can be learned. For us, export-led growth is the key and consumer demand at home will make its contribution. Mirroring international confidence in what we are doing economically at home with a far greater degree of domestic conference would help us in that respect. In data of recent months, there have been indications that coming off a base that saw [19]a significant decrease in consumer spending, there is now a month on month, year on year, May to June increase in domestic demand appearing in the economy.

Regarding the point on international development aid, I cannot be more specific and a more detailed question to the Department of Foreign Affairs would elicit a more accurate and relevant answer. Pressure on public finances will have an impact on the ability of countries to contribute in the way they have in the past. In the review by the UN of the millennium development goals it is clear we are not meeting the targets. The Minister’s recent visit to Uganda and Ethiopia are better examples of what can be achieved but it comes down to governance issues within these countries and the ability to use international aid and assistance in a way that is beneficial to the native populations. We cannot say this is uniform across many underdeveloped areas.

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

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the dramatic reduction in services delivered by the Brothers of Charity service in Galway because of cutbacks and to implore the Minister for Health and Children to step in and prevent what most people believed they would never see — the closure of two community houses where the occupants will be transferred to already crowded homes involving over 20 people being moved out of premises they call home, where respite care services are likely to be cut dramatically at the end of the year, which will disproportionately affect the handicapped and their families of the Ballinasloe advocates in the Ballinasloe area of County Galway and where three multi-disciplinary posts are to be cut as opportunities arise. The only losers are the handicapped and their families. I implore the Taoiseach to take this seriously. It is a disaster.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy James Bannon:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of national importance, namely, the chronic shortage of junior doctors in the Irish health sector, which is putting patients’ lives in extreme danger and is the result of more mismanagement on the part of the HSE, which has seen policy changes driving non-EU doctors out of the system to the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada and low salary levels deterring young Irish doctors.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to raise a matter of urgent, national importance, namely, the need for the Minister for Health and Children to provide funding urgently to the Brothers of Charity for the provision of respite and other services in County Galway in order to maintain the level of support and care to the many special needs families in Ballinasloe and east Galway dependent on their support for respite, residential and day care services.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I seek the adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32 to discuss an urgent and important matter, namely, the recent budget cuts by the HSE to respite care services. As a result of these cuts, respite care services that have already suffered severe cutbacks in recent times are set to be cancelled. It is a disgrace that those with disability and special needs have been forced onto the streets to the defend the meagre provisions provided to them and I call on the Minister and the HSE to reverse the cutbacks immediately. I also [20]call on the Minister to instruct the HSE to withdraw the letters that have caused such misery and worry.

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

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Why are they not in order?

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other ways of raising them.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Of all the things being discussed today, there could hardly be anything more important.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other ways, such as the Adjournment debate.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  We are raising this on behalf of the people who cannot speak to themselves.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Connaughton should try the Adjournment debate.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 14, motion re report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on parliamentary standards; No. 14a, motion re technical amendments to Standing Orders; No. 14b, motion re withdrawal of Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008; No. 14c, motion re ministerial rota for parliamentary questions; No. 14d, motion re orders of reference and records of committees; No. 17, statements on European Council, Brussels; No. 2, Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 [Seanad] - Second and Remaining Stages; No. 3, Road Traffic Bill 2009, amendments from the Seanad; and No. 18, statements on cystic fibrosis.

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 on the conclusion of No. 18; Nos. 14, 14a, 14b, 14c and 14d shall be decided without debate; the proceedings on No. 17 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall be confined to the Taoiseach and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, who may share their time, and which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case; a Minister or Minister of State shall take questions for a period not exceeding 20 minutes; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes; the suspension of sitting under Standing Order 23(1) shall take place at 1.30 p.m., or on the conclusion of No. 17, whichever is the later, until 2.30 p.m.; the Second and Remaining Stages of No. 2 shall be taken today and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on the Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 6.30 p.m. tonight; the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tonight by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in respect of amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Health and Children; Private Members’ business, which shall be No. 75, motion re economic issues (resumed), shall be taken at 7 p.m. tonight, or on the conclusion of No. 2, whichever is the later, and shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes; the proceedings on No. 3 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 10 p.m. tonight and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair, and which shall, [21]in respect of amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Transport; the proceedings in respect of No. 18 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 55 minutes and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements shall be confined to a Minister or Minister of State and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and Independent Deputy Finian McGrath, who shall be called upon in that order, and shall not exceed ten minutes in each case; Members may share time; and a Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a statement in reply which shall not exceed five minutes.

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

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not agreed. I greatly regret that I again must indicate that I cannot accept the proposals on the Order Paper before Members today, given that yesterday, in answer to concerns raised about the disgraceful cuts to services for people with disabilities and their carers, the Taoiseach——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, the question is simple.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No, I am explaining my opposition.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is whether we are agreeing to sit later than 8:30 p.m.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Yesterday, the Taoiseach stated “we must consider how we rearrange the non-front line service part of the sector” and “we must be prepared to consider whether we can reorganise how that is delivered”. With respect, while the Taoiseach, the Minister for Health and Children and whoever else is involved are considering at their leisure, people with disabilities and their carers are facing cuts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, Deputy.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Moreover, these are not proposed cuts, as cuts actually have taken place. The Taoiseach was in denial about this matter this morning in this Chamber.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate like this on the Order of Business. It is not provided for.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am explaining the reason I am opposing it. I believe the Taoiseach has time to hear the reasons.

The Taoiseach:  There should be respect for the Chair.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Members have seven other questions to dispose of.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am entitled to explain it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, you are.

Deputy Dick Roche:  The Deputy is not entitled to break the rules.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am stating clearly to the Chair, through the Chair or any other way I have to deliver the message to the Taoiseach, that all Members——

The Taoiseach:  Respect for the Chair.

[22]An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——have received a communication explaining how, a month after the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, opened——

An Ceann Comhairle:  ——you are completely out of order on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——a sheltered housing complex in Dublin——

The Taoiseach:  Even Gerry cannot listen to the Deputy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are other times. All these matters are serious and important but this is the wrong time to raise them.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No, it is the right time to do so because my demand, quite simply——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am quite willing to allow brief comment but I will not allow a Second Stage contribution on the matter.

The Taoiseach:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I simply ask for a guarantee from the Taoiseach and the Government that those services which have been cut will be restored, that is, the respite supports will be restored and there will be no further cuts applying to people with disabilities——

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This is a Second Stage speech. Put the question.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——who sadly are not being represented in this House by the Government today but by voices outside this House and in other centres across this State. This is a disgraceful situation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please will you co-operate with the Chair?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——and there is no other mechanism open to Members on the eve of the Dáil rising for this summer recess.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes, there are other mechanisms, if the Deputy wishes to avail of them.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Consequently, I oppose the adoption of this proposal on the Order Paper.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will put the question. The question is that the Dáil——

The Taoiseach:  It is important, for the purpose of clarification, to note this issue concerns vulnerable people and I wish to make clear what are the facts. There are 5,000 respite places in this country and Members are discussing an issue regarding the budgeting of 130 of those 5,000 places. Consequently, there are 4,870 places in respite that are not affected in any way by the discussions that are taking place today.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The Taoiseach is missing the point. This affects people’s lives.

Deputy James Reilly:  That is factually incorrect.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies, please, can we have some order on the Order of Business?

[23]The Taoiseach:  It is important that the facts are heard.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please Deputies. Just brief comment. We must have some order on the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  That is not factually correct. I cannot allow the Taoiseach to mislead the Chamber.

The Taoiseach:  It is not a solution. These are the facts.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  This speech is pure waffle.

The Taoiseach:  Sorry Deputy, these are the facts.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  What about the earlier cutbacks?

The Taoiseach:  There are discussions taking place with those service providers who seemingly are finding it more difficult than other service providers which have taken the efficiencies and adjustments but still have been able to provide those services.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach could not care less.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is pretending there is no problem. The sooner he sits down the better for himself.

The Taoiseach:  As for the aforementioned 130 out of the 5,000 respite places that are available nationally, the task is to find a solution that should not affect those front line services.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach guarantee the restoration of these services?

The Taoiseach:  These service providers have the same responsibility to meet the adjustments as others which have been able to so do.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach should stop digging. He is digging in a hole.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will the Taoiseach restore the respite care?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will put the question.

Question put: “That the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m.”

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Votáil.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputies claiming a division please rise?

Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Arthur Morgan, Martin Ferris and Finian McGrath rose.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As fewer than ten Members have risen, I declare the question carried. In accordance with Standing Order 70 the names of the Deputies dissenting will be recorded in the Journal of the Proceedings of the Dáil.

Question declared carried.

[24]An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with Nos. 14, 14a, 14b, 14c and 14d without debate agreed to?

  12 o’clock

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  No. On a point of information, I do not know whether Deputies are aware that the Taoiseach has read into the record this morning a proposal for the ordering of today’s business. Since the objection which we had legitimately to the Taoiseach’s refusal to address the matter of cutbacks in the disability sector, we are now advised that a further piece of legislation relating to the transport sector is going to be crammed into today’s Order Paper and introduced later today. The House is not being notified of that at this point but its purpose is to facilitate compulsory purchase orders. Either the Order of Business the Taoiseach reads into the record is the Government’s intent or it is not. We are being codded. This is a total con job. When will we get the opportunity to address matters on cystic fibrosis? Is that going to happen in the early hours of tomorrow? What are the intentions? Is it not time we had some honesty and clarity on the floor of this Dáil instead of treating the House with contempt? Is it not time to lay out exactly, fairly and honestly the real intent of the Government?

The Taoiseach:  There is no change to the existing arrangements but there is——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am sorry, but there is.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Will you listen to the answer?

The Taoiseach:  If Deputy Ó Caoláin gives me the opportunity, I will try to be a little more succinct than he is in coming to the point.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Níor fhéach an Taoiseach ar an gciall.

The Taoiseach:  Gabh mo leithscéal.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Níor fhéach an Taoiseach ar an gciall.

The Taoiseach:  An ea? B’fhéidir nach bhfuil an aigne ag an Teachta í a thuiscint. Is í sin an fhadbh, b’fhéidir.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Taoiseach should be allowed to speak without interruption please.

The Taoiseach:  May I return to the ceannaire for a moment?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Ceart go leor.

The Taoiseach:  Go raibh maith agat. Deputy Ó Caoláin raised a valid point. The Order of Business is as I outlined, but an amendment to it will be brought to the floor of the House later today to facilitate the approval of the publication of the text of a Bill to provide for the amendment of section 217 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide for the extension of the period of validity of CPOs and to approve the moving of a motion in the Seanad providing for the early signature of the Bill by the President. This relates to enabling the extension of process regarding CPOs. It does not in any way affect how they will be handled. It is a technical issue that needs to be addressed today. Were it to be left until next week, CPO procedures would lapse and people would have to start ab initio in regard to important projects. We just want to make that point.

[25]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Why can we not have that information now? Why does the Taoiseach rise to say it will take place later in the day?

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a technical amendment, a technical provision.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not a technical amendment; this is a new Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy cannot comment a second time on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am advised the Government is going to seek an hour and 20 minutes on top of everything else that is before the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order coming in a second time.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am damn well not out of order. I am in order——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order. He should resume his seat.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This is the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is out of order. I ask him to resume his seat.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Ceann Comhairle not accept this is the Order of Business?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is not allowed to speak twice on the Order of Business on the same item. I am putting the question.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am indicating we are not being told all the information in the way we should be told it.

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with Nos. 14, 14a, 14b, 14c and 14d without debate be agreed to,” put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 17 agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with the suspension of sittings under Standing Order 23(1) agreed to? Agreed.

Is the proposal for dealing with No. 17 agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is not agreed. I stated on several occasions that I do not accept the Government’s guillotining of Bills in any shape or form. The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 is to allow for prescription charges to be imposed on some of the most vulnerable in society. There are a number of amendments tabled by Fine Gael in the name of Deputy Reilly and by the Labour Party that need to be discussed. If the Government had been interested in saving or raising money, as it appears to be given the imposition of this charge, it could have brought forward the drugs pricing Bill, which would have resulted in very substantial savings in the purchase of drugs. Therefore, I am opposed to the guillotining of the Bill in the manner proposed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Labour Party is also opposed to the proposal and to guillotines in general. There are very many at this time of year. Just as legislation resulted in the withdrawal of respite services for certain people, the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 is [26]asking the most vulnerable to pay yet again. People on medical cards, the sick and poor will now be asked to pay prescription charges.

The Labour Party has only one time slot for this Bill and it will be sharing it with Sinn Féin because it has no time allocated to it. This is simply inadequate. Many of my colleagues would like to be able to speak on this Bill. They represent people who will now be asked to pay a prescription charge for their vital medication. We are strongly opposed to the use of the guillotine on this Bill.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I, too, absolutely oppose the guillotine, and the Bill itself. This so-called Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill is disgraceful legislation. Deputies should take note it is also deceptive. While the Government and its advocates will talk about the so-called modest charge on prescriptions for medical card holders, they need to take clear note that according to the legislation, the Minister is allowed to raise that charge at any time by ministerial decision. That facilitation is one of which Members should be very cognisant, particularly those Members who intend to support it. The Bill is disgraceful and deceptive and should be withdrawn. We oppose the guillotine and will certainly oppose the passage of the Bill.

The Taoiseach:  Earlier this morning, reference was made to various savings, efficiencies and alternative ways of earning moneys that would be of assistance in maintaining front-line services. Deputy Kenny mentioned Professor McCarthy’s recommendations in this area. One recommendation was for a €5 prescription charge but we are charging 50 cent.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach is all heart.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. 2 be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 73; Níl, 59.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Noel.
 Andrews, Barry.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Behan, Joe.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cowen, Brian.
 Cregan, John.  Cuffe, Ciarán.
 Curran, John.  Dempsey, Noel.
 Devins, Jimmy.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Mansergh, Martin.  Martin, Micheál.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Nolan, M.J.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 O’Brien, Darragh.  O’Connor, Charlie.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Edward.
 O’Rourke, Mary.  O’Sullivan, Christy.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


Níl
 Bannon, James.  Barrett, Seán.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Burke, Ulick.
 Burton, Joan.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Carey, Joe.  Clune, Deirdre.
 Connaughton, Paul.  Coonan, Noel J.
 Costello, Joe.  Coveney, Simon.
 D’Arcy, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Enright, Olwyn.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McGinley, Dinny.  McGrath, Finian.
 McManus, Liz.  Mitchell, Olivia.
 Morgan, Arthur.  Naughten, Denis.
 Neville, Dan.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Keeffe, Jim.  O’Mahony, John
 O’Shea, Brian.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 O’Sullivan, Maureen.  Penrose, Willie.
 Perry, John.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Rabbitte, Pat.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  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 Joe Carey and Emmet Stagg.

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. 3 agreed to?

Deputy Emmet Stagg:  It is not agreed. We have seen an extraordinary abuse of the parliamentary system in the past few weeks in the Chamber. One item of legislation after another has been guillotined. In many cases, it has been unnecessary. In other cases, there has been no time to read the amendments, given the entire period of time allowed for debate. The planning Bill is a case in point. This practice leads to bad law and denies the House the right to keep the Executive to account. I hope the Ceann Comhairle will assist in the next session, seeing as how the new Government Whip has failed to fulfil his promise to use the guillotine sparingly, which was the intended use of the guillotine in the first place. Under the Ceann Comhairle’s guidance in the next session, I ask that we consider how to change the rules of the House to prevent this abuse and ensure that the House can keep the Executive to account.

[28]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  If people were not wasting time on the Order of Business, we would have more time.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  On that subject——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Even the ranks of Tuscany can scarce forbear to cheer.

Deputy Dara Calleary:  Evacuate the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, could we have Deputy Durkan without interruption?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  When the multitude’s anger has subsided.

Deputy Frank Feighan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  It is constituency envy. That is all.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I support my constituency colleague. Many times previously, the Government cynically introduced the guillotine to cram through legislation that was sensitive and——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s intervention at this time is entirely inappropriate. The party leaders deal with the——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I respectfully suggest——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Deputy dealing with the issue before——

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  It will be a good speech.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I do not want to disappoint the Ceann Comhairle. I will intervene again, but I wanted to support my constituency colleague, as his comments were true. The use of the guillotine to ram through legislation in an undemocratic fashion that is abusive to the Houses of Parliament has become commonplace.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  There will be a celebration in Paris over the use of the guillotine.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I have never seen the Fine Gael Front Bench cleared out so quickly. We have had recent experience of it, but Deputy Durkan has his own way of clearing the deck.

The Taoiseach:  At least I have a Front Bench.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Guillotine the Front Bench.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I agree with previous speakers, in that I oppose the guillotine.

The Taoiseach:  I would like to put on the record of the House that I have never heard a more succinct contribution from Deputy Ó Caoláin in my life.

[29]Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 3 be agreed to,” put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 18 agreed to? Agreed. If we can have some ciúnas, we will proceed with the Order of Business.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach outlined a number of real issues that needed to be faced up to and debated in the House when he was replying to one of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s short questions. I agree with the concept. Is it intended that there will be a changed procedure for the preparation of the budget this year? Might there be real discussion in the Chamber about the Votes and the priorities to be decided upon by the Government so that, when the Minister for Finance makes decisions on the budget, he will have had the benefit of real political debate from elected politicians?

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have some ciúnas in the lobbies, please?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Minister would have the benefit of political discussion in the House on the priorities to be decided on in terms of the budget. Is there any intention to change the format of the presentation and production of the budget this year?

Has a date been fixed for the return of the House? Will it be in mid or late September? When can we expect the publication of the Bill on the proposition for a directly elected Dublin lord mayor?

The Taoiseach:  The third matter requires legislation and that is in preparation at the moment, as the Deputy would be aware. Regarding the first question asked by the Deputy, it is an issue for the Minister for Finance. I am not aware of any change in procedures being envisaged, but I believe the House should give itself the opportunity to have a series of debates about what the real choices are. It is important that we use debates in the House for the purpose of enlightening the electorate as to what are their real choices. We often have policy differences, and unfortunately sometimes they are not characterised by realistic debate. I have always advocated that this House should take the opportunity — there will many before December — in which these types of issues could be discussed in a way that is sensible and realistic. It would be to the benefit of the debate were that to happen.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  What is the date of return?

The Taoiseach:  I believe it will be announced tomorrow, but it will probably be around 29 September.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Given that the Government intends to close down the Dáil until late September, would the Taoiseach consider holding the three by-elections at some stage during the recess? I recall that last year the month of September was used for the campaign on the Lisbon referendum. I recall the launch of the Labour Party campaign on 31 August last year on that referendum. The Chief Whip, in responding to the Labour Party moving the writ on the Dublin South by-election last week, said it could not be held because it would interrupt Dáil business. If the by-elections were held during the recess, naturally that would not interrupt Dáil business. I suggest that the Taoiseach considers moving the writs and holding the by-elections some time in September. We can have the campaign in September and then nothing will be interrupted.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  A good suggestion.

[30]The Taoiseach:  There is a good deal of work to be done by committees in July and September. The finance committee, in particular, has much work to conduct, and in fact I do not believe the Labour Party spokesperson wants to take a day off at all. I believe she wants to be here for all of it. I am sure colleagues will provide that opportunity.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  We are worn out.

The Taoiseach:  I do not believe that it true. I believe Deputy Rabbitte is very energetic, and indeed a senior Deputy, as I was saying yesterday.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I am like the Taoiseach was last night.

The Taoiseach:  I was hoping the Deputy would be around on Thursday evening for that other thing, but we may have to move it along.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Hold on now. It was Friday that I asked the Taoiseach for.

The Taoiseach:  I was wondering why it was Friday.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I am already on the Criminal Law Procedure Bill on Thursday, so Friday, with respect——

The Taoiseach:  I have seen the Deputy double up without any problem, on many occasions.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I know, but, no more than the Taoiseach, I am getting old.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is good in short spurts though.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Would the Taoiseach like the rest of us to leave?

The Taoiseach:  I am sorry, I wanted to have a chat with Deputy Quinn as well. The mayor Bill will not be available this session, and I look forward to his continuing interest in that particular subject. However, regarding Deputy Gilmore’s effervescent energy for a campaign in September, perhaps Galway might be his best possibility in an all-Ireland final.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach would clutch at any straw.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I want to ask the Taoiseach about the health information Bill and when he expects it to be published. It is item No. 27 on the B list. By way of information, the Taoiseach spoke earlier about the respite services. These services in Limerick have been closed for the past three weeks. That involves 63 families and individuals, many of whom are travelling to Dublin today for the march. Many of them are elderly and living on their own. The Taoiseach was in Limerick last Monday and gave a commitment that this would be looked after. This is about the lives of real people. All that is involved is €157,000 for the respite services in Limerick. When are we going to get a result? I put this down as a special notice question today on the Adjournment and I hope the Ceann Comhairle allows us to raise it, as we have been trying to do for the past four weeks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will have to see how things work out for the Adjournment. We will leave it until then.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  This has been ongoing for a number of weeks. On a point of information for the Taoiseach, these respite services are already closed, not about to be closed, because of lack of funding.

[31]The Taoiseach:  The Bill alluded to by the Deputy will be later this year. I was making the point earlier that there are 5,000 respite places nationally and the discussions being undertaken today and tomorrow relate to 130.

Deputy James Reilly:  They are not all for the intellectually disabled though.

The Taoiseach:  One of the issues that should be raised in the discussions that will take place is why there was an acquisition of property which is empty. We talk about the possibility of respite services being affected in Limerick for the sake of €130,000. However, had the house not been purchased, perhaps this would have ensured that the services were available.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  It is current revenue we are talking about, not capital.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  That is not much of an answer for people with no access to respite services.

The Taoiseach:  These are issues that need to be discussed with the service providers.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  This is about staff, not about capital funding.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I am glad that the Tánaiste is present in the House. This has become an old chorus of mine, but when are we going to see the national community primary school legislation published? We were going to have it enacted this session. Will it be published tomorrow or next week, or is there any chance of getting the Bill at all? Three new schools are starting in September in addition to the two that are operating illegally at present. I just wonder when the legislation will be published.

The Taoiseach:  That matter will be considered by Government very shortly — in the coming weeks.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I have three issues regarding promised legislation. Apropos respite places and the issue referred to by the Taoiseach to the effect that only 130 places would be affected, is that figure of 130 extra or is it included in the number of places already closed down?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has the Deputy a question on promised legislation?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Yes, it relates to the promised eligibility for health and personal social services legislation. I believe one of the most crucial and personal social services involves the support services already referred to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy leave it until we see whether there is legislation coming down the tracks?

The Taoiseach:  There is no date for that legislation.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am encouraging the Taoiseach, perhaps, to clarify what he said this morning——

The Taoiseach:  That would not be in order.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  ——when he received information from the Minister for Health and Children that only 130 places would be affected. Are we to conclude——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, we cannot have a debate at this point.

[32]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Well, can the Ceann Comhairle tell me?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot----

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  There will be an awful lot of people outside the House very shortly and they will be inquiring about this.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is a matter for the Adjournment. I call Deputy Pat Rabbitte.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I have not finished yet. I took the Ceann Comhairle’s advice on another issue as well, and I presume we shall get that information or in any event somebody else can raise it with the Taoiseach. I took his advice and tabled a number of parliamentary questions. The information I received on a question relating to the number of prisoners on early release or one type of release or other over the past three years is——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy knows this is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is, and it is on legislation as well.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Tell us about the legislation.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  If the Ceann Comhairle had not interrupted me, I would have told him by now. Almost a quarter of the total prison population has been on early release. The critical question I raised, on foot of that, was regarding the number of people on bail——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  There is promised legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will make inquiries. Will the Taoiseach say if there is promised legislation in this area?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The Ceann Comhairle will not make inquiries. I can make them myself. A quarter of the total prison population is on early release.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate at this time. It is 12.40 p.m. and we are still on the Order of Business.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A vast number have been on bail while charged, and the bail amendment Bill that I have raised 100 times before in the House is relevant. The Ceann Comhairle keeps interrupting me all the time. Can I ask——

The Taoiseach:  The Ceann Comhairle has to be respected, in fairness.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am being respectful, and giving respect to the House involves answering questions when asked.

The Taoiseach:  There is no date for that legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is no date for it, Deputy, I am advised.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  What does the Ceann Comhairle mean there is no date for the legislation? Criminals are going around this city, and others as well, shooting people while on bail.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to find some other way to raise it.

[33]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The legislation is item No. 72 and the Taoiseach knows that as well as I do.

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

The Taoiseach:  There is no date for the legislation.

Deputy Brian Cowen:  I respectfully suggest that in view of the seriousness of the situation, a date might be contemplated as a matter of some urgency. Is that possible, a Cheann Comhairle?

The Taoiseach:  It will be contemplated.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Then, notwithstanding the forthcoming event, Bastille Day, which is the real guillotine time, I suggest that, after some period of contemplation, the Bill should be brought before the House as soon as it returns after the summer break. May I suggest that after a period of some contemplation a conclusion is made of a satisfactory nature? Then, without any other intervention, the Bill should be brought before the House as soon as it returns from the summer break.

The Taoiseach:  It will be contemplated.

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

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  What does the Taoiseach mean by that?

Deputy James Reilly:  It is like paraphrasing Elvis Presley.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made his point about these matters even though it is not contemplated on the Order of Business. Will Deputy Durkan allow Deputy Rabbitte?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Is it not possible? I am disappointed now.

Deputy Mary Coughlan:  I recommend Lough Derg to Deputy Durkan. It is a great place where he could reflect on matters and calm down.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Does the Tánaiste wish to take me there?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies please.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Will we take the management companies Bill on Friday to facilitate it going on to Committee Stage over the summer?

The Taoiseach:  In view of what Deputies have said about this matter and in an effort to accommodate them, if there is cross-party support we could arrange to have Second Stage completed in the House tomorrow evening. That would then allow the Bill to proceed to Committee Stage in the summer months. Will we all agree on that?

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  I thank the Taoiseach for that. It would have suited me better personally if it were taken on Friday. There are several colleagues who want to speak to the Bill because of the relevance it has on their constituencies. Will there be time for a number of contributions?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy will be aware of the constraints on time in the last sitting week. The Deputy made the good point to me last week and this week that the Bill could move on to Committee Stage if Second Stage were taken this week. There will be plenty of opportunity [34]for Deputies to go into some detail on that Stage. The Deputy will know from experience that the amount of time available to complete Second Stage will be limited tomorrow. We should avail of the opportunity to conclude Second Stage. There will then be plenty of opportunity on Committee Stage for Members to have detailed discussions on the finer points of the Bill.

Deputy Mary Upton:  A debate on cystic fibrosis will be held later this evening. When is it hoped to have the human tissue Bill published, which is crucially important to organ donations and transplants?

When can we expect legislation on gambling, particularly dealing with the plans to tackle the potential tax take on on-line gambling?

The Taoiseach:  There is no legislation on the Government legislative programme for the second matter the Deputy raised. There is no date for the human tissue legislation.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on Deputy Sheahan.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  I note a slight trepidation in the Ceann Comhairle’s voice when he called me.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am always apprehensive that the Deputy might not be in order.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  Will the Taoiseach give a commitment on regional airports and their public service obligations, PSOs? I raise this under No. 37 in the legislation programme, the national tourism development authority amendment Bill. The PSO for Kerry Regional Airport has been reduced from €3 million to €1.75 million. Hence, services and passenger numbers have been reduced.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to raise this matter on Second Stage of the legislation.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  This is the closure of regional airports by stealth. Will the Taoiseach give a commitment to the future of regional airports and their PSOs?

In Cloghane, Corca Dhuibhne, 150 households are without any television reception. We had the Green Minister in the House talking about pay-per-view——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy can raise this with the line Minister and stick to the Order of Business.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  ——and free-to-air television services yet these poor people in Cloghane have no television. RTE technicians have picked out a site for——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy could raise this on the Adjournment this evening or tomorrow.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  I tried to raise the matter on the Adjournment but you, a Cheann Comhairle, refused me. I feel you are being very hard on me for some reason or other. Will the Taoiseach used his esteemed position to put the fires under RTE to get a television service to the people of Cloghane?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has done well. I call on Deputy Stanton.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  What about the PSOs and the legislation I raised?

[35]The Taoiseach:  We do not have a date for the publication of national tourism development authority (amendment) Bill. There is review of regional airports under way. The PSO requires state-aid approval from the European Union. There has been a policy whereby PSO arrangements must be modified in view of EU developments.

Deputy David Stanton:  On secondary legislation, one of the first actions of the Government when the recession began was to suspend the operation of the Disability Act two years ago. When will this legislation be re-implemented?

The Government also suspended the Education for Persons with Special Education Needs Act. There are whole sections that need to be invoked. When will this happen?

Am I in order when raising matters concerning secondary legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is on the margins of doubt.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The margins of doubt?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Are the queries directly about secondary legislation?

Deputy David Stanton:  Yes, they are.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Ar agaidh leat.

Deputy David Stanton:  Sections of the citizen information Act need to be implemented, particularly the advocacy provisions that impact on people with disabilities. When will this occur?

When will the carers’ strategy be published, as I understand it is ready? When will we be in a position to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities? We were promised the mental capacity Bill would be published before the House rose for the summer recess. Will it be published tomorrow? Currently, this area is covered by legislation from 1870.

Legislation is required on standards of care and inspections of facilities for children with intellectual disabilities in residential institutions. The Minister with responsibility for disability said two weeks ago that the Government was exposed in this area.

There is a whole raft of the disability strategy that has either been abandoned, stalled or suspended. Two weeks ago the Taoiseach claimed he has a great record in this area. The record does not stand. Families of people with intellectual disabilities will march on the Dáil later because they are concerned and upset about the putting aside of the disability strategy, the first action this Government took two years ago when the recession began.

When will legislation be published on the electoral commission?

The Taoiseach:  The latter legislation is under preparation. The line Minister can give the Deputy an up-to-date position on that.

Deputy Stanton set out several issues. I do not accept there has been a abandonment of the disability sector.

Deputy David Stanton:  The legislation has been suspended.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  The legislation is not being operated.

The Taoiseach:  Under this Administration the resources provided to the sector have increased by 400%.

[36]Deputy David Stanton:  Does the Taoiseach accept the legislation has been suspended?

The Taoiseach:  Since we came into office four times more has been applied to disability sector.

Deputy David Stanton:  However——

The Taoiseach:  I listened to what the Deputy had to say.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will he address them?

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy took five minutes to put the issues and expects me to address them in two sentences.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is starting on the wrong foot.

The Taoiseach:  I thought there was a bit more substance to the Deputy’s proposition than that. Can we not listen to each other?

Deputy David Stanton:  The Taoiseach is waffling.

The Taoiseach:  With respect Deputy, I would not like to regard what he had to say as waffling and he a member of the Opposition Front Bench. I am sure he is very dedicated but if he wants to take that approach I can simply——

Deputy David Stanton:  I apologise for using that term.

The Taoiseach:  It is not a question of apologising. It is a question of being respectful to each other.

I do not accept his characterisation of the abandonment of this sector. The Government has brought forward legislation in this sector based on resources. There is no point in suggesting we implement all sections of the Disability Act without reference to resources. We have increased much-needed resources in this area, an area which had not been properly accommodated in the past. It will be a continuing challenge for anyone in government for the foreseeable future. We need to examine the service provision. I would never suggest support services behind front-line services are not required but they have to be examined. A multitude of service providers have costs across the board in their own organisations that need to be considered. We must consider how we can bring all that together, similarly to shared services in the public sector, in a way that is more cost-effective. I do not want to be in any way disrespectful of these service providers because many of them filled gaps in the past when the State simply did not have the capacity to provide services at all. Thus, there is a historical issue here. There is an ethos that must be respected but, in addition, people must recognise that change is necessary. We cannot assume the continuation of services as currently delivered while at the same time making a commitment to protect the front line. It is not possible.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  What changes will happen in the HSE? That is where it will start, not at the front line.

The Taoiseach:  A whole range of changes have been made in that area. I would rather address what Deputy Stanton had to say, because he has some knowledge in the area, with respect.

The answer to the question regarding the non-implementation of primary legislation is that the implementation is resource-led. It is about providing in the first instance for those in the [37]younger age group through the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, with the prospect of raising the age to 16 over a period. Whether the person with responsibility for this is me or the Deputy’s leader or anyone else, the same material facts apply. There is no point in suggesting to the public that this can be resolved overnight. It will not be. Instead of focusing on that aspect, let us concentrate on how, in the context of the requirement for more cost-effective services, we can protect the front line based on a good level of service.

There are 25,000 people receiving good disability services in this country. Issues have arisen with some service providers, as mentioned by Deputies in the House this morning. It is not correct to suggest that all services are at risk. A small number of places — 130, as I understand it——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is ridiculous.

The Taoiseach:  ——are up for discussion, and those service providers will have to try to find ways of dealing with these issues while protecting the front line, as other providers have done by implementing the efficiencies that were asked for. It is a question of everybody facing up to the challenge. There are a number of substantive issues that can be discussed with them, including savings in areas such as human resources, which are not on the front line but which need to be streamlined. There is potential in these discussions to find a constructive outcome. There is no monopoly on virtue. We all want to see front line services protected, particularly for people such as this.

I am entitled to say in my defence that I am proud of the resources I made available when I had responsibility in this area, as Minister for Health and Children and Minister for Finance. This is recognised by the sector and was based on a planned partnership approach with those service providers. There would still be dissenting voices coming from the far side no matter what I said about this issue.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Taoiseach is not facing reality. That is what is wrong with him.

The Taoiseach:  My sincerity is no less than anyone’s, including Deputy McCormack’s.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  He is not facing reality.

The Taoiseach:  My sincerity in trying to find a constructive solution to this problem is no less than that of anyone else.

The mental capacity Bill, which is expected to be published next session, forms an important part of what is required to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Work on the implementation of the various other provisions in that convention, which are extensive, continues in the relevant Departments.

Deputy Joe Carey:  I want to ask the Taoiseach about the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 and particularly about comments made in this Chamber and in committee. The Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív, intends that people who are in receipt of social welfare payments will be made eligible for work helping their communities, whether that involves building walls, painting, weeding or other activities. He informed us that the detail of this new community employment initiative would be made available in July. Can the Taoiseach inform the House when he intends to make this known?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The information will be with us shortly.

Deputy Joe Carey:  Has he put the scheme together?

[38]The Taoiseach:  There is no legislation required in that regard. The work is ongoing in the Department. The Deputy acknowledges that work is being done in that area.

Deputy James Reilly:  When will the health information Bill be published? When will the report on the death of Mr. Peter McKenna at Leas Cross be issued? This has been the subject of a number of investigations which were not satisfactory. The latest investigation, which was carried out by Mr. Dignam, is now over and the report has been with the board of the HSE since March, which is four months ago. Where is the report and when will the Minister make it available? This issue has been followed closely by my colleague Deputy O’Dowd, but many people feel this information should come to the public domain for further scrutiny, so we can learn from this terrible tragedy.

When will the licensing of health facilities Bill be introduced? It will need to address situations such as that in which a terminally ill lady was kept for 25 hours in the accident and emergency unit of University College Hospital Galway, which is supposed to be a centre of excellence for cancer treatment. That is not excellence, or anything near it, by any stretch of the imagination. We need to know whether the Bill will address this and when it will be introduced.

With regard to the eligibility for health and personal social services Bill, I wish to ask the Taoiseach about some of the comments he made here. There was an implication that somehow the Brothers of Charity must live within the budget they are given, like every other organisation. However——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy——

Deputy James Reilly:  I will just finish this; I will be very quick.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have really gone over time on the Order of Business.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Brothers of Charity have already been hit for €1 million under value for money savings and another €1 million because of the moratorium on recruitment. They cannot even replace the CEO——

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

Deputy James Reilly:  ——and now they are told they will be faced with another €2 million cut.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It has been going on for the last couple of hours.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  The Ceann Comhairle never gives us any debate.

Deputy James Reilly:  If the Ceann Comhairle will forgive me I will continue for one second.

This is a very important issue. We can all go on our summer holidays——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Yes. We accept all that.

Deputy James Reilly:  ——but these people have no respite care for their loved ones. The Taoiseach stated here this afternoon that only 130 out of 5,000 respite beds were under threat.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on it at this point.

[39]Deputy James Reilly:  I want to ask a direct question. Is the Taoiseach telling the House that the 5,000 respite beds to which he referred are all for intellectually disabled people? Are they not also for care of the elderly and other areas?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy Reilly. You are not co-operating with the Chair.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Give us a debate on it.

Deputy James Reilly:  The beds in Limerick are gone, and there are more to go in Galway. They will be lost in Dublin. There are far more than 130 beds——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will not allow a rolling debate on this matter.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Well, give us a debate this once. We will be happy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Taoiseach to reply to the inquiries about legislation.

A Deputy:  The Ceann Comhairle should allow a debate on this.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There should be a debate.

The Taoiseach:  The health information Bill will be introduced later this year. There are no dates for the other two Bills.

The Deputy mentioned the licensing of health facilities Bill. When we introduce the licensing arrangements, it will represent an improvement to the health service in terms of implementing standards and making sure we provide a level of service that people expect. Where that does not happen, there will be consequences. People often call for licensing legislation but then when the licensing arrangements are established, surveillance and monitoring are carried out and decisions are made on that basis, the reaction from the Opposition is often to say that we should not close this or change that.

Deputy James Reilly:  No.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputies play for all sides when it suits. It is a luxury they have.

Deputy James Reilly:  I do not wish to interrupt the Taoiseach, but the Government can fix a problem when it identifies one, or it can use it as an excuse to withdraw services. That has been the case.

The Taoiseach:  No. It is a luxury they have and the record will show that is how they play it. If we are to have licensing arrangements, as the Deputy is calling for, he must accept that when issues are not being dealt with or standards are not being reached, there must be consequences. Often, unfortunately, when that is the outcome of improvements, Opposition Members come in and say we cannot follow through on it because it will have this effect or that effect. They cannot have it every way.

Deputy James Reilly:  Nobody wants it every way.

The Taoiseach:  Well, unfortunately——

Deputy James Reilly:  We want problems identified and fixed.

The Taoiseach:  I have seen the Deputy’s reaction to a number of issues that have been raised in recent times, and that is precisely what he does.

[40]Deputy James Reilly:  I put it on the record of the House——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We must move on.

Deputy James Reilly:  I put it on the record of the House that these reports——

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are time constraints on the order of the House. I have motions to put to the House and the statements on the European Council begin at 1.05 p.m.

Deputy James Reilly:  Facilities are being starved of resources to make them unsafe.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy James Reilly:  Reports are commissioned to show they are unsafe——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate on it at this stage. I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

Deputy James Reilly:  ——and those reports are then used to close the facilities down rather than addressing the problem.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy’s point is made.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach did not tell us when we will see the Dignam report, which has been with the HSE for four months.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Seán Power to speak very briefly because we are under serious time constraints.

Deputy Seán Power:  I will not detain the House.

In view of the concern of the racing industry about future funding and the commitment made by the Taoiseach to tax firms that are providing a betting service in this country, could he tell us what progress has been made in this regard and when we are likely to see the publication of the legislation?

The Taoiseach:  I thank the Deputy for his inquiry. It is an issue to which I referred recently. Work is being undertaken to deal with the matter this year and I expect we will have it in the next session.

  1 o’clock

Deputy Bernard Allen:  I will be very brief. I have waited a long time, but I would like to make my point to the Taoiseach. This may be the last formal occasion on which the Taoiseach will be here before the summer recess. I would, therefore, like to remind him that he will have hard decisions to make in the autumn regarding budgets, tax cuts and cuts in services and he will have to make the choice. I put it to the Taoiseach that there is significant flabbiness and abuse in the public services and if Oireachtas committees had the adequate powers to investigate these, they could be dealt with. For example, in the area of procurement ——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have to find another way to address that.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  I make this point in the context of legislation. I suggest the Taoiseach give committees the powers and they can do effective work. I am Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts and we have asked for extra powers with regard to data protection and the Supreme Court decision made on Abbeylara. We are hamfisted in our dealings with some of [41]these issues. For example, we have got the job of looking at the Dublin Docklands Authority. We will also have to monitor NAMA, but we will not be ——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy was asked to be concise.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  We will be unable to do the work we should do on behalf of the taxpayer because we do not have the necessary powers. We have asked for the powers and should get them. When will we have legislation that will give committees like the Committee of Public Accounts more powers to deal with the significant issues that exist, such as abuse, misspending etc., across the board?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy has made his point.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  Abuse of procurement practice is another issue. Will the Taoiseach give us the powers to deal with the issues or will these issues become the subject of tribunals in the future?

The Taoiseach:  We have brought forward legislation, through the commissions of inquiry legislation, to deal with those issues in a far more effective manner than through the 2004 Act, which as we know from experience has major cost implications, even in matters of public importance. These are often not dealt with with the speed people would expect because of the issues that arise in terms of witnesses etc. With regard to powers being given to the Committee of Public Accounts, I will have to check with the line Minister on the situation and the view of the relevant Department. The committee, under the Deputy’s chairmanship and that of previous chairmen, has done important work and carries out an important function for Parliament. I would like to see it doing its work effectively. I will check on the matter and come back to the Deputy on it.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  We need extra powers for dealing with NAMA and the Dublin Docklands Authority. The Comptroller and Auditor General also needs extra resources. The pay review done in his office points to serious lack of resources to deal with the issues.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have the opportunity at some other stage to raise this.

Deputy Bernard Allen:  There is no point in Ministers sending stuff off to committees if the committees do not have the powers to deal with them.

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

That Dáil Éireann adopts the Report of the Committee on Procedure and Privileges on Parliamentary Standards, copies of which were laid before Dáil Éireann on 18th May, 2010.”

Question put and agreed to.

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

That, pursuant to Standing Order 99(1)(a) the Committee on Procedure and Privileges recommends that the Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business are hereby amended as follows:

[42]

(a) STANDING ORDER 99 — COMMITTEE ON PROCEDURE AND PRIVILEGES:

In Standing Order 99, by the insertion of the following paragraph after paragraph (3):

‘(4) There shall stand established, following the reassembly of the Dáil subsequent to a General Election, in accordance with the provisions of the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997, a sub-Committee, which shall be called the sub-Committee on Compellability, and shall consist of the Party Whips who are members of the Committee and three shall constitute a quorum. The sub-Committee shall—

(a) perform the functions conferred upon it by the Act; and

(b) be joined, as and when required for the purposes of the Act, with a similar sub-Committee of the Seanad Committee on Procedure and Privileges, to form the Joint sub-Committee on Compellability to perform the functions conferred upon it by the Act.’

(b) STANDING ORDER 112 — CONDITIONS ON BROADCASTING OF PROCEEDINGS:

In Standing Order 112, by the substitution of the following paragraph for the first paragraph:

‘112. That the broadcasting on sound and vision of the proceedings of the Dáil and its Committees by national, local and foreign broadcasters, and also on the internet via the world wide web, shall be authorised subject to the following conditions:’

(c) STANDING ORDER 171 — METHOD OF LAYING DOCUMENTS BEFORE THE DÁIL:

In Standing Order 171, by the substitution of the following paragraph for paragraph (1):

‘(1) Where a document is required to be laid before the Dáil the delivery of a copy of the document, which may be an electronic copy in an approved format, to the Parliamentary Library for that purpose shall be deemed to be the laying of it before the Dáil.

(d) STANDING ORDER 136A:

The adoption of the following as an additional Standing Order of Dáil Éireann relative to Public Business.

‘136A. Where Bills are to be substantially amended at Committee or Report Stage the Ceann Comhairle or Committee Chairperson as the case may be shall have discretion to direct that the Member in charge of the Bill must provide a revised explanatory memorandum to assist Members in considering the amendments.’

(e) STANDING ORDER 62 — SUSPENSION OF MEMBER:

In Standing Order 62, in paragraph (1) by the deletion of.

[43]

‘Provided, on an exceptional basis, a division may be claimed on the question and, subject to paragraph (3), shall take place immediately before the Order of Business the next sitting day thereafter’

and the substitution therefor of

‘Provided, on an exceptional basis, a division may be claimed on the question and, subject to paragraph (3), shall take place at the discretion of the Ceann Comhairle, either immediately or prior to the Order of Business the next sitting day thereafter’.”

Question put and agreed to.

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

That leave be granted to withdraw the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008.

Question put and agreed to.

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

That, until the Dáil shall otherwise order, the order in which Questions to members of the Government, other than the Taoiseach, shall be asked in accordance with Standing Order 37(2) shall be that in which the members of the Government are listed in Resolutions approving their nomination by the Taoiseach for appointment by the President dated 7th May, 2008 and 23rd March, 2010.”

Question put and agreed to.

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

That the Order of Dáil Éireann of 23rd October, 2007 establishing Committees of 30th Dáil be amended as follows:

1. by the substitution in each place where it occurs of:

(a) ‘Tourism, Culture, Sport, Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs’ for ‘Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’;

(b) ‘Tourism, Culture and Sport’ for ‘Arts, Sport and Tourism’;

(c) ‘Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs’ for ‘Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’;

(d) ‘Education and Skills’ for ‘Education and Science’;

(e) ‘Enterprise, Trade and Innovation’ for ‘Enterprise, Trade and Employment’;

(f) ‘Justice, Defence and Women’s Rights’ for ‘Justice, Equality, Defence and Women’s Rights’;

(g) ‘Justice and Law Reform’ for ‘Justice, Equality and Law Reform’; and

[44]

(h) ‘Social Protection’ for ‘Social and Family Affairs’;

2. (a) after Paragraph 2(2)(ii) to insert the following:

‘(iia) such matters across Departments which come within the remit of the Minister of State with special responsibility for Integration Policy as it may select;

Provided that members of the Joint Committee on Education and Skills shall be afforded the opportunity to participate in the consideration of matters within this remit;’;

and

(b) the deletion of paragraph 11(2)(iii);

3. that all papers and materials associated with the Joint Committee on Article 35.4.1 of the Constitution and section 39 of the Courts of Justice Act 1924 are no longer required to remain within the custody of the Houses of the Oireachtas.”

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call on the Taoiseach to make his statement under Standing Order 43. The following arrangements apply: Pursuant to today’s Order of the Dáil, the statements shall be confined to the Taoiseach and to the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order and who may share time, which shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case.

The Taoiseach:  I attended the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on 17 June. The meeting was unusual in that it took place on one day rather than the usual two-day format for our annual June meeting. That aside, however, in terms of its business the meeting was in many ways the first relatively normal meeting of the European Council this year. While we are still in the midst of ongoing economic and financial challenges, this meeting did not take place in an atmosphere of crisis, as was the case with other recent meetings. We had a busy agenda for our meeting, but I am pleased to say that we got through it well. Much of our discussion was taken up with economic issues, ranging from the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and growth to enhancing economic governance and to regulating financial markets. I will concentrate on these issues in my initial remarks.

The European Council endorsed the Europe 2020 strategy for jobs and for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. This strategy is intended to help Europe to recover from the economic crisis and to emerge stronger by boosting competitiveness, productivity, growth potential, social cohesion and economic convergence. In particular, we formally signed off on the five headline targets to underpin the strategy. The first of these targets, on employment, aims to raise to 75% the employment rate for women and men aged 20-64, including through the greater participation of young people, older workers and low-skilled workers and the better integration of legal migrants. The second target seeks to improve the conditions for research and development, in particular by raising combined public and private investment levels in this sector across the European Union to 3% of GDP. We have also agreed that we need a parallel indicator to measure research and development and innovation intensity and output.

Our third target reaffirms our commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20% compared to 1990 levels; to increase the share of renewables in final energy consumption to [45]20%; and to move towards a 20% increase in energy efficiency. In this context, the European Union remains committed to taking a decision to move to a 30% reduction in emissions by 2020 compared to 1990, provided that other developed countries commit themselves to comparable emission reductions and that developing countries contribute adequately according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities. In other words, we need to work together in a co-ordinated fashion to safeguard the environment while recognising the economic and competitive challenges that we all face, as well as the need for fair and balanced burden sharing.

Fourth, we are committed to improving education levels across Europe, in particular by aiming to reduce school drop-out rates to less than 10% and by increasing the share of 30-34 year olds having completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 40%. Finally, our fifth EU-wide target is in the area of promoting social inclusion, in particular through the reduction of poverty, under which we aim to lift at least 20 million people out of the risk of poverty and exclusion.

A further element of the Europe 2020 strategy will be the integrated guidelines for economic and employment policies, which were endorsed by the European Council and will now be formally adopted following an opinion of the European Parliament. These guidelines are intended to inform implementation of the strategy by the member states and, in due course, can serve as the basis for country-specific recommendations that the Council may address to member states, in line with relevant treaty provisions.

I am particularly pleased that, in our conclusions on the Europe 2020 strategy, we have agreed that all common policies, including the common agricultural policy and cohesion policy, will need to support the strategy, and that a sustainable, productive and competitive agriculture sector will make an important contribution. Deputies will recall that when I reported to the House on the March European Council, I mentioned that I had been very concerned about the absence of any meaningful reference to agriculture in the initial documentation on the strategy. The language agreed at our June meeting now reaffirms that the important contribution that agriculture makes to our economy, and in terms of employment, not just in Ireland but across the European Union, is increasingly being recognised.

The next phase of the Europe 2020 strategy will be the setting of national targets by member states in pursuit of the EU-wide targets which we have now agreed, the identification of the main bottlenecks to growth, and the preparation of national reform programmes to implement the strategy. This work will be advanced over the coming months, with the Commission now proposing that the national reform programmes be submitted at the same time as stability and convergence programmes in the spring. In parallel, the Commission will flesh out the various flagship initiatives envisaged within the Europe 2020 strategy for action at Community level, having already presented the first of these — a digital agenda for Europe.

Implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy is intrinsically linked to the issue of economic governance. In this regard, the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, gave a progress report on the work being done by the task force to examine crisis resolution mechanisms and better budgetary discipline across the Union, which we agreed to establish at our March meeting. The President chairs this task force, on which Ireland is represented by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan. In light of the report on progress so far, the European Council agreed several orientations for the future work of the group. These orientations cover strengthening the Stability and Growth Pact; paying greater attention to debt levels and overall sustainability in the context of budgetary surveillance; the annual submission of broad budgetary frameworks for consideration each spring under the so-called European semester, while taking full account of national budgetary procedures; ensuring member states’[46]national budgetary rules and frameworks are in line with the requirements of the Stability and Growth Pact; and ensuring the quality of statistical data.

The process also needs to focus on macroeconomic imbalances as well as fiscal ones. The divergence in competitiveness within the euro area is one of the reasons for the financial instability we have recently witnessed. The European Council agreed on the merit of a scoreboard system to detect macroeconomic imbalances in future. This would form part of an early warning mechanism to help prevent their re-emergence. These are important principles that should guide the work of the task force in the coming months. We will consider the final report and recommendations of the task force at the October meeting of the Council.

It is important to stress that greater budgetary discipline across the Union is in all our interests. Some have sought to suggest that this implies a loss of sovereignty, but I do not accept this. Rather, it is a necessary sharing of responsibility. The work being done in this area clearly acknowledges the role and importance of national Governments, national parliaments and national budgetary processes. None of that need be at odds with the need for greater collective co-ordination of effort or greater cross-surveillance of decisions and actions.

The European Council also took several important decisions concerning the regulation of the financial services sector. In particular, we have called for the necessary legislative measures to be finalised so that the European Systemic Risk Board and the three new European supervisory authorities can begin working from the start of 2011. We have also pressed for rapid agreement on the legislative proposal on alternative investment fund managers and swift examination of the Commission’s proposals on supervision of credit rating agencies.

During our meeting we also agreed that the results of ongoing stress tests of banks by banking supervisors would be published in July, in the context of demonstrating transparency and resilience in the banking sector. We agreed that member states should introduce systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions, both to ensure fair burden-sharing and to set incentives that will help contain systemic risk in the financial sector, as part of an overall credible resolution framework. Work to move this matter forward will need to address the issue of a level playing field, as well as assessing the cumulative impacts of various regulatory measures in the sector, while recognising that specific circumstances differ from one member state to another. I expect we will also return to this matter at our October meeting.

Consideration of regulation of the financial sector leads us neatly to the preparation of the Union’s position for the G20 summit which took place in Toronto a week later. In this regard, we agreed that we would continue to press for a global approach to the introduction of systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions as part of an overall reform of the financial system. We also agreed on the need for a co-ordinated but differentiated approach to an orderly exit from the extra fiscal stimuli that many governments had introduced in response to the economic crisis. Finally, we agreed we would press for a review of IMF quotas as part of a broader review of IMF governance issues.

Following the G20 summit, a joint statement by the President of the European Council, Mr. Van Rompuy, and President of the Commission, Mr. Barroso, said that G20 leaders demonstrated clear common resolve to create strong, sustainable and balanced global growth and that there had been convergence around the Union’s approach, combining growth friendly fiscal consolidation and following through on fiscal stimulus, tailored to national circumstances, with the G20 members agreeing concrete minimum targets for deficit reduction and the stabilisation and reduction of debt. While, as widely anticipated, the G20 did not reach agreement on the issue of bank levies, it nonetheless remains determined to keep up the pace for making the financial sector more resilient to crises and risk.

[47]Returning to our discussions at the June meeting of the European Council, we reaffirmed our commitment to the UN millennium development goals ahead of the UN summit on this issue in September. We also agreed that we would review progress between now and 2015 on an annual basis at the level of Heads of State and Government. The Minister of State, Deputy Roche, might elaborate on this item in his contribution.

On climate change, we took note of the European Commission’s latest communication which concluded that conditions do not currently exist to justify a step-up to a 30% target for emission reductions and that further analysis should be carried out. We agreed to return to this topic in the autumn, ahead of the next major climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico, in December. We discussed a number of other issues in less detail.

We also endorsed conclusions from the Council of Ministers regarding implementation of the European pact on immigration and asylum. We agreed that accession negotiations with Iceland should be opened following the Commission’s opinion on Iceland’s application for membership of the Union. We noted that Estonia fulfils the treaty convergence criteria for membership of the euro and welcomed the Commission’s proposal that Estonia adopt the euro on 1 January 2011, becoming the 17th member of the eurozone. Finally, we adopted a declaration on Iran outlining our concerns about that country’s nuclear programme. I expect the Minister of State will say more about this issue.

I said at the outset that this was, in some respects, the first normal meeting of the European Council for some time. There is no doubt that the current international financial and economic situation remains uncertain and the markets volatile, but we cannot allow ourselves to be in thrall to the markets or slaves to that volatility. Going into the June European Council, I was strongly of the view that we must send out a clear, positive message showing the member states moving forward, collectively and individually, in a measured, responsible and effective manner. Such an approach is not only appropriate and necessary in its own right, it is also the most appropriate response to the markets.

We must continue our efforts to bring our public finances back into balance, which is essential to safeguarding a return to sustainable economic growth. We need to work more closely together, recognising our mutuality of interest, in overseeing our broad budgetary parameters and approach. We must show that in Europe, and especially within the eurozone, we will work together, decisively and effectively, to protect our currency. We need to reform our financial institutions, both to ensure that they contribute to the costs of recovery and to ensure we do not allow a repeat of the financial crisis. Above all, we must show we are in control, that we are prepared to act and that we will take effective action. I am satisfied that my concerns going into the meeting were shared by my colleagues around the table and that the actions, decisions and conclusions of that meeting show we are prepared to act, collectively and effectively, in our common interest.

I take this, my first opportunity, to wish my colleague, Deputy Barrett, well in his new role as Fine Gael spokesperson on foreign affairs.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I propose to share time with Deputy Barrett.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  That is agreed.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I thank the Taoiseach for his commendation of Deputy Barrett. I am sure the Deputy will fulfil his duties with his usual high level of dedication and commitment.

This was an important meeting that the Taoiseach attended as Head of Government on 17 June. I already referred during Questions to the Taoiseach to the five main headlines that were referred to by the Heads of Government, namely, research and development, job creation, [48]reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, the importance of education as we face the future, and promoting social inclusion. The Taoiseach remarked in his contribution that some have sought to suggest that the European Union’s involvement in the budgetary process would represent a loss of sovereignty. I am pleased that matter has been cleared up.

The presentation and preparation of the budget by the Government, in the context of what we discussed this morning, would be very helpful. An examination of the most pressing issues facing the Government, including the amount of money to be taken out of the economy, cutbacks the priorities to be accorded to different Votes and so on, would be helpful to the Minister for Finance in the preparation of his budget. In terms of Europe’s involvement in looking at Ireland’s budgetary proposals, there should be an interaction not only with the Government but with the Parliament. The European Parliament has gained in importance in terms of its co-decision making capacity with the Council of Ministers. Europe’s assessment of our Government’s budgetary proposals should be made available to the House as well as the Government.

The reaction from the Government must be to put our own house in order. The OECD report indicates a stark situation in which 370,000 jobs may be lost in a four-year period. If we add to that the numbers who have left and will leave because of difficult economic circumstances, it makes for a very difficult position. The FÁS report on the labour market indicated a loss of 87,000 jobs in 2010 and a further 22,000 loses in 2011. This is exacerbated by the fact that male unemployment is now at 16.5%, twice the rate of female unemployment. Some young people who sign on for jobseeker’s allowance from an early age are still drawing social welfare in one form or another well into their 50s. This is not how it should be. In the context of this document and Europe facing this problem, a great deal more could be done by the Government over and above putting several hundred people on training courses. For our part, we have pointed out a range of measures related to investment in real infrastructure which would allow for assets deemed valuable in terms of attracting local and international investment to thrive and provide real jobs. Such measures would at least in part answer the call to deal with the issues discussed at the Heads of Government meeting on Ireland’s behalf.

It has been a daunting prospect for Europe and every country to react to the scale of the international crisis. We have argued previously about the extent of the impact on Ireland and whether it was a home-grown crisis. Nevertheless, the situation is that Europe has responded in a way which sets out clear guidelines for countries to avoid breaching the Stability and Growth Pact and, for those which have done so, how to get back on track. These issues are of serious import for every country.

I am unsure if the Government would escape another referendum or treaty by engineering a European IMF situation. I do not foresee this as a possibility. The measure adopted by the Heads of Government at the Council was worthwhile in terms of setting up the emergency fund which may be drawn on if necessary. This was probably the only possible response given the circumstances in which Europe found itself. The reports being prepared under Mr. Van Rompuy will be important and meetings in October and December will deal with other elements of this.

The Heads of Government did not discuss the situation which arose with the blockade of Gaza by Israel. I am pleased to note some progress has been made in this regard and that on the basis of decisions now being taken general assistance and some construction materials will be allowed into Gaza under supervision. I trust this will be the beginning of a process that can become more flexible in time and lead to a situation where the position of 90% unemployment can be addressed to a greater extent. I share the Taoiseach’s view in this regard and I thank [49]the Government for the clarity of its response. I wish to leave the remainder of my time to Deputy Barrett.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  I welcome the fact that Europe has agreed to the adoption of the 2020 strategy. However, strategies are one thing but their implementation is another. I look forward to the Taoiseach’s publication of the national reform programme, which will set out our individual targets in the various areas. I recommend strongly that we should use our committee structure to establish these targets. We should put forward proposals for debate in each of these areas such that people on committees can use such a structure to invite the views of various interested bodies and have their input into the preparation of such plans. We under-utilise the talent that exists not only on the backbenches in these Houses, but among the public. I refer also to the willingness to be of assistance if structures are put in place. I have spoken on many occasions here about the need to have a proper committee structure and I hold strong views on the matter. The number of committees should be dramatically reduced. We should have eight or nine strong committees covering various important areas and they should be properly resourced and given the powers and opportunity to facilitate an input from the public, whether accountancy firms or whoever.

I hold the same view with regard to legislation. We send Bills to committee and no one knows what is going on. Amendments are introduced because of pressure applied once a Bill is published. All of this could be avoided if the heads of a Bill were sent to a committee in the first instance. It would be preferable to let the committee seek the views of the various interested parties and, before a Bill is finalised and presented to both Houses, the input would have already been received from these groups. At that stage, the Bill would pass through the House a good deal more quickly on Committee Stage and there would not be a long, drawn-out Committee Stage procedure.

I urge the Taoiseach to be mindful that committees cover the five areas set out. Let us consider job creation. Naturally, we are all in favour of job creation. How do we create jobs? I refer to the area for which I was responsible until my recent appointment. I was the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security. The Taoiseach has heard me making noises previously about our failure to put in place the various structures and legislation to enable us to develop a natural resource which, some day, please God, will see Ireland as a net exporter of energy. I refer to the interconnection with Great Britain through Northern Ireland-to-Scotland links and ultimately with France and the north-eastern part of Europe. I refer to the vast potential into which we could tap. We have a natural resource and we should be leading research into the development of wave power and offshore wind power. Jobs will flow as a result and there will be cheaper costs for industry in terms of the production of goods through cheaper electricity and so on. Ultimately, it is a matter for all of us, not only the Government, through proper structures having an input into these national, realistic plans. I believe a commitment exists to achieve this if we are given the opportunity to do so.

I am beyond my 60th year now. In my time, my mother and father had to find the money to send me to secondary school. Thankfully, we now have so-called free second level education. It was a great struggle for my parents and I believe many parents were in the same boat. However, there is now a great opportunity for people to get at least a second level education. I refer to my generation. Numerous men and women with whom I was familiar never had such an opportunity simply because their parents could not afford it. Access to education is the most important thing for Europe, whether first, second or third level. This is a fundamental principle that we must defend. We must use this opportunity, and not only to continue with the same type of leaving certificate and apprenticeship training.

[50]I visited the Dún Laoghaire College of Further Education which is renowned for apprenticeship training. I refer to the difficulties caused as a result of the downturn in the construction industry. Why should someone who wishes to be a carpenter or plumber have to find a sponsor? Why should one not be able to leave school with a desire to be a plumber and proceed to third level education and become a plumber? During my training, I will be taught how to manage books and form my own business. That should be part of business training. Why should I need to be sponsored by people? If something goes wrong and I cannot find a sponsor, what do I do? If one wants to be a doctor, one does not have to find a doctor or surgeon to be a sponsor. This is why we are way behind in looking to the future and changing our current system, although it should not be changed for the sake of it. We should encourage entrepreneurs who have skills with their hands and not only their brains. Some people have significant manual skills and they can move from one task to the next. I, unfortunately, do not have that talent. However, many do and they should be trained to be entrepreneurs in their own right. By doing so, we will eliminate the black economy where it is case of, “Give us €50 and we’ll forget about it”. We must face up to these issues and be realistic. I hope, in drafting the plan through the Joint Committee on Education and Science, we will use the opportunity to discuss how we should change and consult. Students, particularly those who have been through various types of college, and not only the education authorities should be consulted about where improvements are needed.

I am a great believer in the European system. Thanks be to goodness in these difficult times that we are part of the Union. By sharing its resources, it can get us all out of the mess we are in. Let us all contribute to maximising the great resources we have, particularly our natural resources. Our major contribution will not only be securing energy for Europe through interconnectors but also by becoming an exporter of that energy. I look forward to debates on this issue.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I congratulate Deputy Barrett on his elevation to the Front Bench and on his appointment to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The June summit concentrated on the ten-year European 2020 strategy for jobs and sustainable growth and on a package of proposals to help create financial stability in the markets of member states, which was appropriate because they are critical issues. Like Deputy Kenny, I was disappointed that the Taoiseach did not mention the Gaza conflict or the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, considering an Irish ship was hijacked and impounded in Ashdod by the Israeli authorities and nobody knows what has happened to its cargo. I thought the Taoiseach would have raised this, but perhaps it was raised on the margins of the summit. He might mention this in his reply.

The summit was one of the most important European Council meetings in recent times as the Heads of State, including the Taoiseach, agreed broad parameters for the next decade and the decisions taken were far-reaching and important. I have a gripe about the manner in which we conduct our business in this respect. Today, three weeks after the event, we are discussing what happened, the conclusions and decisions, but this is a worthless, empty exercise. There was no opportunity prior to the Taoiseach’s trip to Brussels to tease out the issues in the strategy, engage in debate, elicit the views of the Oireachtas and hold the Government to account for decisions it was about to take, which we are elected to do. I do not say we would necessarily have failed to endorse the strategy but Members might have liked to have matters emphasised or dealt with differently. The Taoiseach referred to the omission of agriculture in the original proposals. He stated Ireland had worked to ensure the sector was covered and that all common policies such as the Common Agricultural Policy will be integrated in such a [51]manner as to become part of the overall strategy. The manner in which we conduct our business is unacceptable in any circumstances. In the context of the provisions of the Lisbon treaty, this was not envisaged for member states. There is a great deal of work to be done in this regard in order that we do not have ourselves back in the House in these circumstances where the horse has bolted and we are debating in a vacuum.

The Lisbon strategy had as its objective the creation of the EU as “the most competitive economy in the world”. Sadly, this did not transpire and many EU economies are in crisis with debilitated banking sectors and sharply increasing employment. Ireland is an extreme example of how a healthy economy can rapidly deteriorate and collapse and of how full employment can suddenly become 13% unemployment in a few years. Poverty levels throughout the Union did not improve over the ten years of the previous strategy. A total of 80 million citizens are living in poverty or at risk of poverty. It is proposed the number will be reduced by 25% in the new strategy to take 20 million people out of poverty. That target was also set in 2000 but it was not met and the position is as bad as it ever was. That was the acid test of the Lisbon strategy and it has failed.

The objects of the new European strategy for this decade are remarkably similar to the previous strategy. It proposes to boost competitiveness, productivity, growth, social cohesion and economic convergence and it sets out a vision of Europe’s economy for the 21st century, while asserting the Continent can emerge stronger from the crisis, even though there was supposed to be no crisis at this stage. However, while the strategy and its objectives are laudable, as with its predecessor, how can we ensure it does not go the same way and fail as dismally?

If Europe 2020 is to succeed, member states must co-ordinate their actions, act collectively, reform their financial governance structures and, above all, be honest with each other and provide correct data to EU institutions. They must impose regulation and supervision on the financial markets. However, it is difficult to ascertain how individual member states will implement these proposals, if at all. At the same, EU institutions must exert surveillance and monitoring over financial institutions and the economic policies pursued by member states.

The European Union must ensure that the budgetary policies of member states are in accordance with agreed principles and parameters and that the Stability and Growth Pact is implemented effectively, rather than simply being disregarded as has been the case up to now.

Without effective implementation and constant monitoring, Europe 2020 will go the way of the Lisbon strategy. It must be implemented as quickly as possible, with the agreement of the member states, and the principle of subsidiarity must not be breached in the process, while the sovereignty of each member state must not be undermined. I agree with the Taoiseach that what we are doing at present is a necessary sharing of responsibility. We are not, in fact, in breach of the principle of subsidiarity or of the sovereignty of each country. It is promised that the task force to examine economic governance will produce its final report in the autumn. We hope that will be robust and point the way forward.

It has been proposed that there should be a budgetary spring semester, and that member states would come together under the auspices of the Commission and indicate the broad parameters and guidelines of their respective budgets. That would be very worthwhile. One would think budget preparations were the third secret of Fatima in this country. The budget was always a secretive matter, I believe unnecessarily, but now that these matters will be discussed in Brussels every spring, we should have our own spring semester in this country in which the House would discuss these matters prior to the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance going to Europe and discussing them with their 26 partners there. This should be an opportunity to bring some of the thinking on the budget into the open and for the House to [52]discuss it, rather than waiting for the Minister to reveal a budget that is seen to be the greatest mystery in the country. It would be much better if we conducted these matters in a proper and open fashion. Perhaps the Minister will consider holding our own pre-Europe budgetary semester in the House.

The headline targets that have been set are laudable. Nobody can object to a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy or to the five headline targets. The question is how we will implement them. How will we achieve a 75% employment rate for men and women aged from 20 to 64 years? The greater participation of young people, older workers, low skilled workers and the better integration of legal migrants will have to be teased out considerably if it is to take place. There is little in our present policies to suggest there will be any progress in that direction, particularly in the areas specified.

The second headline target is improving conditions for research and development, with the aim of raising combined public and private investment levels to 3% of GDP. How will that happen? We are less than half way to the target at present. There is no worthwhile private development and investment coming in and the State is too strapped for cash to provide it in this sector as well. It is obsessed with investing and injecting money into the banks, which is where all the money appears to be going at present. We have long way to go before we can operate meaningfully in the research and development area. The new Irish EU Commissioner, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, has the innovation and science portfolio so, hopefully, it will be pushed a little more strongly than it has been in the past with regard to this country getting involved in research and development.

We have a bigger problem, however. A huge amount of research is taking place in our universities but it is taking place in a vacuum. There is no link between the research that takes place, the design of a product and the marketing of that product. We are almost incapable of bringing research to the marketplace to generate employment and create wealth or to make it commercial. We are far behind countries such as Finland and Israel, which have a process and structures in place for providing the public and private investment, conducting the research, using third level institutions and linking them to industry, having creativity in the design models and then marketing them, in terms of bringing the product to the market and being commercial. We must do a huge amount of work in that regard but nothing is being done at present. Who will drive that?

With regard to reducing greenhouse gases, we have had the 2020 target for a long time. The proposal was to raise it to 30% if the situation warranted it but, given the Taoiseach’s remarks, that will clearly not happen. He indicated that 2020 is the end of it. The ambitious targets are not there, which is disappointing. Of all countries, as Deputy Barrett said, Ireland has great potential with regard to new renewable energy sources. Investment and research are required in this area. Ireland has the potential to be the leading country in the EU with new energy sources so we should set new targets that are well in excess of the 20%.

Education will be our biggest problem. We have not reformed the education sector for a long time. It is stubbornly difficult to achieve reform in that area. Our examinations system is driven by rote learning, and there is very little creativity in our second level system. Many of the subjects that are necessary for the progress we are discussing are not studied. A few months ago the former chief executive of Intel, Mr. Craig Barrett, showed the statistics that prove we are far behind in studying mathematics and science and as a result are seriously hampered with regard to industrial output. That is the issue. That feeds into the area of research and the link between research modules that are carried out but being unable to bring a product to the market.

[53]There is a long road to travel. The draft national reform programme must be published as quickly as possible. It must be finalised by spring next year so it must be published as quickly as possible to facilitate a debate on it and to ensure structures can be put in place to deal with the many challenges outlined in the Europe 2020 strategy.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuil an deis seo againn labhairt arís ar na cruinnithe mullaigh seo a bhíonn ann trí nó ceithre huaire sa bhliain ag Comhairle an Aontais Eorpaigh.

Like other Deputies I consider it strange that, given the supposedly key role the European Union has in the Quartet, there does not appear to have been any discussion of Israel’s heightening of tensions in the Middle East with its murderous attack on the aid flotilla, which carried many EU citizens on board. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on whether it was discussed on the margins of the Council meeting. What was discussed, given the preferential position Israel has in Europe through the preferential trade agreement, the growth in the boycott, divestment and sanctions, BDS, lobby in other EU states and particularly in Ireland and the position some European countries have taken recently? I find it strange it did not put itself on the agenda.

I also wanted to find out whether the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who is supposedly the peace envoy for the Middle East, was speaking on behalf of the EU when he hailed Israel’s move, yesterday or the day before, to reduce the blockade as a significant milestone. The list of controlled items has been reduced — not that anybody ever saw the full list of what was controlled as they just knew what was allowed in, which was minimal. All this ignores the fact that the siege of the Palestinian territory of Gaza is nearly three years old and there had previously been intermittent blockades of that part of Palestine by Israel.

I welcome the easing of the blockade for humanitarian reasons. However, this does not take away from the fact that the siege-blockade is illegal. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, has said as much in this House. I ask what is the EU stance in this regard. If the blockade is illegal, we should not be celebrating its removal or calling this action a significant milestone.

The blockade needs to be lifted completely. It is an air, sea and road blockade which is contrary to international law and the only sustainable solution is the complete and immediate lifting of the closure. The root cause of the continuation of that siege is the immunity which Israel enjoys. The international community and the EU in particular, seems to have granted Israel further privileges based on the fact it is violating human rights. This amounts to collective punishment. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Martin, has used those terms. If this is the case, I find it difficult to understand how it was not discussed as a main topic at the Council meeting, given the murderous attack on the flotilla and considering Irish and other EU citizens were on board ships. Neither should we celebrate the partial lifting of this blockade.

The permitting of secondary goods into Gaza without allowing the local economy to produce its own goods will only increase the dependency that currently exists on imported goods and aid from abroad. This exacerbates the crisis of self-determination and dignity among Palestinians in the long term. I hope there will be time to return to this point.

I refer to the Taoiseach’s contribution when he said, “It is important at this point to stress that greater budgetary discipline across the Union is in all our interests. Some have sought to suggest that this implies a loss of sovereignty, but I do not accept this”. I disagree fundamentally with the Taoiseach’s statement. I believe that interference from the European Union in Irish budgetary affairs is a loss of sovereignty; it is not a sharing of responsibility. It is also an insult, not only to the Minister for Finance, this House and the Oireachtas but also to the Irish people. [54] There should be no suggestion that we as a people are not capable of taking realistic, responsible financial decisions, in the interests of the public, that we have to be baby-sat — which may be the wrong word — or dictated to about each and every financial measure we need to take to extract ourselves from a mess not of our making but of this Government’s and the national and international banking sectors and also as a result of predatory practices.

I have disagreed with this policy for a considerable period. Europe’s forced adherence to the Stability and Growth Pact is hampering our economy’s ability to recover. The Stability and Growth Pact forces countries to stay within a 3% budget deficit and this was arbitrarily ignored by the larger countries during Ireland’s boom years in particular. We were held up as a shining example to other countries because of our ability to meet the strict criteria during those times. It now seems that all of that ability was based on false money. Our budget deficit has now soared to 12.8% of GDP and that 12.8% ignores the borrowings being undertaken for the banks because that is off the Government’s central balance sheet, courtesy of the special purpose vehicle signed off by Europe. Here is another fraud being committed because the figure of 12.8% is not a real figure, which is much higher. There has been a complete under-estimation because we are evading the negative consequences of all that borrowing in order to bail out the banks.

The Government has promised Europe it will bring the deficit back to within the 3% dictated by the Stability and Growth Pact by 2013. Is this with or without the special purpose vehicle’s funding requirements? The 2013 deadline is not only ridiculous with regard to what it means in spending cuts and tax increases, it is also completely random. Why is 2013 the deadline year? Why not 2014 or 2020? Why not associate it with the 2020 strategy? Various economic commentators have posed this question of why should we place ourselves under such enormous pressure to meet the Stability and Growth Pact, which makes no sense to begin with. The Government could have gone to Europe with a seven-year or ten-year recovery plan. The indecent haste to meet a fantastical rule set by people who at times ignored the rule themselves makes no sense.

This Government has also tied the State to the EU’s blind determination to protect the euro, which means participating in the bail-out of Greece when our deficit exceeds that of Greece. In a few months’ time we could have the potential situation where Greece is asked to bail out the Irish economy. This shows the ludicrous nature of what is being discussed and imposed upon us. It means partaking of a new loan facility fund, despite the demands that fund can put on a state if it avails of those finances. The EU is becoming the IMF and this Government is signing up wholeheartedly to it, up to the point of agreeing that Brussels should have sight of and commentary on our sovereign budgets in advance of them being put to the national Parliament. This is an insult to this House and an insult to the budgetary process which has gone through the Oireachtas quite well for a number of years. The Government is signing up to an interference from outside in our affairs. That amounts to a loss of sovereignty.

  2 o’clock

The EU hampers our recovery in other ways. A colleague, Senator Pearse Doherty, was recently lobbied by firms in Donegal that lost out on tenders to firms from the Six Counties and England because those jurisdictions do not have to honour the existing registered employment agreements — which specify the pay and conditions of those in the construction and hotel industry — that apply to certain work in this State. This is perfectly legal because of the Laval and Viking decisions. Any company can now tender for an Irish project and pay its workers the rates of its home country, which will often be less than hard-fought rates in this State. More jobs are being lost in the State. How does this fit in with Europe’s strategy for jobs and the Europe 2020 strategy, which is hailed as the best thing since sliced bread? The strategy is aimed at lifting 20 million people out of poverty while [55]workers in Donegal are being put into poverty and unemployment. This Government has nailed our fortunes to those of the EU through the taking of referendums for a second time. The Government can now use the EU as an excuse and claim it has no ability to make decisions in the interests of the citizens of the State and that it is in the hands of the EU. That is the loss of sovereignty to which we referred over a number of treaty campaigns. These are a threat to our ability to make decisions in this Parliament in the interests of the Irish people.

For a short period, there was at least some good economic work under way in Europe. For a period after the banking crisis hit and caused many countries to slump into recession, several European countries led the way with stimulus packages aimed at lifting their economies out of contraction. Unfortunately, those on the right have once again deflected the rightly-placed blame for this mess and are leading a turnaround in policy decisions. They are holding Ireland up as a shining example of how to cut essential services, privatise, clamp down on workers’ rights and allow the rich to carry on unscathed. It is an example of right-wing economics and of how to contract an economy into depression and apply the same policies that caused the crisis. Europe must be proud of us. We are repeating the mistakes of the past. That is how foolish this Government is and it is being led blindly by right-wing economists across Europe. This Government has always succeeded in taking the worst from Europe without any of the best. While we must adhere to the nonsensical Stability and Growth Pact, we must have the worst health care system, the worst funded education system and the worst child care system. These services, so essential to building the State and competitiveness, are delivered with equality in most other European countries. It would serve us well if this Government was to look at Europe beyond its ideological slant and take a leaf out of other countries’ books in that regard. It might find that if it puts its citizens and building competitiveness first, like other countries that frequently broke the Stability and Growth Pact, we too might have to adjust our goal of being within it.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  There will now be a question and answer session that will not exceed 20 minutes.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The President of the European Commission yesterday warned that the future of the euro depends on the implementation by the EU of stronger, stricter and broader governance of the financial markets, better co-ordination of member states’ budgetary proposals and tougher sanctions for countries breaking budgetary rules. He was correct. The regulation of financial services was also discussed at the EU summit. It was agreed by the Heads of State to introduce systems of levies and taxes on financial institutions to ensure fair burden sharing and to increase incentives to contain systematic risk. Can the Minister of State outline how this will happen, who will monitor it and how it will be applied in respect of the Irish situation?

Can the Minister of State outline the national plan in respect of the five areas mentioned? What structures has the Government in mind to ensure inclusion in drawing up reform programmes? Is there a time schedule for submission to the Commission? Is work taking place on a parallel basis within the Commission and Ireland, similar to the targets set for climate change and emissions reduction of 20% by 2020? There were ongoing discussions leading to that target. Unfortunately, at the political level, in initial negotiations there was little contact at committee level or in plenary session about why it should be 20%. Much of this work is done behind the scenes between our Civil Service negotiators on behalf of the Government and the officials of the Commission. That is fine but others need to be included. Deputy Costello pointed out that we are discussing a summit that took place on 17 June when we should be discussing the proposals on the agenda for the next summit and the input, if any, of this Chamber on our stance on the items to be discussed. We should bear in mind that large commitments were [56]given on the passing of the Lisbon treaty for greater inclusion of the views and ideas of national parliaments. Once the Lisbon treaty was out of the way, that desire seems to have been parked. I am not aware of any new structures to allow this Chamber to have a broad debate on various issues seriously affecting the citizens of this country.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Dick Roche):  I will deal with the last point first. A great deal of work has been done on this point, particularly by the Joint Committee on European Affairs. The House must come to grips with this issue because this was one of the major points in the Lisbon treaty to which we all signed up. Deputy Costello also made this point. We signed up to it not because we wanted to get the treaty over the line but because it is inherently one of the most positive aspects of the treaty. There is a major challenge to all sister parliaments across Europe about how to use the facilities available. This is a challenge to the Houses of the Oireachtas, given our electoral system, our political culture and how we do our business. Deputy Barrett is correct in that this presents a major challenge because the material, the drafts and the legislation are coming to the Houses at the same time as to member state Governments. This presents a major task for the Houses. I agree with Deputy Barrett’s earlier point about the need for restructuring. In a paper I delivered last week I went further by stating restructuring is not possible in the Houses of the Oireachtas until we examine our electoral system. This was a personal view, not a Government view. Our electoral system does not support the kind of House outlined by Deputy Barrett in his contribution and several times previously. Members can best serve the people if they can get away from day-to-day activities and focus more on how to deal with the future. While one cannot control the past, one can control the future. However, much valuable work is going on and, in particular, I recognise the contribution by Deputy Barrett’s colleague, Deputy Durkan, in this regard.

The Deputy asked a series of questions with regard to the future and how, for example, economic governance will look in the Union. The Van Rompuy task force is addressing this issue and the first discussion on that has been held. The turbulence in the financial markets has proven that, notwithstanding Deputy Ó Snodaigh’s Little Ireland view of Europe, we would be in a devastating position. Moreover, it would not be just this small economy because, as most people are aware, small open economies are terribly vulnerable in times of turbulence. The question of how Europe deals with such turbulence and with economic imbalances is very much the focus of the Van Rompuy report. I believe I have heard the Deputy refer at least once to the question of how Europe will deal in the future with issues such as the negative role played by credit rating agencies or how one should deal with hedge funds. These are matters that we will not be able to control from our focal point but we will be able to deal with it collectively in the future. Similarly, the Van Rompuy task force is considering how budget procedures and budgetary discipline should be improved and what type of sanctions can be contemplated. This is because it is quite clear that when a situation arises such as occurred, for example, in Greece, where the statistical base simply did not reflect the reality, it poses a problem.

The Deputy also mentioned the issue of a levy and the question of oversight on banks. I agree there is a necessity for a common system throughout Europe and the Government has made this point. However, it also has made the point that a levy on financial institutions would be obliged to take account of the banks’ fragile position, particularly with regard to the timing of such an imposition, because any levy placed on a bank ultimately will be placed on its customers. These issues are in contemplation and this is where Europe has moved on.

[57]A final point made by the three Members who are present in the Chamber is that it is important for the Houses of the Oireachtas and the debates therein to be more pertinent and more related in time to the decisions. During the past year, there has been a positive development in the committees, particularly the Joint Committee on European Affairs, whereby Ministers attending EU meetings, be it the Minister, Deputy Martin, or myself, must inform the joint committee as to what they intend to say and must return to the committee thereafter and make a quick report. This also would be a good practice in the other sectoral committees. However, while Deputy Barrett is correct to state that this a major challenge, matters are moving in a positive direction.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  Just 11 minutes remain in this segment for questions. I call Deputy Costello.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The first point is there must be a debate in this House before the Taoiseach goes to Brussels, rather than after the meeting. Of course it is possible to have a debate at both times but it is somewhat counter-productive for the only debate to be held after the event. A proposal to this effect has been made for some time and a document on it will be published soon. The Government should be proactive and should take on board the proposals that have come from the Joint Committee on European Affairs on this matter. Perhaps Members will be given a commitment that this will happen in the forthcoming Dáil session in the autumn.

Second, I refer to the question I raised previously about the fact that Europe is to have a spring semester to deal with budgetary matters. Should Members not take on board this proposal by engaging in prior debate on such matters before all 27 member states come together in Europe? The Minister for Finance and perhaps the Taoiseach and the other prime ministers will be outlining the broad parameters of their own budget strategies — without giving the details, of course — in an attempt to co-ordinate the activities of the member states in budgetary terms. Before this takes place, surely there should be a major debate in this House on the national budgetary strategy and on the general thrust of what the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance will say in Brussels?

Third, the national reform programme is the key to the ten-year Europe 2020 strategy. Unless a proper programme is drawn up for the implementation of the strategy, the aforementioned five targets will be useless. There is an enormous amount of work to be done as this will be a ten-year strategy. The Government should come up with the broad parameters as quickly as possible but the House also must have an input in this regard because serious matters must be considered in each Department on issues such as climate change, education, research and development, employment or the target of 3% of GDP to be spent on research and development. How will they be implemented and how will the structures be put in place? Who will drive it and what mechanisms will be in place? All the sectoral committees of the Houses should be beavering away on these matters, in addition to whatever the Civil Service is doing. However, there is no sense in doing so in a vacuum and such matters must come before this House. The Minister of State should indicate what is the timescale for this programme to be ready and what inputs are envisaged.

Deputy Dick Roche:  I will be brief. On the general point made by the Deputy about the Taoiseach or Ministers coming before the House in advance, I question the wisdom of trying to do all this in plenary session. I do not believe it to be the best way to deal with it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  No, not the Minister.

Deputy Dick Roche:  I tend to agree with——

[58]Deputy Joe Costello:  Not the Minister. That is just for the spring semester.

Deputy Dick Roche:  Very well. I was trying to deal with the three points made by the Deputy. If, to revert to the earlier point, more of this work is to be done in committee, the work of such committees must be better publicised. It is fundamentally wrong that, for example, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs, which sits day in and day out, considers and tries to scrutinise legislation, at best gets ten seconds on Oireachtas Report some time after midnight. I consider this to be a fundamental breach of the responsibility of the public service broadcaster to keep the people informed. However, that is a bigger issue.

On the issue of the spring semester, I revert to the point made by Deputy Ó Snodaigh. The idea that there would be a team that would play according to rules does not constitute a breach in any sense of the sovereignty of any nation. While I agree that the spring semester is a good process, it is very broadly based and will not consider the specific detail.

As for the final point made by Deputy Costello on implementing the strategy, he is right because for all the strategies in the world, it always comes down to an implementation stage. In academic literature, it has been stated that implementation is always the Achilles heel. The responsibility of Members on all sides of the House is to ensure they get on with the implementation process. I agree with the Deputy that the more specific the targets, the better they may be judged. If targets are set in broad waffly terms, it is hard to ascertain whether they are being achieved. The best way to do it is to set targets in quantifiable terms of achievement over specific periods. This is a challenge we must face given our present position with regard to this process.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  If I may, I agree entirely with the Minister of State on publicising what happens in the Oireachtas, particularly with regard to European matters. I am sure the Minister of State will support the efforts made by many Members, myself included, who consistently have asked for the Oireachtas to have its own live broadcasting system. The Government should put its back behind this proposal to get it implemented as quickly as possible.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  The Minister of State might deal with that as part of his wrap-up.

Deputy Dick Roche:  While I can reply with the single word “Yes”, I will come back to it during the wrap-up.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I have a number of questions, which may be included in the wrap-up, on which the Minister of State can concentrate. The Taoiseach mentioned the Minister of State might elaborate on the points raised regarding the millennium development goals and the issue of Iran. I refer to the outcome of the discussions on sanctions against Iran. Alternatively, as expressed here, was a declaration made expressing concerns? That is far short of what, for instance, the United States has done. Is the Minister of State aware of whether meetings or negotiations have taken place with Iran by the European Union on that declaration subsequently?

I refer to what I consider to be a key strategy. I am one of the biggest critics of the European Union and some of the criticism is quite justified. The Lisbon strategy, as opposed to the Lisbon treaty, had quite far-reaching social inclusion targets which were never met. That was one of the biggest failures of the strategy. In some ways they were an afterthought. Now, we have quite far-reaching proposals on tackling poverty. Was there much opposition to agreeing the indicators to be used to measure poverty in the preparation of the 2020 strategy?

[59]The Taoiseach referred to the Irish targets. When will we knuckle down and deliver on the target dates rather than the targets? I hope the information being used to set the targets is the latest available rather than being three or four years out of date. Given that we have gone through a recession in the past three years, if we use 2008 figures they would be well out of date and would in some ways be pointless.

Deputy Dick Roche:  I will deal with the question on the millennium goals. The Council did discuss the situation in Iran and the major international concerns that exist because of its dealings with nuclear programme. The Council also issued a declaration, which is important, because it supports the concept of a negotiated solution and the continuing efforts of the High Representative. It would be dangerous to continue to isolate Iran. We must have dialogue, which is a two-way process. The tragedy is that at the moment the dialogue with Iran is a dialogue of the deaf as it is not willing to get involved. The declaration underlined the European Union’s deepening concerns about the nuclear programme. It also welcomed the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution. The declaration invited the Foreign Affairs Council to adopt the accompanying restricting measures but the tenor of the discussion, both in the Foreign Affairs Council and in the European Council, has been to encourage Iran to have meaningful dialogue. That is the only way in the future for Iran and the rest of the world.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Darragh O’Brien):  I now invite the Minister of State to conclude the discussion and respond to the statements. Five minutes remain to him.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Dick Roche):  I thank Members. The exchanges at the end tend to be better than the set-piece speeches. I have been ignoring most of the set-piece speeches.

The European Council was the beginning of a new phase because it is implementing the processes that have been put in place under the Lisbon treaty. The gestation period of the treaty has been long. It is interesting that in facing the challenges the European Council has mapped a very ambitious route forward for Europe up to the year 2020. I prefer to use the title “strategy for growth and jobs”. I hate the jargon “Europe 2020”, which means nothing to ordinary people. People want to know what Europe is doing about jobs and growth.

The Heads of Government have considered enhanced economic governance. It is critical that we have that. A small open economy such as ours does not have the capacity to influence the great movements but if we are part of Europe and engaged in it we become part of the process. The Council reviewed and pushed forward the financial supervision and regulation issues, which is something we will need to discuss in the committees in this House because they will be critically important in the future.

In the external relations area, the leaders marked the continuing relevance of enlargement with the decision that was made on Iceland. I very much welcome Iceland, a country with which we have historic connections. I look forward to the negotiations.

The Government very much welcomes the growth and jobs strategy. We believe that the strategy will provide an essential framework. Keeping the targets focused was the most important point. Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Costello and all who contributed referred to the Lisbon strategy. That strategy did not reach its targets because every time a meeting took place someone added a new target. It became like a Christmas tree that was overloaded with everyone’s favourite bauble and it tipped over. Real progress can be made by focusing on five areas where we can make progress. The choice of targets is absolutely consistent with the desire to keep the strategy focused on areas that will make Europe relevant to the needs of citizens. It will provide an essential framework on which the European Union and the member states can work.

[60]Climate change and the targets on greenhouse gas reductions were raised. A realistic discussion took place on those issues. Deputy Barrett adverted to the significant opportunities we face in this country. I agree with him. Issues arise in terms of interconnectors and grids. We discussed one of them in the House last night. We must get the entire infrastructure in place because we have significant potential, especially in wind and wave energy. If a fraction of the money which, for example, has been invested in nuclear energy research could be invested in clean energy technologies we would make real progress.

The summit made progress towards achieving the millennium goals and the role Europe will play in addressing the plight of the poorest people on the planet. This country is committed to the principle of reducing global poverty. The goals must be achieved universally. Deputy Ó Snodaigh inquired how one measures, for example, both internally within Europe and externally, issues relating to poverty. Even the worst critic of Europe would not ignore the fact that it is playing a significant role. Ending hunger, for example, was set as a bottom line. That must be something every civilised nation is prepared to work towards.

Israel and Gaza were mentioned again by two Deputies. Significant discussions were had on them at the Foreign Affairs Council on the Tuesday before the meeting. That has already been reported and discussed by the Oireachtas joint committee.

The European Council meeting was a very good day’s work. It has given Europe a strategy for jobs and growth. It also deals with other priority issues such as regulating the financial services sector. It helped to orient the Van Rompuy taskforce in the job it has set to produce a better budgetary discipline with the Union and better prospects in the future.

Overall, we can expect more work in the European Council. It is likely to meet in this formation six times over a 12-month period. We have come through a period where crisis management was the main focus of Europe. I hope from here on in we can look at the post-crisis period and how we create jobs and strategies for growth. I thank Members for their contributions. If I did not address any specific issue raised that is particularly important to a Member I would be delighted to respond in writing.

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

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the Order of the Dáil of the day: (1) the proceedings on No. a8, Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill 2010 [Seanad] — Second and Remaining Stages, shall be taken on the conclusion of Private Members’ business tonight and the following arrangements shall apply: the proceedings on Second Stage shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 50 minutes, the opening speeches of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fine Gael and the Labour Party, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case and Members may share time, and the Minister or Minister of State shall be called upon to make a speech in reply that shall not exceed five minutes; and the proceedings on the Committee and Remaining Stages shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 30 minutes tonight 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 Transport and; (2) the proceedings on No. 3 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 11.15 p.m. tonight and any amendments from the Seanad not disposed of shall be decided by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in regard to amendments to the Seanad amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for Transport, and the Order shall resume thereafter.

[61]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Are the arrangements as outlined acceptable?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  They are not agreed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A brief comment is allowable.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  This information, if it was available, should have been considered when the House was full during the Order of Business. The Chief Whip is proposing a guillotine. While I understand the urgency of the Bill, it should be taken tomorrow, Friday or next week if there is enough time. It does not have to be passed tonight; it must be passed by tomorrow when the order expires. There will be time tomorrow. I oppose the proposal.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I still have not heard an explanation from the Chief Whip as to why this was not dealt with on the Order of Business. It was known about. What is the sense of urgency if there is time tomorrow? We have a very full day today and are not just rushing every item but guillotining Bills and pushing out the parameters of what we have already agreed. It seems reasonable and desirable to deal with the matter tomorrow rather than today.

Deputy David Stanton:  This has happened before. It is a very dangerous way of doing business to introduce amendments such as this at the very last minute, especially a few hours after the Order of Business. We would be very slow to agree to this.

Deputy John Curran:  There are two points to which to respond. This was not on the Order Paper this morning because we simply did not have the detail arranged in time. It was not much before 10 a.m. when we realised this legislation would have to be dealt with and that we would have to make the various arrangements necessary.

At the earliest opportunity possible, we tried to notify the Whips of the other parties that this matter was to be dealt with. Deputy Ó Snodaigh should note all Stages of this legislation must be passed in both Houses and signed by the President by midnight.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot have further debate. I must put the question.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  On a point of order, the briefing note refers to an expiry date of tomorrow, which gives us 24 hours. Therefore, the legislation can be signed by the President at any stage up to 12 o’clock tomorrow evening.

Question put and declared carried.

  21.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if an approach has been made to the Defence Forces to supply a unit to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon; if such a contribution is under consideration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30263/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I welcome Deputy Stanton, the new Fine Gael spokesperson on defence. I acknowledge the hard work and difficult questions put to me by Deputy Deenihan heretofore.

[62]Ireland has offered, through the UN stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS, to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time. This figure equates to some 10% of Ireland’s standing Army, excluding reserves, and demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to the cause of international peace. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations.

Following the recent withdrawal of the Irish battalion from the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, MINURCAT, Ireland is, as of 1 July 2010, contributing some 170 Defence Forces personnel to 12 different missions throughout the world.

With regard to future deployments, Ireland receives requests from time to time in regard to participation in various missions, and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. When considering any particular request, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate, which has the potential to contribute to a political solution, consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy and the degree of risk involved are among the factors considered. No request has been received to date from the UN in regard to the deployment of a Defence Forces contingent to the UN force in the Lebanon, UNIFIL, or to any another UN mission.

Following the recent withdrawal of the MINURCAT contingent, the Defence Forces will undertake essential and extensive maintenance of equipment, which will be repatriated from Chad later this month, in order to prepare for and be ready for their next deployment. The process of examining further options for Defence Forces overseas operations has already begun.

Initial informal inquiries have been made at UN level on available missions and my officials are consulting like-minded nations on potential future operations. I am aware that participation in overseas operations over the years has given Defence Forces personnel the opportunity to develop skills and competencies through practice in actual operational circumstances. Over the years, Ireland has built up a fine reputation in the field of international peacekeeping and a considerable volume of international goodwill has resulted. I assure the House of the Government’s continuing commitment to international peacekeeping under a UN mandate.

Deputy David Stanton:  Does the Minister agree that UN overseas operations, particularly peacekeeping missions, have been very valuable and important to the Defence Forces, particularly regarding its professional development? Does the Minister expect anything will come of the informal inquiries he mentioned? Can he give the House more information on those inquiries? What are the like-minded nations the Department is consulting?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  No consideration has been given to any specific location. The question is about the UNIFIL mission. The reality is that, following a very difficult mission such as that undertaken in Chad, there will be considerable work to be done on the equipment on its return. This will take time. Issues arise over leave for the military personnel. Work is to be done in that regard.

We served with Finnish troops on the recent Chad mission. On that occasion the hospital facilities were provided by a Norwegian contingent approximately 100 km away. I met some of the Finnish people at a conference some months ago, perhaps in April. There are ongoing talks and very informal discussions between military personnel deployed in the Brussels office, for example, and departmental officials and various UN officers with whom they have reason to be in contact. It is very clear that the UN is aware we have committed 850 personnel and that, in the not-too-distant future when we find a suitable mission, we will have a number of troops to deploy.

[63]Deputy David Stanton:  Will the Minister indicate the timescale according to which a force would be ready to move and get the equipment up to speed? If a request were received in the next month or two, how long would it take for the Defence Forces to get up to speed?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  A period of a month or short few months would not be a practical period within which to deploy troops and equipment overseas. An assessment of the state of the equipment used in Chad will be conducted when it is returned. That may be in the last week of this month. Some work will undoubtedly be required. Issues arise over leave and other matters. A longer period would be required.

  22.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans regarding the reform of the Irish Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30355/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The Irish Red Cross Society is an autonomous body, established by the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939 pursuant to the Red Cross Act 1938. The society is a charitable organisation with full powers to manage and administer its affairs through its governing body, the central council. Membership of the central council is by way of appointment by the Government or by election in accordance with the rules of the society.

The formal report of the working group established by the Irish Red Cross Society to examine the issue of governance was received in the Department of Defence in January of this year. The Department of Defence held preliminary discussions with the society on the recommendations contained in the report during February 2010. On 18 May, I met the acting chairman and secretary general of the society and assured them of my support in helping them achieve the aims set out in the report. To implement the recommendations made, there will be a requirement for significant amendments to the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939.

Representatives of the society and officials from the Department of Defence met on 9 June to discuss the specific changes required to the 1939 order. The Department of Foreign Affairs, which engages on an ongoing basis with the various components of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and with the Irish Red Cross Society in regard to its overseas work, and the Department of the Taoiseach have been invited to participate in these discussions. Thereafter, any statutory changes necessary will be brought before the Government. I understand no issue has arisen that might necessitate an amendment to the Red Cross Act 1938.

In accordance with Article 9 of the Irish Red Cross Order 1939, the chairman of the society must be a member of the central council. In nominating persons to the central council, the Government considers it is highly desirable that the society have on its governing body professional people with a wide variety of knowledge and expertise, gained through work experience in both the public and private sector or volunteer experience with the society.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Has the Minister reached a conclusion on whether an interim chairperson should be appointed? I raise this issue because I have received further negative correspondence regarding the atmosphere within the Red Cross. It has been put to me that a variety of proposals on terms and conditions were rejected, 19 to nil, by the staff. The bad press continues unabated. A mechanism must be found to bring the matter to a conclusion, such as some form of independent arbitration. While I fully accept that the Red Cross is an autonomous body, the State provides almost €1 million per year towards its running costs. It has done and will continue to do a great deal of good, but the negative reports that are surfacing must end.

I take the point that a highly qualified person is required to act as chair. Any change made in the method of his or her appointment will take time. However, is there not a strong case for [64]appointing an interim chairperson with the skills and experience to deal with the issues arising? I do not know who is right or wrong, but this matter must come to an end.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I agree with Deputy O’Shea that the continuation of controversies surrounding the Red Cross is undesirable. We would like to do anything we can to address them. The Deputy will remember that the first time I answered parliamentary questions as Minister, one of my concerns related to the indications at the time that legislative change to proceed with some of the changes recommended by the working group might be required. I am relieved that the current indications are that this is not likely to be the case. This is somewhat helpful.

The House will understand that the issue of terms and conditions of employment is entirely a matter between the employees and board of the Red Cross. I have no intention of interfering. Issues, such as changes in the manner of appointment, arise from the working group’s recommendations. I have been trying to assess those changes, as I told Deputy O’Shea. In principle, I am well disposed towards the recommendations, but I have one or two minor concerns about matters that I would tweak were I working on them. There is a good case for an interim chairperson, but I would like to be clear on whether legislative change would be required. If I had established this as being the position, consulting with the Departments of the Taoiseach and Foreign Affairs would be fair and reasonable, as they have some responsibility in these areas. I do not anticipate that process taking long. While I would like to be in a position to move on the matter this month, it seems a more difficult aim to attain as each day goes by.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  I take on board the Minister’s comments and in no way would I suggest that the independence of the Red Cross should be interfered with. As a measure to resolve the issues and given the climate within that organisation, though, there is a strong case for the quick appointment of an interim chairperson with the necessary skills so that the body can function to its maximum potential. I do not know what is occurring within it and we all get representations, but something is wrong and must be addressed urgently.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The case for an interim chairperson would be absolute were we clear on the mandate that he or she would be given. In the current circumstances, I would like to be clear on the legislative base, the 1939 orders in the first instance and what we need to achieve in terms of the working group’s recommendations before approaching someone and asking him or her to take on a specific job. Lumbering someone with a job would not be fair if he or she did not know what was expected of him or her.

  23.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    when it is expected that agreement will be reached on the employment control framework for Defence Forces; and if he make a statement matter. [30264/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF. Government approval was secured in the context of budget 2010 for a level of 10,000, all ranks. This reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes. I am advised by the military authorities that the strength of the PDF on 31 May 2010, the latest date for which figures are available, was 9,809, broken down as follows: 795 for the Air Corps, 1,018 for the Naval Service and 7,996 for the Army.

[65]Officials from my Department, together with the military authorities, are in the process of finalising a review of the structures and posts required to meet the operational requirements of the PDF within the reduced numbers for submission to the Department of Finance. This will be completed shortly and discussions will then commence with the Department of Finance to agree an employment control framework for the Defence Forces. Once the framework has been agreed with that Department, sanction for promotion will be delegated to the Department of Defence, with ongoing control monitoring by the Department of Finance on a monthly basis to ensure compliance with the overall parameters and controls set by the Government for each sector. It will be necessary to underpin the re-organisation with the required amendments to regulations and administrative instructions.

While these are challenging times, my priority is to ensure that the Defence Forces are organised, equipped and staffed in a manner that will ensure they can continue to deliver the services required of them by the Government. I am advised that, at this time, the Defence Forces retain the capacity to undertake the tasks laid down by the Government at home and overseas.

Deputy David Stanton:  The Minister stated that the review would conclude shortly. Could he be more specific? Will it conclude this year, next year or when? Does he agree it is critical that the employment control framework be put in place soon, given that the operational capability of the Defence Forces depends on the officer corps, the NCO ranks and so on being intact and maintained at a critical level?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I am always reluctant to be specific about a timeframe. In this instance, however, I am fairly confident that the review will be completed this month and that the initial discussions with the Department of Finance might take place within such a timeframe. Otherwise, the review will run until September, as Deputies will be aware, but that situation is undesirable. I am hopeful, if not entirely overconfident, that we will move on to the next phase with the Department of Finance this month.

Deputy David Stanton:  Is the Minister asserting that not only will he be in a position to put in place permission for promotions, but that recruiting will recommence to bring the numbers up to the 10,000 to which he referred in his response?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  As Deputies will be aware, we have already commenced recruitment to the Naval Service, the area in most urgent need. Those new recruits will be coming on stream shortly. The next two phases will involve a cadet class — I have not completed discussions in this regard — and an intake to the military. I hope to move on this process towards the end of the year.

In previous years, the number of personnel leaving was considerably greater than is the case currently. This would have given room for a recruitment campaign that enabled us to deploy people to the areas most in need. However, a small number of personnel are leaving, so the leeway in terms of deploying people is not as great as one would like.

  24.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to reform the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on matter. [30356/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The current White Paper on Defence 2000 outlined the overall strategy for the development of the Reserve Defence Force, RDF. This was based on the report of a special steering group established by the then Minister for Defence in January 1998. The [66]steering group directed the work of a military board, which carried out a comprehensive review of the RDF. The process involved extensive consultation with stakeholders, including the Reserve Defence Force Representative Association, RDFRA, and members of the reserve.

The development strategy outlined in the White Paper led to the RDF review implementation plan, which has provided for the phased development of the reserve’s capabilities in recent years. The plan outlined a series of steps that were designed to enhance RDF capabilities and improve interoperability with the Permanent Defence Force, PDF. These steps included re-organisation, improved training, enhanced working relationships with PDF units and improved equipment. In accordance with the plan, the reserve has been re-organised, new equipment, clothing and opportunities for improved training have been delivered and a revised training strategy is in place. These improvements represent a positive advancement for the reserve.

The plan also provided for the development of an integrated element of the reserve. This element was to integrate and train with the PDF. A pilot integration programme was introduced in 2007 and extended into 2008, but the numbers participating in these pilots were disappointing and this element of the plan has not achieved the intended results. Plans to send members of the reserve overseas were progressed, but postponed in light of the moratorium on recruitment to the public service. There are no plans to send members of the Reserve Defence Forces overseas in the foreseeable future.

As the Reserve Defence Forces review implementation plan has reached the end of its timeframe, there is a requirement to critically examine the approach that has been made to date to consider options for the future development of the reserve. A value for money review of the Reserve Defence Forces commenced in February this year. The steering committee overseeing this review has an independent chair in line with Department of Finance guidelines for such reviews. As part of the review process, the steering group committee will be engaging in stakeholder consultation on a phased basis. I understand that as part of this process it has recently written to the representative associations, inviting submissions. The findings of the value for money review, including the lessons learned through the RDF implementation plan process, will complement the development of a new White Paper on defence which will commence in the near future. This will ensure that further development of the reserve is appropriately informed by the lessons of the past and requirements for the future.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Will the Minister not agree it is serious that the full complement in the Reserve Defence Forces on 1 January 2009 was 7,671, and had dropped to 6,394 by 31 March this year, a loss of 1,277? The McCarthy an bord snip nua report has been described by the chairperson of the representative association of the Reserve Defence Forces as a ‘sword of Damocles’. The report recommended a reduction both in budget and personnel strength of two-thirds. I understand an undertaking was given that this would not happen, yet the number of man days allocated to the Reserve Defence Forces this year has been reduced by 31,000, effectively a two thirds reduction on the 2008 usage.

I realise the review is ongoing, stakeholders are being consulted and so on. However, the situation continues to deteriorate and positive signals need to be sent to the Reserve Defence Forces to the effect that there will not be further cuts this year. Any further cuts would do enormous damage to morale. Essentially, I am asking the Minister to send strong signals that he sees a real future for the Reserve Defence Forces and indicating that he wants to develop them. Very importantly, and we agree on this, in terms of the functions they carry out, they should be reassured, and it is possible for them to interact effectively with the community at large in a whole myriad of areas.

[67]Deputy Tony Killeen:  I agree with Deputy O’Shea in regard to the latter point. I have had some experience as regards the Reserve Defence Forces over the last three months since my appointment and I have been looking at the various recommendations that arose along the way. It seems to me that by and large, as regards the recommendations that came forward, at least a positive attempt was made to implement them. The pilot scheme is a particularly good example of something that did not work out in the manner that was anticipated.

The issue of paid training days and that of the McCarthy report seem to me to come somewhat further along, although it is highly unlikely that either is positive, quite frankly, in terms of their impact on the reserve. Nevertheless, the drop in numbers and the lack of interest in the reserve, if that is what we are seeing, seems to pre-date both of those by a considerable period. I agree with Deputy O’Shea that there is a considerable challenge there. Last weekend I was out with the Naval Reserve in Kilrush bay and I was very impressed with the equipment, training and so on. I visited Lahinch barracks where there was a communications and information training week. The quality of the equipment was far beyond anything to which I could aspire to knowing anything much about. I was very impressed by the commitment of the people to learning about this, and of course, in their civilian employment they know a considerable amount about such equipment in any event. I attended the annual conference and heard exactly what Deputy O’Shea has been saying about the concerns current activists in the reserve have about this area.

I believe we can send a positive signal in this House. One of the opportunities to do that will be the White Paper, which will be coming up later in the year.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  I have two final points. One is the issue which is of great concern to the representative association, that is, the appointment of a brigadier general to head up the organisation. My understanding of the Minister’s responses to me on that was to the effect that he had no particular objection to this, off the top of his head. This is something that can be addressed on its own because, while this is no reflection on any individuals, there is the issue that the Reserve Defence Forces are being headed up by a member of another organisation, whereas if a member of the general staff was involved that would be a different matter.

I believe the whole issue of being able to serve overseas would be an added incentive towards getting young people to join the Reserve Defence Forces. That aspect was postponed because of financial considerations but there are areas in the Permanent Defence Force, mechanics, engineers and so on — not troops in the firing line, as such, but rather people involved in the back-up services — which are worthy of focus. I believe there is considerable scope here and that this is worthy of examination.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  If I appear unenthusiastic about the idea of a brigadier general, it is partly because it seems that many of the recommendations regarding the reserve that have been implemented do not appear to have brought about the positive results people had hoped for. I have an open mind on this but I am a good deal short of being convinced that it will address what seems to me to be much more fundamentally difficulty. With regard to overseas service, I understand the ban on recruitment was one of the factors, as well as the financial ones mentioned by Deputy O’Shea. However, it seems to be the case that were that opportunity available a number of those concerned would be interested in pursuing it.

  25.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he expects the replacement of vessels in the Naval flotilla to happen in line with the original proposed schedule; if the Department of Finance has given any indication as to whether the replacements will be made to that [68]schedule; the contingency plans his Department has to replace one of the Naval vessels should safety concerns require the immediate retirement of a current ship in view of the importance of the flotilla in the war against drugs and piracy and the small size of the flotilla; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30265/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  A strategy for the replacement of Naval Service offshore patrol vessels, OPVs, is currently in progress following the commencement of a tender competition in 2007. The competition sought tenders for the purchase of two OPVs with an option for a third. The process comprised two stages — stage 1, a request for proposals and stage 2, an invitation to tender.

During 2008, stage 1 of the tender process was completed and tenders were received in response to stage 2. Following tender evaluation, a preferred bidder was selected last year and detailed and extensive contract negotiations are now close to conclusion. The decision to proceed with the final award of the contract to purchase the OPVs is subject to these negotiations reaching a satisfactory outcome and Government approval of the 2011 Estimates. Subject to a satisfactory conclusion of the contract negotiations, delivery of the new vessels would be expected to commence on a phased basis from 2014. This strategy, combined with a continuous process of refurbishment and repair, will ensure that the operational capability of the Naval Service is maintained at a satisfactory level.

The acquisition of modern new vessels will ensure that the service continues to be fully equipped to carry out its day to day roles in enforcing the State’s sovereign rights over our waters and our fisheries and meeting Ireland’s obligations in the area of maritime safety and security and fisheries protection.

Deputy David Stanton:  Is the Minister optimistic that the purchase of those two vessels will go ahead? Will he inform the House as to the size of the vessels that are being considered, bearing in mind that it appears the seas are getting rougher and some of the ships we have find it difficult to negotiate some high seas? Will he also say what his views are with respect to at least two of the offshore patrol vessels, whose normal replacement date has passed at this stage?

  3 o’clock

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I am not a great expert on the dimensions of ships and descriptions of them but it is true that new ships, should they be acquired, will be at the larger end of the scale because of the maritime conditions, as outlined by Deputy Stanton. The decision on whether to proceed this year or next will depend on two factors. First, there is some work to be done on the conclusion of negotiations and, following that, approval by the Government. While two of the ships, as the Deputy says, are reaching the notional age at which it is perhaps not wise to have them in service for much longer, the fact is that they are in very good shape. The engineers in the Naval Service have done wonderful work. I was on board LE Aoife on Saturday and it is in very good shape. I was taken down to the engine room where I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of a young engineer.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will the Minister agree these ships’ normal lifespans are 30 years and that two them are older than that? While waiting for the new vessels to come on stream, are there contingency plans in the event of either of the older ships becoming non-operational?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  We have been fortunate that the vessels in question have not indicated major difficulties and have been very well cared for. While 30 years is the normal lifespan for one of these ships, I do not anticipate any difficulties. Some maintenance issues requiring dry-docking have been attended to more than competently. I accept Deputy Stanton’s concern that [69]even if I were in a position to sign the contracts next November, there would still be a considerable lead-in time.

  26.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Defence    if contract negotiations in respect of the purchase of new ships for Naval Service have been completed; and if he will make a statement on matter. [29924/10]

  38.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made regarding the commitment given in Renewed Programme for Government that the Naval Service vessel replacement programme will be advanced within the resources made available by the Government. [30169/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  Os rud é go bhfuil an freagra ar Cheisteanna Uimh. 26 agus 38 díreach mar an gcéanna leis an fhreagra ar an gceist atá díreach déanta againn, ní gá dom an freagra a léamh amach arís.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Since the answer is identical to the preceding one, we will proceed to supplementary questions. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will the Minister outline the demands and stresses on the eight Naval Service vessels? Will he agree this small flotilla is under much pressure in dealing with fisheries protection, illegal drug interception and other duties?

Has the Minister considered any contingency plans to replace any of these vessels, either by leasing or otherwise, to keep the flotilla up to strength in the event of one of them becoming non-operational?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I do not want to give the impression that a flotilla of eight is comfortable. The job is, however, being well done within existing resources. LE Aoife was off the west coast of Clare recently and LE Aisling will be in Galway docks next year celebrating 30 years. LE Niamh is returning from a long and positive trip to South America in which it was part of the celebrations of the Irish connection to the historical freedom movements in Argentina and Chile. It also visited US east coast areas which have strong Irish maritime links.

The addition of the Casa aircraft to fisheries protection and drug enforcement has given additional capabilities. New equipment has also made these jobs somewhat easier and more professional.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  The Minister was dealing recently with the naval section of the Reserve Defence Forces. It was proposed it could become involved in some of the patrol work already done by the Naval Service through the purchase of a specific craft which would cost €1 million. When I last raised it, the Minister indicated to me that the craft in question may not be suitable for the adverse waters off the west coast, where most patrols are done.

I understand the total number of out-of-operation days for all vessels in the flotilla last year came to 200. Will this increase this year, now that they are coming to the end of their lifespan? Is it better value for money to acquire new and speedier vessels, rather than just repairing the existing ones? Is the 2014 delivery date for the three new vessels just a notional date?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The issue of the date will only arise sometime in the second half of this year if I get the approval I referred to earlier. The further out that date goes, the further out the delivery date in 2014 goes.

[70]It is possible to accommodate comfortably dry-dock repairs to the flotilla within the amount of patrolling days available. I have had no indication that this position is likely to change.

Deputy David Stanton:  What proportion of EU waters are patrolled by the Naval Service? Has it increased recently? Has there been any discussion with our EU partners on our assisting patrols in these waters by providing extra naval capabilities?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Some of those questions extend the range of the original question, as well as the range of our marine capacity.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  Historically, there have been four extensions to the exclusion area for which we are responsible from three to six to 12 to 200 miles with some additional shelf areas added. Relative to Ireland’s size it is a very large proportion of EU waters for fisheries protection.

With regard to patrols against drug shipments, the equipment available in both the vessels and their supporting aircraft has assisted enormously. We frequently forget to acknowledge that Irish fishermen have been extraordinarily helpful in drawing the authorities’ attention to certain vessels. There are two surveillance systems in use and I am happy as to how well-equipped they are. Deputy Stanton may have seen the live picture at the Haulbowline naval headquarters and the Sea-Fisheries Protection Authority headquarters in Clonakilty which shows the location of every vessel in Irish territorial waters. Of course, one still needs the vessels to make the interceptions.

  27.  Deputy P. J. Sheehan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of staff appointments recommended in the Defence Forces medical service review that have been made to date; scheduled to be made by September 2010; the timeframe in which he expects full implementation of this review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29978/10]

  35.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Defence    when the central medical unit recommended by the PA Consulting Group review of services will be formally established; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29912/10]

  56.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made regarding the commitment given in the Renewed Programme for Government to develop the role and contribution of the Medical Corps to expand its capacity to deliver a range of medical facilities on UN-mandated missions. [30170/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The PA Consulting Group report assessed the current arrangements for the provision of medical services and proposed a model for future delivery of those services. It recommended a programme of major change and working groups have been set up to progress the various projects identified. These continue to meet regularly and all have submitted reports.

The line officer, in the rank of colonel, to command the new centralised medical unit for the medical corps took up duty on 14 June 2010. He has the responsibility of implementing the model for the future medical service. PA did not identify structures, numbers and processes within the centralised command structure in detail.

The organisation and establishment working group was asked to recommend a structure to include staff appointments for the future medical service. It has now completed its final report, [71]which has been submitted to the steering group for consideration and approval. Final reports from three of the working groups — training and education, financial arrangements and outsourcing, and organisation and establishment — have now been completed. The final report of the future medical information system working group will be completed in the next two weeks and, along with the other three final reports, will be considered by the steering group, with a decision expected by the end of this month. The clinical review working group is not due to submit its final report until 30 September 2010; however, monthly reports are being submitted in the interim. It is only following completion of this phase that full implementation of the PA recommendations can be achieved.

The process for implementation also requires that there must be consultation with the representative associations regarding any change within the scope of representation. It is expected that there will be substantial progress before the end of the year in implementing recommendations.

The development of the medical corps forms part of the agreed programme for Government. This includes the expansion of the capacity of the medical corps to deliver a range of medical facilities on UN-mandated missions. I am committed to providing a sustainable medical service to meet the needs of the Defence Forces both at home and abroad. The structure and systems recommended by PA have been designed to meet the demands and needs of the modern Defence Forces at home and overseas. I assure the House that Defence Forces personnel requiring medical treatment are getting the care they need.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will there be one centralised medical command structure, as recommended, when all these reviews are completed? In addition, will there be a shift towards illness prevention and health promotion in the new structure?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  Illness prevention and health promotion are dealt with quite positively in the Defence Forces. By definition, all members are within a particular age cohort — from late teens or early 20s to mid-50s — and are in good health when they join, based on medical checks. Thus, their requirements in the health area are quite different from those of the population at large. One of these is preparation for overseas service. I do not have any particular concerns in this regard.

As I mentioned, I am waiting for the fourth working group report, and the steering group has been meeting regularly, updating its information on the basis of recommendations. It has been a slow and somewhat fraught process. However, in the end, particularly after the last report is received in September, we will move towards a much better quality of service, perhaps along the lines the Deputy intends.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Since 1 January this year, how many people have left the medical corps for any reason? Has there been any new recruitment? Pending the implementation of the new structure, is the old structure becoming much less effective than it was? What has been happening in this regard?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I am pretty sure some people have left. I will obtain the exact numbers for the Deputy. Some have also been recruited during that period. It is an unusual medical area which is quite attractive to some, in terms of recruitment, and entirely unattractive to others. Recruitment is not as straightforward as one might expect.

Deputy David Stanton:  What is the level of illness and injury in the Defence Forces?

[72]Deputy Tony Killeen:  Off the top of my head I could not say, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, but I will try to find out, although it will be difficult to obtain detailed information. When it is available I will send it to the Deputy.

  28.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Defence    the current strength of the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29927/10]

  51.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    the current strength of the Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30150/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 51 together.

I am advised by the military authorities that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force on 31 May 2010, the latest date for which figures are currently available, was 9,809. I provided the breakdown of numbers in a previous reply, so I will not repeat it.

Targeted recruitment will be carried out in 2010 to maintain the operational capability of the Defence Forces. In this regard, I recently approved the recruitment of 40 recruits to the Naval Service. In addition, as I have already stated, the military authorities will shortly advertise for some limited recruitment to the Army. I intend, with the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation to operate effectively across all roles while contributing to the necessary public service economies.

I have not given the figures for the Reserve Defence Force, but Deputy O’Shea has more or less provided them. On 31 May 2010 there were 6,200 members, comprising 5,934 Army Reserve and 266 Naval Service Reserve personnel. The Department has secured approval for limited recruitment to the Reserve Defence Force subject to the overall strength not exceeding the figure at 1 January last year, which was 7,671. This recruitment is continuing and is being monitored in light of the uptake of paid training with the reserve and future budgetary provisions.

Deputy David Stanton:  What is the actual establishment of the Defence Forces at present? Where are vacancies occurring in the various cadres?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  In theory, the establishment ought to be 10,500. Arising from the agreement following on the McCarthy report, that was reduced to 10,000. Currently, there are just over 9,800 personnel, and when the new recruitment process is completed, this will rise by 40 in the Naval Service Reserve and a certain number more in other areas, as well as the figure to be decided with regard to cadet intake. As the number leaving has diminished considerably compared to previous years, it seems the final number will comfortably outstrip the expected strength. The total of 10,000 ought to be achieved.

As I have said previously to Deputy O’Shea, I have reservations about sticking to the round figure of 10,000 because it looks contrived. I would be far more comfortable if, for example, the figure were 10,200 or 9,700, established on the basis of a certain calculation. We all have a certain suspicion of round figures, particularly of that nature.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  The Minister says there will be some recruitment to the Army. In the Defence Forces generally, will there be any cadet intake this year? I ask this because the number of people retiring may result in an imbalance; we may lose a disproportionate number of officers compared to NCOs and privates. This raises the need for an effective organisation. In addition, it takes longer to train cadets. What is the effect of retirements on officer strength?

[73]Deputy Tony Killeen:  In fact, relatively few people are leaving — fewer than might have been expected and fewer than was the case in the past. There are concerns about the age profile and we are trying to address this, but it can only be dealt with by a new intake. Colleagues will remember that ten or 15 years ago the age profile had become very high. This has improved dramatically with recruitment over the years. As I said previously, if many people were leaving the issue of the age profile could easily be addressed, but when small numbers are leaving one is confined to small recruitments. I hope to have a cadet class at some point.

Deputy David Stanton:  When the Minister advertised for 40 new recruits for the Naval Service — I take it the process has been carried out, or at least the advertisements have appeared — how many applications were received?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The closing date was a number of weeks ago. The number was fairly large, although not as large as I had expected. I will obtain it for the Deputy. The Naval Service is somewhat specialised, so the number might not be as large as it would be for the Army.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  There have been reports in the past that young people from this part of the country were crossing the Border and joining the British Armed Forces. Is there any information available to the Minister to indicate that this is happening currently and, if so, to what extent?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  There is a long history in some areas of recruitment to armed forces in other countries. Unfortunately, countries across Europe are facing similar economic situations, so there are not many opportunities in other jurisdictions. I do not have figures in that regard. They are not readily available to us and are only likely to become available at a later stage, if at all.

Deputy David Stanton:  Am I correct that following a recent recruiting programme for the Defence Forces, people who applied at that time had their forms returned to them because a decision was taken not to go ahead with recruitment? Will preference be given to any of those people in a future recruitment campaign?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  That issue was raised previously. If I remember correctly, Deputy O’Shea raised the issue in the context of the age limit for the intake. I understand that the new recruitment programme will be a green-field operation. To be frank, that is the only way it can work.

  29.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Defence    if the strength of the Permanent Defence Force will be maintained at the agreed overall level of 10,000 for lifetime of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, the Croke Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29905/10]

  32.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    if the terms of the Croke Park proposals will apply to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30144/10]

  36.  Deputy Bernard Allen    asked the Minister for Defence    if the associations representing members of the Permanent Defence Forces have accepted the terms of the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, the Croke Park Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29896/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 32 and 36 together.

Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force. Government approval [74]was secured in the context of budget 2010 for a level of 10,000. I have put most of this information on the record already, except for a part of my reply relating to the Croke Park agreement.

I intend, with the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation. With regard to the terms of the Croke Park proposals the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers, RACO, accepted the terms of the Croke Park agreement at a special delegate conference on 29 June 2010. The Permanent Defence Force Representative Association, PDFORRA, has rejected the proposals. The implications of the rejection by PDFORRA of the Croke Park proposals are currently being considered.

Deputy David Stanton:  The Minister said the implications are currently being considered. Who is doing the considering and when might the Minister come to a decision on the situation?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I am not directly involved in the considerations. It is a matter between the military authorities, the association and the Department. There is nothing sinister about the situation. It just happens that some of the organisations, in this case PDFORRA and other trade unions, did not vote in favour of the Croke Park agreement. If there are implications, I will bring them to the attention of the House at the appropriate time.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  Against a background in which RACO accepted the proposals and PDFORRA rejected them, is it possible the proposals could apply to the RACO members of the Defence Forces and not to the PDFORRA members and, thereby, be a recipe for division within the Defence Forces? That is a position that should be avoided at all costs.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The Croke Park agreement provides significant safeguards for all public servants. The issue is, obviously, a matter for representative associations and trade unions. As it happens, the four of us here currently are members of a trade union of a particular profession, two of which voted against and one in favour of the proposals. I am sure the details around the agreement will be worked out. I assure Deputy O’Shea that no precipitative action that might cause difficulties or undermine the integrity of the Defence Forces relationship with the Department will be taken.

Deputy David Stanton:  Can the Minister give us any indication as to what was included in the modernisation agenda that formed part of the pay negotiations and discussions in respect of the Defence Forces?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That broadens the scope of the question somewhat.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  One of the criticisms of the agreement was that matters were not spelled out in the kind of detail they could have been. That was the complaint across the entire public sector. Clarifications were sought and given to the general public sector which did not automatically seem to apply, for example, to sectors teaching nursing. That, to some extent, would be the case with the military and this may have given rise to people taking particular positions, more in fear of possible outcomes than with regard to concrete proposals. That is something that must be worked out. I am confident there will not be any major difficulties in that regard.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  With regard to these proposals, is there a prospect of structural changes in terms of the formation of the Defence Forces, the Army, the Naval Service and the Air Corps, particularly with regard to how they relate to one another? Is it likely there will be [75]a more integrated approach between them? Furthermore, how will the Croke Park proposals affect the Department in terms of how it interfaces with the Defence Forces?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I did not answer that part of Deputy Stanton’s question. A number of aspects of the Croke Park agreement affect the Defence Forces. These include ongoing co-operation with the overall review and restructuring of the Defence Forces, which I do not think will create any difficulty; flexible and efficient deployment and redeployment, on which, perhaps, I should not comment; a review of the current technical grading systems, a matter that might be of concern to some Members; co-operation with the implementation of the restructuring of the medical services; a review of the tasks attracting security duty allowances and eligibility for those allowances; the review of the non-commissioned officers promotion scheme; and a merit-based competitive promotion policy as the norm in the service. These are the main general points.

  30.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received the Marine Casualty Investigation Board’s report on the loss of the Asgard II; when it will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30033/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I can confirm that I received a copy of the draft report into the sinking of the sail training vessel, Asgard II. This report was examined by my Department and any comments and observations were submitted by the due date of 27 April 2010. The question of publishing the report is a matter for the Marine Casualty Investigation Board, which is a statutory independent body.

Deputy David Stanton:  I understand the Asgard II was insured. Was the insurance collected, how much was it and what has happened to it? Did it go to the Department of Defence or has it gone to the general Exchequer?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  It predates my time so I will answer from memory. My recollection is that it was fully insured and that the full insurance was paid, approximately €3.8 million. My understanding is this money came to the Department of Defence, but was de facto transferred to the Exchequer.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  There was a proposal that there should be a replacement vessel for Asgard II. This arose as a serious issue in my constituency recently. For clarification, am I correct to understand that the Minister is not actively considering such a proposal at this stage? Is this something the Minister will consider in the context of a sail training programme? The big interest from Waterford is due to the fact that the Tall Ships event will be here next year but we will not have a large sailing vessel participating. Also, the training programme was a very good programme for young people and it is a pity it has been lost. A proposal was also made that we should lease a vessel. What proposals has the Department in this regard?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  As the Deputies will be aware, Coiste an Asgard is still in existence. I had a meeting with the coiste a month or two ago at which we explored some of the questions put by Deputy O’Shea. At this point in time, I do not intend to revisit decisions that have been made on the future of the programme. This is as much, if not more, for financial reasons than for any other consideration. A sail training programme would not have to be dependent on the acquisition of a ship of the standard of the Asgard. I understand the coiste has been engaged in some discussions with sail training groups with a view to accommodating the people referred to by Deputy O’Shea in a sail training programme. Unfortunately, that does not address the [76]Deputy’s difficulty with regard to the event at Waterford. It is highly unlikely that Coiste an Asgard will be in position to have a vessel. On the other hand, the Jeanie Johnston is very pretty and I am sure there are people the Deputy could talk to in that regard.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I am sure the Minister meant to mention the Dunbrody also.

Deputy David Stanton:  What is the Minister’s view on recent reports of diving expeditions to the wreck of the Asgard II? Are there items that could be salvaged from the wreck that may be of value, sentimental or otherwise?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I understand there has been some diving activity. As far as I can establish, permission was not received from the Irish authorities and may well have been refused, and likewise from the French authorities. My understanding is that when the Asgard II sank, before divers could be deployed on behalf of the coiste and the Department, permission had first to be sought from the French authorities, which was forthcoming at that stage. There have been reports that a formal complaint was made about current diving activities by the coiste. My understanding is that the French authorities drew the attention of the Irish authorities to the fact that unauthorised diving was under way at the site. I am informed that there are some serious health and safety concerns and issues in regard to ownership which I am not in a position to go into in any great detail. I understand permission was not received from either the Irish or the French authorities.

  31.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of civil servants in his Department at assistant principal officer or higher grades who were appointed to those positions from the private sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29937/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The number of whole-time equivalent staff in the Department in May 2010 at the grade of assistant principal officer or higher is 51.3. Two people at assistant principal level or equivalent were recruited from outside the Civil Service as provided for under the social partnership agreement, Towards 2016. As all subsequent staff resources have been sourced from the central applications facility in the context of the decentralisation programme for the Department, there has been no further external recruitment.

Staffing of the Department is in line with recent Government decisions on a reduction in payroll costs and the moratorium on recruitment and promotion.

Deputy David Stanton:  Does the Minister have any plans to continue the practice of hiring staff from outside the Civil Service?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  There are two categories for which that is practical, the first being the general recruitment category. The second is in those cases where, from time to time, specialists such as accountants, solicitors and so on may be required. It would be wise to have recourse to the private sector generally in recruiting those staff, and I have no objection in principle to external recruitment. The difficulty at the moment is that there is a recruitment moratorium, so this issue does not arise in any event.

Deputy David Stanton:  Will the Minister indicate the number of civil servants currently in his Department?

[77]Deputy Tony Killeen:  There are approximately 350 staff; I will come back to the Deputy with the exact figure.

Question No. 32 answered with Question No. 29.

  33.  Deputy Alan Shatter    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on whether a Defence Forces mission at battalion level should occur within 18 months; his further views on whether a failure to provide for such a mission could damage the Defence Forces in view of his agreement (details supplied) that such a mission is the lifeblood of the organisation; the international contacts he has made, or has had made on his behalf, to international bodies to ensure participation in such a mission; and if he will make a statment on the matter. [29967/10]

  58.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which members of the Defence Forces are likely to take part in overseas deployments through the aegis of the EU or UN over the next two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30171/10]

  62.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress made regarding the participation of the Defence Forces in new overseas service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30160/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 58 and 62 together.

Ireland has offered, through the UN stand-by arrangements system, UNSAS, to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time. With regard to future deployments, Ireland receives requests, from time to time, in regard to participation in various missions, and these are considered on a case-by-case basis. When considering any particular request, the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate which has the potential to contribute to a political solution, consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy, and the degree of risk involved are the key parameters within which we judge an application at UN level. I have already gone through some of the other aspects and I do not propose to repeat them.

Deputy David Stanton:  We have covered this already, so I will not spend too much time on it. How long would it take for the Defence Forces to have a group ready if a request is made in the coming months for participation in an overseas mission given that equipment needs to be brought up to speed and so on? Will the Minister comment on other developments in respect of the Nordic battle group and other groups in which the Defence Forces are involved and on their readiness for participation in any of those groups?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  The second question is somewhat specialised. Irish troops will participate in the Nordic battle group later this year when they go out to a location in Sweden in September. In regard to the lead-in period one would envisage, one of the surprising elements if one looks back historically at Ireland’s involvement in UN missions is that on virtually no occasion, when a mission ended, could one have foreseen the next mission. Nobody would have realistically predicted that Chad, Liberia or Eritrea would be Ireland’s next engagement, although Lebanon was somewhat predictable. Much attention is directed towards UNIFIL, partly because of our particularly positive engagement in Lebanon historically and partly because of the ongoing need there. However, at this point, we have not been formally invited to participate in a particular mission and we have some work to do before we are ready to engage in any such mission.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  The Minister mentioned the Chad mission and the fact that the forces had to be withdrawn prematurely when the Government was committed to keeping them there. The Irish troops were certainly carrying out a very valuable and much needed role in that [78]country. Is there any indication as to conditions there since the withdrawal of the Irish forces? Has the situation improved, deteriorated or whatever? Is there a mechanism whereby we could find ourselves providing troops there again? Obviously the triple lock process must be invoked, but it seems to me to be an uncompleted mission and that the need for involvement by Irish troops remains. Is the Minister favourably disposed towards sending troops back there if the situation were to develop in that fashion?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The first part of the Deputy’s query is well beyond the scope of these questions.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  It is a massive logistical undertaking to take out all the troops and equipment and then to have to send them back again. When one considers the type of over-land route that must be traversed in the case of Chad, with virtually no roads whatever, it is a huge undertaking. It would be difficult to be enthusiastic about engaging in it, but if the need arose and the UN were to make a request, we would have to consider it according to the same criteria as any other proposal that might be made. It is important to bear in mind that troops from other African countries which are gradually building capacity in this area are generally better received. It is to be welcomed that the emerging African nations are in a position to provide troops in some of these situations; they certainly have some advantages of deployment.

The bottom line is that if the UN tells us we are needed in a particular place, we will examine the proposal fairly regardless of previous history. We would still be in Chad were it not for the logistical difficulties that presented because the mandate could not be guaranteed. I would personally be extremely unhappy with having Irish troops there under the current mandate.

Deputy David Stanton:  Is it policy to have a battalion equipped, ready and trained to serve overseas should a request be made? As the Minister indicated, such requests may come unexpectedly.

Deputy Tony Killeen:  We have an opportunity at the moment to prepare seriously for the deployment of a battalion in some entirely new location. It is difficult to do that when there are troops on various overseas missions, as was the case during the period of the Chad deployment. We now have an opportunity to do something we have not been able to do for some time. In general terms, the turnover in Chad was on a four-month basis, although in other locations it is more likely to be six months. There is a preparedness for that at all times and we would like to be exactly in the position Deputy Stanton outlines in regard to our commitment of 850 troops.

  34.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Defence    the proposals, if any, he has regarding the Defence Forces property portfolio; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30162/10]

  70.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for the future of Cathal Brugha Barracks, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30155/10]

Deputy Tony Killeen:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 70 together.

The Defence Forces property portfolio is kept under ongoing review to ensure the most effective use of military resources having regard to the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces. This includes ongoing review of the organisation, structure and formation of the forces and the consequential requirement for military barracks and other properties.

The funding realised from the disposal of surplus property together with pay savings has provided resources for the modernisation of the Defence Forces and has been invested in [79]new infrastructure, equipment and training area development. Any further properties that are considered surplus to military requirements will continue to be disposed of and the funding invested to meet the current and future equipment and infrastructure needs of the Defence Forces.

The question concerning the future of Cathal Brugha Barracks, along with the issue of any further consolidation throughout the Defence Forces as a whole, will be among the issues to be considered in the context of the Estimates process having regard to the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes.

Cathal Brugha Barracks is a significant military installation with a wide range of facilities, accommodation and storage depots and would be costly to replace. This must be factored into our consideration, especially in the current financial situation. Consideration must be given to the operational requirements of the Defence Forces and where personnel would be relocated as well. The recommendations in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes and the decisions on all of the issues arising will be a matter for the Government in the context of the Estimates and budgetary process. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further at this stage pending the outcome of these deliberative processes.

Deputy Brian O’Shea:  I take the point the Minister has made, that is to say, he is not in a position to make any definitive statements at this stage. Will the Minister give an indication of his thinking? We may put forward the proposition that this is not the time to sell property and that the market is flat. On the other hand, if there were a case to be made on financial grounds to close or to cease to use a certain facility which would result in a recurrent saving, is it something the Minister would consider? I am not seeking details in any way. However, I wish to establish whether this is being considered in a serious way at the moment as a means of dealing with the Defence Forces property portfolio. Is consideration being given to dispose of or amalgamate properties and create a new situation whereby all activities would take place in one location and others would cease to operate?

Deputy Tony Killeen:  If the only considerations were value for money, operational flexibility, management of resources and so on, there would be a compelling case for consolidation into a relatively small number of locations. However, other considerations arise with regard to deployment of the Defence Forces. Any move would have associated costs. A balance must be struck and consideration must be given to the point, made by Deputy O’Shea, that now might not be the most appropriate or propitious time to sell property.

On the other hand, the Department has an agreement with the Department of Finance that any proceeds would be retained by the Defence Forces and spent on new equipment or whatever is necessary.

Some positive stories have arisen from some of the places where property has become available. Local authorities, VECs and others have become very active, especially in town centre locations. A balance must be struck and I am in no way wielding the axe. One must take a common sense approach.

Deputy David Stanton:  Is the Minister prepared to take an imaginative and flexible approach whereby such properties might become available for local community needs and so on? Does the Minister not agree that many of these properties are located in towns which are of a strategic nature? There may be ways of proceeding other than selling properties for hard cash. It may be possible to enter into long lease agreements from which the Department would have an income. The tradition of the military could be recognised and maintained in some shape or form in some cases. Property could be used by the Reserve Defence Force at some future date and some modern buildings could be constructed where these older buildings are at present. Will the Minister consider a flexible and imaginative approach?

[80]Deputy Tony Killeen:  I have held several meetings with community groups, local authorities and educational authorities with regard to some of these locations. I am well disposed to accommodating them where possible. I must be careful not to set a precedent which could be used against the Department’s better interests, especially financially, with regard to some potential outcomes.

I am familiar with one case, which I have discussed with Deputy Stanton, in which it appears some of the suggestions he has outlined could be accommodated, for example, in terms of access to a building for the Reserve Defence Force. In the context of a White Paper, perhaps a different model will emerge for the Reserve Defence Force or the Permanent Defence Force. We should bear in mind all of these points because there is finality about disposing of property and sometimes one might rather such finality had not taken place ten years later.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad Éireann has passed the Central Bank Reform Bill 2010, without amendment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 21 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Seán Barrett — to discuss the upward revaluation of business premises in the Dún Laoghaire area; (2) Deputy Joe Costello — the need for the Minister for Finance to fund and reactivate the local authority swimming pool programme which operates under the auspices of the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport; (3) Deputy Bernard J. Durkan — the operation of voluntary housing associations; whether they are operating in all cases in accordance with the articles of association as laid down in the relevant Act; if he will set out the requirements for the operation of such schemes in detail, whether the holding of annual general meetings, furnishing updated rent reviews, and carrying out maintenance is a requirement, whether this has been followed by the Léim an Bhradáin Housing Association, Leixlip, County Kildare, and others given the funding provided by his Department in conjunction with the local authority under the capital allowance scheme, which included the award of free sites and a 100% grant and if the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will make a statement on the matter; (4) Deputy Pat Breen — the future of the newly refurbished dementia unit at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Ennis, County Clare and the need to lift the moratorium on employment to allow for the filling of the positions so that this facility can open immediately; (5) Deputy Kathleen Lynch — the difficulties for children with special needs in accessing primary care education in the Cork area; (6) Deputy James Bannon — the need for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to urgently outline the steps he is taking to avert the closure of B3 Cables in County Longford, in the light of the company going into receivership with a mere six days remaining to sell it and to prevent the loss of 100-plus jobs, to the detriment of the socio-economic recovery of the region and the future industrial and commercial profile of Longford town and surrounding areas; (7) Deputy Michael P. Kitt — the Milltown and Claregalway sewerage schemes, County Galway; (8) Deputy Thomas McEllistrim — to call on the Minister for Education and Skills to consider the possibility of organising postgraduate training and education for recently qualified teachers while simultaneously allowing them to get practical experience in schools with a view to raising the qualifications and quality of teachers in our schools; (9) Deputy Mattie McGrath — the replacement of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers by Bird Watch Ireland as one of the two farming pillar seats at the European Economic and Social Council; (10) Deputies Jan O’Sullivan, Pádraic McCormack and Kieran O’Donnell — the need for the Minister for Health and Children to ensure that the Brothers of Charity in Limerick and in Galway have adequate funding to provide a proper level of [81]respite service; (11) Deputy Jack Wall — the need to ensure that, with regard to households in mortgage arrears, persons in receipt of a home loan from a local authority be afforded the same protection as those borrowing from private sector institutions; and (12) Deputy Deirdre Clune — the need to ensure the 600 research posts that have been cut are reinstated in light of their importance in delivering Ireland’s smart economy.

The matters raised by Deputies Jan O’Sullivan, Pádraic McCormack and Kieran O’Donnell, Jack Wall and Kathleen Lynch have been selected for discussion.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I am pleased to have the opportunity to address the House today on Second Stage of the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010. The Bill provides for the charging of modest fees in respect of prescribed items dispensed by community pharmacy contractors to persons who have full eligibility under the Health Act 1970, that is, medical card holders. The Bill provides for a charge of 50 cent per item prescribed by a registered medical practitioner, dentist or nurse and dispensed by a community pharmacy contractor. The maximum amount payable will be €10 per family per month. The charges are being introduced on foot of a budget 2010 decision to address the rising costs in the general medical services, GMS, scheme. The scheme also seeks to influence demand and prescribing patterns in the GMS, in a modest way.

We have not set out in the Bill to make the level of savings of the order of €200 million and more which we are already achieving in respect of the price of drugs and the cost of distributing and dispensing drugs. Nor is it of the scale of the savings we expect to achieve in coming years by introducing reference pricing and generic drug substitution. However, every saving and every contribution counts. This change could raise approximately €2 million per month. Every saving achieved by and for the HSE Vote will reduce, though not eliminate, the pressure on funding for front line services, from hospitals, home help and home care packages to mental health services and services for people with disabilities and their families.

It is important given our current financial situation that we take every possible step to provide public services efficiently, to limit costs to the greatest extent possible, and to involve users of resources in a better understanding of the value of those resources and their appropriate use. We are doing this very much in a pragmatic way in the context of Ireland today, including not only the national finances, but also our own patterns of prescribing and usage of drugs and the costs we face.

Almost 1.55 million people, or 35% of the population, are medical card holders. Payments to pharmacies under the GMS scheme increased from €748 million in 2004 to €1.129 billion in 2008. This cost increased by a further €50 million to reach €1.179 billion in 2009, despite a reduction in the fees paid to pharmacists from July last year and ongoing reductions in the prices of off-patent medicines.

Deputy James Reilly:  On a point of order, I apologise for interrupting, but will we get a copy of the Minister’s speech?

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  There is a tradition of making available the speech but no requirement as such. I am sure it will arrive. The Minister should proceed in the interim.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The cost of the GMS scheme, including payments to pharmacists and general practitioners, in 2010 is projected to be more than €2 billion. The rate of increase, an average of 12.5% each year over six years, in the cost of supplying drugs and medicines is not sustainable. The number of prescriptions issued under the GMS increased by almost 4 million [82]between 2004 and 2009 to more than 16 million. The number of items dispensed during this period increased by more than 15 million to just over 50 million. The average number of items per prescription has also increased from 2.74 in 2004 to 3.11 in 2009.

Section 1 provides for the amendment of section 59(1) of the Health Act 1970, which requires the Health Service Executive to supply drugs, medicines and medical and surgical appliances to persons with full eligibility without charge. This will be amended by section 1(a) to provide that, where prescription items are supplied by a community pharmacy contractor, they shall be subject to the charges as provided for in subsections (1A) and (1B)(a) subject to the exemptions provided for in subsection (1C).

Subsection (1A) provides that a person who is supplied by a community pharmacy contractor with a drug, medicine or medical or surgical appliance on the prescription of a registered medical practitioner, registered dentist or nurse who is entitled to prescribe shall be charged 50 cent per item. It also provides that any variation in this amount may be determined by regulations subject to certain conditions, set out in the amended subsection 59(4) of the Act.

Subsection (1B) provides that the maximum amount payable by a person and his or her dependants in any month will be €10. In addition, provision is made for the HSE to refund, credit or otherwise relieve any amount paid in excess of the maximum aggregate amount. Any variation in the maximum aggregate amount will be determined by regulations subject to certain conditions, set out in the amended subsection 59(4) of the Act.

Subsection (1C) provides that two classes of persons will be exempt from the charges. These are children in the care of the HSE under the Child Care Acts, 1991 to 2007, and persons who are supplied with specific controlled drugs such as methadone. The section also provides for the making of regulations to exempt other classes of persons from charges, subject to certain conditions, set out in the amended subsection 59(4) of the Act. The prescription charges will not be payable by holders of long-term illness cards. In addition, charges will not apply to persons who are covered by the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, that is, persons who contracted hepatitis C through the use of certain blood types.

Subsection (1D) provides that, notwithstanding the contract between community pharmacists and the HSE, the amount paid to a community pharmacy contractor by the HSE will be reduced by an amount equal to the amounts collectable by that contractor in charges. The amount collected in charges will be retained by the community pharmacy contractor. Subsection (1E) provides for a definitions of “community pharmacy contractor” and “dependant” for the purposes of section 59(1).

Section 1(b) inserts a technical amendment relating to the existing subsection 59(2).

With regard to the conditions for the making of regulations, section 1(c) replaces the existing section 59(4) and provides in the new 59(4)(a)(i) and (4)(b) that, in deciding whether to make regulations to vary either the amount of the charge per item or the aggregate monthly amount, the Minister will have regard to such of the following, as considered appropriate: information on the consumer price index; information on expenditure and the number of items prescribed to medical card holders; the medical needs and financial burden on persons who avail of the services; and the necessity to control health service expenditure.

Section 1(c) also provides in the new section 59(4)(a)(ii) and (4)(c) that, in deciding whether to make regulations specifying classes of persons to. be exempt from the charges, the Minister will have regard to such of the following, as considered appropriate: the medical condition, disability or medical needs of persons in that class; the number of the prescription items required in respect of those medical needs; information on expenditure and the number of items prescribed to medical card holders generally or in respect of the specific class; the necess[83]ity to control health services expenditure; and whether the overall financial situation of the proposed class is worse than that of other persons who are charged for items supplied on prescription.

Section 1(c) also provides in the new 59(4) (iii) that the Minister may make regulations relating to refund, credit or other relief arrangements where he or she considers it necessary. Section 1(c) provides that regulations made under section 59 shall be made with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

Section 2 provides for the Short Title, construction, collective citation with the Health Acts and commencement. The Bill is part of a set of actions the Government has taken or is taking to address increasing costs in the general medical services, GMS, scheme. These actions include the introduction of off-patent price cuts, reductions in wholesale and retail mark-ups and the introduction of generic substitution and reference pricing. Significant progress has been made in recent years to improve value for money in the area of pharmaceutical expenditure. Off-patent price cuts have been implemented and wholesale and retail mark-ups have been reduced. As a result of off-patent drug price reductions in February, the cost of prescribed medicines measured by the Central Statistics Office as part of the consumer price index dropped by more than 12% in that month alone. Discussions are under way with manufacturers of generic medicines and lower prices for them are expected to be introduced in September this year.

Despite these reforms, pharmaceutical expenditure continues to pose a challenge because of our ageing population and increased usage of medicines. Further changes are required to secure a sustainable system of pharmaceutical expenditure while, at the same time, ensuring patients can continue to access necessary and innovative medicines. On 17 June last, I published a report on the proposed model for the substitution of generic medicines and reference pricing. Generic substitution and reference pricing represent significant structural change to the system of pricing and reimbursement of medicines in Ireland. As more medicines come off patent, the introduction of generic substitution and reference pricing will ensure both taxpayers and patients will benefit from increased competition in the pharmaceutical market.

Giving patients more choice and promoting price competition between suppliers will help reduce the overall drugs bill without compromising the efficacy or safety of the treatment that patients receive. Savings will be achieved by limiting reimbursement to the reference price, allowing patients to opt for less expensive versions of the prescribed medicine and promoting price competition between the manufacturers of interchangeable medicines. The savings will be dependent on a range of factors, including the number of medicines included in the reference price system, prescribing practices and the behaviour of manufacturers of interchangeable medicines. The system will be introduced on a phased basis and, therefore, savings will be achieved on the same basis. An expert group will provide guidance on which medicines can be safely substituted. Exemptions will be required in some instances for individual patients for clinical reasons, for example, if a patient has difficulties swallowing.

The maximum monthly amount payable under the legislation is €10 per family. Payment of the maximum amount will only arise where a family receives 20 items or more in a month. In 2008, just over 2% of medical card families had 20 or more items per month prescribed to them. More than 35% of families had no items prescribed, while almost 18% had one or two items prescribed. It is expected, therefore, that only a small minority of medical card families will have to pay the €10 per month maximum charge. Based on trends in previous years, it is expected that the prescription charges will yield €24 million in a full year.

I expect that the primary care reimbursement service of the HSE will roll out the charging system from 1 September. Once the legislation is passed, my officials, the HSE and representatives of the pharmacy contractors will enter into discussions to make this happen. Some adjust[84]ments to the IT systems both in the HSE and on the pharmacy side will have to be made to allow for implementation, including calculation of data to provide for refunds. Issues such as how often refunds will be made, for example, on a quarterly basis, will be worked out. I do not expect this will have a significant ongoing resource implications in terms of cost or staffing. I will keep the implementation and the impact of the changes under constant review. As I said in the Seanad last week, I will report back to both Houses of the Oireachtas and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  On a point of order, I still have not received a copy of the Minister’s speech.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have asked that the Minister’s office be requested to at least circulate copies to spokespersons and the Chair. They have not arrived yet.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Some have been circulated.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Two copies were available.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Bill is vehemently opposed by the Opposition with good reason. It will be aimed at the most vulnerable, sickest and weakest in our society and, yet again, as I pointed out to the Taoiseach on the Order of Business yesterday, he has long-fingered, along with the Minister, the tough decisions that have to be made about generic prescribing through which hundreds of millions could be saved and goes after an area where the Minister might save €25 million in a full year. I wonder whether she will and whether this legislation will transpire to be penny wise and pound foolish because it puts an obstruction between those with chronic illnesses and their medication.

Anything that discourages people from taking their medicine results in them falling ill, developing complications and having to attend hospital, often being admitted. A single day in hospital more than wipes out the cost of drug treatment for an entire year for the vast majority of people. These might be savings in theory but, as has so often happened previously, they might transpire not to be savings at all.

  4 o’clock

The Minister said: “Section 1(c) provides that any regulations made under section 59 shall be made with the consent of the Minister for Finance.” Again, more control will be devolved to the Minister for Finance and his Department, as if they do not have enough control already. I remind the House that this is the same Department of Finance that got all its predictions wrong on both our way up and our way down. It is the very Department that led us blindfold into the current mess, no doubt encouraged by the Government. The cost of our economic mess should not be laid on the people who are least able to bear it.

The Minister spoke about off-patent price cuts and the reduction in mark-ups, saying significant progress had been made in recent years. It is only in the last year that any improvement has been made with the main manufacturers of the drugs they produce off-patent. Why is it the case that a cholesterol-lowering drug in this country was costing €28 per month for the brand leader and €27 per month for the generic product while a mere 45 miles up the road in Newry it could be bought for £1.40, or €2? That is one-fifteenth of the price. Clearly, there are huge savings to be made in that area and that is where our focus should be.

This 50 cent charge might not appear to be much to the Minister or me, but it is for many low income families. International research shows that any disincentive for people to take medicines should be avoided, as certain patients will inevitably end up in hospital. The nearest [85]jurisdiction to Ireland, Northern Ireland, has abolished prescription charges. We are going in the opposite direction. Wales has also abolished these charges and the Welsh Assembly document called “Helping to improve health in Wales” found there was no increase in the number of prescriptions dispensed in Wales following the removal of the charge. One wonders why this country is going in the opposite direction. In the remainder of the United Kingdom where these charges still apply, and when they did apply throughout the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, they have never applied to the lowest one third of income earners, the people who comprise the vast majority of the people in this country who hold medical cards. There is no precedent for this in these islands or elsewhere. By taking this course, the Minister will discourage people from taking their medicines, with dire consequences for them and serious financial consequences for us. It really makes no sense.

The Bill provides for some exemptions. As a general practitioner, I am aware of people with long-term illness cards who subsequently receive medical cards while retaining their long-term illness card. These people will not have to pay for medicines relating to their illness. What about those who have a medical card but have never had a long-term illness card, and never saw the need for one due to having a medical card? They will be subject to the prescription charge. Surely that is inequitable. The Minister’s list of exemptions should include the entire list of illnesses on the long-term illness card, such as mental handicap, mental illness, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida, hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophies, Parkinsonism, acute leukaemia, high blood pressure and cancer. The last two are not on the long-term illness card, but they should be, as well as Crohn’s disease and asthma. It is well known that if people stop taking their asthma therapy, they will feel fine for a while but that predisposes them to an acute attack which could be fatal and in many cases will hospitalise them.

The Minister referred to the 50 cent and the consumer price index. The Taoiseach this morning made it very clear where this is going. He was patting himself on the back for starting the charge at 50 cent when Mr. Colm McCarthy had recommended €5. However, it is clear that once the Minister gets this charge under the door, it will continue to increase. Is the Minister prepared to give an undertaking to the House that it will not happen? Even if she gave that undertaking, what would it be worth? The Minister referred to the Health (Amendment) Act 1996 which provides the equivalent of a medical card and free health care to those who suffered hepatitis C infection through contaminated blood products. Of a total of 54 women who were in the course of attending that tribunal, 24 were accepted as having hepatitis C even though their titres were not measurable. The Act was changed in 2006 and now they cannot get a Health (Amendment) Act card. I met those women this morning and was told that the Minister had given them her word that she would address that, but they are still waiting for her to keep her word.

It is not my intention to use the full 30 minutes as there are important amendments to examine. How will the Minister administer this? How will she administer reclaims? If I have a medical card and am on holiday with my family, and all I can afford is a trip to Kerry, Cork, Monaghan or Cavan, and one of my children gets sick or I run out of my medication and have my prescription with me or I go to a local general practitioner and have the medicine prescribed for me, how will I reclaim that if I am not at my regular chemist? There are all sorts of logistics involved. What price has been put on that? Please do not tell us it will not cost anything to administer this because we know there will be a cost. Administration comprises a large part of the bill for the black hole known as the HSE. The putative savings of this scheme are questionable and the cost of administering it is unclear.

In the provisions of the Bill dealing with exclusions and definitions, section (1E) states: “In subsections (1A) to (1D) . . . . ‘dependant’ in relation to a person with full eligibility, includes [86]an adult person with full eligibility, so long as that adult person is under the age of 21 years and receiving full time education and is wholly or mainly maintained by the first-mentioned person.” Where does this leave parents on medical cards caring for disabled adult children who also have a medical card? They are not part of the maximum €10 charge because they will be outside it. I humbly suggest the Minister modifies the Bill to avoid this.

I spent half an hour outside the gates of Leinster House today with parents of disabled children who are having their respite services removed. I spent Monday evening at the Brothers of Charity care centre in Galway with Deputy McCormack and it is very clear that these parents are under terrible pressure. Due to a penny wise, pound foolish HSE initiative, which the Minister approves, they will lose their respite care. Parents who are getting on in years cannot cope without it and will give up, much and all as it will hurt them to do so, and these children will end up in full-time care, costing the State many multiples of the money required to provide respite care. I ask the Minister to consider using her prerogative on Committee Stage to ensure that adult children with disabilities are included with the remainder of the family in the maximum payment of €10 per month.

I have received representations from Nursing Home Ireland whose members are very concerned about the impact of this charge on nursing homes. They are concerned that patients with medical cards who are also in receipt of the old-age pension will have to give up 80% of that pension under the Fair Deal arrangements. They will be left with a very small sum of money and up to €10 a month could be taken from their remaining €40. That is not fair and the Minister should examine this area.

I am utterly opposed to this Bill as it is penny wise and pound foolish. It hurts the weakest people in society. The amount of money it will save is questionable while the amount of money it will cost to administer the scheme is unknown. Ultimately, the Exchequer will lose out, as people end up in hospital because of difficulties with affording their medication.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Ó Caoláin.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Agreed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The Labour Party will be opposing this Bill. The people who will be affected by it are the poor and the sick and they are not the people who should have charges imposed on them because of the drastic situation in our public finances. They are the very opposite of those who should have to pay.

The Bill copper-fastens the inequalities in our society. It is a bit rich for the Minister to state that she was imposing this charge so that there would be more money for front-line services such as respite care and home help services. The very people who are being asked to pay this prescription charge are the people who need the home help and the respite care and all the other supports because they are the poorest people who qualify for a medical card on income or illness grounds. They are, by definition, already the most vulnerable people in our society. They are being asked to pay a charge of 50 cent on every prescription, subject to a maximum charge of €10 per month per family. A sum of €10 per month might not seem like a big deal to the Minister or even to those of us in this House with a reasonable income, but the people we are talking about had their incomes reduced in the last budget, in many cases, down to €196 per week, a reduction of €8 per week. The people in that category according to the list of social welfare cutbacks are those who are either widowed, ill, disabled or blind. Those people are [87]now living on €196 per week. Carers and old-age pensioners are very slightly better off at just over €200 per week. These are the kind of incomes we are talking about.

These people already have heavy demands on their income because they are ill or disabled. They will also be facing a carbon levy in the near future and we still await details of the Government’s plans to ensure that fuel poverty is not added to the burden of the poor. Already the cost of fuel is high but the introduction of the carbon levy will cause it to rise.

These people are the poorest of the poor. This is an unequal society that is becoming more unequal. Many of us will have read the book which shows that the negative effects of inequality are seen across a range of indicators, including physical and mental health. It should be noted that the wealth of the country is improved if society is more equal.

The Government is imposing cuts on the poor but it is noted that other, better-off sectors seem to get away with things. I refer to the information from NAMA yesterday about the amount of money that will be recovered. The predictions of return for the public purse are way lower than original estimates. These figures are blithely thrown out in their billions of euro. The charges proposed in this Bill may be very small money but it is money that can make the difference between being able to balance one’s budget at the end of the week in the case of the people affected.

The Minister said in her contribution that €2 million per month would be saved by the imposition of this charge. This amount of savings is directly on the backs of medical card holders because nobody else will be paying it to the Exchequer.

It has been argued that this charge is an attempt to reduce the bill for medications and stop people over-using prescribed products. The Minister stated that 4 million extra prescriptions have been written in the period 2004 to 2009. This charge is not the way to address that problem, in my view. The very fact the Minister admits it will save €2 million per month does not indicate it will address that problem but rather it will be a money-spinner to bring in extra money every month.

The Minister often accuses the Opposition of not supporting her on initiatives but the Opposition supported the Minister’s introduction of generic substitution and reference pricing as this is a good idea and a good way of saving money on prescription drugs. The pharmacists have suggested having a medicine use review which they say would considerably help to reduce dependency on drugs. Patients need to be educated and informed about the use of drugs. It should be explained to them why they may not need to take so many prescribed drugs. We need to focus on those who prescribe the drugs, the doctors and in some cases, nurses. If too many drugs are being prescribed, the focus should be on those who prescribe the drugs rather than those who take the drugs.

This is a case of using a sledge-hammer to address a problem that a sledge-hammer has not a hope of solving. People on drugs for cancer, diabetes or other long-term illnesses as listed by Deputy Reilly, have no choice but to take their drugs. They need them, yet it is proposed to incorporate most of them into this system of charges. The Minister said there would be exemptions for children in care and with regard to controlled drugs such as methadone and for those with hepatitis C. There is a provision to make further exemptions. I have tabled some amendments about homeless people and those whose lives could be in danger if they do not take medication. We need to see a lot more exemptions if this Bill is not going to be of serious concern with regard to a number of categories of people. Under section 1(4)(a)(ii), the Minister is permitted to make regulations to exempt other classes of persons but I ask the Minister to outline the kinds of classes of persons for whom she will consider making exemptions. The list in the Bill is inadequate to deal with categories of vulnerable people. I received an e-mail from the nursing home organisation, which makes the valid point that people in nursing homes have [88]only 20% of their disposable income, which is usually 20% of the pension, left for all personal needs. This includes therapies, an expense they did not have before. Previously, therapies were provided by nursing homes but in most cases people must pay for therapies from the 20% of their disposable income that remains. People in nursing homes are very vulnerable.

International evidence on the impact of the prescription levy indicates it places a financial barrier on the poorest in the community in terms of accessing vital medicines and has a negative effect on the health of the population. As mentioned by Deputy Reilly, Northern Ireland and Wales have got rid of prescription charges. We are going in the opposite direction to other countries that have tried it and decided it is inappropriate and has a negative effect. If people do not take drugs because they cannot pay for them, it endangers their health and will probably impose extra charges on the hospital system because people will not be able to control their illnesses in the community and are more likely to go to hospital. There are many reasons the Labour Party will vote against this Bill.

The question of how this will be administered and collected also arises. It will be an administrative nightmare. It will be difficult for pharmacists, who are now effectively becoming tax collectors. The amount of money will be taken from the sum paid to them and they are expected to collect it from the medical card patient. What will pharmacists do if a person says he or she cannot pay, will not pay or should not have to pay? Will the pharmacist contact the Garda Síochána, take the burden of the cost or fight with the patient? Generally pharmacists develop long-term relationships with regular patients in the community. This will fundamentally change the relationship and could create difficulty. I do not know what pharmacists are supposed to do because they are not tax collectors or the Revenue Commissioners but they must collect this tax. This measure is fraught with difficulties and many problems will arise with regard to the practicalities of the Bill. I am not sure the Minister will save the amount of money she believes.

It is true that we must save money on drugs. Reference pricing and generic substitution, along with other measures suggested, could achieve this. We need every single penny we can get in the health services for the delivery of frontline services. I support the Minister in this respect but this is despicable legislation in some ways because it targets those least able to pay.

I met the families outside Leinster House today. I have met many of them in the past weeks because the respite centre in my constituency has been closed for the past three weeks. Those with adults with intellectual disabilities in their homes who care for them 24 hours a day have lost their respite. We must restore that respite before we leave here tomorrow. It is as simple as that. Those people and vulnerable sectors must pay this levy. It is inequitable and will be extremely difficult to collect. It has been tried and has failed in other countries. It targets the most vulnerable and for those reasons the Labour Party will vote against this Bill. We will try to amend it but, even if we succeed in the amendments we propose, it remains a Bill that is wrong and should not be imposed on the poorest in our community.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 1:

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

“Dáil Éireann declines to give the Bill a Second Reading as prescription charges represent an unjust imposition on medical card holders and undermine the General Medical Services Scheme.”.

Sinn Féin totally opposes this Bill, which enables the Minister for Health and Children of the day to impose prescription charges on medical card holders. It is a disgraceful item of legislation [89]that targets the least well-off in Irish society. As I indicated on the Order of Business, it is a sneaky and dishonest Bill. When initially signalled by the Minister for Health and Children, it was listed as the Prescription Charges Bill. This was changed to the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill in the vain hope of taking the bad look off it.

The legislation sets a charge of 50 cent per item up to a maximum of €10 per month. The Bill has been sold politically and in the media on the basis that the charges are small. The opening contribution of the Minister for Health and Children on Second Stage referred to the charges as being modest. The most dishonest thing about this Bill is where the fees are cited. It is a smokescreen, a device to get the Bill passed. When Government representatives are challenged their main argument has been that it is a charge of only 50 cents and a charge of only €10. However, that is pure deception because section 1 empowers the Minister at any time in the future to make regulations to vary the charges. We know this Minister and future Ministers will increase the prescription charges for medical card holders. I warrant that will happen if this Bill is passed.

At the end of last year it was leaked to the media — deliberately perhaps — that the Minister’s officials were seeking a charge of €2.50 per prescription. This was after Mr. Colm McCarthy recommended a €5 flat fee for every prescription in the notorious report of an bord snip nua. I might add in passing that Mr. McCarthy’s prescription for the ailing Irish economy was a strong dose of deadly poison across the board. The Government deserves no credit for prescribing a slightly lesser dose because it is deadly poison nonetheless.

On 19 November last year, the Minister addressed a body much in the news lately, the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party. She floated the 50 cent prescription charge and it was reported afterwards that Fianna Fáil Deputies and Senators supported the proposal. Only one Deputy was reported to having expressed concern and, to give credit where it is deserved, he hit the nail on the head when he said he was worried the charge could be increased in future years. At least someone saw the train coming down the track.

The Minister, Deputy Harney, saved the day because, we were told in a newspaper report, “Observers said Ms Harney made clear that no final decision had been taken”, and the Cabinet was saved from rebellion in the ranks once again.

Then came the budget with its savage cuts to public services, including health, and its confirmation that prescription charges would indeed be imposed. Did one hear the faintest protest from the ranks of that Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party? Not a whimper. After all the talk of rebellion in the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party in recent weeks, where are they when a Bill comes before the Dáil that clearly and undoubtedly will affect the least well-off and the most needy in Irish society? I note that not a single member of that party is present. The Minister is an independent member of the Cabinet but not a single member of either of the two parties in the coalition is represented in the Chamber during this Second Stage debate. Will even one of them stand up for the people who are being penalised by the prescription charges provided for in this Bill? The backbenchers have been much concerned lately about hounds, stags, hares and related matters but it seems that last night, the sheepdog from Clara barked at them and the sheep now are being herded exactly where he wants them to go, that is, voting as he, the Minister and the Government dictate. There is not a bleat out of any of them regarding this Bill.

One should make no mistake but that any Deputy who supports this Bill is opening the way for higher prescription charges in the years to come. Moreover, Members will not be obliged to wait too long before the first evidence of this will present itself. This Bill, therefore, undermines the general medical services scheme in a fundamental way. Access to essential medication free of charge always has been a cornerstone of the medical card scheme. It has lifted a potentially huge financial burden from people on low incomes and especially from families [90]with young children. It not only has lifted a financial burden but undoubtedly also a great concern regarding the challenge with which any family struggling to make ends meet can cope or can afford at any given time.

In addition to being penalised financially, people with medical cards are being scapegoated for the high cost of medicines in this State. As previous speakers have indicated, all Members agree that the cost of medicines to the State and to individuals is unacceptable and simply is too high. Everyone acknowledges there is wastage and over-prescription of medicines and all agree that measures must be undertaken to address these problems. However, the very last way to address this is to punish those who are least able to pay. I agree with Age Action Ireland when it states:

Over-prescribing and inappropriate prescribing is a problem in Ireland but the Minister needs to address this issue with the doctors who write the prescriptions, rather than hitting their patients. The patient is not the person writing the prescription so . . . penalising them will do little to change prescribing practices.

For many older people in receipt of a State pension who are reliant on medication, this Bill will mean an additional annual burden of €120 each. Moreover that is only the initial cost, as there will be an as yet unknown higher amount when the Minister or her successors or both inevitably increase the charges.

These prescription charges on low-income individuals and families come in the wake of the abolition of the social welfare Christmas bonus and the reduction in social welfare payments generally. Furthermore, this is only on the payment side as services for people with medical cards and for all who rely on the public health system are being reduced on a weekly basis. Dental treatment for medical card holders has been confined to what are called emergencies but the HSE has failed to state what constitutes an emergency in the context of dental treatment. That said, I have met many people who have suffered and who consider that their situation was an emergency but for whom the system no longer provides. Public hospitals are in deeper crisis now than ever. Waiting lists and queues are worsening, the promised primary care network has not been delivered and now this disgraceful Bill has been introduced. This is hardly a record of which the Minister should be proud.

The Government claims that the purpose of this legislation is to make savings and to reduce the State’s drugs bill. For years, Sinn Féin Members and others in this House have called for greater use of generic drugs and for control of the gross profiteering by pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors. The Government and successive Ministers for Health and Children from 1997, throughout this existing Government formation anchored by Fianna Fáil, have failed repeatedly to act. Belatedly, the Minister for Health and Children has moved on the issue of generic substitution. She also has promised to introduce a reference pricing Bill but it has not been published. Instead, she has rushed in with this legislation to penalise the least well-off for a problem that clearly is not of their making. There was no equality in the Minister’s intent or endeavour to bring forward the reference pricing Bill as this was the easy option.

As I stated earlier, there is widespread agreement that the cost of medicines to the State must be reduced but it already has been shown that huge savings can be made without imposing prescription charges. Last February, an agreement between drugs manufacturers and the Minister for Health and Children made projected savings of €94 million in a full year. One should add to this the further savings that will be made through the use of generic drugs and reference pricing and then set that against the estimated €20.5 million that will be raised by these charges. While the figure of €20.5 million has been cited repeatedly, I note from the Minister’s contribution at the outset of the Second Stage debate that she has added a further €3.5 million to it [91]and now claims the figure will be approximately €24 million in a full year. These charges are, in my view, that of the collective Opposition and I daresay of at least some of those who sit on the Government benches, totally unnecessary from a budgetary point of view, as well as being unjust and unfair.

The Government would accuse the Opposition of not coming up with alternative proposals. However, Sinn Féin and the other parties have indeed come forward with such proposals. In Sinn Féin’s pre-budget 2010 submission, The Road to Recovery, the party proposed measures to reduce the cost of medicines in the health system, including the establishment of wholesale distribution of drugs by the State. Based on figures provided to Sinn Féin by the Department of Finance, these measures would have saved €200 million annually, which is nearly ten times what allegedly will be raised by the prescription charges being introduced under this legislation. Ending the notorious co-location scheme would save €100 million in 2010 alone or nearly five times the revenue from the proposed charges. Moreover, I understand the figure would rise to approximately €400 million over a seven-year period. I note these are figures provided by the Department of Health and Children. Instead of making real savings and targeting the profiteers in the drugs industry, the Government once again has gone for the easy targets, namely, the elderly, the infirm and low-income families with children. All of this has been seen before and Sinn Féin has cautioned against it. We have repeated our challenge to it repeatedly and it is as shameful now as it ever has been before. It is doubly disgraceful in the face of all that already has happened to those families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.

Even at this late stage, on my own behalf and that of my colleague Deputies in Sinn Féin, I call on the Government and specifically on the Minister, Deputy Harney, to withdraw the Bill. If the Government does not do so, I call on every Deputy with a conscience to vote against this Bill at every point of its passage today. I want to see the same commitment to the interests of the 1.3 million medical cardholders in this State as was exemplified in recent weeks by Government backbenchers regarding other issues. It is time that Members began to address in a real and effective manner the terrible vista the Government has imposed and continues to impose on the lives of so many. Members will see whether the Fianna Fáil backbenchers have any backbone. While I do not know what to expect from their Green Party colleagues in government, 1.3 million people expect a result that will give them some breathing space and relief and that will not effect a further imposition and penalty for them to bear in an economic situation that is not of their making. I reject this Bill outright.

Deputy Damien English:  Much of the debate is focusing on broader issues than those with which the Bill is concerned. I might take the odd liberty myself in that regard. On medical cards and charging for prescriptions, my colleague, Deputy Reilly and others outlined what is happening in other countries where the trend is to row back on such an approach. I would like to know on what evidence the Minister based her decision.

When the possibility of a charge was first mooted in the past year, I agreed with it on the basis that it made sense and it might stop people from abusing the system. We are familiar with people who end up with too many unused medicines at home under the bed or on the locker. Those drugs go to waste. However, when I heard my colleagues speak at our parliamentary party meeting and in the House I realised that the research shows that certain people would be prevented from getting the drugs they need. We cannot allow that to happen as the consequences of it would be serious, especially for a person with a long-term illness. If such a person does not take his or her prescribed medication, he or she will end up in the accident and emergency unit. The Minister’s approach is not correct. Perhaps she will respond to me on the matter when concluding Second Stage.

[92]The addition of 50 cent to each prescription has been mooted but the fear is that the charge will not remain at that level. In the past three terms the Government increased most of the existing charges by means of stealth taxes in every budget. People did not realise how much stealth taxes had increased until 2008 or 2009 but it happened incrementally from 2002 up to the present. The fear is that the same thing will happen in this case; that the charge will start low and rise to perhaps €4, which adds up to a lot of money. Last year, we saw the effect on people’s livelihoods of losing €3 or €8 in social welfare payments. It is a lot of money. In general, medical cards belong to people who are in the lowest income bracket. Others have it that probably should not have it and some people do not have it who should have it but the majority of people with a medical card are on low incomes so we are again hitting people on low income in this case.

I listened to a comment yesterday about general Government decision-making policy. Due to bad management in the Health Service Executive or a Department, we often introduce policies to correct bad management rather than fixing the management. In this case it is a combination of patients being allowed to abuse the prescription system and to get more if they get a chance. That could be the fault of the doctor, the Health Service Executive or the pharmacist. There are other ways of fixing the problem rather than introducing a charge. The response of most people is to introduce more legislation rather than to solve the problem in the first place. The other argument is that this is really only a sneaky way to make more money. Either way it is avoidable and does not necessarily need to be done.

I have seen many cases of that happening. Another example is where a Minister makes a statement that he is going to slash travel expenses for civil servants even when common sense might dictate that it should be done for a certain percentage. When one works out the travel arrangements in each office, it turns out that sometimes the rules are stupid and lack common sense. Money could be saved but the quick fix is to bring in a cut across the board. That is bad decision making policy to solve bad management rather than fixing the problem. We must address that issue as well.

I do not wish to say people have been conned for a long time in terms of medical cards and access to them but the doctor-only medical card is a good service if one still has income. People were led to believe that getting it would solve the problem but they must cope with exorbitant charges for drugs as well. The cost of drugs in this country is off the wall. I have listened to the Minister explain that it is the fault of the pharmacies or others. I cannot get my head around whose fault it is but if I am in France, Spain or another country, one can buy the same medicines for a quarter if not a fifth of the price. Something is wrong and I do not believe it is all due to the pharmacies making money. I have gone to pharmacies, talked to them and looked at their books. I agree that some make a lot of money but others do not. However, someone along the way is creaming it and people are suffering as a result. That must be examined.

I accept progress was made with the purchase of drugs by the Health Service Executive but, in general, people are not getting value for money and they are losing out. We must examine the matter. It is all very fine to say we will fix things. When the Minister was first appointed she talked about addressing the issue but I have not seen much progress in the area. This is an important issue. Members regularly have people come to their clinics who cannot afford to buy the medicine they need regardless of the drug payment scheme or the medical card. If one is on long-term medication, one has to spend €120 a month before one can avail of the free drugs scheme, which is a lot of money. It is €30 per week. If one is on the minimum wage that is almost 10% of one’s take-home pay. We must examine the issue.

[93]I understand there are budgetary constraints and that the Minister is trying to match everything up but ultimately we must look after the most vulnerable in society. We must also consider prevention. If a person becomes ill because he or she is unwilling or unable to spend money, the State will lose out because it will cost us more in the long run. The Minister knows that because she is an intelligent person when it comes to economics and figures.

My final point relates to health although not necessarily to the Bill. The Acting Chairman, Deputy Charlie O’Connor, who is from Tallaght, will understand why I must mention Navan. We have discussed the hospital in Navan many times through correspondence and in debates, not always directly with the Minister. It is an issue of great concern to people in the area. The Health Service Executive and the Department had a good plan to build a new regional hospital for the north east which makes total and utter sense. As a Deputy for the town I fully backed the proposal. I even agreed that if it meant that the hospital moved up the road or down the road I would accept that because it was the right thing to do for the north east. Now that project is on hold even though a site was picked. A lot of work was done and money was spent in order to make the decision. The project should be going through the planning process. It is capital expenditure, not current expenditure. We should not necessarily be cutting back on capital expenditure in times of recession. The work could be done easily through a public private partnership or through other mechanisms to raise funding. The construction of the hospital would not be a waste of money because that would provide jobs and one would get good value for it at the moment.

My party is in agreement that one has to cut back on current spending but not on capital spending. In the meantime, one has to keep five hospitals open whether one downgrades services or not. The Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children are all the one. At the end of the day the Minister pays the bills. It is taxpayers’ money. The Health Service Executive is the Government. It is a pity that the impression has been created that there is a separation in that regard when it is not the case. It is clear that they are one and the same. The plans for the hospital should be going ahead in terms of planning permission. A public private partnership could be easily put together and the hospital could serve the people of the north east. If half the people of Meath, Cavan, Louth and Monaghan who need an operation must be put on a waiting list for a hospital in Dublin, there is something wrong. It is improper that people are waiting for two or three weeks in hospitals in Navan, Cavan, Drogheda, etc., before being given a bed in a Dublin hospital. The Minister knows it is wrong. We should try to make progress in this regard.

I accept it will take a number of years to build the facilities I propose. Let us engage in the planning process and commence construction. The facility will be good for the taxpayer and the economy because it will save money in the longer term, in addition to saving lives and making life much more convenient.

There are plans to reduce the accident and emergency services in Navan hospital over the coming months or year because of the opening of the new accident and emergency unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. I have always held the view that if a service is better and worthwhile, we must accept change that allows it to be put in place. However, nobody in my area believes the accident and emergency unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, can handle the numbers the HSE will try to put through it. Up to 30,000 pass through the unit in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, approximately 10,000 or 11,000 pass through the unit in Louth County Hospital and up to 20,000 pass through the unit in Navan hospital. This amounts to nearly 60,000, which is far too many to try to put through one accident and emergency unit, namely, the unit at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. The latter cannot cope with that.

[94]In the past few weeks, when the accident and emergency unit in Louth has been closed, Navan has been used as a backup to the facility in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital because the latter cannot cope with the numbers. I accept this matter is not part of this Bill and, therefore, I do not necessarily expect the Minister to address it today. I ask her to examine it in any case. It is not right that so many patients are being asked to attend one accident and emergency unit, thus extending waiting lists and generating the possibility that certain patients may not be treated on time. There is a perfectly functioning accident and emergency unit in Navan hospital, albeit in a cardboard box. The staff and the service they provide are excellent. The unit should be kept open for 24 hours per day. The Minister has a say in this and I ask her to intervene because my argument is common sense.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Is Deputy Durkan offering to speak?

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I never refused an offer. If I am being offered time, I will be delighted to oblige. How many minutes do I have?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Deputy could have 20.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  My colleagues are looking at me with disapproving glances so I had better not speak for 20 minutes. Does the Minister have a preference?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  I ask the Deputy to stick to the Bill.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is the Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  I know that.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  If the Chair wants me to contribute on it for 20 minutes, I will have no difficulty doing so.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is always a pleasure.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This Bill is innocuous in theory. That is what it is meant to be because it is part of the PR exercise that now occurs daily in this country. The pretence is that it is but a small imposition that will not be felt by those for whom it is intended. The theory is that it is to generate greater respect for the services we provide, but that will not really be the effect. The Bill will generate even greater despair among a cohort who have been under attack for the past two and a half years. With each passing day, the cohort is attacked with increasing severity and consistency, each time with a more debilitating impact. One must consider this from the point of the view of the individual who may need to have recourse to a medical card or pharmacist, for reasons beyond his control, because he has contracted a particular health problem.

As I stated previously, the HSE has very many dedicated staff. There are many dedicated facilities which have had a particular task over the years. Some of these facilities are not being run to address the issues they were intended to address. I will not elaborate on this. There are facilities all over the country that are not being utilised. Hospital wards and beds have been decommissioned, as have various other facilities that were paid for by the taxpayer and which the taxpayer should now be enjoying by way of just reward. Instead of enjoying them, the public is now being admonished once again in respect of services it does not have and being told it should have respect for a particular service when it gets it. The public fully respects the [95]services that exist and is grateful for them. It is when a service disappears that the public gets worried. That seems to be with increasing rapidity, or on a daily or weekly basis.

I do not want anyone to provoke me into a long rant on this matter. I have held the view for a long time that the HSE is now dysfunctional. We hear the continuous mantra that tough decisions must be taken. Decisions must be taken but they must be the correct ones. Sometimes decisions appear to be tough but they still must be correct. The kind of decision envisaged in the Bill does nothing more than pile more coals on the heads of those who are already being hammered daily. This is unfair and it would be wrong of Members on either side of the House not to acknowledge it.

Over the past two weeks, the consciences of Members on the Government side of the House were troubling them in respect of certain issues. They struggled with their consciences outside and inside the House and struggled within the parliamentary party and on the plinth. Gladly and gratefully, they overcame their consciences; their consciences do not exist any more and that is the sad part. The Bill before us demonstrates this.

All Members know from their constituencies that the people being punished daily can take no more. They have had it up to their eyes. Every time they get out of bed in the morning, if they can do so, they wonder what else is in store for them. They wonder whether they will be able to see and pay through the day and be alive at the end of it. They wonder whether they will be left waiting for a service in a hospital corridor, in spite of the fact that all the services are readily available if they were switched on.

The Acting Chairman will be glad to know I will not use my 20 minutes but I could do so.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Chair has no view on that matter. The Deputy may proceed.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I believed the Chair was going to encourage me to conclude as quickly as possible.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Others would want me to but that is not my role.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is not a personal matter. I concluded a long time ago that the HSE is not the ideal body to administer health services. I ask the Minister to revert to the old system, which was at least accountable to some extent. It was transparent to some extent and could be challenged. Members were able to receive answers to parliamentary questions on vital issues in the House daily. They did not have to wait three months for the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE to respond. Why there is such a division in the HSE, I do not know. This is the House of Parliament, where answers ought to be given and where information is supposed to be challenged. We should not have to wait at all.

I strongly opposed every measure in this Bill, as I opposed virtually every measure proposed by the HSE through the Minister, or by the Minister through the HSE, over recent years. I have long since concluded that the HSE is an unwieldy body. It is supposed to do a job that should be straightforward, simple and targeted, but it is not doing so.

Let nobody suggest that centres of excellence will solve all our problems. Every facility provided by the health service is supposed to be excellent. There is supposed to be no second, third or fourth level, or a level for the poor or others. All the services are supposed to be universal services of a high standard and readily available.

Over recent months, we noted the added irony of backlogs. There was a backlog for medical cards and one had to wait three or four months therefor. The Minister used to state that, due [96]to an industrial dispute, it was impossible to answer parliamentary questions at the time they were asked.

In many cases, the unfortunate person on whose behalf a Deputy raised the question died in the intervening period. The Minister would add that, if the matter continued to be an issue, the Deputy could raise it with her again. Was this a suggestion that one would be inspired to the point of no longer feeling sufficient urgency about raising the matter in the House again?

  5 o’clock

I am glad to say that the Minister is even longer in the House than I am, but I am willing to follow in her footsteps. When someone raises by way of a parliamentary question an issue that affects the community at large or an individual, it is urgent and needs to be addressed with respect and within a specified period. There are no excuses for doing otherwise. Since entering the House, I have known of no answer being deferred because of a dispute. At every dispute during my time in the House, provision was made to ensure answers were given when required. This time, it suited the Government not to give answers because it did not need to spend money. It could postpone or adjourn everything. The books were better balanced, but only by not providing the services intended for a particular cohort of the public.

I pay tribute to the many great people and professionals within the HSE, but they are frustrated. They threw up their hands long ago and asked why they should be the ones carrying the responsibility when no one else seemed to be doing so.

In this and other services, the number of forms that must be filled up by an individual to get a basic service could be included on a single A4, but there is duplication and triplication. If anything is wrong, forms are returned after two or three months. More often than not, they are not returned to the Deputies who raised the questions, but to someone else. Eventually, the whole system will break down. More people are involved in recycling mounds of paper that are in danger of going on fire if they are not dealt with, but some of them have been sitting there for the past three months. I have not mentioned the issue of supplementary welfare, as it is not contained in the Bill, but it is a classic example. Supplementary welfare, rent support and so on are being recirculated in such a way as to make it impossible for the public to access a service that is justly theirs. The Acting Chairman will be delighted to know that I will not continue. This is my submission.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Deputy should not believe that.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  It is in deference to the Acting Chairman’s wisdom that I will sit down.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Deputy Coonan is next and can also take 20 minutes.

Deputy Noel J. Coonan:  The Acting Chairman is kind, but I do not intend to take 20 minutes. On behalf of the people I represent, I wish to register my protest against these proposals, in particular the imposition of 50 cent on prescription charges. While I do not want to go over old ground, the Minister referred to an overall ceiling of €10. I do not doubt her sincerity, but the Acting Chairman knows as well as I do that something might start at 50 cent, then rise to €1 in six months time. By this time next year, it could be €2. Equally, the cap could be increased.

We are getting off on the wrong foot. I agree with the sentiments expressed and I do not want to repeat anything, but this is another attack on the most needy in society. Lousy and mean spirited, it is intended to raise money, but money can be raised in other ways within the [97]health services — for example, through savings, better management and efficiencies. I would prefer it were the Minister to tackle these problems. Many people who pay for medicine encounter a problem. After a certain period, sometimes a short one, their medicine becomes ineffective.

I will provide an example in which these problems — inefficiencies and ineffective medicines — are combined. An 11 year old named Jack suffers from autism spectrum disorder, ASD. Despite his age, he is taken by many to be 13, 14, 15 or even 16 years of age because he is a big guy. He is becoming more prone to violence towards himself, his family and his community. The medical experts realised that the drugs he was on were not working properly, so he was sent to a centre of excellence, namely, Limerick Regional Hospital, last April for an electroencephalogram, EEG. His mother had difficulty restraining him and getting him to the hospital because he goes berserk when he sees hospitals, doctors and so on. When he arrived, the EEG had suddenly become an electrocardiogram, ECG, because someone made a mistake. After the effort of getting to the hospital and staying there for most of the day, this difficulty could not be overcome, so he was sent away with a new appointment for last Monday. Jack was brought by his mother and grandfather to the hospital. Four people were needed to restrain him so that the doctor could administer a sedative. He was then left on his own for a considerable period. His mother was told that it would be at least an hour or an hour and a half before the effects of the sedation would wear off, but no one checked on him and she duly became concerned after 40 or 45 minutes about the sedation wearing off. She called a nurse, who informed the doctor, but the doctor believed otherwise. Jack came around after an hour or an hour and five minutes, could not undergo his test, became violent in the hospital and needed to leave again.

How will this child be brought into a hospital again? Is this the best way to administer assistance? Will the Minister investigate this case and the plight of people like Jack? In north County Tipperary, three people are in dire need of care. According to the experts and professionals, they should be on a shared care system, but the HSE cannot afford it because of cutbacks. There is no place for those people in Nenagh hospital and no one can administer the care because of the Government’s cutbacks. Is this the type of service that the Minister is recommending to the public and over which she can stand this afternoon?

The service in the example was provided by one of the centres of excellence that we are told are the future, but Jack’s mother was black and blue and bitten and his grandfather was in a similar condition when they got home. His mother is in dire straits. The HSE is providing Jack with three hours of care per week during June and July. If matters improve, something better might be provided in August. Three years ago, professionals stated that Jack should be on a shared care programme. Under such a programme, he would spend four days in and three days out of care one week and three days in and four days out the following week. Why can we not provide this service to people like Jack? Why must the other three people in my constituency who urgently require this service undergo the trauma of being left without it? These situations must not be allowed to occur and we must look after the most needy and vulnerable in society. I asked the Minister not to dismiss my contribution. She can check that the story is real. I am sure it is replicated in every constituency.

We need efficiencies in the service. We need a service that can be given to the people on the day they need it, not three, six or 12 months later. The proposals in the Bill are mean spirited and penny pinching. They try to attack the most vulnerable in society, the easy targets. The Minister should go after the people who have money and leave those on the bread line alone. The Government did enough to them in the budget. At this stage I ask the Minister to rethink her proposal in relation to the health services.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I am pleased to reply to the debate, because it was rather wide-ranging, and I want to thank all the Deputies who contributed.

[98]I understand the position of the Labour Party and of Sinn Féin. However, I find the position of the Fine Gael Party incredible for the following reason. Fine Gael keep telling us that its FairCare health policy will implement in Ireland the system of universal health insurance that operates in the Netherlands.

Deputy Damien English:  It is only part of the system that operates there.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  I protected Deputy English, so the Minister is entitled to make her contribution without interruption.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Deputy Kenny, for whom I have a good deal of respect, and Deputy Reilly, the Fine Gael spokesman, told us they visited the Netherlands and they intend to implement in Ireland the universal health care system that operates there, where all the hospitals are privatised and the insurers purchase services from the hospitals. Even in the Netherlands, however, people at the very bottom make a co-payment. I had this discussion only this week at a European Council Meeting with my Dutch colleagues because I wanted to ensure I fully understood what their proposals were. Those at the very bottom pay an annual sum of something in the region of €600 per family.

That is the Fine Gael plan for Ireland and it has not yet been costed. We were told there would be free primary care, which I estimated would add another €1.3 billion to the annual cost. There is an enormous hole in the Fine Gael plan. For the Fine Gael Deputies to say they would oppose a prescription charge of 50 cent per item, capped at €10, when they want to introduce the Netherlands plan into Ireland that has co-payments for every single person——

Deputy Damien English:  That is wrong. The Acting Chairman must correct this.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Minister is entitled to make her contribution.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Deputy Reilly is now the deputy leader of his party. In the Netherlands, everybody makes a co-payment, as he knows. No group, no matter how low down the income ladder, gets its care totally free, and everybody makes a contribution. Families at the bottom make a contribution in the region of €600 per year, which is far in excess of what is being imposed here. I shall be honest and say we would probably not be doing this if we were not facing tough financial challenges.

This morning Deputy Kenny raised the subject of the McCarthy report and said it had put up a plan of €1.2 billion in the health area. We have not gone for everything in the report. One of its recommendations was to tender for GP and dental services, where it was estimated there would be savings in the region of €200 million to €300 million per annum. We have not done that, but it may be something that will have to be considered.

The McCarthy report, as has been acknowledged, recommended a €5 charge per prescription, which would have raised considerably more money, around €70 million. What we are proposing to raise here is €24 million. The purpose of this is not to stop people taking their essential medicines. Again, a 1998 Dutch study — and I commend the Oireachtas Library for the great research it has done on this — showed that a small charge of €91 a year did not affect people taking their essential medicines and did not have much of an effect on prescribing.

The difference between the two jurisdictions in Ireland, North and South, is considerable. In the South we prescribe more than three items per prescription. In Northern Ireland, which has the same demographics and the same type of population, they prescribe 1.79 items——-

[99]Deputy James Reilly:  That is for the entire population in Northern Ireland, not just one third of the sickest. Stop trying to be mischievous.

Deputy Mary Harney:  They cover the same number of people.

Deputy James Reilly:  Yes, but it is for all the population, not the sickest one third.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Deputy Reilly will find it interesting that the out of hours service in Northern Ireland is about 30% of what we pay here for the same number of people.

Deputy James Reilly:  What has that to do with prescription charges?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I am simply making the case that there are enormous cultural and other differences, even between North and South, where there is a similar population, in terms of——

Deputy Damien English:  That is a management issue.

Deputy Mary Harney:  ——the number of items prescribed, whether it is on DPS or GMS. That is a fact.

Deputy James Reilly:  Surely it was the Minister’s responsibility to introduce that, and she has not done it.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Equally, they prescribe 83% generic medications, as distinct from 11% and 18% here.

Deputy James Reilly:  Whose fault is that?

Deputy Mary Harney:  We have reduced the cost by about €350 million a year. There is a reduction in the wholesale margin, down from 17.6% to 10%.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I support the Minister on that one.

Deputy Mary Harney:  There is the reduction in the manner in which we pay pharmacists, which was introduced last summer. Again, that was opposed with both parties opposite arguing that it would close 400 pharmacies. It saves about €132 million a year. We negotiated a 39% reduction in off-patent medicines, which will save more than €100 million in a full year, and the last time the contract was negotiated, last year, with the pharmaceutical companies, more than €100 million a year was taken out of the sector.

The irony is that generics are more expensive on the Irish market than off-patent products.

Deputy Damien English:  We can use a lot more generics.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The contract is up for negotiation in September. For Deputy Reilly to suggest that we will save hundreds of millions of euro on generics is ludicrous, since the whole market in Ireland is €300 million. Unless the companies give us all the drugs free, we could not save hundreds of millions of euro.

Deputy Damien English:  It should be much more than that.

Deputy Mary Harney:  If we got everything free, then we would save €300 million. The total market for generics in Ireland is €300 million, equivalent to the total production.

(Interruptions).

[100]Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  If the Minister makes her remarks through the Chair, I can protect her. She is entitled to make her remarks without interruption.

Deputy James Reilly:  She is not entitled to mislead the House.

Deputy Damien English:  She puts a spin on everything.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  Spin away over there, but not while the Minister is speaking.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I did not interrupt anybody and I am more than happy to respond to all the points that were made.

Deputy Damien English:  No one stopped the Minister from interrupting.

Deputy Mary Harney:  In regard to reference pricing and generic substitution, we are going to legislate for that. Generic substitution in itself would not be adequate because as I indicated, we now have an ironic situation with generics being more expensive since our agreement with the pharmaceutical industry this year than the off-patent prices. That is a ludicrous situation and it will be dealt with in September when the contract is up for negotiation.

To be fair to the generic manufacturers, when we grow the market here through reference pricing, hopefully we shall see a much greater impact with regard to generic substitution in the Irish market. We have a very high level of prescribing by brand, compared to Northern Ireland, Britain and other European countries. That is why we need to give pharmacists the power to substitute, where the branded product is prescribed when there is a much cheaper clinically acceptable alternative that can provide the treatment for the patient.

There will be exceptions, as I mentioned. I understand there are issues highlighted by people with clinical expertise in this area with regard to people’s swallowing capacity in respect of some generic alternatives. This will of course be facilitated. We do not want to put patients at risk but rather to drive down costs so that all the money we can assemble for the public health services can go into providing them.

On the question of how we shall reimburse the patients, the GMS Payments Board has data on all patients. If somebody, for example, is accustomed to going to a pharmacy and is, say, in another part of the country the computer system will make the link between the medical card patient and what he or she will have paid. The intention is that there will be a reimbursement. If somebody goes over by just 50 cent or a euro, will he or she be reimbursed on a weekly basis, or should it be quarterly? My officials, the pharmacy representatives as well as the HSE and GMS officials will discuss the mechanism to be employed from a patient protection viewpoint.

With regard to the issue raised by Deputy Reilly about the adult disabled, if somebody is financially independent, he or she is assessed for a medical card based on the financial circumstances. If somebody, such as a child in education or whatever, is not financially independent, he or she remains part of the medical card of the family and is included in the €10 cap scheme that is being imposed in this legislation.

With regard to groups such as the homeless — I am sure we shall deal with this on Committee Stage — it is not possible for a pharmacist or, indeed, a medical card to identify somebody in this position. Therefore we are not in a position to say whether a person is homeless. Sometimes people are homeless for temporary periods and it is not possible to identify the position. I should like to convey that to Deputy Jan O’Sullivan.

In regard to the wider issues that were mentioned, Deputy English referred to the hospital for the north east. The intention is to have a single new hospital for the north east. It was never [101]the intention to have it before 2014-15, in fairness, and the economic circumstances have pushed it back, for obvious reasons. However, the short-term plan was to consolidate five into two, and have two hospitals in the region which would provide critical and acute care. Very few health systems in the world would provide five hospitals for the population base we have in the north east. To be frank, we could not provide the quality care one is entitled to expect if resources were spread across so many different sites. It would become impossible from a skills and competency perspective for those working in such a system.

Deputy Damien English:  Yet the doctors are moving from hospital to hospital between Navan and Drogheda.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I do not have recent data on patient volume but five years ago it showed 60% of patients went to Dublin hospitals for surgical procedures, bypassing their local hospitals. That is why we have to build up capacity in the north east.

Deputy Damien English:  That is over half the patients.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I have been reassured by the clinical directors, Dr. Brannigan, and Dr. Power and Dr. O’Neill that the new accident and emergency facilities at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital will be capable of dealing with increased volume.

Deputy Damien English:  Can I just come in on this?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Charlie O’Connor):  The Deputy is doing well.

Deputy Damien English:  Now that the facility is open, the figures attending it will be high. I accept the doctors the Minister referred to believe it will be able to cope with these numbers. Will the Minister, however, take a fresh look at it as the numbers may be too high?

Deputy Mary Harney:  The Deputy should look at the throughput at Waterford Regional Hospital which has the busiest accident and emergency department after Tallaght hospital.

Deputy Damien English:  That is a very different case.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Yes, but we need all our hospitals to operate to best practice if we are to get the best possible care for our patients.

If Deputy Coonan sends me the details of the complaint concerning the family he raised, I will investigate it.

I must correct him on another matter. Limerick hospital is not a centre of excellence but a specialist centre. We want everywhere to be a centre of excellence and our health care system to operate the excellent standards we are entitled to expect, whether it is a GP’s practice, a community long-term care facility or an acute hospital.

Deputy Noel J. Coonan:  Is the Minister saying that Limerick hospital is not operating to excellent standards?

Deputy Mary Harney:  I said it is a specialist centre and everywhere should be a centre of excellence. Deputy Coonan implied there were only eight centres of excellence. He seems to be confusing the term “excellence” with “specialist”.

There will be challenges in health service provision. Ireland spends 11% of its national income on health services, going by GNP data as GDP data is somewhat unreliable due to the large multinational presence in the economy. By international standards, Ireland’s spend on health is very high. While we may not be at the top of expenditure league tables, we are still high up. We must continue to seek value. This year €1 billion was taken out of the public [102]health service which will put enormous pressures on services delivery. The priority must be to minimise any impact on front line services.

Today, I had a frank meeting with the Brothers of Charity. It must be remembered the organisation has seven chief executive officers, however. We must look at overheads in providing services without being critical of any organisation.

Funding for the organisation’s Limerick respite service is €25 million and the challenge is to find €150,000 for the service to be kept open. I hope it can be restored but it will be a subject on the Adjournment tonight which the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Moloney, will address. I support his efforts to drive better value in that sector among public and voluntary providers. I know the organisations involved are keen to make that happen too.

The Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2010 is being introduced to raise a modest but not inconsiderable amount. The €24 million it will raise is twice the increase we were able to provide for home care packages this year. It is not unreasonable for medical card patients to make a small co-payment on their prescription medicines. The reason it will only apply to medical card patients is because other patients pay €120 a month under the drugs payment scheme. An exception has been made for those on the long-term illness card scheme which would not include diabetics. No new illness has been added to the scheme since the mid-1970s. Eligibility legislation is being prepared which will bring greater coherence to the medical card and long-term illness regime as there are anomalies with those illnesses defined in the 1970s and the emergence of new long-term ones.

The Minister has the capacity in the legislation to make exceptions but it is more appropriate that it is done by regulation. One area, for example, that I would like to cover but that is difficult to define is palliative care. Another possible exemption would be for women who had suffered symphysiotomy. I will examine these matters with my officials and deal with them through ministerial orders.

Question put: “That the words proposed to be deleted stand part of the main question.”

The Committee divided: Tá, 77; Níl, 68.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Behan, Joe.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Seán.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


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

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Emmet Stagg.

Question declared carried.

Amendment declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I declare the Bill read a Second Time in accordance with Standing Order 121(2)(i).

SECTION 1

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, line 18, after “other” to insert “lesser”.

As I said on Second Stage, this is a deliberately deceptive Bill. I emphasise that fact. The Bill’s proponents and supporters point to the 50 cent per item charge and the €10 per month ceiling, but deliberately ignore the wording of section 1(1A) of the Bill, which states “or such other amount as may be determined by regulations made by the Minister under this section”. The same phrase is repeated again in section 1(1B)(a).

Without question, this is the real meat of the Bill. We know that once these charges are introduced, they will be increased. There can be no question about that whatsoever. As sure as night follows day, there will be increases on the 50 cent charge per item and the ceiling of €10 per month within, no doubt, a reasonably short period of time. The amounts cited in the Bill are intended to be but the thin end of the wedge. The temptation is there, already excited by Mr. Colm McCarthy’s statement of what is realisable in his opinion, and the opinion of others of like mind, out of the pockets of the most hard-pressed, deprived and marginalised sections of society. This is absolutely scandalous. While I am totally opposed to the Bill and the charges, if the Government is indeed determined to ram it through, it should at least guarantee that the charges will not be increased and that any change by ministerial regulation will be to reduce them or abolish them altogether.

This is the purpose of my amendments which insert the word “lesser” after “other”. In other words, section 1(1A) would state: “or such other lesser amount as may be determined by regulations made by the Minister under this section.” The purpose of the amendment is to restrict any change in this charge in the future to either a lesser amount than 50 cent or its abolition. In that event, the worst case scenario that will present with the Bill being forced through here this evening is that the charge will be 50 cent and cannot be greater. This is the challenge facing the Government and the Government backbenchers in particular. They have stated time and again, as has the Minister as I mentioned on Second Stage, that this charge is a modest charge. Let us retain this modesty and ensure we are not looking at something greater than 50 cent and the €10 ceiling per month at some point in the not too distant future.

Let us now follow through on the logic of the Minister’s argument about a modest fee and on what Government backbench spokespersons are saying in their constituencies and in local interviews in the print and broadcast media. Let us test that now and let us hold the charge at what it is. We should only facilitate any future change that will either abolish or reduce the 50 cent sum. We must not leave the section open, as the current wording of the legislation does, for the Minister to introduce multiples of 50 cent as a charge on prescription items in the future.

I note from reviewing past contributions that the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, who was the Green Party spokesperson on health in the previous Dáil, has defended the charges on the basis that they are “modest”. The Green Party and Fianna Fáil should follow through on this and ensure that we are not looking at a situation where this charge which is about to be introduced will end up in multiples in the not too distant future. I listened to the contribution of the Minister on Second Stage in which she mentioned a €24 million realisable return from the introduction of this charge in a single year. I have no doubt that the calculation in her head and in the Department of Finance, to which [105]this matter will be entrusted in the future, is being made. Mr. Colm McCarthy spoke about a €5 flat charge per prescription item. That is ten times what is currently being proposed. Therefore, the sum is bound to be applied to the projected returns. I am sure ten times €24 million, €240 million, is a great temptation for the Government and the Department of Finance. The current thinking within the Government and the Department of Finance is that they should take the money from the pockets of the poorest, the most needy and the most dependent in Irish society. However, the Minister will be taking more than their money; she will be taking their entitlement to health. She will be absolutely breaking the resolve of these people on a range of different levels, even though many of them are already broken by the previous measures introduced by this Government.

Let there be no mistake about it — we must ensure this charge is restricted to this so-called modest amount and that there is no potential for the Minister or the Department of Finance, at any point in the future, to increase it and thereby impose further penalty on the most penalised and most in need in Irish society, that is, the 1.3 million people who are dependent on the medical card. I commend the amendments to the House. I appeal for the support not only of Opposition voices but also of Government voices. If Government Members consider these amendments to be worthy of their support, let them state clearly that they will not contemplate allowing an increase in the charge of 50 cent at any time in the future. It is a test of what they consider to be a “modest” charge. Let them hold to it by voting for this amendment when the opportunity is assuredly presented to them in this Chamber in a short while.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I support the Sinn Féin amendments. I am strongly opposed to the imposition of any charge on medical card holders, but if such a charge must be introduced these amendments would at least ensure the temptation to raise more than €2 million per month from the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick, via a charge of 50 cent per prescription up to a maximum of €10 per month per family, cannot be succumbed to by the Minister, Deputy Harney, or any future Minister.

When I spoke on Second Stage I did not realise there would be no Members of Fianna Fáil or the Green Party contributing to this debate. It is reprehensible that the only speaker on the Government side is an Independent Minister. It seems nobody in Fianna Fáil or the Green Party gives a damn about people with medical cards having to pay for their prescriptions. We have been extraordinarily exercised about dogs and stags in recent weeks and Members have received hundreds of e-mails from interested parties on either side of those debates. Yet this legislation is simply being nodded through as if it does not matter.

The reality is that it matters very much to people living on €196 per week, some of them with chronic illnesses and requiring vital medication. Many of these people are already counting their pennies at the end of the week and will now have to pay for medicines prescribed for them by professional medical practitioners who decide in their wisdom that they are necessary. People do not get a prescription from their GP just for the fun of it and doctors do not prescribe medicines for the fun of it; they prescribe them because, in their professional opinion, the patient needs them. As I said, we are talking about people living on €196 per week out of which they must pay for rent, fuel and groceries. In some cases they have higher costs because they have an illness or disability, and all of them will soon face higher fuel bills. Now they are being asked to pay this additional charge. These are people who did absolutely nothing to cause the problems this country is experiencing but they are the ones who must pay. I support any attempt at least to cap the charge at 50 cent per prescription or €10 per month.

Deputy Ó Caoláin referred to the Government’s characterisation of the new charge as “modest”. I cannot resist the temptation to refer to the savage indignation of Jonathan Swift in his treatise, A Modest Proposal, written in this city several centuries ago. In it he suggested that [106]people might be expected to eat their children given the cost of raising them. He is not so far off the mark in that we are now reverting to a situation where we do not care too much if people have to scrimp and save in order to survive. At the same time those directly responsible for what has happened to our country are still living in their large houses. I am not referring in particular to politicians but to those who made decisions about loans, whether the developers who totally overstretched themselves to borrow vast sums they cannot now repay, the lenders who did not perform due diligence or proper risk assessment in granting those loans or the persons who were supposed to supervise all this activity in their regulatory capacity. All of these people are still living lives of relative comfort but the person on €196 per week is not.

Those who are ill and need a prescription will now have even less comfort because many of them are not exempt from these charges. They will have to find the additional money within very tight budgets. At least if these amendments are agreed they can know with certainty that the charge will not increase beyond €10 per month per family. We should not be dealing with this legislation today. It is absolutely disgraceful that there is nobody from the two parties in government willing to speak about the Bill in the Chamber when they got so exercised about wild animals, tamed animals, farm animals and so on. Animals need protection but so do human beings.

Deputy James Reilly:  I support these amendments. I wish to refer to some of the points made by the Minister in response to issues raised on this side of the House. I spoke about individuals who may be away from home, on holiday or business elsewhere in the country, and have to renew their prescriptions. The Minister assures us that pharmacies throughout the State will be linked by computer and that the HSE’s primary, community and continuing care directorate will be able to look after everything. The reality is that the HSE cannot even give people their medical cards on time or track where medical cards are at a given moment in time. I have very little faith that it will be able to achieve what the Minister has proposed. The Minister also claims there is no way of indicating on a medical card that a person is homeless. However, the old medical cards could be marked “NFA” to indicated that the holder was of no fixed abode. I am sure that system can be reinstated, particularly if we are to have the slick computer system to which the Minister referred.

The Minister spoke about the new accident and emergency department in Drogheda. The reality is that no matter how good the accident and emergency unit, it will not substantially improve the situation for patients if there are no beds for them once they have been assessed. It will not shorten the time spent waiting on trolleys. The Minister says the Government’s expenditure on health is something to be proud of. I certainly agree there was a need for increased expenditure, but where is the reform of the HSE, which is the central component in the wastage of money that is occurring in this country? Why is the Minister not focusing on the great black hole that is administration in the HSE — Professor Drumm himself has acknowledged there are 2,500 to 3,000 people who do not even know what their job is — instead of targeting respite care for people with disabilities, the poor and the chronically ill?

I wish to correct the record in defence of the Brothers of Charity. They spend 4% of their budget on administration while the national spend in the HSE is 5%. The Minister is shaking her head but I saw the report yesterday and it is there in black and white. If she wants to challenge that figure, she should challenge it with the Brothers of Charity themselves.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I did.

Deputy James Reilly:  With all due respect, I would believe them before I would believe the Minister.

[107]Health outcomes are worst for the poor; that is a well known fact. It is completely bogus for the Minister to refer to Northern Ireland and to compare the NHS with our medical card system.

Our medical card system covers the one third of the people of Ireland who are among the sickest and lowest income earners, whereas the UK NHS covers all citizens across all income groups. It is outrageous to compare the two with regard to prescriptions.

The Minister referred to Holland. She is remarkably good at reframing the situation. The reality is that our health care policy, Fair Care, transposes some of the system in operation in Holland, not all of it. We have adopted some of the procedures in Northern Ireland with regard to waiting lists and we have adopted some procedures from the UK with regard to the model for giving hospitals and trusts some independence instead of central command and control in the HSE.

I strongly support the amendment. It is clear that billions of euro can be put into the banks at the drop of a hat but the Minister is prepared to use the poor as an ATM, to be raided at will. At €1 it would be €48 million, at €2 it would be €96 million and at €5 million it would be €240 million. We all realise where this will end up if the amendment tabled by Sinn Féin and supported by the Labour Party and Fine Gael is not accepted.

Deputy Michael Ring:  I support the amendment. I am sorry to see the Bill passing through the Dáil in any event. There are other ways the Minister could have saved the €24 million expected to come from this scheme. I refer to a drugs scheme in the past whereby if doctors issued prescriptions of cheaper drugs, they would be obliged to have their premises billed in respect of money paid back to the Department. Does this scheme still operate? Other measures could have been considered and savings could have been obtained from other schemes.

It is wrong to charge the most vulnerable people in society, those under extreme pressure already whose social welfare payments have already been cut. Such people are barely able to survive at present and now find they must pay an extra 50 cent per prescription up to €10.

  6 o’clock

The Minister must provide an exemption for people in nursing homes. We cannot allow a situation whereby such people, who are already paying 80% of their pensions and trying get by while their families try to support them, to prevail. The Minister must allow for exemptions. Who will administer the charge if they are unable to get medicine themselves? Many people in nursing homes are unable to do this themselves. I call on the Minister to make an exemption for people in public and private nursing homes. They should not have to pay this charge. It will not be easy for such people. In cases where medication is sourced for them, how are such people supposed to deal with the funding? This is wrong and I call on the Minister to do something about it.

The Minister refers to the limit of €10 per family. If a child is over 21 years and handicapped, he or she will not be included and will not be subject to an exemption. A given family could pay double, up to €20 per week. This matter should be carefully examined. The medical card charge is an attack on the most vulnerable and the weakest in society.

I support the Sinn Féin amendment on the basis that the charge will be forced through the Dáil. I refer to a valid point made by Deputy Jan O’Sullivan. The Deputy was correct to claim that last week people were concerned about stag hunting and were prepared to bring down the Government over the matter. Where are the members of Fianna Fáil, the Republican party, and the Green Party, which is supposed to defend the rights of the weakest in society, tonight? The Fianna Fáil backbenchers have already walked through the tunnel. They will do so again shortly to support this outrageous legislation. There has not been one word from one of them. They are all in favour of the measure. Last week they were concerned about dog breeding and [108]stags but not at all concerned about the underprivileged in this country. Shame on Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and shame on anyone who could allow this to take place. If they believe animals are more important than people, I realise now why the people have turned on this Government.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I am not in a position to accept the amendment. The powers in the legislation will allow the Minister to set the charge at zero if he or she wishes to do so. The powers do not necessarily mean the charge will go up; it can come down, go up or be set at zero. The legislation indicates the issues to be taken into account, in particular the consumer price index, information on expenditure, the number of items prescribed, the medical needs and financial burden on persons who avail of the service and the necessity to control health expenditure. We will keep this matter under review.

I accept this measure is new and has not happened before. Deputy Reilly made some valid points about the patient populations in Northern Ireland and here. However, why is it 83% of items are prescribed in their generic form in the UK as against 18% under our GMS scheme? What is the reason for this? This is not to do with people who are sicker. The fact is our prescribing of branded products is extraordinarily high by any standards and, unfortunately, we must legislate to deal with that through reference pricing and generic substitution.

I refer to the wider issues. If someone moves and buys another prescription elsewhere, I am advised the computer system will be able to deal with this. With regard to medical card applications, among the reasons for the difficulties which arose this year were the industrial relations difficulties which operated throughout the public service. As Deputies are aware, many staff in the HSE, elsewhere in the public service and Civil Service, in Departments and other public sector organisations were engaged in industrial relations activities for a considerable time. Thankfully, that has now been suspended. This led to delays in the administration of medical cards and the centralisation of medical card applications, which is now proceeding to free up staff to carry out other duties. We cannot have it every way. We wish to reduce the burden of administration and bureaucracy but at the same time maintain all the various offices dealing with medical card applications. This is not the case with other social benefits and the approach operates successfully on a centralised basis in the case of welfare payments.

I believe the charge is modest. I accept a DPS patient pays €120 per month. Many patients in nursing homes are DPS patients who pay €120 per month, which does not pose a difficulty or challenge for the operators of nursing homes or pharmacies. Pharmacists are used to charging such people. I accept they have never before had to charge medical card patients but medical card patients may also receive items not covered under the medical card and would be accustomed to paying for these in a pharmacy environment.

Earlier, I stated that in an ideal world this would not be necessary. However, we must examine every possible option to control costs, which are rising here rapidly, in respect of the number of items being prescribed and the volume and cost of medication. Everything we are doing, including measures to address the off-patent price, the retail margin and the wholesale margin is to reduce the rate at which the costs are increasing. This year we will spend more money than last year because of the higher volume of items prescribed and dispensed, the ageing of the population and all the other factors of which we are aware and which affect the demand-led schemes, including medical cards.

I am unsure whether we have ever had as many medical cards in the population as at present. Some 1.55 million people are covered. In addition, we have the doctor only card, which has been allocated to more than 100,000. This amounts to 1.65 million people who have free access to their general practitioner either through the doctor only card or through the medical card. [109] I refer to those who have a medical card and an LTI, long-term illness, card. For the purposes of certain listed drugs, such people would use the LTI card. Some 16 conditions are covered under the LTI card. I realise Deputy Reilly has tabled an amendment with regard to extending this which we will have a chance to discuss later.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Recent weeks have been troubling with regard to the matters to be addressed and some of the harsh measures presented. There have been occasional funny moments which have helped to keep our sanity in the midst of all of this. However, the Minister has cracked one of the funniest of all jokes that I have heard here for some time. I refer her suggestion to set the charge at zero and keep it under continuing review. If this were part of the Minister’s intent, she would support the amendment. The logic is that the Minister would follow through by voting for the amendment. We seek to restrict the charge to what is proposed or less, including zero. This is a live option and one which I prefer. I would prefer if the legislation were never introduced but it is here now and we must deal with it. There can be hardly anyone in this Chamber who believes the Minister has any intention of reducing this figure any time soon and that any consideration will be given to such a proposition. The only thoughts in the heads of those who will have an impact on this charge in the future will relate to increases and how much more revenue can be generated out of the pockets of the most unfortunate in our society. Nobody is buying that.

The Minister referred to generic prescriptions and the comparison between figures for Northern Ireland, the neighbouring island and this State. That has nothing to do with what is proposed in the legislation. It is not the fault of medical cardholders that GPs are not prescribing more specific generic alternatives. This is something the Minister has to address and each of us, as health spokespersons, has indicated our support for every measure to curtail this outrageous expenditure. We note with alarm the Minister’s suggestion that some generic alternatives have become more expensive than branded products. All of that must be wrestled with but it is not the fault of the medical cardholder and it has no place in this debate. That is part of what the Minister must do and I am addressing something she should not do, which is to take 50 cent out of the pockets of the poorest and most deserving in society for each prescription item they receive up to a €10 limit per month under the legislation.

There can be no question that this is a severe measure and the great fear of Deputies, and this Deputy in proposing the amendment, is that the figure will increase in the future. The Minister again used the word “modest”. Deputy O’Sullivan said I had used the word but I was only referring to what the Minister and other Ministers have said. It is not a word I would employ and I do not see the measure in modest terms at all. However, in reply to contributions on this opening amendment, the Minister has used the word once again. Let us try to hold it at that. Surely if it is her view that this is modest and if it is, as she claimed, a live option to examine a zero charge in the future and that this will be kept under review, she should make sure that will be the case by accepting the amendment and using the word “lesser” as appropriate in two places in the opening section. Let us live up to that and let us hope that at some point in the future she will announce the reduction of this charge to zero. I will welcome that whenever it will present.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The McCarthy report presented a wide menu of options, which would have provided more savings than the Government decided on. Mr. Colm McCarthy did not say the Government had to introduce all the measures he suggested under different headings in each Department. The Minister will have done a great deal to reduce the cost of drugs when she introduces generic substitution and reference pricing. She does not have to be too zealous in embracing everything Mr. McCarthy suggested should be done in her Department. Other Ministers have managed to avoid making cuts proposed by him. The Minister will say the [110]Department has behaved responsibly but it has been over zealous in responding to the report. It would have made more sense for her to review the impact of reference pricing and generic substitution to see if she had managed to achieve savings after a set period without having to hit those who will be affected by this legislation.

I question the Minister’s assertion that by imposing a charge, behaviour will change and people will seek fewer drugs from their doctor, thereby saving money. Other countries have found that has not happened when adopting similar measures and that is one of the reasons Wales and Northern Ireland, for example, are going back on the measures they introduced.

The self-care movement in Britain is much more about people’s motivation and need for drugs rather than behavioural change and that might be a more useful road to go down. The health supplements in many newspapers give a great deal of coverage to lifestyle, exercise, diet and so on and point out that addressing these issues can change people’s dependence on drugs. I am conscious I am straying into an area in which Deputy Reilly is more expert but the State is more likely to reduce people’s dependence on the use of drugs by getting through to them about how they think about themselves, how they behave and live, their lifestyle choices and so on rather than by imposing a blunt instrument such as a charge of 50 cent every time they fill a prescription. A better result might have been achieved and it might not have been as difficult for those on low incomes to have considered the changes reference pricing and generic substitution could bring rather than trying to do everything that Mr. Colm McCarthy proposed in one go while in the process inflicting financial hardship on them.

Deputy Mary Harney:  With regard to Deputy Ó Caoláin’s comments, I did not say I would reduce the charge to zero but the Minister has the capacity to do so. In other words, an amendment is not needed to reduce it to zero, as that is provided for in the legislation. I do not want to mislead anybody and I did not suggest the charge will suddenly be zero in a few months. However, we need to establish how the provision performs over a period of 12 to 18 months.

I very much share the views put forward by Deputy O’Sullivan regarding lifestyle and so on. It challenges us all to lead healthier lives and to take exercise. Professor Drumm made a presentation earlier to the Cabinet sub-committee on health and I must ask him to make it available to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. He referred to Dr. Thomas Allinson, who is better known for his bakery than for practising medicine. He was a GP in the UK who was struck off in 1893 for recommending that smoking was bad because, apparently, at the time smoking was regarded as good for one’s lungs. He recommended that people should exercise three hours a day, eat fruit and vegetables at least once a day, cut down on salt, not work too hard, avoid tea and coffee before bed and be teetotal. He asked people to stop smoking and he was brought before the medical council. He was struck off and then he opened a bakery. He wrote letters to the British newspapers advocating his recommendations. It is amazing how much has changed in the intervening years but, as we move forward, all these issues have to be reviewed.

The reason generic products are more expensive is the pharmaceutical industry, on foot of a request of mine earlier this year, reduced the cost of off-patent drugs by 39% and that reduced their price to below that of many generic drugs. We were unable to get that agreement from the generic manufacturers but their contract is up for renewal in September and we expect to get substantial savings. In any event we will have the legislation for reference pricing and generic substitution later this year, under which the State will set the price it will pay. If individuals want the branded product, they will pay the difference and pharmacists will have the capacity to substitute.

[111]I am a strong fan of drug reviews. We currently have a pilot project in operation with a number of pharmacies and patients. I am not sure how many pharmacies are involved but it is being conducted during the months of June, July and August. We will have the data in the autumn. It will examine the medication across the approximately 100 patients who are part of the review. We are working with the community pharmacy sector on it. The intention is to use pharmacies and the skills of the pharmacists, as professionals in the health care sector, to a greater extent. As I mentioned previously, we had a good meeting recently with Dr. Barry White who is leading for the HSE on quality clinical care. He has a number of leading clinicians developing care pathways and I believe pharmacy has an important role to play in that.

I am conscious of the fact that we do not have additional money. We have effectively taken €1 billion out of the public health services and reduced the staff over the last four years by 4,000 but the number of procedures and treatments has greatly increased. That is a fact. We are trying to drive value and get more for less. The HSE’s procurement is now probably the best that is operating in the public sector in terms of the value it has been able to drive. That is one of the big advantages of having a single entity — one has more muscle when procuring goods and services. That muscle is delivering more for less, be it in terms of legal or other services. We must continue to do that because next year will be a challenging year as well.

Deputy Reilly mentioned the Minister for Finance. The Minister for Finance is always involved with regulations that involve money, across all Departments. He is responsible for the public finances, so raising money or reducing one’s charges must involve the authority of the Minister for Finance as well as the line Minister, in this case the Minister for Health and Children.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We knew the Minister was not seriously considering bringing this down to zero anytime soon and, sadly, we will not hold our breath with regard to her or her successors once this is passed.

Deputy Mary Harney:  The Deputy might be a successor himself. He should not be pessimistic.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Once it is passed, the temptation will be to keep it in place and to build on what has been achieved for the public coffers.

It merits repeating that it is often the case with regard to the most unpalatable proposals for the health sector that the Government is very happy to have the Minister carry the can individually. She is the line Minister and carries that responsibility at Cabinet but nobody here is in any doubt that this measure has the approval of the two parties in Government. Each has refused to participate in this debate. Not a single seat on the Government benches has been occupied throughout Second and Committee Stages to this point, except for during the vote at the end of Second Stage. It is absolutely disgraceful. People should note that nobody from either Fianna Fáil or the Green Party is present either to observe or to contribute to the debate on what is very important and most objectionable legislation. They have cleared off out of sight but, I hope, not out of mind for the many people who will be adversely affected when this legislation is forced through by their numerical strength in this Chamber. I will press the amendment.

Amendment put.

[112]The Committee divided: Tá, 67; Níl, 75.

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


Níl
 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Connick, Seán.
 Coughlan, Mary.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Fahey, Frank.  Finneran, Michael.
 Fitzpatrick, Michael.  Fleming, Seán.
 Flynn, Beverley.  Gogarty, Paul.
 Gormley, John.  Grealish, Noel.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Hoctor, Máire.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Kelly, Peter.  Kenneally, Brendan.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  Mansergh, Martin.
 Martin, Micheál.  Moloney, John.
 Moynihan, Michael.  Mulcahy, Michael.
 Nolan, M.J.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Seán.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Joe Carey; Níl, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran.

Amendment declared lost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 2 is the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin and has already been discussed with amendment No. 1.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, line 32, after “other” to insert “lesser”.

I am pressing the amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I move amendment No. 3:

In page 4, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“(a) a homeless person, or a person accommodated in emergency or transient accommodation by reason of his or her lack of an abode,”.

Section 1(4)(c) exempts certain people from the prescription charge. The Minister listed people such as children in care and those on methadone and she can make regulations to include other people in this section. Amendment No. 3 proposes that homeless people should be exempt and amendment No. 4 proposes including a person who is dependent on medication to such an extent that he or she would be at immediate risk of death or serious injury, including psychiatric injury, if he or she ceased to receive such medication.

It will be extremely difficult to collect the charge from homeless people. In many cases their lives are quite chaotic and they do not have money when they need medication. If they live in a hostel, they usually have an arrangement whereby the cost of the hostel is taken from their income in an organised way. It is unlikely many homeless people presenting at a pharmacy will pay the 50 cent charge. There will be great difficulty in collecting this. Homeless people come to see me, as they come to see other Deputies, on a regular basis. In some cases they do not receive social welfare payments because they do not have an address. They will not have the money to pay a prescription charge.

Also, many homeless people do not stay in the same place for any length of time. In some cases they must move around to where a bed is available. Sometimes they are put into bed and [114]breakfast accommodation and in other cases they move from one area of the country to another. This will be very difficult to implement with regard to homeless people. I ask the Minister to consider the amendments. The Minister referred to the difficulty in identifying homeless people in the system but Dr. Reilly said there used to be a designation of no fixed abode for people with medical cards.

Amendment No. 4 is important because it concerns those at risk of death or serious injury, including psychiatric injury, if they do not receive medication. The Minister did not respond to this point during the debate on Second Stage. What is the pharmacist to do where they believe people are at risk if they do not receive medication and are not willing to pay 50 cent? What should the pharmacist do? I imagine pharmacists will be out of pocket because they will not deprive people of medication that is absolutely needed. It is not fair to pharmacists in circumstances where a person needs medication.

These amendments address real situations that will arise once the Bill is enacted. I want a proper answer from the Minister regarding those whose lives are at risk if they do not get their medication. Sometimes those people are not rational in how they behave if told they cannot receive medication without a 50 cent fee. There are real difficulties for the person trying to take the money from them and I ask the Minister to treat these amendments seriously and accept them.

Deputy James Reilly:  I echo the comments on amendments Nos. 3 and 4 by Deputy Jan Daly. I mean Deputy Jan O’Sullivan.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Who is Jan Daly?

Deputy James Reilly:  I do not know who Jan Daly is but I will find out.

Deputy Mary Harney:  I hope she is not one of Deputy Reilly’s patients or he will be in trouble.

Deputy James Reilly:  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan is correct in her assertion about homeless people. Many have come through the psychiatric service and have serious psychological damage and psychological issues. They will not pay the 50 cent charge. Many are on psychiatric medication and will go off the medication and end up presenting a serious risk to themselves and others. They will end up in hospital, costing the State horrendous amounts of money. I remember this as a major issue in the greater Dublin area when I was on the health board and chairman of the psychiatric hospitals committee. When people moved from one service to another, they fell off the wagon, stopped taking their medication and did not present for further injectable medication called depot preparations. Many of these people are not prone to compliance because of the nature of their illness. When they feel well, they do not like the idea of attending for injections. They must be monitored. I see terrible trouble if we include those who have got better to the point where they can depend on medication and then create a block between them and their medication. This Bill is unwise but if the Minister is hell-bent on proceeding with the Bill, so be it.

It speaks volumes that not a single Member of the Fianna Fáil and Green Party coalition Government is in this Chamber for any part of the debate. They saunter in for the vote, yet they can get exercised and agitated about puppy farms and stags. The country is quite upset that when there are so many important issues, these are the matters we spend what little time [115]we have discussing, notwithstanding that they are important in their own right. This is particularly true of puppy farms.

Psychiatric patients represent a major issue. I alluded earlier to the long-term illness card. Most people with medical cards have dispensed with their long-term illness book a long time ago. Those with medical cards and with illnesses covered by the long-term illness book will be seriously disadvantaged unless the Minister accepts these amendments. There is no harm in these amendments; they empower the Minister. I note the Minister has the power to exclude other groups by ministerial directive. If she made it clear these groups were excluded in the legislation, it would go some way to protecting the most vulnerable in society. Those I would like to see covered include those with a mental handicap or mental illness, even though this only applies to those under 16 in respect of the long-term illness card, phenylketonuria, cystic fibrosis, spina bifida hydrocephalus, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, haemophilia, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, Parkinsonism, conditions arising from thalidomide, acute leukaemia and high blood pressure. I also wish to include cancer care, asthma, congestive cardiac failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Crohn’s disease, lupus and Huntington’s disease. Many of these conditions are not even on the long-term illness scheme although they should be. The entire thrust of this measure is not simply about raising money. The Minister has been talking about trying to improve prescribing or at least to discourage the concept to which Deputy Jan O’Sullivan referred previously, which often is described as taking a pill for every ill, rather than looking to oneself and one’s own lifestyle issues to address some of the problems one develops as a consequence of smoking, drinking too much, being overweight etc. If one wants to get away from this by including a prescription charge, that is one thing. However, to have a prescription charge apply to those who absolutely need their medication and, in its absence, whose chronic illnesses or condition will deteriorate, thereby necessitating hospitalisation, simply does not stack up or make sense.

Although I do not believe Members will get to it, I wish to give notice that I would table an amendment that also would cover people with disability who are adults. At present, as Deputy Ring and I pointed out previously, a family of two parents who have medical cards but who are getting on in years and who look after their intellectually disabled child, who may now be in his or her 40s, will face a maximum of €20 and not €10, per month. Consequently, they also should be included. In addition, I had hoped to include nursing home patients because notwithstanding the Minister’s comment that there are many private patients in nursing homes, many such patients have medical cards and are on extremely limited incomes. They are the very people who are likely to have the full ten or 20 items on prescription but they are going to lose out. As already has been pointed out, they now have very little spare money as the fair deal scheme takes 80% of their income to pay for all their other needs, including clothing, therapies or any form of social activity and this measure will hurt such people and hit them hard.

Moreover, as Deputy Jan O’Sullivan mentioned earlier, this Bill raises an issue for pharmacists in respect of how they will manage to collect this money and how they would make decisions to deprive people of their medication, were they to fail to collect 50 cent from them. This simply does not stack up and somewhere along the line, they also will be obliged to bear the burden in this regard. In addition, this will not do anything for the pharmacist-patient relationship. Members have frequently discussed the massive issue pertaining to compliance. All doctors have visited people’s houses in which one opens up the wardrobe, only for a load of stuff to fall out on top of one that has not been used. This is a huge issue, as is getting people to take their medication. People are not always as upfront with their doctors as they [116]might be. Someone with high blood pressure might have been put on five different tablets because one is trying to chase after them but then one discovers the patient is either taking none of them or does so sporadically. Alternatively, people might swap and change their medication with their spouses and doctors come across all such scenarios. Compliance is a huge issue. It will not be achieved in the absence of a good relationship and the pharmacist must maintain that relationship with the patient.

As it is 6.55 p.m., I do not wish to take up any more time. I ask the Minister to indicate she is prepared to accept these sensible amendments that affect the very people who should be encouraged to keep taking their medication. They should not be penalised for being compliant with their chronic condition medication, which saves us money in the long run by keeping them out of hospital.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  While appreciating the shortness of time, I support the three amendments tabled in the names of Deputies Jan O’Sullivan and Reilly. In the Bill, the Minister specifies two categories of people who will be exempt from prescription charges, namely, children in care and people in receipt of methadone on prescription. Obviously, I support those exemptions as I wish to see everyone exempt. However, why did the Minister make these choices and not others? It is not obvious from the legislation or any comment by the Minister. As I noted, I want to see all categories exempted and that is the critical argument.

I agree with Deputy Jan O’Sullivan’s amendment to exempt homeless people and those in immediate risk of death or serious deterioration in their medical condition, were they not to receive their medication. Deputy Reilly’s amendment lists approximately 24 medical conditions that he proposes to exempt and I also support this. It would go some way towards ameliorating the impact of this legislation. However, a far better approach, on which all Opposition Members are of one mind, even with their respective amendments, would be to not adopt the Bill at all. My final appeal to the Minister is that even at this late stage, she would accept that this Bill should not be passed.

Before concluding, I have one question for the Minister. This measure is supposed to save money and is about raising and saving money in the context of the overall health budget. How does the Minister justify the continuing practice by the HSE of entering into contractual arrangements with local developers for the provision of primary care facilities when significant idle space already is in situ in HSE-owned buildings, including local hospital sites? I have never seen, and am unaware of the existence of, a directive to the HSE from the Minister or the Department stating the primary care facilities must not or cannot be located in existing acute hospital premises or other hospital facilities. The Minister should clarify this matter.

  7 o’clock

I refer to the just-exposed instance in Carlow where, at a cost of €1,000 per day, that is, €365,000 per annum, the HSE has acquired access to a newly constructed building to provide primary care facilities even though there is idle space aplenty within the local hospital site that could accommodate such services. This story is replicated in many locations nationwide and this constitutes waste and is where real savings could be addressed. It entails better HSE management to ensure there is no waste of money and not to penalise the poorest, that is, the medical card holders across the State. I refer to senior citizens and those who, because of their income base, are entitled to a medical card. To penalise them now would be an absolute disgrace.

Deputy Mary Harney:  Co-payments are in operation from Australia to the United States and in many European countries. There is no evidence to suggest that when people make a co-[117]payment, they do not take their essential medicines. I referred earlier to research from Holland in 1998. The reason I included children in care is that as the HSE pays for those children, there is no point in having a circular movement of the money in which one would be obliged to reimburse foster care parents or children in institutional care where medication is procured on their behalf.

For obvious reasons we want people to take their methadone. Those patients are a definable group. I have some sympathy with the homeless. Homeless people living in hostels or in institutional accommodation will not be obliged to pay the charge because their medication is procured by the institution on a generic medical card for the institution and the charge will not apply there. I would have wished to have excluded other homeless people but they are not identifiable. This has been confirmed by the HSE. I have the power under regulations to look at categories of people for exclusion, for example, women who have had symphysiotomies or thalidomide sufferers, because they are identifiable, or perhaps asylum seekers who only get €19 per week because of the direct provision. These are categories of people we can exclude. The vast majority of people with mental illness, psychiatric patients, do not have medical cards and do pay for their medication.

Senator Feeney made the point in the other House that we need to eat and drink to survive and there is no suggestion that because people have to pay for food, they do not buy it.

Deputy James Reilly:  They eat the wrong kind of food.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is wrong to assume, and there is no international evidence to suggest, that if people require essential medication that they are not going to get it because there is a small co-payment.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will it always be small?

Deputy Jack Wall:  As it is now 7 o’clock and in accordance with an order of the Dáil today, I am required to put the following question:

“That sections 1 and 2 are hereby agreed to in Committee; the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee; the Bill is accordingly reported to the House; that the Fourth Stage is hereby completed and the Bill is hereby passed.”

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 78; Níl, 67.

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



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

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.

Question declared carried.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Richard Bruton on Tuesday, 6 July 2010:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes with concern that:

Ireland has suffered the longest and deepest recession of any eurozone country because of reckless domestic management of the economy;

investment, consumption, employment and living standards continued to decline in the first quarter of this year;

the seasonally adjusted numbers of the live register rose by a further 5,800 in June and the actual number claiming now exceeds 450,000 for the first time ever;

the Government plans to cut a further €14 billion from investment spending between 2011-2014 compared to the original commitments in the national development plan;

the estimated taxpayer losses from the Government’s banking strategy has reached €25 billion and is rising, even as it has failed to restore credit availability to industry; and

market confidence in the Government’s economic plan is declining, as evidenced by the rising gap between Irish and German borrowing costs;

calls on the Government to:

recognise that its economic plan is failing to undo the loss of international financial market confidence in Ireland;

put jobs and industry growth at the centre of its economic strategy;

review its banking strategy to limit the taxpayers’ exposure and to focus resources on supporting new lending to viable businesses;

delay further cuts to investment spending until employment starts to recover; and

restructure and re-capitalise the semi-State utilities in order to raise the necessary commercial funding to accelerate investments in water, high speed broadband and clean energy.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

commends the Government for:

its management of the economy which means that Ireland has emerged from recession with the strongest GDP growth rate of the euro area in the first quarter of this year;

the policies it is pursuing to maintain credibility and sustainability in the public finances, which have been recognised internationally;

[120]

the initiatives taken by the Government to preserve the stability of the banking system and to address the issue of asset quality in the banking system through strengthening the banks’ balance sheets in order to facilitate the flow of credit to viable borrowers and thereby underpin economic recovery;

the measures taken to protect employment including the stabilisation fund, the temporary employment subsidy and the PRSI exemption scheme with the result that employment levels remain at nearly 1.9 million people, which is about half a million more than in 1997;

the measures taken to provide additional opportunities in education, training and work placement for the unemployed to assist them in returning to the labour market; and

notes that:

confidence has improved and spending on discretionary items such as cars has increased;

the Government has kept spending for investment at high levels relative to national income by international standards;

the public finances are stabilising and are generally in line with expectations for this point in the year;

virtually all Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, OECD, countries have experienced major economic and financial difficulties over the past two years or so;

notwithstanding volatility on foreign sovereign debt markets, the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, has at the mid-year point, raised over 80 per cent of the funding requirements for 2010 and we are in a comfortable position with regard to funding this year and even if we did no further borrowing this year, existing cash reserves would cover our borrowing requirements for the remainder of the year; and

the Government through its ongoing management will continue to address the economic, fiscal and banking sector issues facing the country over the coming years in a responsible and sustainable manner.

—(Minister of State at the Department of Finance, Deputy Martin Mansergh).

Deputy Willie Penrose:  I am glad to have the opportunity to contribute on this important motion. I am speaking on behalf of the Labour Party. I wish to focus on employment and the need to devise an integrated employment strategy, which necessitates fresh thinking, and to avoid adherence to a policy that advocates or is a slave to traditional economic orthodoxy. By adhering to traditional economic orthodoxy, the Government believes pursuing pro-cyclical solutions such as the policies that got us into the current economic difficulty are the best way of getting us out it. The let-rip view of the McCreevy years is now to be countered by a focused austerity programme of reduction that ensures massive expenditure cuts and withdrawals of funding from infrastructural areas that could serve as significant areas of employment generation and thereby give hope to the 452,000 people who are currently on the live register. That is 13.4% unemployment, with men outnumbering women by a ratio of 2:1. Four firms go bust every day. The predicted number of business closures is from 1,800 to 2,000.

In June 2010, some 91,600 people under 25 were on the live register, approximately 38,000 of whom have been unemployed for one or more years. One in three young men is unemployed. When people experience long-term unemployment, they find it much more difficult to secure employment thereafter. The fear of long-term unemployment persisting is causing great angst.

[121]Thus far, the Government has concentrated its attention on the banking and fiscal crises while doing little to address the jobs crisis. It is the firm view of the Labour Party that these issues cannot be dealt with in isolation. Clearly, therefore, a coherent and integrated approach is necessary that encompasses all these areas. Enterprise strategy must have a dual foundation that includes attracting foreign investment.

The road map for the period to 2020, Horizon 2020, launched by IDA Ireland in March, is very instructive and illuminating. It points the way forward in terms of foreign direct investment. The agency hopes to attract 105,000 new jobs over the next five years and to promote balanced regional development whereby 50% of jobs would be located outside the major cities of Cork and Dublin. It is important to establish and achieve targets. The blueprint is important.

It is important that we develop a strong indigenous enterprise sector with a sustained focus on the development of indigenous firms in high-value-added activities. Enterprise supports provided through State agencies have a vital role in helping firms to start up and grow and in providing assistance and knowledge at critical phases in the life of a firm.

Enterprise strategy should be focused not on the withdrawal of supports but on the development of new forms of supports. These should include support for import substituting firms, for example, in addition to those with an immediate export focus.

Greater emphasis should be placed on county enterprise boards’ role in supporting small businesses starting up. Further resources should be provided. The eligibility criteria for support from county enterprise boards should be re-examined to promote activity. Given that the weakness of the economy reduces the risk of dead weight or displacement loss in the short term, this should be achievable.

In addition to developing economy-wide enterprise strategies, it is important to develop sectoral strategies, to be pursued by relevant agents. The Labour Party has proposed a €1.1 billion jobs fund with three essential components, but the media never seem to recognise this. There would be funding for sectoral jobs strategies that focus on building upon our natural and clear comparative advantages in green technology, food, tourism and the cultural and creative industries, all to be driven by relevant enterprise agencies.

I salute Bord Bia, which I would give a greater role. Under Mr. Aidan Cotter, it has been very progressive. It should be given a greater role in developing and promoting branded food products. We have only had one success, that of Kerrygold. We should try to ape that and succeed where we can generate added value and jobs in the agriculture industries.

Consider the issue of funding for shovel-ready projects. This involves a fundamental review of the national development plan. Flood relief schemes, major school building programmes and urban regeneration projects are required. Up to 1,100 school projects remain on the waiting list. In 2009, 790 schools rented prefabs. A good example in my constituency is that of Curraghmore national school outside Mullingar, where everyone agrees a new school is urgently required. The local authority has been positive and a site has been identified, so it is only bureaucracy and the usual foot-dragging that stand in the way of progress for the 200 or so students, teachers, board of management and parents, who are actively pursuing the project.

We need funding for at least 60,000 new educational training places across the system. The back to education allowance or a tax return scheme to fund one’s full-time study would make returning to third level easier. The Government should lift the cap on PLC colleges, the staff of which are ready to offer good retraining options. The initiative would also include 30,000 graduate and apprentice internships. We need to establish a strategic investment bank to invest in essential infrastructure. While the Minister disagrees in this regard, he should consider this week’s announcement on the number of projects that have been sidelined. The NRA maintains there is no money, but these projects are important. We cannot even progress the nine rest [122]areas, but they are important in terms of road safety, given the long distances that lorry drivers must travel. We pontificate on all of these projects, but we withdraw them at the first opportunity. Therefore, the work of the Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, on the road traffic and transport areas has been set at naught.

The strategic investment bank could provide credit for start-ups and growing businesses. It could also have a venture capital role. An initial State investment of €2 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund before all of its money is gone could be used to raise €20 billion on the financial markets. This could be a vehicle for growing successful indigenous industries irrespective of anyone’s opinion. We have had our idea tested by international financiers, bankers and lawyers. During the last recession, ICC, ACC and Foir Teoranta — State banks — put assistance in place for companies and small businesses, but there is nothing similar today. This is the reason there is so great a problem.

I am asking the Minister to do something new, namely, to put in place an SME working capital guarantee scheme. This would ease credit finance issues for SMEs. Yesterday, my committee was told by the Irish Banking Federation and Mazars that 35% of SMEs now have distressed loans and capital. They need help. A credit famine is affecting small businesses. The SME working capital guarantee scheme would operate along the line of similar successful schemes found in the UK and elsewhere. It would target the sector of the market experiencing the greatest difficulty in accessing credit. It would allow the banks, which we know are under-capitalised, to extend more loans than would otherwise be possible. With a State guarantee of up to 50% of the loan amount, the banks’ capital can be stretched while ensuring an appropriate alignment of interest between lender and guarantor. A similar scheme operates successfully in the UK. Indeed, Alastair Darling extended it in his March budget. Singapore also has such a scheme.

We are all aware that job losses, wherever they arise, put a significant dent in income tax receipts. Every person on the dole costs the State €20,000 between welfare payments and lost tax revenue. With 450,000 people unemployed, we are losing €9 billion in this regard. This must be factored into our expenditure figures.

An SME loan guarantee scheme would see the Government acting as guarantor of individual SMEs to facilitate them in securing loans from participating lending institutions for acquiring business installations, equipment and working capital loans. Under this scheme, 50% of the approved loans or a maximum amount, whichever is the lesser, would be guaranteed for a period of up to five years. Associated working capital loans could be used for financing operational expenses arising from the acquisition of business installations and equipment under the scheme. The guarantee period in this respect would be a maximum of two to three years.

Another option that could be examined is that of accounts receivable loans, which could be used for meeting the working capital needs of SMEs arising from providing credit terms to their customers. Without this type of one-to-the-other credit, business cannot survive. The maximum amount of the approved accounts receivable loan guaranteed in this way could be €1 million or 50% of the loan, whichever is lesser. The guaranteed period would be for a maximum of two years or so.

The manufacturing and service industries have experienced significant employment losses. These capital guarantee schemes would provide greater flexibility to companies in managing their cash flow and make an important contribution to their survival.

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

[123]Deputy Willie Penrose:  Working capital loans under these schemes would assist companies in maintaining adequate cash levels to meet their vital operational needs. This is a new proposal, although people claim we make none in the House. It works elsewhere, so now is the time to embrace something similar. Some 700,000 people are working in approximately 230,000 SMEs. These industries are dotted across the landscape with three or four jobs in every village, town and country area. They play a pivotal role in securing the lifeblood of areas by keeping people there. When those areas experience job losses, they are not headline losses and are below the radar. Nevertheless, a loss of nine or ten jobs in a small rural area is the equivalent of 500 or 600 job losses in a town. It is important that people be kept in their localities so that they can contribute to the area's vitality and maintain essential infrastructure like schools, churches and teams. If people are to have a living environment, we must encourage SMEs that provide local jobs. Development in this regard will be in the manufacturing area.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  The Deputy’s time has concluded.

Deputy Willie Penrose:  We must get back to basics and encourage our manufacturing base. This will take a great deal of reskilling and retraining. I hope the Minister will adopt our proposal, as it would make an important contribution to tackling the unemployment crisis, something to which we all believe we should contribute.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I understand the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, is sharing his time with the Minister of State, Deputy Kelleher, Deputies O’Brien and Kennedy and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Ryan.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  Yes. The Acting Chairman might tell me when my time is up.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Is that agreed? Agreed. The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, has ten minutes.

Deputy Batt O’Keeffe:  I am delighted to be able to contribute to this debate and to outline the Government’s strategy for maintaining and creating jobs. I assure Deputies that jobs and industry growth are at the centre of the Government’s economic strategy. Members of the Opposition must be aware that one cannot decouple economic recovery and job creation from public financial stability and the need for a properly functioning banking system. If one cannot understand this, perhaps it is a good job the Opposition is not in Government.

I am acutely aware of the distress that the economic downturn is having on individuals, families and businesses. The negative consequences of that downturn, particularly where jobs are lost, cannot be overstated and our priority has been and will continue to be to respond to all of these problems. I am committed to supporting enterprise to drive job creation.

In what has probably been the most challenging year for the global economy since the 1930s, the Government’s policies and investments enabled IDA companies to create 4,500 new jobs and increase exports to €110 billion. The Government’s policies and investments enabled Enterprise Ireland companies to create more than 7,000 new jobs and win new export sales worth €693 million. Let me put this in perspective. Internationally, foreign directive investment, FDI, was down 30% last year. In Ireland, it fell by just 4%. Internationally, exports fell by more than 20%. In Ireland, they fell by less than 3%. Services exports actually grew by 2%. All of this was achieved in the depths of the recession. Now the CSO has given positive indications on the future. The quarterly accounts show Ireland moving out of recession, led by a surge in exports, which grew by 6.9% on the last quarter of 2009. The first quarter of 2010 was [124]the second strongest quarter for exports on record. Taken together, these results provide concrete evidence that the co-ordinated measures taken by the Government to address competitiveness, the public finances and the banking system are paying off with improved confidence and clear evidence of a return to economic growth.

The Government is facing up to the serious challenges head on and we are taking decisive action to ensure that we return Ireland to economic growth. The measures we have implemented to date are having a positive impact. We need to build further on these to consolidate the economic position and to create new jobs for those who have been made unemployed. Our future economic growth will be driven by exports of goods and services. Increased exports will generate jobs directly in the provision of those goods and services. Importantly, they will also generate indirect jobs throughout the economy in domestic services, retail, construction and other sectors.

Sustainable job creation must be driven by the enterprise sector. This is why the Government is focusing on a “whole of enterprise” strategy as the best route for Ireland to deliver the sustainable economic growth we need over the coming years, support our enterprises to return Ireland to export-led growth and, in turn, drive employment generation for the longer term. IDA Ireland has already made 48 job creation announcements in 2010, spread around the country, which will create almost 3,500 jobs across a range of sectors.

Enterprise Ireland has also made a number of job creation announcements in 2010, which will lead to the creation of more than 700 jobs around the country. There are far too many people unemployed, but this does not mean that our economy is completely stagnant in terms of jobs. Demand remains weak but there are signs of increases in recruitment activity. In fact there are difficulties filling vacancies in some areas of our economy such as ICT, science, engineering, sales and finance. Although one might not think it from the Opposition motion, it has been estimated that there will be a requirement to recruit up to 96,000 people on average every year up to 2014. This is on foot of the economic recovery and growth strategy being pursued by this Government.

Contrary to the rhetoric from the Opposition benches, we are not sitting around waiting for the international upturn simply to deliver jobs some time in the future. The Opposition motion fails to recognise the fact that the Government is actively implementing the policies and taking the decisions that will allow us to achieve even more ambitious jobs targets for the future. We are putting in place the resources to enable Ireland to win at least 640 international investment projects over the next five years, which are expected to create 105,000 new jobs. We are putting equal effort into developing Irish enterprise with the specific intention of creating 68,000 new jobs over the next five years. Beyond direct enterprise support, the wider public capital investment programme for 2010 is expected to support almost 70,000 jobs in the economy. The latest significant job creation initiative introduced by the Government is the PRSI incentive scheme. This will be a direct stimulus for the real economy by saving employers money and shifting the balance in favour of job creation. It will support the creation of up to 10,000 jobs. We have already received over 500 inquiries and 100 applications related to this scheme and this is a further indication that we are getting these policies right.

All of this proves that the charge levelled by the Opposition that we have no job creation strategy is utterly untrue and misleading. It is also misleading to say that we are doing nothing to protect jobs. In addition to our ambitious job creation strategies, we have implemented effective policies to protect existing jobs. Schemes such as the enterprise stabilisation fund and employment subsidy scheme were introduced to assist companies address the difficulties arising from the difficult trading conditions as a result of the recent recession. These two schemes are enabling companies to sustain 100,000 jobs. They were devised and implemented by the [125]Government, another fact that is ignored by the Opposition. We will continue to devise and implement effective policies to adapt to changing needs and global market demands, to prove that we have the foresight to identify the opportunities coming down the track, plan for them and, of course, seize them.

I want to deal now with one specific issue raised in the Opposition’s motion this evening. This is the charge that we have failed to address issues of credit availability for business. The Minister for Finance has set out on many occasions the steps we have been taking to ensure that the banks are in a position to lend to viable businesses. Since I took over the enterprise portfolio, I have focused on ensuring that the banks follow through on their obligations to lend. In my recent meetings with the banks, I made it crystal clear to them what the Government expects from them in return for the support shown to them by the taxpayer. They were left in no doubt that failure to deliver on their obligations will not be accepted by me or the Government. In response, they confirmed that they are fully committed to meeting the targets set for them and are ambitious to expand their lending to viable SMEs. I will be monitoring the situation over the coming months and I will bring the banks in again if I am not satisfied with the evidence that those commitments are being met.

It is clear to me that there has been a knowledge deficit within the banks when it comes to lending to innovative enterprises, particularly in new and emerging sectors. That is why we have insisted that they work with the agencies of my Department to develop the skills they need. I am also looking at how we can address this and other market failures through mechanisms such as a loan guarantee scheme. We are dealing with credit availability and implementing policies to both sustain and create jobs. I believe that the Government’s whole economic strategy will enable us to go forward as a more competitive economy with a sustainable and innovative enterprise base. I reject utterly the claim that we are not putting jobs and growth at the centre of our economic strategy. That claim is simply not borne out by the facts. In this context, I wholeheartedly reject the Opposition’s contentions.

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Billy Kelleher):  In the few minutes I have to speak on this motion I welcome the opportunity to contribute. We have had many debates in the House on the issue of the economy, the banking crisis, job creation and unemployment and the challenges that face the broader economy. At the outset, while the Fine Gael motion highlights many of the challenges facing us, it is somewhat short on proposed actions. Listening to the debates and the commentary from across the House, this would indicate that there are few solid policies coming from the Opposition which might address the difficulties Ireland faces.

The Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe referred to a few policy issues that the Government has introduced in recent times in the context of trying to ensure that there is stability in the banking system, that we have access to credit for small and medium-sized business and can continually ensure that the banks have the capability to lend to such companies. It is also Government policy to ensure that the banks are obligated, because of the new arrangement between them and the Irish taxpayer, as well as on foot of the guarantees, the recapitalisation and supports they have received due to their recklessness and bad lending practices in the past, to support SMEs in these challenging times.

It is no comfort to the thousands who have lost their jobs and are finding it very difficult at this time, but in December last year the Minister for Finance told the House that Ireland had turned the corner. He spoke with confidence and authority and the fact is that the figures shown in the first quarter analysis of the economy indicate that we are now technically out of recession and that there was growth in the first quarter of 2.7%. That, in itself, is something very significant and critically important not only in the context of what we are trying to do [126]here in Ireland — ensuring there are job creation opportunities as well as the potential to stimulate the economy — but equally across the eurozone. When one looks at the performance of our European competitors, one sees they only expanded by 2.2% on average, and this shows that Ireland is on track to economic recovery.

We have two choices in this House and in public commentary across Ireland. We can either talk ourselves down consistently and continually or we can highlight the positives and the changes in the economy that are bringing about the stabilisation of the public finances, reducing job losses and returning the economy to growth. Confidence is critically important. People should be aware, when they are speaking publicly, debating in this House or elsewhere, that by consistently talking down the economy they are contributing to the difficulties of individuals, and rising unemployment, by undermining confidence and sapping belief in the broader economy. I ask Members on all sides of the House and public commentators across the country to report on the economy in a factual manner. They should acknowledge the fact that we are now out of recession and have an opportunity to stimulate the economy and try to create job opportunities for our people.

The Government’s initiatives in trying to stabilise the economy have been well received internationally and confidence is very strong in Ireland too in relation to what is being done regarding stabilisation of the public finances and support for the banks. The motion before the House tonight is simply incorrect in many of its aspects, such as that there is no confidence. There is a great deal of confidence internationally that Ireland is doing the right thing, that the Government has introduced measures to try to stabilise the public finances and that job creation measures are bringing about stabilisation on the unemployment front. For all those reasons this motion adds no value to the debate that is required in this country, which should be about how to put confidence back into the economy, to stimulate job creation and ensure that there is a lift in consumer confidence. It is about putting confidence back into the economy, stimulating job creation and lifting consumer confidence. For all these reasons, I reject this Private Members’ motion. It is of no value in the debate required to deal with the changes in the economy. What we need is for people to acknowledge that the difficult decisions made by the Government are bearing fruit and that we have turned the corner.

With economic confidence growing, job creation will be at the core of the Government’s policy over the next several years. Companies are already beginning to recruit and expand their labour force. Positive proposals are needed from the Opposition as opposed to its continuing nay-saying.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  I am pleased to speak to the Government’s amendment on this Private Members’ motion. Both Ministers, Deputies Batt O’Keeffe and Kelleher, have covered many areas of the amendment. However, I want to point to some of the incorrect facts cited in the motion such as the loss of international financial market confidence in Ireland. If our commentators had the same confidence outside observers have in our economy, we would find ourselves in a better position.

Deputy Penrose raised the loan guarantee scheme operated in other European jurisdictions, a scheme which has much merit. I have also called for its introduction in the past. It is good to see at least one small snippet from the Labour Party of what it might do when usually it never commits to anything.

For example, it agreed with the €4 billion in cuts in the last budget but did not say where or how it achieve them. It backed every interest group that lobbied it and said it would not touch them. The Croke Park deal is an important step forward for the country. The past two years have been incredibly difficult for both public and private sector workers. The Croke Park deal [127]gives certainty to the thousands of civil and public service workers and provides a way forward for the country. Again, Deputy Gilmore would not say whether he agreed with the deal or recommend it to the unions, even when some of them sit on his party’s national executive. When the deal was passed, however, Deputy Gilmore said he welcomed it.

While the next budget will be challenging for the Government and the country, both Opposition parties will not be able to do what they did with the past couple of budgets by opposing everything and producing nothing. The Labour Party in particular will certainly not get away with this.

Unemployment is a major issue. I, like many other Members, have friends and family who lost their jobs over the past two years. Tackling unemployment is the Government’s major focus. In the past three weeks, north Dublin has had announcements of more than 1,300 jobs from the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA, and Stream Global Services. The way in which the national broadcaster, RTE, dealt with the DAA’s announcement on “Drive Time” was nothing short of disgraceful. These are real jobs with 500 in the authority and 400 in retail units at Terminal 2.

Some asked where the Government spent the money from the boom. One can see where the moneys went when one sees Terminal 2 and the other critical infrastructure projects across the country that will soon be finished. These projects will have created jobs before November and the budget.

I accept there are problems with the banks’ provision of cash flow and working capital for the small and medium-sized enterprise sector. That is why I welcomed Deputy Penrose’s views on a loan guarantee scheme. It is also important that John Trethowan is overseeing the banks’ credit provision. I must say, however, that having had dealings with AIB in my constituency, I have found it had not played ball.

With 1.9 million people working, the Government’s focus is on getting the 450,000 out of work back to work. While I am confident we will be able to do that, it will only happen if we have stable public finances, coherent polices, job creation and, most important, belief in ourselves.

I reject this Fine Gael motion. It offers nothing as usual. While castigating the Government might be politics, it offers no solutions. The Government will face challenges later in the year with the budget, challenges similar to those it faced over the past three and a half years. What Fianna Fáil is about is medium and long-term economic growth and getting people back to work, not short-term, political and populist decisions.

Deputy Michael Kennedy:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on and support the Government’s amendment to this motion. I also wish Deputy Noonan well in his new portfolio. However, I was a little disappointed with his Private Members’ motion. It was the same recycled and repackaged stuff Fine Gael has been putting down for the past three years. I would have thought a new broom like Deputy Noonan would have come up with a more inventive and incisive motion. That is Fine Gael anyway; a little bit stale.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  Deputy Kennedy should not spoil the compliment.

Deputy Michael Kennedy:  This motion is like its New Era policy, launched four times with claims it will create 100,000 new jobs every time. The motion reeks of doom and gloom. Every Member has family and friends who suffer unemployment. The businesspeople who support Fine Gael expect it to put out a bit of confidence instead of this doom and gloom. People have suffered for the past three years. They do not want it thrown at them that we will never recover economically again.

[128]The truth is we are making strides, albeit slowly. It must be realised it is a worldwide recession in which Ireland is a small and open economy. We are, however, beginning to pick up again. I find it extraordinary the Opposition, both Labour and Fine Gael, can castigate the Government’s efforts in getting the economy back on track, particularly when international bodies, such as the IMF, the EU and OECD, have said it has made the right but hard decisions. Other countries are now following our lead. Deputy Noonan, as Fine Gael’s new finance spokesperson, should come forward with new and positive policies rather than recycling doom and gloom.

Job creation is the single largest issue. The Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, earlier referred to the 4,500 new jobs already created this year. In north Dublin, already this year Hertz announced another extra 200 jobs pushing its workforce to 1,000. The DAA has created 500 new jobs at Terminal 2 and 400 retail jobs in the airport, part of which is in Deputy Varadkar’s constituency. This week, Stream Global Services announced 425 new jobs for Swords. Applegreen, which will operate the two service stations on the M1, has announced it will create 400 jobs. The Pavilion Shopping Centre in Swords, which Deputy Varadkar will be familiar with as well, will create up to 100 extra jobs. Putting down gloom-and-doom motions does nothing to give confidence to our constituents, families and friends.

In the first quarter of 2010, GDP rose by 2.7%. If the Deputies were being fair they would recognise that fact and not be living in cloud cuckoo land. On the subject of jobs, the proposed loan guarantee scheme, under which loans to SMEs would be backed up 50-50 by the State, is an important step, as recognised by everyone in this Chamber, including those on the Opposition benches.

I heard Deputy Varadkar on the radio this morning. He might want to check his own party’s policy, because half its members are saying NAMA is wrong and is going in the wrong direction, while the other half are saying that we need NAMA. He might consider what his colleague Deputy Terence Flanagan has said about home equity — in effect, that we need NAMA for this reason. Every one of us recognises that this issue is a difficult one for many of our close friends, but let us be fair and consistent. If Fine Gael is against NAMA it should abolish it from all its proposals——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  There are less than five minutes remaining for the Minister to speak.

Deputy Michael Kennedy:  ——but if it supports it, it should admit that what the Government is doing is correct.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  It is a bit late now.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan):  The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has just four and a half minutes.

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I wanted five, but I will try in that time to set out the plan as I see it.

The plan is to sell more to the rest of the world. We will sell food to the world. The food industry is worth €8 billion in exports and employs 167,000 people. Our comparative advantage is that our food comes from the field, not from the factory. Tourism is worth €5 billion. Our advantage in that area is that the industry is flexible; it has been fast to restore value and bring back a welcome. People will come back to our country because we are, ultimately, a welcoming people. Energy is currently a €6 billion import business, but we want our energy to be home-[129]produced. We will do this through growth in renewable energy and advances in energy efficiency, and we in the Government are delivering on that. These are our home industries. Although they are not as big as our other three main industries, they are important because their value is increased in Ireland.

The other three industries are equally important. In financial services, 25,000 people are employed in the IFSC. It is an export business worth over €15 billion. Our comparative advantage is that we have good legal and tax systems and a new, improved regulatory system. On the service side, we export creative services worth about €47 billion. Within that, ICT is worth about €24 billion and supports 60,000 jobs. We are delivering a digital economy that works — a knowledge society. We are investing in broadband in our schools that will help us to deliver this. We are investing in the Exemplar network, which will provide high-speed Internet and for which we budgeted in difficult times. We have creative, flexible people, which means we are well placed to become a centre for cloud computing. This is the next big business opportunity and we need to grab it.

We also need to remain good at manufacturing. We are making about €80 million worth of products, much of which represents foreign direct investment. What is our strategy? It is to invest and increase the budget, even in difficult times — which we have done — for Science Foundation Ireland, because those companies are still coming here. Half of them came here in the last year to invest in research and development, which will turn into the manufacturing opportunities of the future.

Deputy Varadkar is nodding his head, but this is the reality. He does not see it because he spends all his time on that bench rather than going out and actually meeting those companies. They are doing it for this country. We continue to be a centre for foreign direct investment and high-tech manufacturing. It is working. The Deputy may not like it, but I am glad it is happening because it will help us get out of the economic difficulties we are in.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Could the Government do more of it?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Those are our six big trading areas. We also need to get various things right to make ourselves quicker, cheaper and better and help these industries. We need to develop the digital infrastructure, not just by investing in broadband but also by making information freely available. We made our census information freely available and this has been a major boost to tourism. We released the environmental data about Galway Bay and this has been of major benefit in bringing in investment. People have used that data to develop business opportunities. We need labour flexibility, a productive public service and a funding mechanism to help our businesses.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan):  The Minister has a minute left.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  In that minute I will say that this morning I heard the Minister — that is——

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The new Minister.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——the Opposition spokesperson on the Labour side explain what she would do differently in the banking sector. She proudly said that she would try to restore AIB and Bank of Ireland to a sound footing. That is something we can all agree on, but a plan for achieving this is something I would be interested to hear from both the Labour Party and Fine Gael.

Fine Gael now has an opportunity, with its new spokesperson, to move beyond what it is against and explain what it would actually do. Does it really want to default? Is that what it [130]will do when it goes into government? Do its members really believe we should not have NAMA? How would they change it? They need to be specific because neither main Opposition party has been in any way honest over recent years about the difficulties facing us. We have managed these and it is now time for us to proceed with the real plan, which is to become a successful trading country which delivers the wealth our people need. We can do it and we are doing it. We will get over our difficulties with the help of our political system. That is better than standing on the sidelines criticising policies without providing any real alternative.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  On a wing and a prayer.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I must say the Minister is very grumpy today. I hope he has a nice summer break.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The Deputy should get used to it. He will be facing it a lot over the next few months.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I wish to share my time with Deputies O’Donnell, Breen, McHugh, Crawford, Hayes, Timmins and Connaughton.

I rise to speak in favour of the Fine Gael motion. I thank Deputy Noonan for giving us an opportunity to debate economic issues and the state of the economy before the summer recess. There have been many debates about different things over the past week or two, but it is appropriate that we debate the most important issue facing us before we rise for the summer.

As Members are aware, last week Ireland officially came out of recession. We now have GDP growth once again. Our domestic economy is still shrinking, but good news is good news. What we have now is the end of the statistical recession; we do not have the end of the real recession. The real recession, in people’s lives, will only end when unemployment starts to fall and incomes start to rise — when people have jobs to go to and a little more money in their pockets. There is no guarantee that this will be the case.

I heard what Deputy Kennedy said about doom and gloom. I am not interested either in doom and gloom——

Deputy Michael Kennedy:  Why did Fine Gael table its motion then? That is what is in the motion.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  ——or false or bogus optimism. What I am interested in is realism. Let us not forget that the last recession ended in 1983, but it was at least four years before the public finances were stabilised and we did not see significant jobs growth until 1989, or arguably even later.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Because the Labour Party and Fine Gael could not agree on anything.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I seek the protection of the Chair.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan):  I must protect Deputy Varadkar because there are many speakers in this time slot.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  They could not make hard decisions. They could not make a single call. I remember it.

Acting Chairman:  The Minister was not interrupted while making his contribution.

[131]Deputy Paul Connaughton:  The Green Party found it hard to make a decision on the dog breeding Bill, anyway.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I appreciate the Minister is a bit upset and highly strung — he is obviously very concerned about facing me over the next few weeks — but perhaps he would allow me to finish my contribution uninterrupted.

As I was saying, for a combination of reasons, some under our control and some not, I fear we may enter a sustained period of anaemic, jobless growth. We could have statistical growth but no job creation and no improvement in income, resulting in a period of stagnation — effectively a lost decade. In order to counter that we must have a serious jobs strategy.

As other speakers have acknowledged, we have a three-part economic crisis. We have a budget crisis, which we all know about, a banking crisis, and an economic crisis, in which our concerns are jobs and competitiveness. What we have had from the Government is a response to the fiscal crisis, although it came bit late, and the fiscal crisis was largely of the Government’s creation, as the structural deficit was created by Fianna Fáil. At least in the last year or so some measures have been taken to deal with this, by reducing spending, which we largely supported, and by increasing taxation. So far, the major part of this has been tax increases rather than spending cuts. In the coming years there should be more of a focus on reducing spending, provided it is done fairly and the vulnerable are protected, and less on increasing taxation, because increasing taxes on income and on business could actually end the recovery and put us back into recession.

When it comes to the banking crisis, the Government has made a real mess. Almost €30 billion has been expended or promised already in its efforts to save the banking system, but we have little to show for it. Businesses cannot get credit — nor can consumers in many cases — and we do not have a functioning banking system. That is the worst thing about it. It is not so much what the Government has done as the fact that it has not worked.

To a certain extent we are stuck with NAMA, but there is still an opportunity to make sure it does not cost the taxpayer as much as it seems it will. One thing we can do is to dispense with the concept of long-term economic value.

  8 o’clock

Most of the loans have not yet been transferred to NAMA and only €16 billion of the €81 billion has been transferred. It is still not too late to abandon the concept of long-term economic value and to buy the loans from the banks for what they are worth. We could also increase the risk sharing element of NAMA. I recall the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in one of his many incarnations, suggesting that up to 50% of the NAMA loans should be based on risk sharing and that they should be subordinated bonds. Only 5% of them are. Professor Patrick Honohan has already suggested that it would be reasonable for 10% of them to be risk weighted. There is still an opportunity to do that.

To move on to the more positive points, the key thing this country needs to do is to become competitive again. The Government has produced many strategies and documents in this regard, but there is still no real plan to increase competitiveness. There are three necessary elements to becoming competitive again. First, we need to reduce costs. Labour costs have reduced, but other costs have not. We also need to invest in infrastructure in a way we have not done to date. While there has been some investment, most of it has been cut back. Third, we need to improve our public service. In terms of investment in infrastructure, our main focus is our New ERA model, which essentially tries to retool the semi-State companies and to transform those which are currently a drag on growth and turn them into generators of growth and jobs. That can be done by increasing the capital spend of those semi-State companies [132]through investing pension fund money in Ireland through the semi-State companies and other bodies, instead of in overseas investments. It can be done by privatising some State assets and by getting investment from pension funds and solvent wealth funds. That is the kind of policy measure we have come across. Having listened to Members on the Government side, I note that on receipt of even the tiniest bit of positive economic news, they are back to the hubris, pride and nonsense about not talking down the economy.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I support this timely motion. I wish to focus on the issue of the credibility of Government policy. In its counter motion, the Government states it has stabilised the public finances and regained credibility. When the European financial stability package was introduced here, the cost of our borrowing dropped to 4.7%, but it has drifted steadily upwards since and is now 5.29% for ten year bonds. The reason for this is the lack of credibility among the international markets due to the way the Government is dealing with the economy. It is also felt that the Government moved 14 months too late to make the required fiscal corrections. The current Taoiseach, who was Minister for Finance in 2007, should have moved in the December 2007 budget, but nothing was done until early 2009. In fact, Deputy Brian Lenihan’s first budget as Minister for Finance in October 2008 did not deal with the issue either. Therefore, there is a credibility issue in the international markets.

Furthermore, the Government must borrow €45 billion over the next two years. This is necessary because the Government ran the country into the ground to such an extent that there was nothing left in the kitty for the rough day. If we have learned anything from the crisis, it is that we must provide a contingency fund. A certain amount of the budget each year should be set aside as a contingency fund — a kitty for a rainy day.

On the banks, the terms of reference for the commission of investigation have been published tonight. There are two interesting elements to note. First, the terms of reference do not take into account the actions of the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach or the Department of Finance in terms of crisis management in the context of the banking crisis. Second, I note the coverage date has been extended to 15 January, which coincides with the nationalisation of Anglo Irish Bank, with regard to investigating the banks and investigating Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide. It is interesting that with regard to examining the statutory role and responsibilities of the Central Bank and the Financial Services Authority of Ireland, the investigation is limited to 28 September. I wonder why this is the case.

In the case of Anglo Irish Bank, a portion of the back to back loan between it and Irish Life & Permanent, €3.45 billion, came through on 26 September, but €4 billion of it came through on 30 September. Furthermore, accounts were produced by Anglo Irish Bank, under the watch of the Minister for Finance and the Department and of the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator, in December 2008 which overstated customer deposits. We had €7.45 billion of bank moneys going from Anglo Irish Bank into Irish Life & Permanent and then up to its subsidiary company, a life assurance company, and then returning to Anglo Irish Bank as customer deposits. This gave the impression there was greater liquidity. Clearly, people had concerns in terms of a run on deposits, which underlines their fears in terms of solvency.

There are questions to be answered. When we debate the commission of investigation tomorrow, two things must happen. First, the coverage date must extend to 15 January, the date Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised, for all elements of the investigation. The investigation must also include examining of the performance of the Minister for Finance, the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance in the context of crisis management of the banking issue.

The new business plan produced by NAMA is a disgrace. It has no cash flow projections for the coming years and no profit and loss account projections. This is unlike the original draft [133]plan which, to be honest, was a fabrication because it relied on the figures provided by the banks themselves. This was ludicrous. The Minister for Finance failed to clarify that issue when we debated the NAMA business plan and we now find ourselves in a situation where, clearly, NAMA will make a loss. The Government has admitted this. Some 25% of the assets that went into NAMA are already gone. I would call them corroding assets. NAMA is like a juggernaut on the edge of cliff with five or ten people holding on to it, but it is rolling over the cliff and will, eventually, fall into the sea dragging the Irish taxpayer with it. We will be left with nothing more than toxic waste. What BP did in America will pale in comparison because it is the Irish taxpayer who is footing the bill here.

On the jobs crisis, some 290,000 people have been added to the live register since the Government took office. There are now approximately 450,000 people on the register. The Government has not addressed this issue. We must ensure we introduce policies that will create jobs. The Government has taken some of the elements of our NewERA document and I am glad to see it is now endorsing that policy.

Deputy Pat Breen:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and commend my colleague, Deputy Michael Noonan, on bringing it forward. Claims that the recession in this country is over are premature, given that some 450,000 people are now registered as unemployed, the highest level of unemployment in our history. In County Clare, some 46 people a day have lost their jobs over the past two years. GDP grew by 2.7% in the first quarter of year, mainly due to the increased export output of our multinationals. However, four businesses have gone to the wall every day for the first six months of this year in Ireland. Some 28 of those businesses are in my constituency in County Clare. Business people are very fearful of the future. This week in Ennis, pedestrianisation of the town was abandoned following the experience of local businesses in the O’Connell Street, Abbey Street and Bank Place areas of the town, which witnessed a dramatic drop in sales during the previous six-week trial period. On top of that, there has been a 17% drop experienced by all retail businesses since the beginning of the year.

Cash flow is the lifeblood of small businesses and we were promised when the Government signed a blank cheque to bail out the banks that increased cash flow would result. That has not happened, not even a trickle. In fact, the taxpayer will end up footing the bill for all the billions which have been invested in the bailouts although there will be no bailout for the ordinary man and woman on the street. The proposals made yesterday to help home owners in trouble fall well short of what is required. Encouraging home owners to hand back the keys of their homes and to sign onto the social housing lists at a time when cash strapped local authorities are dealing with an unprecedented demand for housing shows exactly how out of touch this Government has become. There are 2,500 families on the social housing list in County Clare alone, for example, and I am interested in hearing how the Government plans to fund this additional demand for housing.

The Government’s economic recovery plan is failing because it is driven by bailouts. My party in government will get the country back to work, and I hope our opportunity comes sooner rather than later.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate and I welcome the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, to the House. I support my colleague, Deputy Varadkar’s, call for a separation of the debate on the economy from that on the banking sector. It is not all about freeing up the banks to provide credit and get liquidity moving. There are many people with business ideas, people who want a reason to get out of bed in the morning. They do not need money; they simply need to get past the regulations and bureaucracy that exist. In my own county, for example, 28 commercial fishermen who had planned to [134]go fishing this summer on Lough Foyle are not permitted to do so. That is a question of regulation and has nothing to do with banking.

We need a serious debate on the smart economy to which the Minister, Deputy Ryan, referred tonight. I accept that we need a smart economy and a well regulated IFSC centre. We have a great smart economy in Donegal where Primerica, a very successful American company employing computer graduates, is thriving. However, the reality is that a smart economy on its own will not get us out of this recession. There are people previously employed in the indigenous sector, including in manufacturing and so on, who do not have the skills necessary to participate in the smart economy.

We must have a debate that is founded in reality. It was completely disingenuous for Government Deputies to claim last week that the recession is over and everything is fine.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We did not say that; that was what the CSO said.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  The recession is not over. We were also in a deep hole in the 1980s but at that time people fished and farmed. Farmers could get £1,000 for a good bullock in 1981 or 1982. Those prices are no longer available and that is something we must address. People are back working on the land this summer because of the good weather. They have been back cutting turf and baling hay in recent weeks.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  It depends where the bog is.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  Deputy Connaughton told me he has seen square balers in Galway for the first time in 25 years. However, such activity will not get us out of recession because it will last for only a few weeks. What will happen in September?

We must be realistic in terms of getting people back working. There are regulatory measures and interventions we can take. There is an element of educational snobbery in the notion that everything must be about the smart economy. We must get away from that fixation. There is the real economy out there and then there is the nonsense that goes on on the other side of this Chamber. We must have a meaningful debate next September in an effort to get this country back on its feet.

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is incredible that net income has reduced by 28% in the past two years. The average drop in farm income for the same period is 40% while in wet land areas it is far higher. In my own constituency 14,500 people are out of work, 1,030 of those having joined the dole queue in the past 12 months. No other economy has experienced such a decline.

The Governor of the Central Bank and the two independent banking experts have shown clearly that the Government was seriously at fault in what happened. We now know that at least 75% of the current crisis was home-made. Some 300,000 people have lost their jobs and another 150,000 have had to emigrate. Some 90% of those who have lost their jobs are under 35 years of age and many of them have mortgages and other commitments. The Government got us into this crisis and is clearly incapable of getting us out of it.

I fully recognise the personal efforts of the Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, on the banking issue. He may not have been right but he has certainly tried. However, an exclusive focus on the banking sector will not get us out of this crisis. We must have a stimulus for job creation. Small businesses, farmers and others must be able to access working capital to allow them to stay in business. We learned in recent days that funding for roads and other infrastructure project will be reduced, meaning less work will be available. Schools building programmes and [135]other projects are being delayed because of red tape. It is better to pay people to do that work, enabling them to make a contribution in income tax, rather than have them on the dole.

The difficulties businesses and farmers are experiencing with red tape are intolerable. I spoke recently to a dear friend of mine who sold his farm in the Carrickmacross area some time ago, although the sale did not go through for other reasons. He is now farming in the United Kingdom — a fellow EU member state — and the difference he has described in the level of bureaucracy is incredible. These issues must be examined. The hospitality sector and others are plagued by over-zealous bureaucracy. We have gone from no regulation to over-regulation. It is easy for any individual to board an aeroplane and travel to other member states to see what is happening there. These people know what they are talking about.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  I commend my party colleagues on tabling this motion, particularly the new finance spokesman, Deputy Noonan. When he said at the weekend that it was time to sack the bankers — the people who caused the problems in this country — there was an incredible public response. The Minister, Deputy Brian Lenihan, should take heed of that. The reports released this week relating to NAMA and activities in the banking sector prove it is high time these people were sacked. I commend Deputy Noonan on making that statement because it is what the Irish people want at a time when they feel frustrated, annoyed and dejected at what has happened and is happening in this country.

I heard Government Members referring to the need for confidence and the importance of not talking down the economy. The reality is that nobody has confidence in this Government. Some 450,000 people are unemployed and hundreds of young people are leaving our shores on a weekly basis to seek a living in Britain, the United States, Canada or Australia, many of them graduates. How could they have confidence in a Government that has no plan to get us out of recession?

The Minister should go back to the basics, back to the industries that produced jobs in the past. Two of those are staring us in the face, namely, agriculture and tourism. Thousands of jobs could be created in agriculture and related industries. There will be a huge shortage of timber in years to come because the Government has closed down the forestry industry. These are the sectors which could provide jobs for young people. Throughout the world food is becoming a more valuable commodity, yet the Government sits idly by as the potential of emerging markets is ignored. The Minister has a moral responsibility to the people of this country to put in place a plan to expand our agricultural industry, which has been neglected by the Government for so many years.

The potential to encourage tourism from Europe and throughout the world is enormous, but no effort is being made to encourage tourists to Ireland. If this motion achieves nothing other than to ensure the Government puts in place a plan for tourism and for agriculture — the basic industries — that will at least be a start. Only then as a country could we say that we were doing something and that the Government would put in place a plan for the 450,000 people who are unemployed.

Deputy Billy Timmins:  I wish to speak on two issues, namely, property and the banking strategy. People want hope but they cannot have hope unless they have the truth first. Those formulating our banking strategy have failed to see the big picture. Irish banks have outstanding loans in the region of €150 billion. In normal times, they should have a margin of 2% on costs, leaving a profit of €1.5 billion per year. However, the cost base of our flawed banking model is €4.5 billion. In a best case scenario, one third of the €150 billion of loans are dead. The Government intends to inject €50 billion into a banking system that will simply incur more losses. The policy must change. Bondholders should receive equity as opposed to monetary [136]repayment. The IMF has operated this model for more than one decade. The future is bleak and our standard of living must become sustainable.

In August 2007, all derivative markets went pear shaped. However, it took until October 2008 for the stock market to reflect this. Since early 2010, all European Governments have been bust because the projected future tax stream is too small to service the debt. This is one realisation of which we must all become aware. Before the year end, Spain, and possibly Portugal, may go down the road travelled by Greece. We will follow suit if we continue as we have done in the first six months of this year, taking in €14 billion and spending €22 billion. This is unsustainable. We have an extreme case of living beyond our means.

In the developed world in 1976, the ratio of government and personal debt to GDP was 110%. In 2007, the percentage reached 350%. The figure must return to that 1976 figure. Investors dislike uncertainly and large deficits. Let us be honest with the public. We filled potholes while the country was going down the drain. Is it any wonder the public is so angry?

As the record shows, in the run-up to the 2007 general election I spoke against capital investment in public housing because I believed, correctly, that it was fuelling the property market and I took the view the funding used should have been invested in infrastructure. We did not experience a property bubble, rather a money supply bubble.

The average house price should be in the region of three to five and a half times one’s income. In 2007, it was 17.5 times one’s income in this country. The average house price today is approximately €240,000. The property market will not operate properly again until this has decreased to somewhere in the region of €100,000 or €150,000 and the market will ensure this takes place in the next two or three years.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  I thank Deputy Noonan for tabling this important motion on the floor of the House. One of the great problems in the financial markets is the lack of clarity. This results in a lack of confidence. Whether we are for or against NAMA, there is no point wasting time on the matter this evening. It is in place. Every time there is an assessment or an evaluation of NAMA there is a different answer. We were informed by the Minister some months ago that, over ten years, NAMA would realise and make a profit of almost €5 billion. Yesterday, Frank Daly, a man for whom I have great respect, stated this figure would be approximately €1 billion. This is code to inform the people that they are in for one of the largest losses ever witnessed. We have no idea where it will finish up but we can rest assured it will not make a profit.

If ever I heard remarkable wisdom, it was in the past 24 hours. I refer to cases of where homeowners cannot meet repayments. It had been suggested that perhaps the right thing for such people to do is close the door and throw the key away to someone and turn to the local authority to get a house. I have never heard such bunkum in my life. Where does the Minister believe the 2,500 people on the housing list in Galway will get a house? Where will the Minister get the money to build houses for them? What will happen to the houses out of which they walked? These are the very houses the bankers would have been perfectly pleased to confiscate through the courts if they believed there was some way they could sell them afterward or get money for them.

Let no-one suggest to me the home loan scheme, which was supposed to be the be all and end all, is any good. It proposed to do a great deal for the new, first-time house purchaser. However, only nine people in all of Ireland received a loan as part of the scheme in its two years of operation. The Minister of State with responsibility for housing was at it again recently. He maintained this was a good scheme. However, the way in which it has been implemented suggests the Minister wishes to ensure no one can get a loan and this has proved to be the case.

[137]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I congratulate Deputy Noonan on his appointment as the principal Opposition spokesperson on finance. I cannot wish him well in the political sense but I congratulate him on his appointment and I look forward to engaging with him because I am conscious he has always been a champion of the tradition of robust debate in the House, which is, I believe, a good tradition.

The Members may wish to note some interesting figures released today by EUROSTAT. In its league table of EU growth rates for the first quarter of this year, Ireland has jumped to the top. Naturally, it is important to keep this in perspective given the severity of the downturn the country has experienced during the past two years. It is too early for the “Hallelujah” chorus. However, I suggest equally, that the dirge that comprises this Fine Gael motion is distinctly out of tune with the reality of what is happening in our economy.

Last December, I outlined in my Budget Statement that the worst of the recession was over. Last week, the Central Statistics Office confirmed this is the case. GDP increased by 2.7% in the first quarter. As I have already stated, that is the fastest pace of increase in the EU. As a result, this evening my Department has revised its budget day forecast for GDP growth this year from -1.3% to positive growth of 1%, tangible evidence that the economic plan which the party opposite calls for us to abandon, is bearing fruit. The driving force of this growth is exports. It is the case that GNP is still expected to contract by 0.75%. However, this is also an improvement of almost 1% on the budget day forecast. Our plan is working, we must stick to it.

Naturally, unemployment is unacceptably high but I reject the suggestion that the Government does not have an employment strategy. Everyone on this side of the House recognises the difficulties in the labour market and the hardship these are causing. However, the best jobs strategy is to continue on the path of sustainable growth. We must continue to improve our competitiveness, we must maintain the stability we have brought to our public finances and we need a functioning banking system.

Jobs are at the centre of the Government’s economic strategy. We have been proactive in protecting employment and in creating new jobs as the Minister, Deputy Batt O’Keeffe, outlined in his contribution earlier. There are almost 1.9 million persons at work today in Ireland, approximately half a million more than in 1997.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  There are 450,000 people unemployed.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  Discussion on the creation of jobs without addressing the more difficult and less popular issues of competitiveness and fiscal stability is simply vacuous. Businesses will not prosper unless we win market share for our goods and services. However, every measure we have taken to regain our competitiveness during the past two years has been opposed tooth and nail on the floor of the House. There is no rigour or serious intent in the economic policies of the Opposition parties. Their approach is simply a part of the political game.

The mid-year Exchequer figures published by my Department last week show that the public finances are stabilising. Challenges lie ahead. Next year, we must identify €3 billion in savings. Further savings will be required in later years. The Government has already embarked on its examination of how this can be done. I look forward to the hearing the views of any of the other parties on this matter.

Decisive action and determination has brought this economy out of recession. The same characteristics have been brought to bear on our banking crisis and this has received international recognition as well. Governments throughout Europe are only now beginning to force their banks to face up to reality and recognise the losses on their loan books. As Klaus Regling remarked on his recent visit, we are ahead of the game in resolving our banking crisis. We set [138]up the National Asset Management Agency to clean up the banks’ balance sheets. NAMA went into the banks and discovered the real picture. We realised progress could not be made unless there was a separate, independent, statutory valuation of banking assets.

Where would be today had we followed the proposals of the parties opposite? When the NAMA Bill was introduced in Dáil Éireann, all Deputy Kenny could do was parrot a proposal from the financier, Dermot Desmond, published in a newspaper article that morning. His plan was to leave the banks to value and work out their own impaired assets while benefiting from a State guarantee. The idea was to split the banks in two, default on those providing badly needed funds to the banks and then leave the banks to their own devices. Where would the banks be now had we followed that policy? Our first bank to emerge from this crisis with new private sector investment was Bank of Ireland. Had we followed Fine Gael’s recommendation last September, it would still be mired in crisis, critically under-capitalised and short of funds. What would have happened had we taken it over and nationalised it as the Labour Party wanted to do? Would it now resemble Anglo Irish Bank? What has happened to Fine Gael’s proposal for a national recovery bank? This seems to have gone by the wayside, although I accept there was never a credible plan for the bank to raise funds. Likewise, there was no such credible plan for the Labour Party’s strategic investment bank because funding for these institutions would reduce the amount and increase the cost of funding for the existing banks and the State.

The actions of the Government have won the confidence of the international community. They have allowed us to pre-fund for this year on more favourable terms than would otherwise have been the case. If anything, this reinforces the need for the policies we have pursued. They are an essential part of the strategy on which other parties remain silent. If this recession has taught us anything, it is that we must be honest with the citizens. We must tell it as it is and not as we think they would like to hear it.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  That would make a change.

I wish to share time with Deputy Noonan.

I support the motion. The Government’s planned infrastructure programme, Transport 21, has been decimated with most road projects abandoned indefinitely and, despite the recent confirmation by the Minster for Transport and Government guarantees that phase 2 of the western rail corridor between Athenry and Tuam in County Galway would proceed, it will also not be completed. Phase 1 of this project was constructed on time and under cost. It has proved to be a resounding success with the numbers using this facility way above projections. We have been informed the NRA’s money has run out for road projects. The Government has even directed that the rest areas on the motorway network should not be built. So much for the Minister for Transport’s commitment to road safety. The expansion of the provision of infrastructure was to have been the catalyst for job creation by the Government but it has again shown it has no job strategy in this time of crisis. Regional airport investment will also not go ahead. This will be devastating for the projected improvement of facilities and services at Galway Airport, which is important in supporting local industry.

Science Foundation Ireland has indicated to the Government that 950 research jobs will be lost, mostly at PhD level. What is the Government’s response? Earlier the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation said we were returning to economic growth and this was endorsed by the Minister for Finance. What planet are they both living on?

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  Those are the facts.

[139]Deputy Ulick Burke:  Unemployment is still increasing with little hope for the many people affected of returning to the workforce in the near future. In Dublin 5,000 people applied for 300 jobs at Dublin Airport.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  There are 900 jobs.

Deputy Ulick Burke:  That is the reality not only in Dublin, but throughout the country.

Small businesses are being starved of resources. The bankers are putting out the spin that they are approving loans but they are approving amounts that are much lower than applicants seek, resulting in a lack of uptake. The spin banks are putting on this issue is false. Where reviews have taken place of applications, the banks have not changed the original decision, which proves this. It is important for the Minister to realise that unless he dictates to the banks that they must make funds available for small industry, there will be further unemployment.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  I thank the Minister for his complimentary remarks and for doing us the honour of participating in the latter stages of the debate. I also thank all colleagues who participated in the debate.

We all know that both politically and in the interests of the people we represent the economy is still at the heart of the matter and economic debates are important. If we can throw some light on the difficulties, that will be helpful. There is a great deal the Government parties are doing that we, on this side of the House, supported over the years. They did the right thing in moving towards fiscal correction but they left it too late to begin. That was to do with the expectation of the Taoiseach when he was about to take over from Deputy Bertie Ahern.

I recall a debate on stamp duty following the election in 2007. The CSO had published statistics on housing starts for May 2007. I had checked the statistics from January 2007 onwards and it was as clear as crystal that many thousand fewer houses would be built that year. The rule of thumb at the time was that for every 10,000 houses built, €1 billion would be generated in taxation. I pointed out to the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, that he would be short approximately €5 billion from house building alone in his fiscal estimates. That was in mid-June 2007 before the Dáil went into recess and the record will show that I asked him to publish a White Paper on what could be done to bridge the emerging fiscal gap. He did nothing in the budget in late 2007 and while Deputy Lenihan was reading himself in on succeeding him, no action took place either. However, when the Minister began to realise the magnitude of the problem facing him, he took rigorous action and I compliment him on that.

There are also difficulties with the manner in which the cuts are being applied. The Minister needs to go back to first principles and make a commitment that cuts will be applied fairly across the community and that the most vulnerable will be protected because we will not go forward unless there is a sense of social cohesion. If people feel they are being unfairly treated or the vulnerable are being attacked, there will be a major problem. We had an example earlier with the protest outside the gates.

A protest took place two weeks ago outside the office of the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Peter Power, in Limerick about the closure of a respite house and I went along to meet the parents of people affected. I cannot understand how such a house run by the Brothers of Charity would be closed for the sake of €150,000 when one considers the HSE’s budget. It employs 110,000 people while the Department has 500 staff and four Ministers. Why should it tap along to the bottom affecting the most vulnerable group of people on the front line who try to get a break at the weekend? The vulnerable most be protected. On the same day I was asked by one of the parents on the protest to read an article in the Irish Independent. While they were protesting to protect an allocation of €150,000, it was [140]reported that 18 executives in Anglo Irish Bank had higher salaries than the Taoiseach. How can the Minister explain to the parents of people with special needs whose respite house will be closed that €150,000 could not be found while 18 executives in this bank, which is completely funded by the taxpayer, are in receipt of salaries in excess of that of the Taoiseach?

When the budget is introduced later this year, the Minister needs to apply the fairness test to protect the vulnerable. He also needs to protect the capital programme.

I am worried about the capital programme. First, the Minister has announced already that €1 billion is being taken out of it. I believe he should re-examine that. Regardless of anything else, we need demand in the economy, and demand from the capital programme can be quite significant. The second problem with the capital programme is that what has been allocated is not being spent. The Revenue Commissioners figures published last week showed a very big discrepancy on the capital expenditure side. There is no point having the money allocated; a number in a book does not create jobs. With shovel-ready projects the shovels should be out. There is no point saying at the end of the year: “We had all this money in the capital programme but we are great lads because we saved 20% of it.” If it is allocated, it should be spent. That is the nature of budgeting.

There is a third issue with the capital programme which the Minister should check with his Department. I have received reports from reasonably significant people in the semi-State sector that they have capital projects ready to go but the paperwork is stacked up in the Department and has not been signed off. I have been told they are waiting up to eight months for the go-ahead. These are capital projects where the money is available and jobs would be created, yet they are not being given the go-ahead. That should certainly be examined.

Many Members spoke about confidence tonight. Confidence is vital. We do not have the capacity to provide the type of stimulus package that was provided in the United States. We cannot print money because we do not have our own currency, and it probably would not be wise to do so anyway. However, this country is spending approximately €19 billion more than it collects in tax each year. It is borrowing the money abroad and is spending it domestically. That is a serious stimulus package, so there is no shortage of demand on that side. Where the demand shortage occurs is in the lack of confidence in consumers. As the Minister reminded us, there are almost 1.9 million people at work and the banks are full of their savings. Savings in Ireland are at an historic high. The Minister’s task is to inspire enough confidence in people to encourage them to spend in the domestic market again. His problems, as the Minister’s Deputy said, relate to confidence.

People have confidence in the Minister, but they have no confidence in the Government. I facetiously suggested last week that the Minister was like the mythical first mate on the Titanic. He has no captain, no crew and is trying to do the job alone.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  There is no iceberg.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  There is no ship.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  To extend the metaphor, the Green officers who have now departed the deck would probably have been on the side of the iceberg. They would have accused the Minister of deliberately destroying one of the great features of nature by driving the Titanic straight into it. These are the problems the Minister faces. It is known by all parties that there is no confidence on the ground in the Taoiseach. Deputies can talk him up or down, he can make great speeches and the Deputies can applaud him all night but it is hard to get confidence back when it is gone. The Minister is in a dangerous situation.

[141]There is no confidence in the banks either.

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  Where are the Deputy’s colleagues?

Deputy Michael Noonan:  There is a match on television. The Deputy should get in tune with the real Ireland.

There is no confidence in the banks. After the investment of €22 billion in Anglo Irish Bank, the investment in Bank of Ireland and AIB, the establishment of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and the transfer of the impaired assets, we still do not have a functioning banking system that is providing credit lines to business and householders. The Minister’s reputation is at risk because of this.

Tomorrow we will debate the terms of reference of the commission of inquiry into banking. I thank the Minister for extending the period under scrutiny to include the period from the night of the guarantee at the end of September 2008 to 15 January 2009, when Anglo Irish Bank was nationalised. I am glad he has done that. However, he should allow the commission to scrutinise the advice the Minister was given as well. I believe the Minister was in a situation where he took decisions without full information. I do not believe he knew the extent of the indebtedness of Anglo Irish Bank on 29 September, when he extended the guarantee to all its liabilities, or its full indebtedness when it was nationalised on 15 January 2009. I do not believe the Minister knew what was happening in the valuation the banks were putting on the assets that transferred to NAMA. I believe he was as surprised as anybody else by the second business plan for NAMA which we received yesterday.

What has happened is extraordinary. The banks’ advice to the Department should be subject to the examination. Otherwise, as frequently happens in this country, the political head of the Department will be left holding the can when, in my view, he is blameless on the issue. He worked on the basis of the advice before him. It is in the Minister’s and everybody’s interest to have this area illuminated as well and to have the truth of the advice brought forward.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 77; Níl, 71.

 Ahern, Bertie.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Aylward, Bobby.
 Behan, Joe.  Blaney, Niall.
 Brady, Áine.  Brady, Cyprian.
 Brady, Johnny.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Connick, Seán.  Coughlan, Mary.
 Cowen, Brian.  Cregan, John.
 Cuffe, Ciarán.  Curran, John.
 Dempsey, Noel.  Devins, Jimmy.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Fahey, Frank.
 Finneran, Michael.  Fitzpatrick, Michael.
 Fleming, Seán.  Flynn, Beverley.
 Gogarty, Paul.  Gormley, John.
 Grealish, Noel.  Hanafin, Mary.
 Harney, Mary.  Haughey, Seán.
 Healy-Rae, Jackie.  Hoctor, Máire.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kenneally, Brendan.  Kennedy, Michael.
 Killeen, Tony.  Kitt, Michael P.
 Kitt, Tom.  Lenihan, Brian.
 Lenihan, Conor.  Lowry, Michael.
 McEllistrim, Thomas.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 Mansergh, Martin.  Martin, Micheál.
 Moloney, John.  Moynihan, Michael.
 Mulcahy, Michael.  Ó Cuív, Éamon.
 Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.  O’Brien, Darragh.
 O’Connor, Charlie.  O’Dea, Willie.
 O’Donoghue, John.  O’Flynn, Noel.
 O’Hanlon, Rory.  O’Keeffe, Batt.
 O’Keeffe, Edward.  O’Rourke, Mary.
 O’Sullivan, Christy.  Power, Seán.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Wallace, Mary.  White, Mary Alexandra.
 Woods, Michael.  


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

Tellers: Tá, Deputies John Cregan and John Curran; Níl, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Joe Carey.

Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Seanad Éireann has passed the Criminal Justice (Psychoactive Substances) Bill 2010, without amendment.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

I thank Members for agreeing to take this Bill at very short notice. This is a small two section Bill, with just one section of a substantive nature. The amendment to section 217(6) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 proposed in this Bill was introduced and agreed on Committee Stage in the Dáil during discussions on the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009. That Bill is due to return to the Seanad next week for Report Stage and conclusion.

Unfortunately, a timing issue has arisen that necessitated the introduction at short notice of this Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill 2010 to deal solely with the amendment to section 217(6) of the Planning and Development Act. Under that section, once An Bord Pleanála confirms a compulsory purchase order, the local authority has 18 months in which to serve notices to treat on any landowner affected. If it fails to do so, the CPO lapses.

Where judicial review proceedings are taken the likely timeframe for reaching a conclusion means that the CPO notices to treat may expire before the legal action concludes. The difficulty this presents is that work undertaken and expense incurred by local authorities on schemes that go into judicial review and are subsequently given the go-ahead will then be redundant because the prescribed time period for the CPO has expired. Such a situation may arise if this Bill is not enacted today.

The project involved is the Galway city outer bypass where, as the result of a referral to the European Court of Justice arising from a challenge to the approval by An Bord Pleanála of the road scheme, the CPO 18-month limit will expire at midnight. The current section 217(6) makes no allowance for the possibility of such legal challenges and, as a consequence, fails to factor in a holding provision that would maintain the validity of a CPO approval beyond the fixed 18-month period in circumstances where such challenges arise.

Under the current legislation it is open to a county council to make a new CPO, with all the costs and effort that would entail, to replace a lapsed CPO once the outcome of the legal challenge is finally determined. Apart from the waste of resources and duplication of effort involved, the new CPO would have to comply with all standard legal requirements, including publication of notices, availability for inspection by the public, objection procedures with a minimum period of six weeks allowed for making objections, submission of the CPO to An Bord Pleanála, holding of an oral hearing and determination of the matter by the board.

  9 o’clock

The process associated with a new CPO could easily take a year or more to complete, with obvious implications for the timeline attaching to the advancement and construction of the road scheme and also in respect of additional costs. As the Bill providing for the amendment to section 217 of the Planning and Development Act will not be enacted in time to deal with the lapse of the Galway CPO notices to treat, a Bill has been prepared that contains the relevant provision from the proposed Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. This will resolve the situation where court proceedings lead to the expiry of local authority CPOs before a decision is reached. It will mean that the CPOs in the case of the Galway city outer bypass project will be extended to the earlier of 30 days after the conclusion of the legal proceedings or 18 months after the expiry of the initial 18-month period.

The European Court of Justice is not likely to rule on the referral for some time and therefore the purpose of the Bill is to avoid the considerable expense and work associated with repeating the CPO process in the event of a positive decision by the European Court of Justice. The Galway city outer bypass is regarded by the NRA as a high priority project and the [144]construction of the bypass was provided for in Transport 21. In line with that provision, Galway County Council and Galway City Council, with the support of the NRA, progressed the planning of the project. The project was approved by An Bord Pleanála in November 2008.

There is, however, a legitimate issue to be resolved for to An Bord Pleanála approval for the Galway city outer bypass regarding the interpretation of Article 6(3) of the habitats directive and of Regulation 30 of the Habitat Regulations 1997. I am fully supportive of the Galway city outer bypass, subject to all necessary legal consents being obtained and compliance with all obligations under EU law. If, therefore, the legal situation is resolved I wish to see construction of the road going ahead as quickly as possible. This Bill will facilitate that possibility.

Section 1 of the Bill provides for the amendment of section 217 of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The effect of the proposed amendment is that where there are legal proceedings challenging a compulsory purchase or consents relating to a particular project and a notice to treat is not served within 18 months, the time limit for serving the notice can be extended to the earlier of 30 days after the conclusion of the legal proceedings or 18 months after the expiry of the initial 18 month period. This section also provides that in the event of legal proceedings not being concluded within the extended time limit provided for in section 1 the relevant local authority can apply to the High Court for a further extension and the High Court, if it considers there is sufficient grounds for doing so, can allow such a further extension as it considers reasonable and fair in the circumstances. This Bill only deals with CPOs and notices to treat involving local authorities. No Government agency, such as the NRA or CIE, will be in a position to avail of the provisions of this Bill. This is a matter which should be reviewed at a later stage.

Section 2 of the Bill is merely the Short Title and collective citation and is a standard provision in all Bills placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas. I again thank Members opposite for facilitating this process and the passage of this Bill. It is necessary to save money for the taxpayer, as well as to try to ensure that when this matter is resolved in the courts, if it is given the go-ahead, it may proceed without undue delay.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I wish to share time with Deputy McCormack. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle will let me know when seven minutes have expired.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Very well.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  First, I am looking forward to taking over the transport brief.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Sorry, I should have welcomed the Deputy to his new portfolio.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  The Minister is fine. I am sure he has a lot on his mind. I look forward to working with the Minister and his Department on transport issues generally.

On this particular issue, I was somewhat taken aback today when Members were asked to take this legislation. It is not good practice, as the Minister probably will accept, to introduce legislation the Opposition does not have an opportunity to amend. While Opposition Members will comment on it, essentially it is being driven through in the space of an hour or so this evening. This is not something of which Members should make a habit. That said, if this measure will save money and if it makes sense, then Members have an obligation to try to facilitate the process.

However, I wish to ask a number of questions on this Bill. First, I do not understand the reason the Minister for Transport is taking this Bill and not the Minister for the Environment, [145]Heritage and Local Government. It proposes to bring forward a section of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill that is going through the Oireachtas at present and which is almost finalised. Consequently, I do not understand the reason the Department of Transport is taking responsibility for it this evening. I understand its purpose is to facilitate a particular road project, namely, the Galway city outer bypass that, as far as I am aware, my party strongly supports. However, I do not understand the reason the Department that at present is dealing with this issue in planning law is not taking this Bill.

Second, I presume the Office of the Attorney General has answered the question as to whether it is legally appropriate to change the law in the middle of a legal case, which is what is happening here. Even though the case, which is before the European Court of Justice, pertains to giving a ruling on how a section of the habitats directive applies in this case, the impact of the outcome of that case on the timing of the implementation of a compulsory purchase order, CPO, will be changed. In other words, the outcome with regard to the extension of the CPO is being changed.

If this makes sense for local authorities that make CPOs for whatever reason, they normally are for roads but they have other purposes, I do not understand the reason it would not also make sense for the other State bodies that are entitled to make CPOs. For example, why should it be different for EirGrid, were it obliged to deal with a legal challenge regarding pylons thereby requiring an extension to the time limit of a CPO? I do not understand why the rationale is any different for local authorities than it might be for other State agencies or bodies. Essentially, are Members merely passing this legislation to deal with this particular case in Galway or it is being suggested that it is good law to be able to extend the 18-month period after which a CPO collapses on foot of a legal challenge to the process or to the planning process that may be related to it? If it is good law for local authorities, surely it also is good law for the other bodies concerned. For example, what would be the difference in the case of a port company or the Irish Aviation Authority in respect of an airport? I do not understand. While I am willing to facilitate the Minister in respect of what he is trying to do this evening, many genuine questions arise as to the reason this legislation is being done in this manner, whereby it only applies to local authorities. In addition, an issue arises about rushing the Bill in the first place. It was known weeks ago that this was likely to be the case, because it was unlikely that the planning legislation would get through the Houses before the end of term. There are reasonable and genuine questions that probably deserve answers.

As this is a Second Stage debate, I also wish to raise a more general point regarding transport projects. My understanding from media coverage this week, which highlighted that 40 road projects are on ice at present, the Galway city outer bypass being one of them, is that even were the issue in respect of the CPO and an extension of time resolved and even were the go-ahead secured from the European Court of Justice to build this road, apparently there would be no funding for it anyway. The Minister should provide clarity on the funding and prioritisation of this project. If Members are going to go through the process of changing the law to facilitate a CPO, will it be possible to find the capital to make the project happen?

On a more general point, I can understand the serious expenditure-related pressures on the Minister at present. However, I appeal to him to consider other ways to finance infrastructure projects through private sector investment. I do not suggest the privatisation of building roads through the mechanism of imposing tolls and so on. However, in the case of, for example, motorway stopovers, it sounds ridiculous that although the NRA does not have the capital to build such facilities at present, it is not considering tendering to the private sector to build them, while regulating the design, size, safety issues and all other issues that must be in place for a motorway stopover. At present, dozens of developers would be willing and able and extremely interested in building such infrastructure, if they could be facilitated by the NRA to [146]so do. The State must be more imaginative about how it finances capital programmes that are linked to or connected with the transport system and I ask the Minister to do this. I will now hand over to my colleague, Deputy McCormack, to speak more specifically about the Galway issue.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  First, I wish to put on record that Fine Gael is supportive of the Galway city outer bypass road project and has no objection to the passage of this rushed legislation this evening, which is relevant to that project. However, I both firmly believe and predict that at the end of 18 months, it will not make any difference because I do not expect any work to be done on this road. Why is this Bill being introduced at the last minute, when it has been known for the past 18 months that the CPO would expire within 18 months? Now, within four hours of the deadline for extending the time, Members are rushing a Bill through the Dáil. I believe this is being done as a face-saving measure for Deputy Fahey, who, like myself, is a strong supporter of the Galway city outer bypass road.

When the list of suspended projects appeared in yesterday’s newspapers, it was stated that the NRA was abandoning this project. This Bill really acts as camouflage to pretend there will be a further 18 months in which to decide on the project. That period will probably extend beyond the next election, after which it will be up to the new Government as to whether it will be able to fund the proposed road.

The proposed Galway city outer bypass has been an ongoing project for the past 12 years, which encompasses the full lifetime of Fianna Fáil’s participation in government. The most favourable route for the road was established nine years ago in 2001, at least three years before any part of that corridor was designated as a national heritage area. The designation is now being used as an excuse for stalling the building of the bypass road for the past ten years. There is no will on the part of the Government, especially the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, whom I am surprised is absent, to have the road built. In fact, at all times the Green Party has opposed the building of the road. Before the current Green Party Senator from Galway, former councillor, Senator Ó Brolcháin, lost his seat on the city council he used his position as mayor to object to the bypass on mayoral notepaper to An Bord Pleanála. Despite the objection of the Green Party, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the first phase of the road from Doughiska to Bushy Park on the N59 Moycullen road. The decision was appealed to the High Court by the objectors to the road. In October 2009 the High Court decision ruled in favour of An Bord Pleanála overruling the objection to the road.

The Minister, Deputy Gormley, stated in reply to a parliamentary question from Deputy Hogan on 21 January 2010 that: “Following the High Court ruling, the State [no less] and Mr. Sweetman separately sought leave to appeal the judgment to the Supreme Court. Leave to appeal was granted on 6 November 2009.” The Supreme Court then referred the matter to the European Court of Justice and as the seanchaí said, things rested so. The Mr. Sweetman referred to by the Minister was a former candidate for the Green Party in an election. That begs the question of whether the Minister is now or ever was in favour of the road being built. The suffering business people in Galway and Connemara and the frustrated motorists believe he is not in favour of the road. If further proof were needed, the Government has now suspended the project. It was listed as No. 4, N6 Galway outer bypass, on roads projects suspended by the NRA according to yesterday’s Irish Independent. The Minister for Transport, Deputy Dempsey, said the NRA considers the road a high priority but it does not look like a high priority to me.

[147]Given that the decision of An Bord Pleanála only sanctioned the outer bypass as far as the Moycullen Road at Bushy Park suggests that only slightly more than half of the scheme had been approved. With the estimated cost of completing half of the work at approximately €450 million I seriously question whether there is any commitment from the Government, or from one section of it at any rate, to ever proceed with the project, especially in view of the current financial situation where we are in debt to the tune of untold billions.

The decision of An Bord Pleanála to only allow half a bypass to be carried out renders it very unlikely that any work will be done on this road or that the necessary funds will be provided in the current climate for work for this road. The reasons given by An Bord Pleanála for not sanctioning the second part of the road from the Moycullen road to the Spiddal road was the possibility of endangering bog cotton and because part of the area was designated as a natural heritage area. The route was established as the most favourable route in 2001, at least three years before the area was designated as a natural heritage area. It seems very strange to me that that would be the case now. The decision would not allow the road to bypass the Galway to Moycullen road and would have a serious effect on other proposed road projects in the south Connemara area, namely, the proposed road to Rossaveal and the Barna relief road. It now seems unlikely that those proposed roads will proceed following the decision.

It is impossible to build half a bypass route in any case and to have it end, as is currently the case, on the N59. Up to €20 million has already been spent on planning the road and carrying out environmental tests yet not a sod has been dug on the road yet. It is most unlikely that a sod will be turned on the road in the next 18 months. Whether the High Court or the next Government decide to proceed with the road it is a doubtful project. We are only engaging in shadow boxing in having the CPOs extended. It is only a matter of saving face so that certain people in a Government party can claim the project is not dead and that it is really still alive when it is not alive at all. Everyone in Galway knows that at this stage.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The intimate knowledge of Deputy McCormack has hit the nail on the head in regard to this project. I did not realise bog cotton was an endangered plant species. There is plenty of it around in the west on all kinds of habitats. There is something surreal about us——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  There is.

Deputy Joe Costello:  ——forcing through a Bill at the last minute. We have until the witching hour of midnight to get the legislation through.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I wonder whether the Greens will be in the House to vote on it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  That is an interesting point too. The legislation relates to one specific project. It is not just rushed legislation but the fact that it is put forward for a particular purpose as distinct from a broad, collective range of purposes seldom makes for good legislation.

We find ourselves in an extraordinary situation. Only yesterday, the Minister announced the project was going nowhere for the time being yet now we have to get the time for the compulsory purchase orders extended. There is something strange about the timing of the Bill. It was unusual to find when I was speaking in the House at 2.30 p.m. that the Chief Whip arrived to introduce the order, which had not been introduced in the morning. The least one expects is that the business of the day will be regulated and completed in the morning but in this case the business was not ready.

At 2.30 p.m. the Chief Whip announced that the Bill would be going through all Stages today, but he also announced that it would be in the name of the Minister for the Environment, [148]Heritage and Local Government. I therefore expected that the passage of the Bill would be conducted by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because we were dealing with what is essentially a provision of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill which we could not complete at this time but, lo and behold, it is the Minister for Transport we see before us tonight. The Minister of State at the Department of Finance took the Bill in the Seanad. Something very strange seems to be going on given that neither the senior Minister in the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government nor the Minister of State at that Department, Deputy Cuffe, was available to deal with the Bill. I wonder whether the two parties are singing from the same hymn sheet on this matter.

I have a letter from the manager of Galway City Council which is profuse in its reference to Deputy Fahey, who is present. It gives him the credit for the idea of this legislation. The letter was written this week, which is very recent. It is strange, given that the case which has been taken to the Supreme Court and subsequently to the European Court of Justice, and has been ongoing for a considerable period, that the possibility of this situation arising was not envisaged earlier without having to rush through the legislation in this manner. The letter was addressed to the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cuffe. Did he, as the appropriate Minister in the absence of the senior Minister, decide not to deal with the legislation? Do issues arise as outlined by Deputy McCormack in regard to objections along the route? Is it the case that the Green Party was not interested in being seen to take the legislation which would have the effect of ensuring that at least the compulsory purchases would go ahead some time in the future once the case was exhausted in the courts?

These are questions that should be answered because it seems there is a very substantial political dimension to the legislation. We are being asked at the 11th hour, almost the 12th, to accept all Stages of the legislation in an hour and 20 minutes. We know from experience that does not work and that there are nearly always flaws in rushed legislation. Legislation rushed through both Houses after 8 p.m. on the same day could very well end up being problematic.

When the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2009 is completed, will the Minister repeal the Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill? Will this be a priority and a commitment? There is nothing in the legislation that will bring an end to it.

How appropriate is it to introduce legislation that pertains to a case that is before the courts? The Bill will have a bearing on the outcome of the case because it is effectively extending the timeframe associated with matters relevant thereto. I would like to hear the Minister respond on this.

I have no objections to the substance of the Bill. It is very reasonable in that no country could carry out projects such as roads projects without compulsory purchases. In respect of the 2000 Act, it is strange that an extension of time was not required because of legal actions. I can envisage such action, particularly given the litigious nature of Irish citizens and all the objections that arise when there is a major project. The provision to amend the planning legislation is welcome and we have no objection to it.

I did not realise the amount of money spent to date was as large as the amount stated by Deputy McCormack, that is, in the region of €20 million. This money must not be allowed to go down the tubes. The cost of having to reapply for a compulsory purchase order and engage again with An Bord Pleanála, with the consequent work on specifications and planning, would be quite substantial. It is eminently desirable not to subject the taxpayer to that cost.

It is eminently desirable to know whether projects will proceed or whether, having applied for planning permission and obtained compulsory purchase orders, there will be no funding. [149] Does the Minister envisage any progress in the foreseeable future on the long list of projects that have been suspended indefinitely, and which we read about in the newspapers?

There is something strange and fishy about this legislation, arriving as it does at this time and given the manner in which we are being compelled, much against our will, to pass it on the basis of a guillotine. We talked about the guillotine all day today and many votes arose because of it. This Bill involves what one might call a super-guillotine. It is the kind that nobody would expect in any circumstances. The danger is that we are being forced to do something we might regret. I ask the Minister to commit that this legislation will cease to exist once the provisions of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill are in place.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is some spare time. Deputy Fahey has indicated he would like a few minutes in which to speak. Perhaps he could be allowed to contribute before I call the Minister.

Deputy Frank Fahey:  I welcome the agreement of the Opposition to the substantive issue, which pertains to compulsory purchase orders in general. The Bill affects the Galway outer bypass and is, as the Minister stated, to ensure the local authority will not have to waste considerable time and money by having to go back to the drawing board. As Deputy McCormack stated, a very large amount of money has been expended on the project to date. It has taken several years to get to this point and it would be very wrong for the Oireachtas to allow a waste of taxpayers’ money. In that respect, this legislation is welcome.

This is not a question of whether the bypass should go ahead; it has no bearing on it. The bypass has been subjected to judicial review. The case has been before the High Court and Supreme Court and has now been referred to the European Court of Justice for a preliminary hearing. In this democracy, that is as it should be. Those who have objected have every right to do so. Those who are concerned about the process have every right to be concerned.

As Deputy Costello stated, the reality is that there are environmental issues to be considered. For his information, the priority one natural habitat area is for slender bog cotton. It is a very rare plant and quite different from bog cotton. There are approximately 2 hectares involved. The route of the bypass is to affect approximately 3.5 hectares of limestone pavement on the eastern side of the city. It is a priority one natural habitat according to EU specifications. As a proponent of the bypass, I accept fully these issues must be dealt with through the proper legal channels, as the Minister said. While this takes time, it is very important, for Galway and the rest of the country, that the issues be dealt with properly and to the satisfaction of everyone. That is why I have never been critical of objections. It is part of the democratic process.

The issue at hand does not concern whether the bypass should proceed; it is simply concerned with the need to ensure good practice. This legislation was passed by the Dáil last week. It was due to proceed to the Seanad this week and it was only because there were 100 amendments to the planning legislation, which the Bills Office could not process, that it was not possible to pass it in the House this week. This House is not passing any legislation that has not already been agreed by it. It was agreed that it would proceed to the Seanad. No amendments were tabled for the Seanad. Therefore, the legislation would also have been passed by the Seanad. It was intended that it would be passed by that House before the deadline pertaining to the Galway bypass.

Notwithstanding some of the points made by the Opposition, with which I disagree politically, I thank it for agreeing to the substance of the Bill. This legislation is in the best interest of the taxpayer and Galway. There are those with legitimate objections thereto and, as a democrat, I am prepared to recognise those. The European Court of Justice will now give its opinion on the case to the Irish Supreme Court. One could not have a decision made in a better way. [150] I will be quite happy to accept that decision when made. My one appeal to the courts is that they make their decisions as quickly as possible.

I very much welcome the Minister’s statement this evening that this matter is one of his priorities. Galway city centre is now the only city centre that 45,000 to 50,000 cars must enter unnecessarily each day. The M50 prevents their doing so in Dublin. The Waterford bypass, which was opened recently, achieves this objective, as will the Limerick tunnel, which is to open this month. The tunnel will open at a cost of €800 million. The Jack Lynch tunnel is in place in Cork. Every Friday evening, people are stuck sitting in their cars in Galway for an hour, the emissions impacting on the environment. It is commonsensical to move on and build the bypass while acknowledging people’s right to object. Let the courts decide, but let us get on with the job and have a decision as quickly as possible.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  On a point of information, are the officials who are in attendance from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government or Transport? I am trying to understand which Department as opposed to which Minister is dealing with this legislation.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The officials are from the Department of Transport, which is the norm when a Minister is presenting a Bill to the House. I thank the Deputies who contributed to the debate, but I am amused by the bemusement concerning a Minister taking a Bill. We operate under a collective Cabinet responsibility system and I would have handled this in the Seanad had I been available, but I was not. Instead, a Minister of State at the Department of Finance handled it. Had he not been available, it could have been a Minister of State or Minister at some other Department.

Deputy Joe Costello:  But not a Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This is what being part of a team is all about.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  There are 100 amendments to the legislation.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The officials to my right are from my Department and another is from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because of the planning implications. It is not a mystery that my Department would want to ensure the Bill’s passage through the House when other Ministers are unavailable. The Bill is the Compulsory Purchase Orders (Extension of Time Limits) Bill. As Deputy Fahey stated, it started as an amendment to the Planning and Development Act.

I apologise for not doing so earlier, but I would like to take the opportunity to wish Deputies Costello and Coveney well in their positions as their parties’ transport spokesmen. As is customary, the Department of Transport will offer them every co-operation in terms of briefings and so on. They need only ask, as we try to be as open as possible on all of these matters.

I will not repeat Deputy Fahey’s comments, but I agree with them regarding this Bill. The planning and development legislation was slow in passing through the House due to the large number of amendments and, as we know, the compulsory purchase order, CPO, issue became crucial and needed to be addressed before midnight. We undertook to address the matter in a separate Bill. I have been asked whether this Bill will be repealed or what procedure will be used. My understanding is that the Bill will be stand-alone legislation. The advice to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is that it should allow the section [151]in the planning and development Bill to remain as is, but not to commence it, and then to repeal it following the planning and foreshore Bill. This is the procedure to be adopted.

Deputy Coveney asked whether the Attorney General had been consulted and whether passing this legislation would be appropriate with a case before the courts. This Bill went through the Attorney General’s office, as must all legislation, and we are taking his advice. The Bill is not designed to influence anything. The Deputy raised a valid point about whether we were trying to influence a court decision, but the answer is that we are not. The court will take its own decision. As all contributors to the debate have accepted, we want to be in a position to move immediately when the court case has been decided and not lose a further 12 months.

Despite the gloom of Deputy McCormack, who takes a pessimistic view of everything most of the time, I hope he can be more optimistic about this Bill. I have committed to the project for its own sake——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I bet the Minister any amount he would like to put down that it will not be done within the 18 months.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  ——and because of my strong commitment to the Smarter Travel policy document that we published. Given the policy’s possibilities for Galway city and provided the outer bypass is put in place, Galway could be the country’s most sustainable city. This is a marvellous opportunity and I am committed to trying to ensure it is taken.

In terms of the list referred to by Deputy McCormack, it would not be wise to lay money aside for the Galway outer bypass in light of the possibility that the court case could take 12 months. Hopefully it will not, but it could take longer. Stalling other projects would not be wise. When this project gets through the system and is ready for financing, as is the case with all the other pending projects — some newspapers referred to them as being “suspended”— we will move it forward within our financial constraints.

Deputy Coveney raised the matter of motorway service areas and asked why we were not taking the PPP route. We have taken that route and are providing three service areas. They are being constructed. Six months ago, I instructed the NRA to devise a scheme whereby these service areas, just as the Deputy mentioned tonight and in yesterday’s newspaper, would be provided without costing the taxpayer any money. PPPs cost taxpayers money and I am awaiting a report from the NRA to try to ensure the scheme is set up.

As to whether the Bill is for a specific project, that happens to be the case currently. As the Members opposite accept, one project would be badly affected. However, the Bill is not for a specific project. Rather, it will apply to any case. This issue was first raised with me not only in the context of the Galway outer bypass, but also in the context of the Enniscorthy bypass in respect of which a court challenge had been mounted. It was feared that the same would occur in this instance. The court case was heard and dismissed, so it does not apply, but this provision will apply if any case arises in future. The Bill applies generally, but in a particular way to this particular project at this stage.

The provisions relating to local authorities will be examined as the question was a reasonable one. In the time available to us on this and the planning and development Bill, we kept the amendment as tight as possible to meet the situation we saw coming down the tracks. Deputy Coveney raised a valid question about this Bill’s application to other bodies. That matter will be considered in the context of future planning and development Bills.

These were the major points. I thank Deputies for their contributions and for facilitating this debate. I accept the comments of Deputies Coveney and Costello. If it can be avoided, legis[152]lation should not go through the House in this way. However, these circumstances arose and I thank the Deputies for their forbearance in allowing this debate to be held tonight.

Question put and agreed to.

Question proposed: “That section 1 stand part of the Bill."

Deputy Joe Costello:  I want to ask the Minister about the 30 days after the day on which the legal proceedings are concluded, or 18 months after the day on which the first period expires. Would it not be simpler to have it just 30 days after the day on which the legal proceedings are concluded because the nub of the matter is about legal proceedings and 30 days is just a month within the period of the completion of the legal proceedings? Why have another period of 18 months and why is there a need to go to the High Court if the matter can be dealt with in the 30 days after all legal proceedings are over?

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Section 1 states:

. . . a notice to treat is not served within the period of 18 months (in this subsection referred to as the ‘first period’), the first period shall be extended for a further period (in this subsection referred to as the ‘second period’) beginning on the day immediately after the day on which the first period expires and expiring on the earlier of the following:

(I) 30 days after the day on which the legal proceedings are concluded; or

(II) 18 months after the day on which the first period expires.

I would like clarification in that regard. The impression might be given that Deputies on this side of the House are not in favour of this Bill. We are in favour of it and we are in favour of the city outer bypass road. It is easy for Deputy Fahey to say he is not critical of the objectors. I am not entering into the question of objectors. It suits the Government not to be critical of the objectors. The longer the objectors hold up a road, there will be no necessity to provide money for it. That is a real danger I see in this process.

The Minister, Deputy Dempsey, seems to believe I am not committed to the people of Galway. I am a long-time representative of both Galway city and county, in the city council, the council and in the Dáil, and I am committed to the outer bypass road and the people of Connemara that it will serve. The M6 has been completed to Galway but there is a constant traffic jam approaching it with nowhere for vehicles to go. I will not take it from the Minister or from anyone who says I am less committed to Galway than anybody else who spoke here tonight. Of course I am committed, and I would like clarification on section 1. What will happen at the end of the 18 month period? The Minister claims I am pessimistic. I believe always in telling the people what they should hear, not what they want to hear. I do not believe in deceiving people. There is no use pretending we are now getting 18 months grace for the CPOs and the land purchase since there is no possibility of this happening within 12 months.

What will happen when the 12 month period has expired and there is no notice to treat or moneys provided for the purchase of the necessary property or for the overall project? Half the project is estimated to cost €145 million. I presume the entire project would cost twice as much and it would be more difficult terrain west of the N59 Moycullen road than east of it. [153] There will be many questions to be answered at the end of 18 months. We should give the people the true picture and stop fooling them.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I have a brief question on section 1. I raised a point on Second Stage about this applying only to local authorities. There is nothing in the Bill, or in section 1, that makes reference to this section applying only to local authorities. Am I correct in assuming that section 217 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 refers only to local authorities? Is that correct, just for clarification purposes, because I have not had time to read that section?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The Deputy is correct. It is section 217(6), and it refers specifically to local authorities.

I do not want to enter any notes of rancour on this because we are getting a good deal of co-operation. I said Deputy McCormack was a pessimist, but that just means someone who looks at things in a very black way. I did not cast any aspersions on his commitment to the people of Galway. I would not cast aspersions on the commitment to his or her constituents of anyone elected to this House. I hope I did not give that impression at any stage. I will look at the “blacks”, but again I believe it is just Deputy McCormack’s pessimistic nature. I did not infer at any stage that Fine Gael was not in favour of this. In fact, I went out of my way, as did other speakers, to acknowledge the positive approach the Opposition, including Fine Gael, took to this Bill.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  We shall see who is right when the next election is called. There will be no sign of this road

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  As regards section 1, and the 30 days or the 18 months, it is a question of whichever is the lesser. However, after 18 months it has to go to the courts and the reason for this is to ensure proportionality and fairness for people who may still have objections. The compulsory purchase order regime has been very carefully balanced over time. One cannot just issue CPOs willy-nilly around the place. Constitutional rights of property and so on are in place.

  10 o’clock

The reason the Attorney General provides in the Bill for the necessity of High Court proceedings, if it continues for a longer period, is precisely to ensure that a person’s constitutional rights are not being infringed by such a continuance. Rather than a layperson, such as the Minister, deciding on this, who might be prejudiced in some people’s eyes — because of wanting a project to go ahead or whatever — the courts should have the opportunity to decide whether a person’s property rights are being infringed in an unfair or disproportionate manner. One may infringe people’s property rights provided this is proportionately done for the public good. That is the reason for this provision about the High Court.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  On the issue of 30 days or 18 months, whichever is the lesser, is not 30 days always less than 18 months?

Deputy Simon Coveney:  It is 30 days after the legal proceedings have concluded.

Deputy Joe Costello:  From what Deputy Coveney said about the local authorities, this is now a stand alone Bill. The Minister does not intend to repeal it but will get rid of whatever is in the Planning and Development Bill to which it relates. That means this Bill will extend not just to local authorities but to projects that are outside the local authority projects. Is that not the case? There is nothing in the Bill that limits the legislation to a local authority project. As I see it, it is silent on the projects and is merely a Bill to give an extension of time——

[154]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The amendment of section 217 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 is mentioned at the outset. That is the reference and the framework for it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  That will still be the framework.

Does the Minister intend to leave this as stand-alone legislation and not remove the section in question from the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill currently before the Houses?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  The advice from the Attorney General is that we let the Bill go through as drafted. There would have to be an commencement order for that provision but it will not be commenced. When the planning and foreshore Bill comes through in the autumn, it will be deleted from the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill will supersede the Planning and Development Act 2000 when enacted. This Bill will amend section 217(6) of the same Act.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  No. The planning Bill will not supersede the 2000 Act. It may amend certain parts of it, as will this Bill, but the 2000 legislation will remain the Principal Act.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Does section 217(6) of the 2000 Act still stand?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Does the Bill have to be signed before midnight by the President?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  An earlier signature motion will be passed by the Seanad tonight, after the Bill has passed here. The Bill will then go to Áras an Uachtaráin for the President to sign, of which she has been informed.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I hope she is still up.

Question put and agreed to.

Section 2 agreed to.

Title agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

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

Seanad amendment No. 1:

Section 3: In page 8, subsection (1), between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

““category”, in relation to a vehicle referred to in the definition of “specified person”, means a category of vehicle referred to in Regulation 6 of the Road Traffic (Licensing of Drivers) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 537 of 2006);”.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Many of these amendments from the Seanad are small and technical adjustments to the Bill. As road traffic legislation attracts the most litigation, we want to make this Bill as watertight and as accurate as possible.

[155]Seanad amendment No. 1 adds the definition of “category” to the list to provide clarity where the term is used in the definition of “specified persons”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 2:

Section 3: In page 8, subsection (1)(c), line 33, after “category” to insert “C, C1,”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This amendment proposes to extend the categories of licence for the definitions of specified persons associated with an offence under sections 4 and 5. I want to add categories C and C1, drivers of rigid trucks, to the other categories defined as “specific persons”, as they were excluded in an oversight.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendments Nos. 3 to 5, inclusive, 7, 8, 10, 20 to 23, inclusive, 28 to 31, inclusive, 33, 36 to 38, inclusive, 42 to 44, inclusive, 48 to 51, inclusive, 53, 54, 56 to 63, inclusive, and 65 to 70, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together. That sounded like a bingo card.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  They are not all related.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If Members wish, it is possible to desegregate them.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  No, for time purposes we should take them together but not pretend they are all related.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We will deal with all these amendments in a collective way but it will not be possible to debate each amendment. However, I will give a little bit of flexibility if Members indicate to me on which amendment they would like to contribute.

Seanad amendment No. 3:

Section 3: In page 9, subsection (2), lines 9 and 10, to delete “hired or plied for hire, as the case may be” and substitute “used in the course of business”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This amendment provides more clarity and plain English to section 3(2).

Deputy Joe Costello:  This amendment proposes to change the racy language of “hired or plied for hire” with “used in the course of business”. What if the vehicle is also used for personal use? An owner of a small public service vehicle will also use it as his or her personal transport vehicle.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This amendment provides more clarity. “Use in the course of business” is a more modern phrase.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Should the provisions of this section be confined to vehicles being used in the course of business? Surely a small public service vehicle is likely to be used on occasion as a family car. Many people may drive them for personal purposes as well as for work. Should that not be covered by the section?

[156]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is. If I understand the Deputy correctly, he is saying that if a specified person is working, a different limit applies to him or her than if he or she was on holidays or otherwise not plying his or her trade. That is not what this is about; rather, it changes an old way of describing——

Deputy Joe Costello:  Does it cover personal use?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Yes.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 4:

Section 7: In page 12, line 6, “force” deleted and “cause” substituted.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 5:

Section 8: In page 12, subsection (3), line 32, after “or”, “produces it but” inserted.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 6:

Section 9: In page 13, subsection (1)(iii), line 43, “the member may then require the person” deleted.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I wish to comment on this amendment.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This is not part of the group of amendments that were to be discussed together.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Coveney, would you like to hear the Minister’s comment first?

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Yes.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This section was the subject of much debate at various Stages in the Dáil and Seanad and a number of suggestions were made, which we have considered and which are reflected in the Bill. At all times we were conscious of the importance of taking legal advice on various aspects of the Bill; if I was not conscious of it before we started discussing the Bill, I certainly became so, because Acts such as these are the subject of the most legal action.

I am committed to the principle of mandatory testing. We tried during the earlier Stages in the Dáil and Seanad to find ways to provide for testing at collision sites where injury has been caused. We obtained advice from Office of the Attorney General at every stage of the Bill on ways to enhance the robustness of section 9. My advice is that simply by deleting the words “the member may then require the person”, we can ensure that the mandatory element of section 9(1)(a)(i) and 9(1)(b) carries through to subparagraph (iii) and the discretionary element of section 9(1)(a)(ii) also carries through to subparagraph (iii).

I am happy with this amendment, which was introduced in the Seanad although the issue was raised in the House by Deputies Broughan and O’Dowd. After the passage of the Bill, [157]when I met people from PARC, they felt we had provided what they had been seeking. As I said, we had a good debate on this during the earlier Stages in the Dáil.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  This is the most substantial amendment from the Seanad. Although I am new to this legislation, that is my reading of it. I do not think we will see another amendment later that is more substantial. Essentially, this does away with the option for a garda who does not have a breathalyser when attending a collision of telling the person to go home. It requires the garda to obtain a breathalyser within an hour if possible.

Ironically, this happened to me one night when driving along the canal in Dublin. I was stopped by a garda at about 2.30 a.m. on my way home from a function and for some reason he was convinced I had drink taken, although I had not. He called for an apparatus and it took about 50 minutes to get one from some other part of Dublin. I do not know why I was nervous breathing into it when I had not been drinking, but I was.

I can understand the circumstances covered by this provision. If a garda stops a friend of his in some rural area and does not have a working apparatus in the car, there is a temptation, even if they go back to the Garda station, for the garda to let the driver go. The section provides for mandatory breath testing of a person in control of a car whether or not the garda has an apparatus available at the scene. This removes any ambiguity, which is a good thing.

My only concern is that I do not quite understand why the Minister has not tried to make the section a little clearer. The amendment could simply have deleted the word “may” and replaced it with “shall”. The wording is not as clear when the phrase specified in the amendment is removed, and this may cause some confusion. I assume the Office of the Attorney General has approved the change, but to replace the word “may” with the word “shall” would make a very clear statement that the use of the breathalyser apparatus is not optional even if there is a delay between the arrival of the garda at the scene and the arrival of the apparatus. However, it is a good amendment. I can see why it has been introduced and I support it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The amendment is fine in that respect, but my question is a different one. What is the meaning of the phrase “in the manner indicated by the member”? Has this been defined at any stage? Every garda will have a different instruction for blowing into the apparatus. Is there an agreed manner in which the apparatus should be used? The phrase is mentioned again and again in the Bill. Unless there is agreement on the manner in which the apparatus is to be used, each member of the Garda is likely to tell a driver something different.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I thank the Minister for deleting the phrase indicated in the amendment. We had lengthy discussions about it in the House during earlier Stages of the debate. The removal of the phrase strengthens the Bill and the application of the section, so that it comes as close as we can at this stage to mandatory testing, which I welcome.

Quite a few people in the House have had experience of giving breath samples to members of the Garda Síochána. At the start of the campaign of random checks, gardaí seemed to be requesting breath samples quite frequently, but some slippage has occurred over the last year and a half. The Minister is aware that at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Transport the Garda Commissioner told me that the number of random checks had declined from around 77,000 in 2008 to around 55,000 in 2009, and in 2010 the number has fallen again. There is a problem of enforcement that must be addressed. I thank the Minister for bringing forward this amendment in the Seanad and commend the committee members of the PARC organisation who fought such a tremendous campaign to bring mandatory testing to fruition in this Bill.

[158]Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I thank the Deputies for their comments. I concur with Deputy Coveney with regard to the reason this was included as it was. I have mentioned that this is somewhat inelegant in the way it is drafted, but we tried to tidy it up to make it clear. I am told that from the legal perspective we should generally ensure “may” matches “may” and “shall” matches “shall” and so on and so forth. However, the provision meets the requirements of the Deputies and others with regard to mandatory testing. I acknowledge the work done by Deputies on all sides in this regard. We had a good debate on the issues. We made some amendments to the Bill in the Dáil and then took it to the Seanad where it was amended further. It has now returned to the Dáil so we can finish the job.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The Minister forgot to respond to my query about the manner indicated by the member of the Garda.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  What that means is that the person must follow the instruction given by the garda on how to blow into the breathalyser. Due to the litigious nature of this legislation, gardaí are given training and instructions on how to instruct the person how to breathe into the breathalyser. Some Members have had the experience and know that the garda tells the person to breathe into the breathalyser for five seconds or whatever. The provision relates to whatever instructions the gardaí give. They are instructed to give the same instruction to all those being breathalysed. This is in order that people cannot claim they were not told how to do it. If they refused to do it or were obstructive, they could not claim they did not know what to do because the garda would not tell them. Anyone who has been in court and heard the way gardaí must give evidence in breathalyser cases, they will know the provision makes the process mechanical so that there can be no question raised about it. The gardaí have been trained in how to give their evidence because if they make even a slight slip, the lawyers are in like a shot to try and get people off.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 7:

Section 11: In page 15, subsection (2), lines 47 and 48, to delete “in the manner indicated by the other member”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 8:

Section 12: In page 16, subsection (1), line 18, to delete “any or all” and substitute “either or both”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad amendments Nos. 9 and 11 are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 9:

Section 12: In page 16, subsection (1), to delete lines 24 to 46 and substitute the following:

“(b) require the person either—

(i) to permit a designated doctor or designated nurse to take from the person a specimen of his or her blood, or

(ii) at the option of the person, to provide for the designated doctor or designated nurse a specimen of his or her urine, and if the doctor or nurse states in writing—

[159]

(I) that he or she is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from the person or be provided by him or her with the specimen to which the requirement in either of the foregoing subparagraphs related,

or

(II) that the person is unable or unlikely within the period of time referred to in section 4 or 5, as the case may be, to comply with the requirement,

the member may make a requirement of the person under this paragraph in relation to the specimen other than that to which the first requirement related.”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  These amendments do not change in any significant way the provisions of the section involved, but I am advised by the Office of the Attorney General that it is better to remain consistent with wording that has been tried and tested over time. Accordingly, these amendments present in a clearer and unambiguous manner the objectives of the section, which is to provide for the option of supplying a urine sample instead of having a doctor or nurse take a blood specimen at a hospital. This amendment also removes the provision in these sections relating to the carrying out of medical examinations for the purposes of obtaining evidence. However, the medical examinations provision is being provided for more appropriately under section 24 of the Bill.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  Can the Minister clarify the difference between the new and old wording? Does it concern the medical tests? I have read both wordings and have had to read them a second time to see a difference. I assume it was just a legalistic issue in terms of wording. Is there a substantive difference between the two wordings in the context of the responsibility of a doctor or nurse? Both wordings seem legitimate to me, but I presume there is a reason for the change.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  On a similar point, the key point at the end of both amendments is that “the member may make a requirement of the person under the paragraph in relation to the specimen other than that to which the first requirement related”. What are we going back to here if, in fact, the designated doctor and nurse in their opinion have not made provision or are unwilling on medical grounds to take the specimen from the person? Does this mean we must return to breath test evidence? What is the fundamental issue here?

Deputy Joe Costello:  On that same point, how can a designated doctor be unwilling on medical grounds to take a specimen? What medical grounds would cause a doctor to be unwilling to take the specimen? Perhaps the person might be unwilling to have the specimen taken, but why would a designated doctor be unwilling to take it?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  On that last point, I do not know. A doctor might make a judgment that the person was not in a condition to give a sample. The default in all of this is the blood test, which is the primary test. However, the option is being left to return to other methods if, for some legitimate reason or other, it is not possible to do the blood test.

On the question raised by Deputy Coveney, he is correct that there is not a significant difference in the wording. However, somebody in the Office of the Attorney General felt that the current wording is clearer than the original wording and is better in order to make the provision as clear and unambiguous as possible. It does not change or alter in any way the intent of the original section of the Bill. It is purely a grammatical clean up of the Bill.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 10:

[160]Section 14: In page 18, subsection (1), line 18, after “person” to insert “either”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 11:

Section 14: In page 18, subsection (1), to delete lines 19 to 48 and substitute the following:

“(a) to permit a designated doctor or designated nurse to take from the person a specimen of his or her blood, or

(b) at the option of the person, to provide for the designated doctor or designated nurse a specimen of his or her urine, and if the doctor or nurse states in writing—

(i) that he or she is unwilling, on medical grounds, to take from the person or be provided by him or her with the specimen to which the requirement in either of the foregoing paragraphs related, or

(ii) that the person is unable or unlikely within the period of time referred to in section 4 or 5, as the case may be, to comply with the requirement,

the member may make a requirement of the person under this subsection in relation to the specimen other than that to which the first requirement related.”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad amendments Nos. 12, 13, 15, 17 to 19, inclusive, and 24 to 26, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Seanad amendment No. 12:

Section 17: In page 21, subsection (4), line 21, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Section 6 of the Bill provides that a person shall not drive or attempt to drive an animal drawn vehicle or a pedal cycle while under the influence of an intoxicant to such an extent as to be incapable of having proper control, and the penalties are stipulated for that offence. However, the requirement in legislation to undergo a breath test, other than a preliminary test at the roadside, or to provide a specimen of blood or urine, applies only to those found in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant. The reference to section 6 with regard to the testing of specimens and evidential matters in sections 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22 is, therefore, unnecessary. My amendments propose to delete that reference.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 13:

Section 18: In page 21, subsection (1), lines 25 and 26, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad amendments Nos. 14, 16, 27, 45 to 47, inclusive, 52 and 55 are related and may be discussed together.

[161]Seanad amendment No. 14:

Section 18: In page 21, subsection (1), line 29, to delete “subsection (1)(a) or (b) of section 12” and substitute “section 12 or 14”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  These are minor amendments that are being made to insert or correct the references in the relevant sections of the Bill. All of the amendments in the group are similar but necessary. In order to take into account the views of all stakeholders, this legislation continued to be amended quite late into the legislative process and throughout all Stages in both Dáil and Seanad. As legislation evolves and is shaped by the views of so many, we can expect to see the emergence of such drafting anomalies. These amendments are a reflection of that evolution and it is a credit to our ongoing examination of the Bill that we have captured them prior to enactment. I am grateful to Deputies and Senators for bringing some of them to our attention.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 15:

Section 18: In page 21, subsection (2), lines 30 and 31, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 16:

Section 18: In page 22, subsection (2)(c), lines 2 and 3, to delete “certificate under section 17” and substitute “statement under section 13”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 17:

Section 18: In page 22, subsection (3)(a), line 13, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 18:

Section 18: In page 22, subsection (4), lines 18 and 19, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 19:

Section 19: In page 22, subsection (1), line 27, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 20:

Section 19: In page 22, subsection (1), line 28, after “of” where it firstly occurs to insert “either”.

[162]Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 21:

Section 19: In page 22, subsection (1), lines 28 and 29, to delete “section 12(1), 14(1)” and substitute “section 12(1) or 14(1)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 22:

Section 19: In page 22, subsection (1), lines 29 and 30, to delete “or both” and substitute “, or both,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 23:

Section 19: In page 22, subsection (1), line 30, to delete “subsection (2)” and substitute “in subsection (2)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 24:

Section 20: In page 23, subsection (4), line 27, to delete “6,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 25:

Section 21: In page 24, subsection (1), line 2, to delete “6,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 26:

Section 22: In page 24, subsection (3), line 31, to delete “section 4, 5 or 6” and substitute “section 4 or 5”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 27:

Section 22: In page 24, subsection (4), line 38, to delete “section 12(4)” and substitute “section 11(4)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 28:

Section 24: In page 25, subsection (1), line 8, after “station” to insert “or the hospital, as the case may be,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 29:

[163]

Section 24: In page 25, subsection (1), line 9, to delete “of the person”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 30:

Section 24: In page 25, subsection (1), line 11, to delete “was” and substitute “was,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 31:

Section 24: In page 25, subsection (1), line 12, to delete “he or she was”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 32:

Section 24: In page 25, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following subsection:

“(4) A requirement under subsection (1) of a person admitted to hospital in the circumstances referred to in that subsection shall not be made unless a doctor treating the person has been consulted and it would not be prejudicial to the health of the person to make the requirement.”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I am advised by the Attorney General’s office that the insertion of this new subsection is necessary to clarify that a garda cannot request a medical examination to be carried out on a person admitted to hospital following a road collision unless the doctor treating the person is consulted and the examination would not be prejudicial to the health of that person. This wording is consistent with section 9(2).

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I understand where the Minister is coming from in this amendment. We must legislate to require mandatory testing at the scene of an accident, because we owe it to the people who may have been injured in that accident and to the families concerned to ensure that in a subsequent legal case, autopsy or whatever, we are able to establish the facts. The key period following an accident is the hour or two immediately after it when people are in the midst of trauma, frightened and may be injured and in pain. It is a difficult time for a garda to have to insist on a test to establish whether a person has taken too much alcohol. However, we must balance that against the responsibility of the State to ensure we do everything to establish the facts so that as time passes the job of establishing what caused the accident and whether alcohol was involved can be answered with clarity and accuracy.

In that context, I understand the Minister’s objective in this provision. Where a person is seriously injured and where a doctor tells the garda that he or she is trying to save that person’s life and should not be distracted with a blood or breath test, the doctor’s advice must take priority. Nevertheless, the garda must request the doctor or the team of doctors and nurses to facilitate the garda in doing his or her job. This is awkward stuff, as anybody who has been at the scene of an accident will know, but it is an important provision that tightens up the language in this area. It places the primary responsibility with the doctor, which is the correct legal position, but also reaffirms the role of the Garda. I support the amendment.

Deputy Joe Costello:  This subsection seems to answer the question I asked the Minister earlier in regard to amendment No. 11 about the circumstances in which a designated doctor [164]would be unwilling on medical grounds to take a sample. Those medical grounds are spelled out here, but I wonder whether it should have been included in the earlier section. The provision indicates that the life of the person is predominant and that the doctor must be consulted to ensure that the taking of a blood sample would not be injurious to the health of the person. This is a reasonable amendment.

Deputy Paul Connaughton:  Like my colleagues, I have no difficulty with this sensible amendment. However, we must ensure that the culture is always that there will be mandatory testing of persons involved in road accidents. In other words, that will be the normal procedure to follow except in extenuating circumstances where the life of a person is at stake. I support the provision in the amendment that testing can only be done with the approval of a doctor. However, we must ensure there are no grey areas whereby cuteness might get a person out of these types of situations. For the sake of injured persons and families who have lost loved ones in a road accident, there must be no easy way out for drivers who have consumed alcohol.

In fairness to the Minister, his proposal seems to strike the right balance. Whether there will still be loopholes is difficult to say. The message must go out clearly that in the event of an accident there will be mandatory alcohol testing. That must be done except where there is a clear danger to the life of a person, as indicated by a doctor.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I thank the Deputies for supporting this amendment which is one of the core provisions in the Bill. A balance must be maintained, as Deputy Coveney said, and I am confident we have that balance right. In regard to the concerns expressed by Deputy Connaughton, if we discover that the balance is not right and that there are loopholes, we will try to plug them. However, this provision is based on the best advice available to us and the best balance we can currently get.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 33:

Section 27: In page 27, line 26, to delete “proceeding” and substitute “proceedings”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad amendments Nos. 34, 40 and 41 are related and may be discussed together. Seanad amendment No. 34:

Section 29: In page 28, subsection (3), lines 41 to 44 and in page 29, lines 1 to 14, to delete paragraphs (a) and (b) and substitute the following:

“(a) in the case of personal service, by—

(i) delivering it to the person, or

(ii) leaving it at the address—

(I) at which the person ordinarily resides,

(II) which, at the time of the alleged offence, the person gave to a member of the Garda Síochána, or

[165]

(III) at which the vehicle is registered, where the person is the registered owner of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence,

or

(b) in the case of postal service, by posting it to the address—

(i) at which the person ordinarily resides,

(ii) which, at the time of the alleged offence, the person gave to a member of the Garda Síochána, or

(iii) at which the vehicle is registered, where the person is the registered owner of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence.”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  These provisions relate to fixed-charge notices and serving of those notices in respect of road traffic offences. Section 35 — subsection (3) in particular — provides for the manner in which a notice may be served. That procedure is also reflected in section 29 where a notice is served in respect of drink driving offences. These amendments do not alter the integrity of the relevant subsection as passed in the Dáil but simply adjust the layout of the wording to enhance the comprehensibility of the provisions as well as providing consistency in wording across all related sections.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Seanad amendments Nos. 35 and 39 are related and may be taken together.

Seanad amendment No. 35:

Section 29: In page 29, subsection (6), lines 29 to 31, to delete all words from and including “and” in line 29 down to and including “date” in line 31.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  Section 29 provides that where a person is alleged to have committed a drink driving offence but the concentration of alcohol levels are within certain limits, that person will be served with a fixed penalty notice. Persons are only eligible to be served with a fixed penalty notice once in a specified time period. On Report Stage in the Dáil Deputy Shane McEntee proposed that under section 29(5), the period of eligibility should be reduced from five to three years and I was satisfied to accept the proposal once the House agreed to the amendment. A subsequent examination of the Bill indicated two related amendments were required to be made under section 29(6) and section 32(1)(a)(3) to make them consistent with the Dáil amendment. These amendments were agreed subsequently by the Seanad.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 36:

Section 29: In page 30, subsection (8)(b), line 12, after “section,” to insert “he or she”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 37:

Section 29: In page 31, subsection (11)(e), lines 2 and 3, to delete “or referred to”.

[166]Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 38:

Section 31: In page 33, line 18, to delete “Act of 2006” and substitute “Road Traffic Act 2006”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 39:

Section 32: In page 33, line 29, to delete “5 years” and substitute “3 years”.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I wish to query the wording. The section refers to “a person not eligible to be served with a fixed penalty notice”. I would have imagined a person would be not liable. I query the use of the word “eligible” or “liable”. Which is it? I realise it is something of a dictionary query.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  “Eligible” is the wording used consistently throughout the Road Traffic Acts. In layman’s terms there does not appear to be a great difference between them but, apparently, in legal parlance this is the correct term.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 40:

Section 35: In page 36, subsection (3)(a)(i)(II), to delete lines 18 to 24 and substitute the following:

“(A) at which the person ordinarily resides,

(B) which, at the time of the alleged offence, the person gave to the member referred to in subsection (1), or

(C) at which the vehicle is registered, where the person is the registered owner of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 41:

Section 35: In page 36, subsection (3)(b), to delete lines 31 to 38 and substitute the following:

“(i) where the person is identified, by posting it to the address (inside or outside the State)—

(I) at which the person ordinarily resides,

(II) which, at the time of the alleged offence, the person gave to the member referred to in subsection (2), or

(III) at which the vehicle is registered, where the person is the registered owner of the vehicle at the time of the alleged offence,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

[167]Seanad amendment No. 42:

Section 38: In page 41, subsection (3)(a), line 20, to delete “which is not a penalty point offence” and substitute “, which is not a penalty point offence,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 43:

Section 38: In page 41, subsection (3)(b), line 26, to delete “which is a penalty point offence” and substitute “, which is a penalty point offence,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 44:

Section 43: In page 43, subsection (2), line 44, after “paragraph (a)” to insert “of subsection (1)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 45:

Section 50: In page 50, subsection (16), line 10, after “regulations” to insert “under subsection (7)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 46:

Section 50: In page 50, subsection (17), line 14, after “regulations” to insert “under subsection (7)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 47:

Section 50: In page 50, subsection (18), line 19, after “regulations” to insert “under subsection (7)”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 48:

Section 59: In page 59, line 22, to delete “licence” and substitute “learner permit”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 49:

Section 59: In page 59, line 50, to delete “the said”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 50:

[168]

Section 60: In page 61, subsection (1), line 2, after “permit” to insert the following:

“or a document which purports to be a driving licence or learner permit”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 51:

Section 60: In page 61, subsection (1), lines 3 and 4, to delete all words from and including “(inserted” in line 3 down to and including “2006)” in line 4.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 52:

Section 60: In page 61, subsection (1), line 5, to delete “section 33 of the Act of 2004” and substitute “section 61 of this Act”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 53:

Section 60: In page 61, subsection (1)(b), line 10, after “be” to insert “, but is not,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 54:

Section 62: In page 63, subsection (1), line 33, after “demand” to insert “or at the requirement”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 55:

Section 62: In page 63, subsection (1), line 34, to delete “section 40(1) or (2)” and substitute “section 40”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 56:

Section 62: In page 63, subsection (1), line 35, to delete “Act” and substitute “Act,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 57:

Section 62: In page 63, subsection (1), line 37, after “demand” to insert “or requirement”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 58:

Section 62: In page 63, subsection (1), line 44, after “to” where it firstly occurs to insert “require the person to”.

[169]Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 59:

Section 65: In page 68, line 53, to delete “section 56” and substitute “under section 56,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 60:

Section 65: In page 69, line 2, after “or” to insert “under”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 61:

Section 65: In page 69, line 6, after “his” to insert “or her”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 62:

Section 65: In page 71, line 45, to delete “person” and substitute “a person”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 63:

Section 65: In page 72, line 4, to delete “person” and substitute “a person”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 64:

Section 66: In page 72, before section 66, to insert the following new section:

66.—(1) Section 26 (inserted by section 26 of the Act of 1994) of the Principal Act is amended—

(a) in subsection (4)(a) (inserted by section 6 of the Act of 2006) by substituting for subparagraph (iii) the following:

“(iii) section 52 or 53, tried on indictment,”,

and

(b) by substituting for subsection (5) the following:

“(5) (a) Subject to paragraph (b), the period of disqualification specified in a consequential disqualification order shall, where the person to whom the order relates is convicted of an offence under section 52 or 53 tried summarily or under section 56, be not less than 2 years in the case of a first offence under the section concerned and not less than 4 years in the case of a second or any subsequent offence under the same section committed within the period of 3 years from the date of the commission of the previous offence or, in the case of more than one such offence, the last such offence.

(b) Where a person is convicted of an offence under section 52 tried summarily or under section 56, the court may, in the case of a first offence under the section con[170]cerned, where it is satisfied that a special reason (which it shall specify when making its order) has been proved by the convicted person to exist in his or her particular case to justify such a course—

(i) decline to make a consequential disqualification order, or

(ii) specify a period of disqualification in the consequential disqualification order of less than 1 year.”.

(2) This section stands repealed upon the commencement of section 65(1).”.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  This amendment introduces a new section that would give effect to certain provisions in section 65 prior to its commencement. Section 65 repeals section 26 and section 49(1)(i) of the Act of 1994 and the Road Traffic Act 1995 and section 6 of the Act of 2006. It restates the provisions of section 26 related to consequential disqualification orders, to reflect the intoxicating driving provisions of this Bill and to provide for the range of penalties associated with reduced blood alcohol concentration levels and associated levels in breath and urine.

The section also provides for the substitution of the schedule of the Principle Act which sets out the offences under the Road Traffic Acts 1961 to 2009 involving consequential disqualification orders. However, section 65 cannot be commenced until the appropriate evidential breath test instruments are in place to allow for the implementation of the lower drink driving limits being introduced by this Bill. Accordingly, this new section is being introduced to allow for the commencement of provisions relating to consequential disqualification orders associated with careless and dangerous driving. It is vital that these disqualification orders can be applied with immediate effect upon the enactment of the Bill, given the nature of the offences involved.

The proposed section 66(2) will subsequently repeal section 66 on the commencement of section 65(1). There was much discussion in the Dáil regarding the early commencement of various sections of the Bill. Opposition Deputies urged me to proceed with commencement orders within the shortest possible timeframe. Deputy Broughan was especially strong in his views. This provision will assist me in this work by allowing the gradual commencement of certain elements rather than waiting until all aspects of section 65 are ready to be commenced.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I welcome the insertion of this provision by the Minister. The Minister referred to the 1994 Act. Does that incorporate the consequential disqualification sections of the 1961 Act? Does it supersede all the previous legislation? I welcome that it will be in place as soon as possible.

Since the Bill was passed in the Dáil previously, several critical media articles have appeared on the coming into force of the 0.05% blood alcohol limit. When does the Minister expect all the equipment to be in place and when will the provisions of this historic Bill, which we will pass finally tonight, be enforced on the roads of Ireland?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  I refer to the first question raised by the Deputy. This includes the consequential disqualification provisions of all Road Traffic Acts from 1961 to 2009. All future Road Traffic Bills will include all the provisions relating to various aspects in one section and we will update all the sections accordingly. We are doing so in this case and matters related to driving under the influence of an intoxicant are all together in one provision. One feature of the next Bill will involve putting all penalty points offences in one area. To answer the Deputy’s question, the Bill includes changes to the provisions of the Acts from 1961 to 2009.

[171]The situation has not changed in respect of when I expect the provisions of the Bill to come into force. The timescale has not changed. The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is in the procurement process. It expects this will be completed and it will be in a position to test the EBT, evidential breath test, machines over the next six months. Once that testing is carried out the order will be placed. It will take a further period following purchase to test and ensure the machines are okay. This is likely to take six months. They will be rolled out to the Garda stations over the course of a three or four month period and I expect that by September of next year, once the Garda training and everything else is in place, the new sections with lower limits will come into play.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 65:

Section 68: In page 74, line 53, to delete “of it” and substitute “of it,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 66:

Section 69: In page 75, line 47, to delete “section” and substitute “sections”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 67:

Section 78: In page 79, line 27, after “under” to insert “the Roads Act 1920,”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 68:

Section 78: In page 79, line 28, to delete “1992,” and substitute “1992”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 69:

Section 79: In page 80, line 17, to delete “and date” and substitute “or date”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendment No. 70:

Section 86: In page 85, subsection (1), to delete lines 24 and 25, and substitute the following:

“under sections 49, 50, 51A, 52 and 53 of the Principal Act, sections 12, 13 and 15 of the Act of 1994 and sections 4, 5, 12 and 14 of this Act, do not apply to—”.

Seanad amendment agreed to.

Seanad amendments reported.

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the staff of the House for their work and co-operation in getting the Bill through the Oireachtas. It [172]was greatly appreciated. I acknowledge we put the Bills Office and other staff under pressure with this legislation. I would like, in particular, to thank the Opposition spokespersons, Deputies O’Dowd, Coveney and McEntee from Fine Gael, my old adversary, Deputy Broughan, who left at the tail end of the Bill’s passage but I am glad to see him return, and Deputy Costello for their assistance. We teased out various elements of the legislation and good amendments were tabled. The Bill has been improved as a result of the debate. I also thank my officials and all the groups that briefed Members and made their views known. We might have not agreed with all of them at different times but it is important in a democracy that people should have their say and we, as legislators, should do what we think is best in the interests of the public. That was done in this case.

Deputy Simon Coveney:  I am conscious that I have joined the debate towards the end of the passage of significant legislation. I thank my colleague, Deputy McEntee, who cannot be present. He has put a great deal of work into making a constructive contribution to the legislation. There was significant difficult internal debate in my party and in Fianna Fáil on this Bill and there was intense lobbying, particularly by rural publicans, who expressed concerns. However, the House has its priorities right on this issue because we prioritised safety over commerce in regard to road safety, particularly where issues such as the blood alcohol level are concerned. The Minister deserves recognition for his courage in reducing the level. It will not be implemented immediately but it will be implemented in time. That has not been an easy process.

It is sometimes ironic that Bills that generate controversy while they are debated are often passed quietly late at night in the House when people are not watching. However, this is important legislation, particularly for families whose lives have been turned upside down following road traffic accidents. I acknowledge those in the Visitors Gallery. This has been a good night’s work and the legislation has highlighted the positive elements of the House with a constructive opposition and a Minister who has been willing to take on ideas in a sensible way. I thank the departmental officials whom I will hopefully get to know much better in the coming months. I also thank Deputy O’Dowd and, in particular, Deputy McEntee who has strongly held views on this issue. He won the argument in our political party and many of his amendments were accepted.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  In my former life as a member of the Labour parliamentary party, I tabled a number of amendments, which the Minister graciously accepted and I thank him for that. I also thank the civil servants for their tremendous hard work. This is intricate legislation, given the challenges that have been mounted against road traffic law over the years. I am grateful to all those who made submissions to the Labour Party on the Bill and, in particular, to Susan Gray of the PARC road safety group, which played a heroic role in getting us to bring forward the legislation on an all-party basis. The group has done great work for our country. I thank the Minister.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I compliment the Minister on a good Bill, even though I have also joined the debate at the tail end. I also compliment my colleague, Deputy Broughan, for his Trojan work and the robust manner in which he raised issues in the Chamber, having carried out the lion’s share of the work on behalf of the Labour Party. I look forward to working with the Minister in the months to come and with Deputy Coveney, who is also taking up this portfolio at the same time. I would like to compliment the staff on all the assistance given during the debate.

[173]An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Agreement to Seanad amendments is hereby reported to the House. A message will be sent to Seanad Éireann acquainting it accordingly.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I am delighted to have the opportunity to debate the significant progress we have made in Ireland in the development of cystic fibrosis, CF, services. As Minister, I am more than aware of the challenges faced by CF patients in managing their condition. CF is an inherited chronic disorder. We have a high incidence of the disease in Ireland relative to other European countries because of genetic factors. Now that we have funded a CF registry, we are in position to know how many people are availing of hospital services. The data suggest there are 1,159 CF patients, 48% of whom are children. The registry will allow us to review trends in the State and compare them with international data in the years ahead.

  11 o’clock

CF affects the lungs and digestive system and leads to frequent chest infections and under nutrition. That is why CF patients, in particular, are frequent users of hospital services. I am pleased that over the past number of years, on foot of the Pollock report, which was commissioned by the Cystic Fibrosis Association, and the HSE’s own multidisciplinary report, we have greatly enhanced services for patients. I was happy recently to meet representatives of the association, including parents and family members of patients from the mid-west, together with their clinicians, who acknowledged the significant progress we have made.

In 2006-07, for example, we allocated an additional €6.78 million and, in 2009, €1.6 million. The initial tranche provided for the recruitment and the HSE is in the process of recruiting another 32 staff, which will bring the increased number of staff, including nurses, consultants and allied health professionals, to 84. I have also introduced the newborn screening programme under Professor Loftus, a paediatrician, from University College Hospital Galway. As well as enhancing services at tertiary level, the HSE is working with St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to roll out services in Limerick, Waterford, Temple Street Hospital, Beaumont Hospital and elsewhere in order that there will be regional supports and not just services at the national tertiary centre in St. Vincent’s Hospital.

The focus of this debate has been the need for additional suitable accommodation for patients at the national tertiary centre. Under phase 1 of the development at St. Vincent’s hospital, the new accident and emergency department has single en suite rooms suitable for cystic fibrosis, CF, and other patients who require isolation. There is also the ambulatory care centre, which is used for patients who do not require inpatient activity.

The main project that will greatly enhance the hospital facilities for the patients is the new 100 bed block at St. Vincent’s, phase 2 of the development. Last year, we approved the funding for that. It was a new innovative way of funding whereby the developer would source the bridging finance and be paid on construction. We did that for a number of reasons but mainly because of the pressure on the public capital programme in the health area. Projects are funded in this way in other areas and in other countries. Obviously, a public procurement process is required. It is not only desirable, but is necessary under EU law because of the scale and the money involved. That process led to a preferred bidder being identified but the bidder was not in a position to finance the project.

However, as part of the tendering process a letter of intent has been sent to a preferred bidder and that bidder has 30 days to respond. St. Vincent’s hospital, which has been meticulous in the manner in which it has conducted this public tender process, is confident that the bidder [174]will be in a position to finance and begin the construction. The site has been cleared and the construction period is 18 months. I look forward to the bidder being in a position to proceed with construction as quickly as possible.

Deputies will be aware that eight single rooms were provided at St. Vincent’s hospital, and St. Camillus’s ward was also refurbished for respiratory patients. St. Vincent’s hospital now has approximately 65 beds which are used for respiratory patients, including cystic fibrosis patients, who require isolation. The new facilities at the hospital will have en suite accommodation as well as a ten-bed treatment room for treatment, which will also have sanitary en suite services.

All sides of the House wish to have this project completed as soon as possible, but everybody will acknowledge, as the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland has acknowledged, that we have made great progress in the provision of additional resources since the Pollock report in 2006. The 2006, 2007 and 2009 funding for the HSE provided substantial additional funding, and a sum of €1.6 million was provided for the refurbishment of the current single rooms at St. Vincent’s hospital. That is not in itself sufficient as we need the 100 beds. I am very committed to making it happen. It is a priority for funding but, unfortunately, the delay occurred due to the prevailing circumstances in the construction industry. It was not an option for St. Vincent’s Hospital or the HSE not to follow meticulously the public procurement process. Failure to follow it could have led to serious legal implications. The process must be followed.

There has been much speculation as to why particular bidders might have been selected. However, the process must be followed not just in spirit, but also legally to ensure that the public procurement is an honest and appropriate evaluation. I believe the letter of intent which has been issued will deliver a developer who will construct the facility in the 18 months it is anticipated will be required.

Deputy James Reilly:  I thank the Minister for coming to the House at this late hour. We again find ourselves in a situation where promises were made but were not kept. There can be all the excuses in the world but the reality for the patients is that they will continue to suffer.

In April 2009, Fine Gael brought forward a Private Members’ motion seeking the construction of the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s hospital. At that time, the Minister, Deputy Mary Harney promised the building of the unit at St. Vincent’s hospital would commence “within the next nine months”, that a Government guarantee to pay for a project on completion was “as good as money in the bank” and would be attractive to the construction industry, and that while the project would have to be financed, notwithstanding the current banking difficulties there was “no question that a bank would not forward money on the basis of a Government guarantee”. The reality now appears very different. The original preferred bidder has claimed difficulty getting finance for the development, has suggested the deferred payment nature of the tender was unusual, which did not allow them enough time to raise funds, and that the hospital took four months to respond to the original tenders.

It is sadly now the case that, far from building starting within nine months of the motion, as the Minister promised, 15 months later a contract has not even been signed. It can never be forgotten that cystic fibrosis patients are fighting for their lives and in this country they are losing that fight ten years earlier than their counterparts over the Border. They do not have time for broken promises. If the Minister, Deputy Harney, meant what she said in April 2009, why did she not make it happen? Instead she handed it over to the bureaucratic nightmare that is the HSE. Bureaucracy does not care. The Minister’s litany of broken promises about [175]this unit over the last number of years is yet further evidence that she shirks her responsibility on an ongoing basis while patients suffer the consequences. It gives me no pleasure to say that.

Deputy Mary Harney:  It is unusual if the Deputy does not. He always says it.

Deputy James Reilly:  I do not. I did not say it earlier today either.

Deputy Mary Harney:  He said it three times today.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Reilly without interruption.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Minister will always fight her corner, but the people who have to suffer the consequences know the reality.

The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, CFAI, is seriously concerned about the impact the moratorium on recruitment and the HSE budget constraints are having on front line services. Key multidisciplinary cystic fibrosis staff such as physiotherapists, social workers and psychologists are not being replaced when they go on maternity or sick leave. With regard to Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, on 26 May the CFAI wrote to the hospital management to express its concern about the lack of physiotherapy cover for child CF patients at the hospital. The paediatric cystic fibrosis physiotherapist at the hospital is on sick leave at present and is unlikely to return in the near future. In the meantime, there is no CF specialist physiotherapist.

The Minister will be aware that the absence of a CF physiotherapist at the hospital will have a damaging impact on the health of the 75 CF children that attend the outpatient centre. Physiotherapists are absolutely essential for the treatment of cystic fibrosis and the removal of mucus from the lungs of CF patients. Of the 75 children, five are acutely unwell and are in immediate need of intensive physiotherapy. The physiotherapist has not been replaced and the CFAI is not satisfied with the response received to date. How could it be? Overall, the CFAI is extremely concerned about the cumulative effect the embargo on recruitment is having on the delivery CF services. When will the physiotherapist be replaced in Limerick?

Early detection and treatment of CF is essential in improving the life expectancy of CF patients. A working group, established in 1999, reported in 2004 about the extension of newborn screening to include CF, but nothing happened until 2009. In May 2009, at the CFAI annual conference in Cork, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Micheál Martin, announced that the newborn screening of people with CF would commence in July 2010. Since the announcement the CFAI has played an active role in participating in the steering group, which was established to advise on the extension and integration of CF screening. The introduction of CF screening for newborns has been long expected and long delayed. It has been introduced practically everywhere else in Europe but not here. Given the fact that we have missed the July deadline, will the Minister reassure patients that it will be introduced in 2010? Will the moratorium on recruitment impact on the recruitment of the necessary staff for the roll-out of neo-natal screening?

The number of organ donations and transplants has grown steadily across the EU and thousands of lives are saved every year through this medical procedure. The situation, however, is very different in Ireland. Only four double lung transplants were carried out in the Mater hospital over the past two years, despite the fact that 30 CP; patients are waiting for double lung transplants in Ireland at present, with a further 20 people waiting for single lung transplants. The rate of double and single lung transplants compares very badly to that of kidney [176]and liver transplants. The problem is not that we have insufficient organs but rather the time gap between the harvesting of organs and the way they are subsequently used.

In its 2010 national service plan, the HSE states it will establish an organ donation and transplantation unit within existing resources in 2010. Given that we are half way through 2010, can the Minister provide information on the status of this unit? Furthermore, there is no mention of the human tissue Bill, which has been languishing in the Oireachtas for some time now. At the moment it is number 65 on the Government legislative programme list. The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland is actively campaigning for the rapid enactment of the human tissue Bill and to appoint two dedicated lung transplant surgeons as a matter of urgency — Mr. Freddie Wood has recently retired from the Mater hospital — and for a national transplant office and associated team of transplant co-ordinators, consistent with good international practice.

Much of the media coverage in recent times has focused on the need for the development of cystic fibrosis services within Dublin. However, we must not forget the need to improve cystic fibrosis facilities outside of Dublin. Deputy Coveney is familiar with the great fundraising efforts in the south which have funded two rooms for cystic fibrosis treatment but I question whether they are getting support from the HSE. In Waterford, a cystic fibrosis consultant for adults has been appointed but he does not have a consulting room which means he can only treat adult patients in a ward. It is clearly a terrible waste of a very expensive resource when the necessary tools to do the job are not provided. How will the reduction in the capital budget affect the development of cystic fibrosis facilities nationwide?

The reality for patients is still quite stark. Ms Orla Tinsley spoke on the radio recently and she spoke to me tonight from her hospital bed. She was admitted to a ward with five other patients for a period of five days with only one nurse, usually an agency nurse, who knew little about the ward and even less about cystic fibrosis. She was transferred to a semi-private room five days later. The other patient became quite confused at night and Ms Tinsley regularly woke to find this lady standing at her bed. I heard her interview and she certainly held no grudge against the lady sharing her room. The reality for Ms Tinsley is that as a sick person any infection further damages her lungs and reduces her life expectancy. She needs her rest and she needs to be assured she will not be exposed to infection unnecessarily. We all know that this is the primary reason we have such poor outcomes for cystic fibrosis patients while their cousins across the Border live ten years longer. After a number of nights, she was forced to ask her mother to mind her at night.

I hope this time the promise will bear fruit and no matter what the obstacles, rather than leaving it to bureaucracy to sort it out, the Minister will take a personal interest and make this a reality for the people who are struggling to prolong their lives. I inform the Minister that four friends of Orla Tinsley have died in the past 18 months.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Mary Upton, with the permission of the House.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Agreed.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I wish to address the specific issue of St. Vincent’s hospital. The second tenderer is already constructing something else on the site. We all hope that this will have a satisfactory conclusion. It is extremely important for these patients that this unit is developed as quickly as possible.

[177]I refer to a reply we received on 18 May with regard to this issue. The estimated construction, equipping and commissioning time is still approximately 18 months. I ask the Minister to clarify if it will take that long once the tender has been accepted.

I put in a plea in the meantime for a better arrangement than the one described by Orla Tinsley so well. Some effort should be made to isolate these patients or at least to treat them in wards where they will not be open to infection. It should be arranged that they do not have to be admitted to hospital through the accident and emergency department. There has to be a system whereby they can be referred directly to hospital without having to expose themselves to infection.

I refer to a letter I received from a person in County Donegal who had a lung transplant 18 years ago and who has written a long letter in which he makes suggestions from the perspective of the patient. Some of these suggestions are very simple.

We are all aware that with cystic fibrosis when antibiotics and home treatment fail, it is normally a trip to the hospital. In many cases this will be a local general hospital and a long wait in a busy accident and emergency unit. This can be a disaster for such patients.

What needs to happen is that after the family doctor sees the patient he should be able to write out a letter of admission and on the strength of such a note, patients, especially with cystic fibrosis, should be sent straight to a ward.

That is a very simple plea from somebody who has experienced this. This person is obviously a long distance from access to centralised services. He also makes a plea that assessments should be done much earlier for those going on transplant lists. He suggests this would be a very positive development from the point of view of having successful outcomes. The isolation unit is needed but there are many other practical things that can be done to help people who are gong into hospitals around the country.

I received a detailed reply this time last year referring to proposed developments in Waterford, St. Vincent’s hospital, Beaumont hospital, Temple Street hospital, Cork University Hospital, Galway and a four-bedded isolation facility for the in-patient accommodation of children with cystic fibrosis to be advanced in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, with the support of charitable funding. Will the Minister say if this has been developed and if there is progress to report regarding the other issues around the country?

Deputy Reilly has raised the issue of the paediatric physiotherapist in Limerick who was not replaced and the 70 children who need that service in the mid-west region. It is vital that these patients receive the treatment they require as it is literally a matter of life and death. It is well recorded that the life span of patients with cystic fibrosis here is very much below par when compared with other countries. I welcome the debate as it is an opportunity for us to raise these important issues. These patients need positive and practical responses and they need isolation units and access to organ transplants. Where they are dispersed around the country, they should be afforded the best possible opportunity to have the appropriate treatment.

Deputy Mary Upton:  I thank Deputy O’Sullivan for sharing her time. I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on this debate this evening. I should declare a personal interest in this subject as I have followed the issue over many years both inside and outside the House. It is extremely disappointing that once again the provision of dedicated facilities in St. Vincent’s has been put on the back burner. I hope the commitment given by the Minister this evening about the timescale for the second bidder will take place within the timeframe she has indicated. However, it seems that a personalised battle has to be fought every step of the way for [178]the provision of services and facilities that should have been in place a long time ago. It is not good enough that CF patients, who are already fragile, should have to take to the airwaves to get recognition for their very basic rights. I acknowledge once again the commitment and very hard work of Orla Tinsley. I do not know where the CF situation would be without her commitment and her dedication. She has fought the battle for herself and for her colleagues for a long time.

It is unacceptable that by being born on one side of the Border in this small country, one’s life expectancy can be reduced by up to ten years. The climate is the same, the level of skills and expertise of the various medical teams are the same but it is simply down to the provision of a service. In simple terms this means that the funding and facilities are available in one part of the country, in Northern Ireland, and not in this jurisdiction. The difference can be measured in life expectancy terms averaging ten years.

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease and it does not go away. Up to 30 young people are now waiting for a lung transplant as their passport to a better and longer life. They are walking a fine line between being ill enough to need a transplant and well enough to receive it. It beggars belief that only four cystic fibrosis transplants have been carried out at the Mater Hospital in a facility that has cost a small fortune to install, and which has been in place for many years. There are questions to be answered on the low level of provision of lung transplants at this unit.

Where is the human tissue Bill? I was told by the Taoiseach this morning that no date has been set for its publication. Why does Ireland not have a dedicated office of a transplant co-ordinator? There is clear evidence from other European countries, and Spain in particular where the number of transplants is substantially higher than other countries, that this is down to good co-ordination of the transplant process. We have listened endlessly to debates about cystic fibrosis and the need for the office of national co-ordination of transplants. For those on the cystic fibrosis waiting list, it must sound like they are living in a parallel universe. Has our sense of priority totally deserted us? We need that office and it would substantially alleviate the many sensitive personal and medical issues surrounding donation and transplantation of organs. The generosity and bravery of those families who decide to allow the donation of a relative’s organs for transplantation must be acknowledged during what must be a traumatic time for them. That generosity must be matched by the provision of the support services required to ensure the optimum level of successful transplants take place following the donation of organs. That is not happening in this country and it is a crying shame.

Why are cystic fibrosis patients not provided with the best possible health care needed for their well being? Deputy Jan O’Sullivan indicated a number of small steps that can be taken to help. Why are cystic fibrosis patients allowed to suffer in fear of not being suitable for a transplant because of the totally unacceptable time lag before they are offered a transplant? Why is their quality of life compromised every single day because of the lack of suitable facilities?

Why are cystic fibrosis nurses not replaced as a mater of routine when, for example, one is out on maternity leave? The Limerick physiotherapy situation has already been mentioned. We are behaving like a Third World country when it comes to provision of services and facilities for cystic fibrosis patients. The time has come to put the priorities of our children and young adults ahead of trophy legislation, which is simply politically driven and has little resonance for those whose lives are put at risk every day they are in shared facilities, often with patients who suffer from chest infections, who are incontinent and who, through no fault of their own, [179]are a vehicle for serious bugs that are putting at risk the lives of the compromised cystic fibrosis patients.

Some political promises can be broken and the consequences are not particularly significant. The promise to provide a modern, appropriate and safe environment for very vulnerable cystic fibrosis patients is not one that can be ignored or dismissed. Nor can the legislation needed to ensure transplant opportunities are optimised be sidelined and relegated to the back benches of our legislative programme. It is high time to start delivering on the promises to patients, who are often hanging by a thread, and for whom every day in a compromised environment is literally putting their lives at risk.

I do not want to be totally negative because I acknowledge the many positive developments that have taken place in the 30 years since I first became interested in this topic. We are seriously lagging behind her European and North American counterparts. It is down to the provision of facilities.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is almost unbelievable that yet again we have to raise as a matter of urgency the desperate plight of cystic fibrosis sufferers in Ireland. It is disgraceful that we can only give voice to their urgent need some 35 minutes to midnight in the dying hours of this Dáil session. There are fewer than 2,000 cystic fibrosis sufferers in this country yet they suffer from a desperately serious condition and they have been treated appallingly by successive Governments. There is no excuse for this and the present Government should hang its head in shame.

In 2008, after a campaign by the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Harney, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE publicly committed to a 34-bed inpatient cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin and promised that the adjoining cystic fibrosis day care facility with ensuite day care bedrooms would be operational by 2010. The proposed cystic fibrosis unit was to be part of a 120 bed multi-story development, to include the 34 bed in-patient cystic fibrosis unit and a separate floor for the day care centre encompassing eight single ensuite day care bedrooms. Contracts were signed with a project manager for the development project and there were a number of meetings with the appointed architects. Management at St. Vincent’s gave the project very high priority and full planning permission was granted, with an expected completion time of the end of 2010.

In the meantime the HSE and Department of Health and Children agreed to provide 14 interim ensuite rooms. In August 2008, eight of these rooms became operational. In March 2009 there was a postponement of the promised development. The HSE said it would not have funds to begin construction of the new block at St. Vincent’s until 2011 at the earliest. The Minister then said developers would be asked to tender for the project on the understanding that they would not be paid any money until it was completed. In July last year, St. Vincent’s confirmed a number of builders had tendered to construct the new facilities and it aimed to appoint a firm to take on the job in October or November 2009. Now the plan has been thrown into chaos again. It was revealed on 23 June that no tender has yet been awarded to any firm to construct the new €40 million unit. The lowest bidder, Michael McNamara & Company, has stated that St. Vincent’s only issued it with a letter signalling its intention to award it the contract on 23 April last. The company said in a statement: “This was some four months after the tender was submitted, therefore the main delay in the process of appointing a contractor has been on the part of the client.” We are told Michael McNamara & Company had difficulty [180]getting financial backing to proceed with the project and the company was advised by the hospital that it was moving on to discuss the project with the second lowest bidder.

Delay has been piled upon delay and cystic fibrosis sufferers continue to be deprived of the single rooms and other facilities they so desperately need. It matters little who is responsible for the dispute between the hospital and the developer. Ultimate responsibility belongs at the door of the Minister for Health and Children and her Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government colleagues. The Minister made a definite commitment and it has not been fulfilled. A cohort of our fellow citizens have a limited life expectancy and a number have passed on, all too sadly.

Shameful is the only way to describe this situation. The population with cystic fibrosis is relatively small. Ireland has the highest prevalence of cystic fibrosis in the world and we have the most severe types of cystic fibrosis in the world. As the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland has repeatedly pointed out, Ireland has the poorest resources for cystic fibrosis patients in Europe. In comparative terms, we are not talking about a hugely elaborate and expensive development. Many private hospitals and clinics, luxury hotels, clubs and leisure facilities of all kinds were built in this country during the Celtic tiger years with massive Government tax breaks. We are talking about many multiples of the cost of the unit at St. Vincent’s expended on these tax breaks, literally untold tens of millions because the Government never properly accounted for the money lost to the Exchequer. The Government always refused to look into the question that many Members put time after time.

Against that background we have the ongoing shameful neglect of cystic fibrosis sufferers. It is a terrible judgment on the inability of the Government to make a firm commitment to these very ill and vulnerable people, to follow through on that commitment and to get the desired result. Regrettably, that failure on the part of the Government reflects very badly in the public eye on all who hold elected positions here. It places a question mark over the capacity of these institutions to serve the citizens who elect Members to this House to serve them and this must not be forgotten. I heard the Minister’s latest pledge on this issue at the conclusion of her contribution here. She simply must accept that Members will remain sceptical. While it is all very well to make commitments or to state the wheels are in motion once again, delivery is required, as is the evidence that works are ready and are getting under way. Nothing else will assuage Members’ fears that they are poised to see a further repeat of all the problems that too sadly have been repeated already in this sad saga.

I make no apology for once again using this opportunity to call on the Government before the Dáil rises for the summer recess tomorrow to sort out this mess and to intervene directly now. This should not be done from a distance or by checking with someone in the HSE, but by taking ministerial responsibility and collective Cabinet responsibility to ensure these facilities are built and are up and running. That is how important this issue is. There can be no contemplation of any further excuses on this matter. It is a case of the Minister simply doing it.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I wish to share time with Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on this urgent debate on cystic fibrosis and I welcome the Minister’s presence in the Chamber at this late hour.

I call on the Minister for Health and Children, the HSE and the Government to move now on the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital. It is time to end the talk on stags and greyhounds and to get on with the real issues, such as cystic fibrosis and services for people with disabilities. If it is possible to deliver the new €3.6 million cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital by 26 July 2010, there is no reason not to be able to get under way the €20 million [181]project at St. Vincent’s Hospital and to have it built by 2011. It is criminal still to have cystic fibrosis patients in wards and accident and emergency units dealing with cross-infections, when they urgently need rooms with bathroom en suite. There should be no more talk or waffle. The unit should be built.

I focus on the urgent need for a 34-bed unit with en suite bathrooms for cystic fibrosis patients. In particular, I am frustrated about the delays and cock-ups associated with this project. I am not interested in any bureaucratic nonsense between the Minister, the HSE, the Department, hospital management and the developers. My agenda is action and delivery for the cystic fibrosis patients and their families. Tonight, I urge the Minister and the Government to get on with it and to do it now. I note the original cost for this new hospital section was estimated to be approximately €30 million to €34 million, while the estimated cost now has fallen to approximately €20 million. In other words, it will be developed for €12 million less than was originally planned. This is not to state that money should ever be an issue on this important matter but that in the current economic climate, the cystic fibrosis unit is value for money. It is good for the patients, their families, the hospital, its other patients and its staff but above all, it gives cystic fibrosis patients a better chance in their lives. There has been enough talk and old guff and it now is time to build the unit.

Another important issue in this debate concerns the urgent need to retain 34 bedrooms with bathrooms en suite for a proper cystic fibrosis unit at the hospital. This always was the plan and the vision. I have raised this matter in the House many times but have concerns that certain senior people within the HSE and the Department of Health and Children may have another agenda. Consequently, I urge caution on this matter and ask that they accept the principle of a 34-bed unit. I base this on the best international practice. Approximately 340 cystic fibrosis patients use St. Vincent’s Hospital regularly of whom approximately 10%, or 34 patients, require a bed each day. This is the reason a 34-bed unit is needed at the hospital. This is about putting the patient first and trying to ensure a quality service in line with international best practice. The sad aspect of this project is that there has been too much talk and debate and not enough action. This is the reason I again urge movement soon in this regard.

It is not that people cannot do it. For example, Members should consider developments at Beaumont Hospital and the cystic fibrosis specialist centre for north Dublin. I commend Deputy Darragh O’Brien on his massive support while we fought for this centre in recent years. Beaumont Hospital will be the cystic fibrosis specialist centre for north Dublin adults and a referral point for patients with cystic fibrosis from throughout the north-eastern region. The Beaumont hospital cystic fibrosis multidisciplinary professional team will use the cystic fibrosis unit to provide long-term recurring support for ambulatory patients and their families and carers. The facility will be for the use of patients with cystic fibrosis and will have sufficient capacity, design features and specification to permit the implementation of best practices to minimise cross-infection. The project has been delivered with an allocation of €3.6 million. The cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital is due for completion in the week commencing 12 July and the hospital is working towards a “go-live” date during the week commencing 26 July. This is an example of a project that is up and running for families. I am glad to have been associated with it for years. It is great to see it being delivered for cystic fibrosis patients on the north side of Dublin.

As for St. Vincent’s Hospital, I urge the Minister to seriously push this agenda, as the cystic fibrosis patients cannot wait any longer. I urge the Minister to get on with the job, to build the cystic fibrosis unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital and to roll out the other services nationwide. Cystic fibrosis patients are sick and tired of waiting. I commend great people, such as Charlie [182]Gallagher, Gerry McElvaney and Orla Tinsley, as well as the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, for their great work, perseverance and dignity. I again urge the Minister to act on this matter.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan:  I thank Deputy Finian McGrath for sharing time. I have no wish to repeat the obvious, which is the need for adequate and proper care for cystic fibrosis patients. Such care is long overdue and its lack has caused immense suffering to patients and their loved ones. The campaign in 2008-09 of the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland, CFAI, was to ensure that the HSE lived up to its commitment to build the long-promised facility at St. Vincent’s Hospital. This facility cannot be delayed any further. How can funding for life-saving services be delayed, withheld or allowed to become swamped in a dispute such as the recent one concerning a car park facility? In addition, life-saving devices and services should not be dependent on fundraising activities such as table quizzes or the CFAI’s Buy a Brick fundraising venture.

There are more than 1,000 cystic fibrosis patients in Ireland. Ireland has the highest prevalence of cystic fibrosis in the world. Moreover, we have the most severe types and the largest proportion of families with more than one member with cystic fibrosis but yet, Ireland has the poorest resources for patients. I have read the graphic account of living with this illness as written, for example, by Orla Tinsley in recent years. I do not know how anyone, particularly those who work in the area or those in the HSE, can read these articles and not immediately take on board the issues and needs and then find the requisite resources. Ms Tinsley stated that people in Ireland die younger than in other countries because of the lack of proper standards of care by the HSE. Although she has won a number of awards for her campaigning, the best and most appropriate award would be to follow through on what is needed.

Members should imagine being afraid to go into hospital. Although successive reports have indicated the urgent need to provide simple single rooms with bathrooms en suite in a dedicated unit, cystic fibrosis patients still do not have this facility. Consequently, they are in a catch-22 situation wherein they need hospital care but such care is dangerous and even life-threatening because of the lack of proper facilities. I agree with Deputy Finian McGrath’s assertion that this is a national issue and not simply one for Dublin. In March 2010, Temple Street Children’s University Hospital officially opened a brand-new cystic fibrosis and respiratory outpatient unit at the hospital. The total cost was €3.2 million, €2.5 million of which was raised by donor support, corporate partnerships and intense fundraising. People with cystic fibrosis and their loved ones have enough of a battle on their hands in dealing with the illness without having to take on fundraising and media campaigns to highlight the lack of a need for proper care facilities.

I believe the Minister when she said she consistently emphasised the need to improve facilities and services to persons with cystic fibrosis. I call on the HSE to stop posturing and playing games and to do what is right and morally just and put the money where it is needed.

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I wish to make clear — in case there is any doubt about it — my commitment to making this happen. Equally, we have a public procurement process. I say to Deputy Ó Caoláin that it is not appropriate, nor would it be lawful, for me to intervene personally. In fact, if he wants to have the issue tied up in the courts for the next number of years, then that is precisely what I should do.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That is nonsense.

[183]Deputy Mary Harney:  The tender was conducted by St. Vincent’s hospital. I commended the hospital earlier on conducting that tender in a meticulous fashion. The Deputy does not need me to tell him that, because of the prevailing circumstances in the country both on the banking side and in construction, significant legal and other issues arose during the tender process. The hospital is confident that the bidder, which has been issued with a letter of intent a few days ago, and who has 30 days to respond, will give a positive response. The expected construction period is 18 months. I hope it will be shorter but that is what is anticipated. The site is clear. There are no site works to be carried out and work is ready to proceed as soon as the tender is awarded.

To be fair, I recently met with representatives of cystic fibrosis sufferers in the mid-west in my office in Dublin. They commended the fact that there had been a significant improvement in services, as the association has done. When we are discussing the issue, at least let us acknowledge that we have been able to greatly improve services in recent years. Deputy McGrath mentioned Beaumont Hospital and Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan mentioned the new facility in Temple Street. In addition, there is the interim facility in St. Vincent’s which we constructed last year at a cost of €1.6 million both on the revenue side and for the eight beds, and the new ambulatory care facility at St. Vincent’s which is used for patients who do not require admission.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited chronic disorder and we have a higher incidence of it in this country than elsewhere. It is more severe here for genetic reasons. The registry which we are now funding, which was requested, will give fantastic data to be able to track improvements over time and to compare ourselves to other countries. Life expectancy for CF sufferers has increased enormously. I accept it is lower than in other countries but given the severity of the condition in this country, it will perhaps always be lower. Between 1980 and 1984 median life expectancy for men was 29.3 years and it was 22.9 years for women. In the next period, 1985 to 1994 it had increased to 42 years for men, an improvement of almost 13 years, and 37.4 years for women, an improvement of 15 years. We are making steady progress, including in terms of resources, but I accept we badly need the facility at St. Vincent’s.

Unfortunately, I am not briefed at this hour of the night. I tried to use my mobile telephone to find out about the physiotherapist in Limerick. I will revert to the Deputy tomorrow. I was not aware of the case. When I met with the group recently, I do not remember that issue being mentioned. I met the consultant and parents and others. I will check the situation regarding that matter and revert to the Deputies tomorrow.

I had indicated before Deputy Reilly entered the Chamber that screening for newborns will commence this year. Professor Loftus has done a significant amount of work and the resources were provided to make that happen this year. The organ donation transplantation unit is being established this year. At the moment the clinical lead for that unit is being recruited. They are positive developments that will affect CF patients and other patients who are suitable for organ donation. Although organ donation in this country is high by international standards, the capacity to retrieve and use all the organs that are donated, other than kidneys, is not what it should be. All the advice I received and the number of conferences I have attended with interested parties would suggest that one needs key co-ordinators in emergency departments or in critical care departments around the country. It is clear that such co-ordination should be done by a national office, which is being established this year. Significant resources were invested in the establishment of the transplantation facility at the Mater hospital. Mr. Woods will be replaced. He is a key part of the surgical team in this city and in the country, working [184]as he does in the Mater hospital and at Crumlin hospital. That process may be under way. If the recruitment process to succeed him is not under way, it will commence shortly.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  We have had opportunities to raise the issue on numerous occasions but unfortunately we have not received any answers. I wish to raise the closure of the respite house in Clonile in Limerick, which is attached to Bawnmore, the Brothers of Charity service for adults with an intellectual disability in Limerick. That house closed more than three weeks ago leaving no respite service for adults with intellectual disability in the mid-west region.

I will not repeat all of the things I have said on the matter in various ways in priority questions and in the other ways in which I have raised the matter in the House. I want answers on behalf of the families that are affected and those who can get no break now. Even when people need to go to hospital they have nowhere for their loved one to go. We need the answers tonight and before we go on holidays. Those people will not be able to go on holidays this year if they do not get an answer.

I accept discussions have taken place with the HSE and the Brothers of Charity involving the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, and the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Mary Harney. We do not know what happened in those talks. We do not know what was said and what commitments were given. We do not know whether there is an agreement or if the house will reopen. We are talking about the most vulnerable families and people in our communities. In the case of the mid-west, 63 families are affected. Cutbacks have also been made to a variety of facilities. It is a retrograde step for persons who have left residential centres to live in the community to return to residential care. We are going backwards. My main concern is when the respite house will reopen. I want an answer to that question. When will it be available for the families that need it?

Many Members attended the protest today and met with people who are directly affected, as we have done on previous occasions. Those people literally have nowhere else to go. I do not want to hear again about talks and about the fact that the Brothers of Charity in the mid-west have €25 million for the provision of services. That is not an adequate answer. I am focused on the families who are affected. They need an answer. They do not need to be told that talks are ongoing. They simply need someone to get their finger out and to make a decision. If the Minister of State, Deputy John Moloney, has to order them to open it then he should do that. That house must reopen. We must be told when it is reopening before the House rises tomorrow.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I wish to address the situation in which service providers in Galway found themselves in the past week. HSE west currently has an overspend of €6.9 million. It is projected to be €15.5 million by the end of the year. The three main providers of service in the area to the physically and intellectually disadvantaged in Galway are the Brothers of Charity, Ability West and Enable Ireland. The plan of the HSE to address its bad management was to cut back the allocations to those three bodies to balance its books. The Brothers of Charity had already suffered a cutback of €2.5 million in its allocation earlier in the year [185]but it was able to manage by means of excellent efficiency and savings. I compliment the acting director, Ms Anne Geraghty, and the board of the Brothers of Charity on this achievement.

In the McCarthy report on State funding, a savings target of 3.7% over two years was recommended. The Brothers of Charity achieved a 4% saving over one year. Therefore, there is no wastage or inefficiency on their part. Are they now to be penalised for their efficiency in saving of a further €2 million, as was suggested verbally by HSE officials at a meeting late last week?

Since I submitted this Adjournment matter yesterday, I understand there has been some movement, or perceived movement. I am aware representatives of the Brothers of Charity met the Minister of State, Deputy Moloney, today. I would like the Minister of State to spell out the current position. Will the budget for the Brothers of Charity now not be cut back by a further €2 million? Will the organisation be expected to make further savings? If so, it will be impossible.

If the HSE has a current overspend of €6.9 million and a projected overspend of €5.5 million by the end of the year, it should not be taking it out on the providers of a service to the most vulnerable who have stayed well within their budget.

A further cut of €2 million would have had a very serious effect on the respite service. Respite care provision would have had to have been reduced by up to 40%, thus putting an intolerable burden on families caring for loved ones in their homes. Respite care is the vital link that keeps affected families together. Families in some of the more severe circumstances receive one night of respite per week. This gives them an opportunity to recharge so they will be able to continue to look after their loved ones. The suggested cutback of €2 million would have devastated the service of the Brothers of Charity, which service is excellent.

What happened at the talks today involving the Brothers of Charity representatives from Galway? Will the €2 million that the HSE was supposed to cut not be cut? Are the Brothers of Charity now expected to make a further saving of €2 million in their very efficiently run service? If so, it will be impossible to do so.

I hope the wool was not pulled over anybody’s eyes. I am not suggesting the Minister of State is trying to do so. I hope the representatives went home happy today and that everything in the garden is rosy. Will the Minister of State spell out for Members, who have been waiting for two days to speak on this matter on the Adjournment, exactly what happened at today’s meeting? Has the €2 million that was to be cut been restored, thus giving the Brothers of Charity their full budget, apart from the €2.5 million that was cut earlier in the year?

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I thank Deputy John Moloney, the Minister of State responsible for disability, for attending the House. This is an extremely important issue for us all, particularly in so far as it affects the respite services of the Brothers of Charity in Clonile House, Old Cratloe Road, Limerick. The Brothers of Charity have provided an invaluable service to individuals and their parents. There are 63 families affected. We are talking about real people’s lives.

I heard the Taoiseach state only 130 people are affected. They are real people. Many of them marched outside the Dáil at lunchtime today. Many are elderly parents of intellectually disabled adults.

The respite service in Limerick provided a break for both the intellectually disabled and their parents. Many of the parents are widowed. We need to get from the Minister of State tonight confirmation that the respite home in Clonile will be reopened. It has been closed for three weeks since 14 June. It is unforgivable. This matter has dragged on for far too long. We [186]need to know the subject of the Minister of State’s discussions with the Brothers of Charity today and how respite services for intellectually disabled adults in Limerick city will be affected. We need to hear that a commitment was made to provide funding and that the respite unit will be reopened tomorrow. We will not leave this House tomorrow until we receive confirmation in this regard.

The victims are the intellectually disabled adults and their parents. I pay tribute to the parents for what they do for their children over their lives. They have two main concerns, namely, that their children will be looked after when they are alive and when they pass away. People should not be put in these circumstances.

Before midnight, we want confirmation from the Minister of State that the residential respite unit in Clonile House on the Old Cratloe Road will be reopened and that the 63 families will be able to avail of the service again. They receive one night of respite per month on average.

This is a defining moment for the Government. The heartache that the failure to draw down €157,000 has caused over the past three weeks is unforgivable. I hope to hear positive news from the Minister of State tonight such that the unit will be reopened tomorrow and that people’s lives can return to normal.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I thank the Deputies for raising this matter. I recognise other Deputies had an interest in it also. I am not in the business of pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes; that goes without saying. I will refer to the meeting today. It is a pity Deputy Jan O’Sullivan made the point this is a matter of having meeting after meeting but it must be a matter of meetings. That is why the meeting was today. Tomorrow evening’s meeting will be with the umbrella group, the national voluntary organisation. Let us try to deal with the issues that arise.

Deputy McCormack was concerned about today’s meeting and wondered what the outcome was. He has a Galway perspective. The Brothers of Charity confirmed that they can maintain the respite service in the current year from within currently available resources. It is not for me to say that. The Brothers of Charity has issued a statement this evening to this effect. I did not read it but heard it referred to on the news.

The statement that only 131 people are affected was made by way of saying 5,000 people are in receipt of respite care. The reference to 131 was in the context of the fact that 42 providers are providing respite care. It occurred to me that, of the 42, 40 were in a position to continue providing care. Two had a difficulty.

I want to be as specific as I can about the meetings. Some weeks ago, when the possibility of Bawnmore was flagged to us, I suggested to the HSE publicly on radio that the local health managers should sit down with the services providers to determine where their difficulty lay, bearing in mind the allocation of €1.6 billion for disability services. I pointed out at all times that it would not be necessary to cut the respite care budget.

Whether it is unthinkable or otherwise, it must be said that there was a €30 million budget for Bawnmore. The shortfall was €145,000. I mentioned the outcome of today’s meeting in respect of Galway. The Brothers of Charity left the meeting today to consider the issue of Bawnmore.

I must give a commitment before we rise tomorrow evening. My commitment has been to retain respite services this year. I want to be very specific with Deputy McCormack because he raised concerns about this matter on a few occasions. The issue of demanding a further cut [187]of €2 million is not on the table. Last week’s suggestion of seeking a further €2 million will not be acted upon in the context of this year’s service. This will be reaffirmed in the statement we will issue tomorrow evening.

Let me refer to the lead-up——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  Did the Minister of State clarify that the Limerick unit will reopen in addition to the one in Galway?

Deputy John Moloney:  I am not trying to hide behind words.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Could the Minister of State answer a question?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  The Minister of State without interruption.

Deputy John Moloney:  No, I am prepared to accept the question.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  The second last paragraph of the written response provided by the Minister of State states:

The brothers have indicated that the respite service can be largely restored for €150,000 in the current year. The Brothers of Charity today indicated that they would work with the HSE to ensure this happens.

When will this happen?

Deputy John Moloney:  I am sorry if I am going against procedure, but I want to be as helpful as possible. When the restoration will occur is for the brothers to say.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  But what about——

Deputy John Moloney:  May I finish my point? In the context of today’s meeting, the fact that the brothers were experiencing difficulties led me to suggest that the HSE should sit down with them to find the base line if they could not provide the service, providing it should be possible in the context of a budget of €30 million and the brothers committed to doing this today.

While I respect Deputy O’Donnell’s concern about the House rising tomorrow, I cannot be tied down to that event. I will be in the Department this month to ensure that respite services are continued at Bawnmore, Galway and Navan.

  12 o’clock

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I have a quick question. Has the Minister of State requested that the Brothers of Charity revert to him to indicate when the respite house will be reopened? Its situation appears to be different from that of Galway, where the respite service has not yet closed. The service in Limerick has been closed since 14 June, but people were only advised two weeks beforehand. Our concern is for the individuals and their families. The Brothers of Charity would do the work, but has the Minister of State, who has responsibility in this regard, demanded that they revert to him to advise as to when the respite house will be reopened? We cannot allow the House to stand down tomorrow and leave this matter in limbo.

Deputy John Moloney:  The same could be——

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I hope I will be afforded the same latitude as Deputy O’Donnell.

[188]Deputy John Moloney:  Of course. I apologise if I——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  Just over five minutes are left in the slot. The Deputy should be brief and then allow the Minister of State to conclude.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  If the Acting Chairman has given one Member latitude, I would hope that he would do the same for another.

Deputy John Moloney:  I accept that.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  The problem is that people have lost trust. The respite house has been closed for more than three weeks. Since then, various individuals have told people that meetings have been taking place. For this reason, I referred to meetings. People do not believe that meetings will have outcomes. We need a commitment tomorrow about a definite date for the house’s reopening. Otherwise, we will not be able to go home to our constituencies. It is as simple as that.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I wish to come to the Minister of State’s defence. This is the best Adjournment debate I have witnessed since entering the House and I thank the Minister of State for his openness. Instead of reading from a script, as is usually the case, he has dealt with our questions. Did I hear correctly that the proposed €2 million in HSE cutbacks will no longer be going ahead?

Deputy John Moloney:  I am sorry if I am breaking from procedure, but I am trying to respond.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  It is welcome.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  We thank the Minister of State.

Deputy John Moloney:  I wish to be clear. Deputy O’Donnell asked whether I had set a timeframe. At the morning meeting with the brothers, I put it to them that I could not accept that the centre would be closed for the sake of €150,000 out of a budget of €25 million to €30 million. To be fair to them, they responded to the effect that they would re-examine the scenario as regards the specific level of funding required to open the home.

I am trying to be as helpful as possible. It is important to put on the record that I am not taking this debate simply because of this particular respite issue. I implemented the value for money review to ensure that savings would remain in front line services. I insisted that two people from the sector be involved in the review. There is no sleight of hand.

I cannot give a commitment before the House rises because I will only be meeting the umbrella group for the brothers, the daughters and the heads of the sensory, physical and intellectual disability sector at 5 p.m. tomorrow. The €1.6 billion allocated to the service provides adequate resources to continue respite care.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Does the same pertain to Galway?

Deputy John Moloney:  I do not want to refer to my prepared script, but I have supplied it to the Deputies. To be fair, no pressure was put on the brothers to respond immediately. They have stated that they have within their resources the ability to continue the services.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  Will that be without the €2 million in further cutbacks?

[189]Deputy John Moloney:  As stated by the Taoiseach this morning, the commitment to retaining respite for this year——

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  That is what we all want.

Deputy John Moloney:  I cannot make a prediction for next year. This year, we must live up to our commitment to provide for front line services.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I have a final point. The Government is no longer requesting €2 million in cutbacks from the Brothers of Charity in Galway. Will a similar arrangement be made with the brothers in Bawnmore in Limerick? It would enable them to find the €150,000 necessary to get their respite service up and running. Will the Minister of State make contact with the brothers in Bawnmore tomorrow to confirm whether respite services will open?

Deputy John Moloney:  I do not need to make contact with the brothers because they are committed to providing resources to continue the respite care. The commitment given by the Taoiseach and me this morning was to restore respite services. I am not trying to play with words, but I understand last week’s meeting with the HSE in Galway used the terminology of €2 million in savings rather than cuts. There was no specific demand to cut money from the service. This year’s service level agreements are in place. That is the commitment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  Time has expired.

Deputy Pádraic McCormack:  I thank the Minister of State for the way in which he has handled this debate. It has been one of the Dáil’s best Adjournment matters. I thank the Minister of State sincerely for answering our questions instead of just reading from a script. I also thank the Acting Chairman for being so lenient with Deputies and for allowing the debate on this important matter to proceed.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  The Deputy is welcome.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  Is the Minister of State committed to having the respite services reopened?

Deputy John Moloney:  Yes.

Deputy Jack Wall:  I thank the Minister of State for the previous debate. The manner in which it was taken should be repeated regularly, as it was of benefit to the Opposition.

I raised the matter of local authorities’ household loans in March. It relates to the announcement yesterday by the Taoiseach and the Ministers for Finance and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources concerning their proposal. In Dan White’s Evening Herald article entitled, “NAMA for the little man? Not a chance”, he states: “For those of us who were hoping for some original thinking on the problems of mortgage arrears and other personal debt, a NAMA for the little man, the report came as a severe disappointment.” According to Charlie Weston and Áine Kerr in today’s Irish Independent, yesterday’s announcement meant that “people unable to manage repayments should be encouraged to leave their home and be provided with social housing”. Their article went on: “When it is concluded that the mortgage is unsustainable then forbearance is unlikely to be appropriate and voluntary surrender may be necessary.” The article also states: “People should be assisted in ‘applying for social housing [190]or other long-term housing supports appropriate to their needs’.” They assert that the mortgage arrears resolution process, MARP, would allow home buyers to extend the terms of their mortgages, pay interest only or take payment breaks.

In the context of people with local authority loans, I have been seeking this type of latitude from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I have asked him to implement a ministerial order in respect of section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which states: “Where there are moneys due and owing by a household to a housing authority under any of the provisions to which this section applies and the housing authority is satisfied that the household would otherwise suffer undue hardship, the housing authority may enter into arrangements with the household for the payment of those moneys (together with any interest that may have accrued under section 33(2)) by such instalments and at such times as the housing authority considers reasonable in all the circumstances in addition to any rent, charges, fees or loan repayments that the household is paying to the authority.” That would allow the local authority to deal with the person in receipt of the loan. On the one hand we are talking about the Government giving direction to the banks as to how they should deal with the matter, while on the other within its own remit, it is refusing to allow the people to deal with the local authorities. In the essence of natural justice one would have to ask how the Government is doing this. How in the name of God is it saying that the banks must do this while denying people who purchase from local authorities the right to do it? That could not be fair.

The amazing thing is that under other sections of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009 the Minister made a ministerial order. However, the one that would be effective in ensuring that a person has a roof over his or her head he denies. In today’s newspaper report of what was announced yesterday it states that people will have to look for social housing yet when people talk to the local authorities they are being told in effect: “No, the deal is there and you contracted to pay so much per month. We have no leeway to work with you in relation to anything else.” The local authority has no leeway under the legislation to purchase the house.

This is contradictory to what the local authorities are having to suffer. I have tremendous faith in this Minister of State, Deputy Moloney. I am asking him to bring this back to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and ask that natural justice prevail, so that section 34 of that Act is brought into play, and persons with loans from local authorities will be afforded the same leeway the expert group has given to the banks in this regard. Then people will be happy.

Deputy John Moloney:  I have heard Deputy Wall raise this issue on many occasions and I know how committed he is to see change here.

I thank the Deputy again for raising this important matter. As has been made clear by our swift response in immediately accepting all of the recommendations made by the mortgage arrears and personal debt review group in its interim report published yesterday, the Government is extremely conscious of the high value Irish people place on home ownership. Indeed, long before the setting up of the review group, we have already brought forward a range of measures to support and protect families having difficulties with their home mortgage payments.

The single most important advice for any borrower facing difficulties in meeting repayments — whether their mortgage is with a local authority or private institution — is to engage early, proactively and constructively with their lender to seek to achieve an agreed solution. To [191]date there is no evidence to suggest that wider economic circumstances are creating problems specifically for local authority borrowers in meeting mortgage repayments. The most recent published data available to me are the service indicators 2008, published in June 2009. This shows local authority mortgage arrears levels running at 11.7%, a marginal increase on the level in 2007, which stood at 11.6%. Similarly, despite worsening economic conditions generally, repossession remains extremely rare for local authority borrowers with only 66 repossessions across all local authorities carried out in the five year period 2005-09.

Local authority borrowers have received considerable protection from the worst effects of the downturn in terms of their borrowing costs. The effective rate for borrowers has come down by 3% since end November 2008 and now stands at just 2.25%. These rates represent exceptional value by comparison to rates charged by commercial lenders; as of now, the local authority rate is more than 0.9% lower than the average market variable rate.

Provisions regarding lending by local authorities for the purposes of house purchase are set out in section 11 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1992. Where a loan stands in default, section 11(10), and more recently section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, provide that a local authority may make such monetary arrangements with a borrower as the authority considers equitable to take account of the particular circumstances. Local authorities can and do exercise the powers available to them under this section and endeavour, in all arrears cases, to engage proactively and constructively with a distressed borrower with the aim of enabling a household to regain its home. The available data strongly bears this out and suggests that repossession, where it occurs, is always a last resort.

In addition, and to support consistency of approach and ensure best practice across all local authority areas, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government recently circulated guidance, based on the regulator’s code of conduct on mortgage arrears. This guidance will ensure that cases of local authority mortgage arrears are handled in a manner that is sympathetic to the needs of the particular household while also protecting the position of the local authority concerned and ensuring that distressed local authority borrowers enjoy the same protections as borrowers from other institutions.

The Minister welcomes the commitment given yesterday by the Financial Regulator to bring forward changes to the code of conduct to reflect the recommendations of the mortgage arrears and personal debt review group. He is also committed to ensuring that the guidance to local authorities fully reflects any changes made to the code of conduct.

I assure Deputy Wall that I will pass on the issues he has raised to the Minister, and I apologise that he could not be here this evening.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I am glad to see that the Minister of State with responsibility in this area is here tonight.

Last week I was contacted by the parents of two children both aged seven and each without a place in a school for the coming September. These children are lucky they have parents who are very proactive but even they were surprised at the late notice to inform them that the school which the children had attended for the last three years could not offer them a place for the coming year.

Both children have special needs and will need a lot of support in order to remain at mainstream school. The parents have applied to three other schools and have in at least one case appealed under section 26 of the Education Act. All that it is possible for the parents to do [192]they have done, and they are still trying desperately to ensure that their children have a school place this September. In the words of the mother: “I am running around chasing my tail and becoming more desperate every day. When I ring the national education welfare board to speak to the office dealing with my daughter’s case the phone rings twice and then stops. There is no voice mail and no return call.” All the schools are now on holidays and it is unlikely that places will be found for these children before September.

How hard can it be to ensure that children who started school at five have a place at seven? We all know that additional supports are needed but surely, with two years in which to assess their educational needs, it should be possible to provide school places for children who are already in school. The last date for enrolment in most schools is 31 March yet these parents were not informed until the start of June, way too late for the children to apply for a place in another school. Why was it left until the last minute? Last week, having worked on this the whole week long, I eventually decided to phone the national education and welfare board. Imagine my shock last Friday when in order to move this on and try to get a place for these children I phoned to speak to someone, only to be told that the officer dealing with the case was on holidays. People need to take holidays but when I asked when he would be back I was told not until the 30 August. I thought it was a joke at first, since that was the day the schools were going back. The same day the children are due to start school is the date the officer dealing with the case will be back at work, 30 August. On further inquiry it would appear that eight people are working in the NEWB office in Cork, and six are now on holidays, returning on 30 August.

This to me, seems incredible, but I am assured it is the case. It also explains to me in detail why there is always an enormous panic during the summer in terms of school places and why nothing happens in that period. During the summer there is always a panic about why nothing happens in addressing availability of school places. The children in question will not be dealt with until 30 August. This means that even if a place is found for them in the primary school system, it will not be well into September. By then the rest of the school will have already started and these children will be playing catch-up, as if they were not playing it to begin with.

Why is it left until the last minute to inform these parents about the placements in the schools their children were already attending? Why is no one available to help them? The kids in question have proactive parents. What about those who have parents with their own difficulties?

When parents seek assistance from staff in the National Education Welfare Board who are paid to assist them to find their way through the process, they find they are not available for the entire summer as they have the same conditions as national school teachers. It is incredible an entire office can be off until 30 August.

Will the Minister intervene to ensure the children in question have school places for the end of August, not the end of September?

Deputy John Moloney:  I am replying to this Adjournment matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills.

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 requires that all children with special educational needs shall be educated in an inclusive environment with children who do not have such needs, unless the nature or degree of the need is such that to do so would be inconsistent with the best interests of the child or the effective provision of education for children with whom the child is to be educated.

[193]The Department, therefore, provides for a range of placement options and supports for schools which enrol pupils with special educational needs so that, wherever a child is enrolled, he or she will have access to an appropriate education. To this end, over €1 billion has been allocated in the 2010 departmental budget to support special education in schools.

Children with special educational needs may be enrolled in a mainstream school and attend all mainstream classes. Children who are fully integrated may receive additional teaching support through a learning support teacher or a resource teacher. If the child has care needs, he or she may receive support from a special needs assistant. In other cases, a child with special needs may enrol in a mainstream school and attend a special class. This provides an option of partial inclusion in mainstream classes in line with the child’s abilities. Alternatively, if appropriate, the child may enrol in a special school.

The Department supports special classes and special schools through the provision of lower pupil-teacher ratios for such classes, ranging from 6:1 to 11:1, the provision of special needs assistants and enhanced levels of capitation funding.

There are ten special schools in County Cork which cater for children with special educational needs ranging from mild and moderate to severe and profound difficulties. In addition, two schools currently cater exclusively for children with autism in the Cork area. The Department has also recently granted recognition to two other such schools.

The question of enrolment in individual schools is the responsibility of the managerial authority of those schools. The Department’s main responsibility is to ensure schools in an area can, between them, cater for all pupils seeking places. This may result, however, in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

It is the responsibility of the managerial authorities of schools to implement an enrolment policy in accordance with the Education Act 1998. In this regard, a board of management may find it necessary to restrict enrolment to children from a particular area or a particular age group or, occasionally, on the basis of some other criterion. This selection process and the enrolment policy on which it is based must be non-discriminatory and must be applied fairly in respect of all applicants.

Under the Education Act 1998, each school is legally obliged to disclose its enrolment policy and to ensure principles of equality and the right of parents to send their children to a school of the parents’ choice are respected. Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 also provides parents with an appeals process where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses enrolment to a student. Where a school refuses to enrol a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to either the relevant vocational educational committee or to the Secretary General of the Department.

The National Educational Welfare Board is the statutory agency which can——

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  The Minister of State should take his time now and read this part of his reply very slowly.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Cyprian Brady):  The Minister of State without interruption.

Deputy John Moloney:  ——assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child. I take the point the Deputy raised.

[194]At present, the Department funds over 8,600 whole-time equivalent learning support-resource teacher posts, over 10,000 whole-time equivalent special needs assistant posts and over 1,000 teachers in special schools.

Requests for support or assistance for children with special educational needs are made by schools directly to the National Council for Special Education which is responsible, through its network of local special educational needs organisers, for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. The council operates within the Department’s criteria in allocating such support. Parents may also contact their local special needs assistant directly to discuss their child’s special educational needs.

In addition, enhanced capitation funding is paid to special schools and in respect of special classes in mainstream schools. The Department also provides over €50 million annually for special school transport arrangements. To further support the inclusion of children with special needs, all new school buildings and extensions are designed to enable access for all.

The Deputy’s point about placements beginning at the end of August makes sense. I will bring the matter up with the Minister in the morning and respond to the Deputy as early as I can in the next two weeks.

The Dáil adjourned at 12.30 a.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 8 July 2010.

————————

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

————————

Questions Nos. 1 to 5, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 6 to 20, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 21 to 34, inclusive, answered orally.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 27.

Question No. 36 answered with Question No. 29.

  37.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence,    further to the recent decision to approve 50 promotions at senior level within the Defence Forces, the number of such appointments that have been made to date; when the outstanding posts will be filled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30168/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  Resulting from the Government decision regarding the reduction of public service numbers and the reduced budgetary provision available for 2009, recruitment, promotions and acting up appointments in the Permanent Defence Forces were suspended. However, in order to maintain the ongoing operational capability of the Defence Forces, a limited number of exceptions to the application of the measures to the Permanent Defence Force were sought in a submission to the Minister for Finance, in June 2009.

As was announced on the 24 November 2009, the Minister for Finance approved an allocation of 50 promotions, for the Permanent Defence Force. These promotions were approved to address priority operational and command requirements of the Permanent Defence Force.

The Department and the Military Authorities reviewed existing vacancies in all ranks across the organisation as a whole, so as to prioritise those to be filled from the approved promotions.

Following on from this review, a total of 13 Officer promotions and 30 enlisted promotions have been completed to date. A further 4 enlisted promotions will be completed as soon as the [196]administrative procedures relating to them have been completed. The residual 3 approved promotions will be used to fill priority posts as they arise.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 26.

  39.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of call-outs of the explosive ordnance disposal team in regard to suspect devices or the removal of old ordnance to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30152/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The primary responsibility for the maintenance of law and order rests with an Garda Síochána. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the Gardaí as required. Requests for aid to the civil power are normally made by a member of an Garda Síochána not below the rank of Inspector.

Requests made by an Garda Síochána for assistance in dealing with a suspect device or for the removal of old ordnance are responded to by the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Team in the relevant Brigade. The details requested to the end of June 2010 are as follows:

Number
Old ordnance 31
Hoaxes 31
Finds of bomb-making equipment 12
False alarms 6
Improvised explosive devices 11
Substances of concern 3
Other 2
Total 96

Examples of old ordnance include old shells or grenades unearthed during building works.

  40.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Defence    when he intends to publish a new White Paper on the Defence Forces, in view of the fact that the previous White Paper ran from 2000 to 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30165/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Renewed Programme for Government sets out the commitment for the preparation of a new White Paper on Defence, for the period 2011 to 2020. Preliminary work has commenced and I intend bringing a memorandum to Government in the near future. This will outline the proposed approach in advance of formally launching the process.

The new White Paper will build upon the first white paper on Defence, published in 2000, which provided the policy framework for the modernisation, reform and transformation of the Defence Organisation, during the past decade.

The new White Paper will set out Defence policy for the period to 2020 having regard to the Defence and Security environment and the roles assigned to the Defence Forces. It will chart a course for the continued development of the Defence Organisation and will be instrumental in guiding successive strategy statements.

[197]The preparation of the new White Paper will include broad consultation with relevant stakeholders, including other Government Departments and Offices and a public consultative process.

The current White Paper on Defence will continue to provide the policy framework pending the adoption of the new White Paper.

  41.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on whether change to the governance structures of the Red Cross is now required and whether legislative change to the Red Cross Act 1938 is required to achieve this; if he will confirm that such legislation will be brought before Dáil Éireann in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30035/10]

  49.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will proceed to implement the recommendations of the review group of the Irish Red Cross; if he will make any amendments to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30148/10]

  61.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has received definite legal advice as to whether legislation is required to implement the recommendations of the Irish Red Cross review group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30149/10]

  75.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has decided to appoint an interim chairman to the Irish Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30147/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 41, 49, 61 and 75 together.

The Irish Red Cross Society is an autonomous body, established by the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939 pursuant to the Red Cross Act, 1938. The Society is a charitable organisation with full powers to manage and administer its affairs through its governing body, the Central Council. Membership of the Central Council is by way of appointment by the Government or by election in accordance with the rules of the Society.

The formal report of the Working Group established by the Irish Red Cross Society to examine the issue of governance was received in the Department of Defence in January of this year. The Department of Defence held preliminary discussions with the Society on the recommendations contained in the Report during February 2010. On the 18th May I met with the Vice Chairman and the Secretary General of the Society and assured them of my support in helping them achieve the aims set out in the Report. In order to implement the recommendations made there will be a requirement for significant amendments to the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939. Representatives of the Society and Officials from the Department of Defence met on 9th June to discuss the specific changes required to the 1939 Order.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, which engages on an ongoing basis with the various components of the International Red Cross Movement and with the Irish Red Cross Society, in relation to its overseas work, and the Department of the Taoiseach have been invited to participate in these discussions. Thereafter, any statutory changes necessary will be brought before Government. I understand that presently no issue has arisen which might necessitate an amendment to the Red Cross Act 1938.

In accordance with Article 9 of the Irish Red Cross Order, 1939 the Chairman of the Society must be a member of the Central Council. In nominating persons to Central Council, the Government considers that it is highly desirable that the Society should have on its governing [198]body, professional people with a wide variety of knowledge and expertise, gained through work experience in both the public and private sector and/or volunteer experience with the Society.

The Government, in recommending to the President a person to act as Chairman, will carefully consider and nominate a person who it deems will make a positive contribution to the affairs of the Society. Such a role assumes even greater importance now given the imminent changes to the Society’s organisation.

  42.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Defence    the changes in the travel and subsistence costs (details supplied) that necessitate the 15% increase provided for in the A2 subhead of the 2010 Estimates for defence and Army pensions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29961/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The amount provided for Departmental travel and subsistence costs in the 2009 Defence Estimate was €396,000 while actual expenditure was €286,000. This saving was achieved through prudent management in line with the requirement to reduce public expenditure wherever possible, and to a lower than anticipated requirement for non-EU foreign travel. In addition, home subsistence and motor travel rates were reduced in March 2009.

The corresponding amount provided in the 2010 Estimate is €330,000 representing a reduction of 17% on the 2009 provision and an increase of 15% on the 2009 outturn. The allocation for 2010 includes provision for foreign travel costs associated with contract negotiations, Ministerial support duties and UN commitments.

  43.  Deputy Chris Andrews    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to cancel the contract awarded to a company (details supplied) in view of the atrocity committed by the Israeli Government on 31 May 2010 in which more than ten civilians lost their lives. [29791/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Department of Defence initiated a tender competition in 2009 for the supply of Surveillance and Target Acquisition equipment for four out of a total of twenty-seven Light Tactical Armoured Vehicles being supplied by BAE Systems in South Africa. Following a detailed evaluation of tenders, the contract for the award of the equipment, with a value of €2.37m inclusive of VAT, was awarded to Elbit Systems Limited in Israel.

The four Surveillance and Target Acquisition Suites, for delivery this year, are required to enhance the capability of the Defence Forces to carry out overseas Peace Support Operations. They will be used as an information-gathering asset and will provide a means to enhance force protection and the safety of Irish troops whilst on such missions.

The events involving the storming of the Free Gaza movement flotilla and the boarding of the MV Rachel Corrie are matters of great concern to the Irish Government. These issues were taken up at the highest diplomatic level by my colleague, the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The issue of boycotts or sanctions against Israel or the cancelling of contracts with specific Israeli companies is not something that the Irish Government supports at this point in time. The position is that trade policy and market access are largely EU competencies and any restriction or ban on imports from Israel would have to be concerted at EU level. In that [199]regard, there would be no possibility whatever of obtaining agreement at EU level for such a ban.

  44.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Defence    the justification for the increase from €36,000 to €100,000 in printing, binding and stationery services provided for in subhead 5 of the Estimates for defence and Army pensions recently published; if this increase is intended to reflect once-off costs or recurring costs in future years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29947/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The amount provided for printing, binding and stationery services in subhead A5 of the 2009 Defence estimate was €70,000 while actual expenditure was €36,000. Expenditure in 2009 was kept to the absolute minimum in line with the requirement to reduce public expenditure wherever possible.

The corresponding amount provided in the 2010 Estimate is €100,000, and includes provision for additional once-off printing and stationery costs that will arise in the context of the Department’s decentralisation to Newbridge, County Kildare.

  45.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to concerns expressed about the continued use by the Defence Forces of the anti-malaria drug Lariam despite the decision of the US armed forces to cease prescribing the drug as a result of increasing concerns about its health effects; if he is satisfied that this drug is safe; if there are any plans to review the practice of prescribing it; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30166/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The drug in question is considered one of the most effective anti-malaria drugs for the type of malaria our troops were exposed to in Chad and Central African Republic. Troops being administered the drug are informed of its effects and its use is closely monitored by the military medical authorities. The Military Authorities have assured me that they are fully aware of the drug’s potential neuropsychiatric effects.

  46.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    when recruitment to the Army is due to commence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30151/10]

  78.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the optimum strength for the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; his plans for future recruitment in each discipline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30172/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 78 together.

Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force. Government approval was secured in the context of Budget 2010 for a level of 10,000 all ranks. This reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes.

A proposal is currently being drawn up for submission to the Department of Finance and following on from that discussions will commence with the Department to agree an Employ[200]ment Control Framework for the Defence Forces which is sustainable within a figure of 10,000 all ranks Permanent Defence Force personnel, appropriately configured across the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps to enable them meet the roles assigned by Government.

I am advised by the Military Authorities that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force as at 31 May 2010 was 9,809 comprising 7,996 Army, 795 Air Corps and 1,018 Naval Service personnel.

Targeted recruitment will be carried out in 2010 in order to maintain the operational capability of the Defence Forces. To this end I recently approved the recruitment of 40 Recruits to the Naval Service and this recruitment process is currently underway. In addition the military authorities will shortly advertise for some limited recruitment to the Army.

I intend, with the support of the Chief of Staff and within the resources available, to retain the capacity of the organisation to operate effectively across all roles while contributing to the necessary public service economies.

  47.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Defence    the strength of the Defence Forces in overall terms, by Naval Service, Air Corps and Army, and by gender, as of June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29969/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I am advised by the Military authorities that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force as at 31 May 2010, the latest date for which figures are available, was 9,809 comprising 7,996 Army, 795 Air Corps and 1,018 Naval Service. Of this total number, 9,246 were male and 563 were female. Of the 563 female personnel, 460 were serving in the Army, 33 in the Air Corps and 70 in the Naval Service.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

Unlike many other national armed forces, the Defence Forces have no restrictions as regards the assignment of men or women to the full range of operational and administrative duties. All promotions and career courses are open to both genders on merit.

The Defence Forces prides itself on providing a gender neutral working environment. Policies on equality are being constantly communicated to all ranks. The military authorities are alert and vigilant to this issue and are committed to addressing this matter in a continuing and proactive manner.

  48.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will allow an organisation (details supplied) limited access to army rifle ranges for training purposes when the ranges are not otherwise in use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30146/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Military Ranges are highly utilised by the Defence Forces and, when available, An Garda Síochána in achieving both training objectives and operational commitments, quite often at short notice. Therefore, affording civilian clubs or associations access, limited or otherwise, to military ranges would not be in the best interest of the Defence Forces or indeed the security of the State.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 41.

  50.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Defence    when it is expected that his Department will move to its new offices in Newbridge, County Kildare; if its current offices in Parkgate, Dublin, will be vacated, the location at which it is intended to accommodate those sections of Defence Forces headquarters that are not relocating to Newbridge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29917/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Office of Public Works is responsible for the construction and fitting-out of the Department’s new accommodation at Station Road, Newbridge. The building is under construction and is expected to be available for occupation in the autumn. The Office of Public Works is also responsible for the provision of office accommodation for the Defence Forces Headquarters personnel who are not decentralising to Newbridge. Discussions are ongoing between this Department, the Defence Forces and the OPW on the issue of suitable accommodation.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 28.

  52.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Defence    when the all-party consultative group on the centenary of the 1916 Rising last met; when he expects the next meeting to be held; the progress made by the group to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30167/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The All Party Oireachtas Consultation Group on the Centenary of the 1916 Rising met on Wednesday, 2nd December, 2009, for discussions and site visits to Glasnevin Cemetery and the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks to view projects relating to the 2016 commemoration of the 1916 Rising. In the discussion, the Group were informed of recent developments and events including:- Arbour Hill renewal works including restoration and extension of the existing church car park, repair and restoration of all existing cemetery graves, repair of cemetery pathways and the planting of new trees. The future location for the Abbey Theatre and possible redevelopment at the GPO, with reference also to the protection of 16 Moore Street. Recent acquisition for the national collections of items of interest relating to the independence period, amongst which were the 964 items of the Stanley Collection at a cost of €3.5 million. Other items purchased/donated include a letter from P.H. Pearse to General Maxwell and General Maxwell’s brief reply and a copy of the Proclamation. Assistance towards themed publications i.e. the Royal Irish Academy’s recent publication on Seán Lemass, and the SIPTU sponsored publication on James Connolly. The Military Service Archives Project which envisages that files, being the service records of personnel involved in the struggle for independence, would be released into the public domain on a phased basis in the years leading to the Centenary of the Rising. The Group were informed that an Advisory Board of historians had accepted invitations to assist with this project.

At Glasnevin Cemetery, the Group inspected progress on the significant programme of ongoing restoration works underway for which €6.4m of NDP funding has been provided to date. I am pleased to report that the new Glasnevin museum was officially opened by the Taoiseach, Mr Brian Cowen, T.D., on 8 April, this year. The Group also visited the ongoing restoration work being conducted on Erskine Childers’ yacht Asgard. This project is scheduled to be completed this year. The suggested relocation to the GPO complex of the Abbey Theatre is currently being examined by the Office of Public Works. The decision on future use will have regard to all advice and suggestions received.

[202]This year’s commemorative event to mark the Easter Rising of 1916 was held at the GPO, Dublin on Sunday, 4th April, 2010. The ceremony included prayers of remembrance, a reading of the Proclamation and the laying of a wreath by the President. Preparations are ongoing for the National Day of Commemoration to be held in Kilmainham on 11th July. A programme of events is being compiled to commemorate a whole series of centenaries across the island in the next 10 to 12 years, as we recall the key events in our history. I am confident that all significant anniversaries occurring within the period of the multi-annual programme now being prepared will be commemorated. The details of the commemorative programme will be discussed with Group members in due course.

I am currently engaged in the preparation for a meeting of the All Party Oireachtas Consultation Group, which I hope to convene soon.

  53.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Defence    if he is satisfied that Ireland is properly prepared for any attempted cyber warfare or terrorism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30157/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  Cyber security, cyber crime and internet security represent challenges that are constantly evolving and require vigilance and appropriate responses. Cyber security is multi facetted. The nature of the threat and the potential impact also varies considerably depending on the approach and objective of those with malicious intent. In the first instance, each State agency, business and individual should take every precaution with regard to their security. Awareness of security, the risks and available safeguards, can be seen as the first line of defence for the security of information systems and networks. I am aware of considerable activity in this regard. My colleague the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has undertaken a number of awareness campaigns aimed at individuals, SMEs, the education sector, the public sector and business.

In addition, Minister Ryan has recently commissioned a report on Ireland’s current state of readiness should a cyber attack occur. The report will also contain a review of current international best practice on cyber security and the structures that should be developed to oversee the Government’s response to cyber attacks. This report will address the following issues from a national perspective:

Detection of cyber attacks

Reaction to cyber attacks from Government, Government agencies and operators of critical IT infrastructure

Development of structure to oversee planning and response to cyber attacks

Development of structures to keep the public aware of threats and appropriate responses.

I understand that consultation with industry and across Government has taken place and that the Strategy is currently being finalised.

  54.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress to date with the value for money review of the Defence Forces Reserve; when he expects this review to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30196/10]

[203]

  67.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the value for money review of the Defence Forces Reserve and the value for money review of general service recruits; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30154/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 54 and 67 together.

The VFM review of the Reserve Defence Force, which was selected for review as part of the 2009-2011 phase of the Government’s Value for Money and Policy Review initiative, commenced in February 2010. A Steering Committee comprising representatives from the Department of Defence, the Defence Forces and the Department of Finance has been formed. In accordance with revised guidelines for the conduct of Value for Money Reviews, an independent chair was appointed to the Steering Committee. The Steering Committee has met on three occasions since the review commenced and a further meeting is scheduled for this week. A Working Group has also been formed to assist the Steering Committee with the review, comprising both civil and military personnel.

As part of the review process, the Steering Committee have established an appropriate consultative mechanism for all key stakeholders and I understand that the representative associations have recently been invited to make written submissions. It is expected that the findings of the Value For Money review, including the lessons learned from the RDF Review Implementation Plan process, will complement the development of the new White Paper. The target date for the completion of the review is end 2010.

A VFM review of the Training of General Service Recruits was also approved for inclusion as part of the 2009-2011 phase of the Government’s Value for Money and Policy Review initiative. This review is scheduled for completion by end 2011 and has not commenced as yet.

  55.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Defence    the total expenditure to date on the planning and implementation of decentralisation of his Department; the total additional cost to be incurred in the 2010 fiscal year due to this decentralisation project; the total expenditure to date in the 2010 fiscal year on decentralisation in the Defence sector; the number of civil servants scheduled to move in this fiscal year as part of the decentralisation project; the average cost per staff member being decentralised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29954/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The costs associated with the site acquisition, building construction and fit-out are borne on the Vote of the Office of Public Works. The OPW anticipates the overall cost will be €34m approximately. Confirmation of the overall cost will become available on completion of the final accounts by the OPW.

In addition, approximately €1.16m has been provided for in 2010 by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces for items such as mobile file storage, security issues and IT equipment and installation. Expenditure in 2010 on the project currently stands at €0.114m. Further expenditure in 2010 will include IT equipment and installation, exceptional furniture items such as safes and fireproof cabinets, waste management system and file removals.

Based on the most recent information from the OPW, the move is expected to occur in the autumn. It is anticipated that approximately 167 civil servants will decentralise to Newbridge. A number of military staff will also decentralise to the new location. The average cost per staff member decentralising will become available on completion of the final accounts.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 27.

  57.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on the fact that lower ranks in the Defence Forces are having to supplement their income by applying for family income supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30143/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The circumstances surrounding individual applications for Family Income Supplement and the payment of the supplement is a private matter between the applicant and the Department of Social Protection. My Department would not be aware, therefore, if members of the Defence Forces are in receipt of the Supplement.

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 33.

  59.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the 2009 annual report of the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces. [30153/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004 provides that the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces is independent in the performance of her duties and I do not consider it appropriate for me to report on her behalf. However I welcome the Fourth Annual Report, and the work done by the Ombudsman, Ms. Paulyn Marrinan Quinn, since the establishment of this important Office in 2005. I believe that in the period since the establishment of the office, the Ombudsman has built a reputation for impartiality, professionalism and fairness in the manner in which she has dealt with cases submitted to her.

I welcome the fact that the establishment of an Ombudsman for the Defence Forces has had a positive impact on military human resources management. I also welcome the comment of the Ombudsman in her report that “she was pleased to be able to attribute a significant part of the progress in the work of her Office to the leadership in the Irish Defence Forces” and that “it has been enlightening to witness such leadership in action over the critical phase of the “start-up” years of the Office of the ODF.”

  60.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will report on allegations regarding the involvement of Irish Army officers in arms sales in the Seychelles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29790/10]

  73.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on newspaper reports (details supplied) alleging that Irish Army officers engaged in arms sales; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29895/10]

  74.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the inquiry into the allegations that Irish Army officers were involved in purchasing arms on the black market in South Africa for a group operating in the Seychelles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30142/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 60, 73 and 74 together.

The military authorities have advised that the position regarding members of the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) engaging in off-duty employment is that membership of the PDF is a full time professional occupation, which from time to time may involve long, arduous, and unsocial hours of duty at the member’s home station or elsewhere within or outside of the [205]State. Since members of the PDF must be available for duty at all times, off-duty time is dictated by operational requirements, and may be irregular, changed, or cancelled at short notice. Their service to the State as a member of the PDF takes precedence over such employment and no employment should be undertaken which would prevent a member of the PDF being available for duty at all times. The Defence Forces do not exercise any authority in relation to the nature of any employment entered into by former members.

The Defence Forces prides itself on the integrity and professionalism of its personnel and indeed the Defence Forces reputation both at home and overseas is acknowledged by all to be exemplary in the manner in which business is conducted. The good name and reputation of our Defence Forces must be upheld and not be damaged by the actions of a small number of individuals. Any allegations of impropriety or wrong doing by members of the Defence Forces are treated with the utmost seriousness by the military authorities. Where appropriate the military authorities will commence investigations into any such alleged wrong doing.

I am advised by the Military authorities that an investigation into the matters referred to has commenced and is currently ongoing. In order to afford due process and fair procedures to any persons who may be the subject of this investigation, and to ensure that the outcome of the investigation or any follow up action that may arise as a result of it, are not prejudiced in any way, the Deputy will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment any further until this investigation has concluded.

Ireland established diplomatic relations with the Seychelles in 1999 through our respective missions to the UN in New York. The Seychelles, along with all countries in the region, are currently responding to the threat posed by the piracy emanating from the coast of Somalia. We should, however, be extremely careful not to participate in or add to any sensationalist commentary about the national security situation in that country.

With regard to the issue of piracy, the European Union launched Operation ATALANTA in December 2008 to contribute to the deterrence, prevention and repression of acts of piracy and armed robbery off the Somali coast. The UN Security Council welcomed the launch of the operation to combat piracy off the coast of Somali and to protect vulnerable ships bound for Somalia. From the outset, Ireland has fully supported the objectives of Operation ATALANTA. Following approval by the Government at its meeting on 9 June 2009, two (2) Naval Service officers deployed to the Operational Headquarters of Operation ATALANTA at Northwood in the UK on 12 June 2009. The officers are filling appointments in force generation and civilian-military cells. Five other officers are deployed in Uganda engaged in capacity building of Somali justice and security personnel. Deployment to this operation is fully in accordance with Ireland’s commitment to UN-mandated peace support operations.

Question No. 61 answered with Question No. 41.

Question No. 62 answered with Question No. 33.

  63.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence    the planned developments at Custume Barracks, Athlone, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29793/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  A new Gymnasium was completed in Custume Barracks, Athlone in 2009 at a cost of €1.7m approx. In addition it is expected that contracts will be placed within the coming weeks for new garaging facilities and an upgrade of service [206]facilities at the Barracks. A number of other smaller projects are also underway including upgrading of storage facilities and military police facilities at the barracks.

These works are part of the Departments ongoing capital building programme designed to modernise and enhance the training, operational and accommodation facilities available to members of the Defence Forces.

  64.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will provide a national breakdown of the effective strength of the Defence Forces Reserve per unit and per rank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30195/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  A national breakdown of the effective strength of the Reserve Defence Force per rank is provided in the following table. A breakdown per unit is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it becomes available.

I am aware that effective numbers in the Reserve have declined over recent years. The total strength of the Reserve includes personnel who are categorised as effective and non-effective. As provided for in Defence Forces Regulation R5, personnel are removed from the effective strength of their Units and are placed on the non-effective list primarily for failure to meet minimum training requirements. These personnel remain liable for call out on permanent service or service in Aid to the Civil Power. Since 2004, with the role of the RDF Review Implementation Plan, the military authorities have increased their efforts to ensure that only those members who meet the requirements remain on the effective list. This accounts for part of the fall in numbers over recent years.

Limited recruitment into the RDF is continuing subject to the overall strength level that existed at 1 January 2009 (7,671) not being exceeded. The limited recruitment will also be monitored and kept under review in the light of the uptake of paid training within the RDF and the future budgetary provision available to the Department. There is now a requirement to examine the progress that has been made and to chart the future direction of the Reserve. Work has commenced on a Value for Money Review of the Reserve and the findings of this Review, together with the lessons learned from the Implementation Plan to date, will inform the future plans for the Reserve.

RDF EFFECTIVE STRENGTH AS AT 31 MAY 2010

Non Integrated LT COL Comdt Capt LT 2/LT Total SGT. MAJ. BQMS CS CQMS SGT CPL Total NCOs PTES Grant Total
2 E Bde 1 32 56 53 25 167 4 5 28 26 158 225 446 760 1,373
1 S Bde 1 31 57 86 18 193 3 6 35 31 216 269 560 946 1,699
4 W Bde 1 31 65 59 17 173 6 4 25 25 214 360 634 1,113 1,920
RDF TA 0 4 8 6 0 18 1 0 1 1 7 0 10 0 28
RDF Effective 3 98 186 204 60 551 14 15 89 83 595 854 1,650 2,819 5,020
NSR Effective 0 4 9 5 2 20 0 3 10 0 10 30 53 108 181
TOTAL 5,201

  65.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the appointment of the new Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces approved on 9 June 2010. [30163/10]

[207]Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I was delighted the Government accepted my recommendation last month to nominate Major General Sean McCann for appointment by the President as Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces. I look forward to working closely with Lieutenant General McCann in the future and I wish him every success in his endeavours. Lieutenant General McCann succeeds Lieutenant General Dermot Earley, who sadly passed away on 23 June last. Lieutenant General Earley made a truly remarkable contribution to public life, not alone through his hard work and commitment over many years of service in the Defence Forces, but also through his long history as a major GAA star and his contribution to his community and to Irish life generally. The leadership, professionalism and dedication shown by Lieutenant General Earley over the years has brought great honour on the Defence Forces and on this nation as a whole. He will be fondly remembered and sadly missed.

Lieutenant General McCann takes over the reins at this sad time for the Defence Forces. He enlisted in the Defence Forces as a cadet in 1970 and initially served in various Cavalry units before instructing in the Military College. More recently he was Director of Operations at DFHQ in 2007 and subsequently held the appointment of General Officer Commanding the DF Training Centre. He has been the Deputy Chief of Staff, Operations since 2009 and has extensive overseas experience, serving, inter alia, in Lebanon, Kuwait and Sarajevo. I am confident that Lieutenant General McCann can and will make a major contribution in leading the Defence Forces at this challenging time.

  66.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Defence    the list of corporate memberships provided for in the Miscellaneous category of Subhead A3 of the Defence and Army Pensions Estimates recently published by him; the justification for such expenditure in the context of the fiscal problems facing the State; whether he has ordered a review into the existence of such corporate memberships to ensure value for money for the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29939/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The only corporate membership held by the Department is to the Institute of International & European Affairs (IIEA). The IIEA is an independent, not-for-profit organisation with charitable status. Its extensive research programme aims to provide its members with high level analysis and forecasts of the challenges on the global and EU policy agendas which impact on Ireland. The annual subscription for corporate membership is €6,000.

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 54.

  68.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will make a statement on the activity of the Army Equitation School in 2009 and to date in 2010. [30159/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The mission of Army Equitation School, as assigned to it on its establishment in 1926, is to promote the Irish horse sector abroad through participation in international competition. In 2009 and to date in 2010, the Equitation School has continued to discharge this task, competing in national and international events in showjumping and three day eventing.

During 2009, Riding Officers riding Irish bred sport horses won 9 international competitions. An Army Equitation School Riding Officer was a member of two Super League Nations Cup [208]Teams; the first at Aachen (Germany), where the team was placed fifth and the second at Falsterbo (Sweden) where he was on the winning team. These results secured Ireland’s place in the premier Nations Cup league for 2010. Other highlights of the 2009 season include, winning the Puissance competition in the RDS Dublin Horse Show and securing the achievement of leading Irish rider at the show. The Army Equitation School achieved great success in the Young Horse competitions in 2009. Three young horses were selected to represent Ireland in the World Breeding Championships in Lanaken (Belgium). One horse won the silver medal in the Six Year Old World Final.

On the International Three-day eventing circuit one Riding Officer was selected for the National Three Day Eventing Team competing at the European Championships. International success was achieved at Burnham Market (England), Tyrella (Northern Ireland), Saumur (France), Luhmullen (Germany), Hartpury (England) & Pau (France).

In 2010, Army Equitation School horses and riders have been campaigning on the national and international show jumping circuit, with the aim of being selected for the Irish teams participating at the Meydan Super League Nations Cup series which will be held at venues across Europe, culminating in the Dublin Horse Show in August.

To date, an Army Equitation School Riding Officer has participated successfully on the Irish Nations Cup Team in Rotterdam in June, winning one International Class and placed in another International Class. He will be participating at Falsterbo in Sweden on the 9 July, as a member of the Irish Nations Cup Team. The same Officer has also achieved third place in the famous Hickstead Derby at the end of June. The School is also competing on the National Grand Prix show jumping circuit throughout the year.

Building on its previous success in Three Day Eventing, the School is competing on the national, UK and international circuit with the aim of being selected for the Irish team competing at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky at the end of September. In addition to its competition activity, the Army Equitation School continues to support the Irish horse industry. The School is represented on several committees of the national governing body, Horse Sport Ireland. In February and March of this year the School, in conjunction with Teagasc, hosted information seminars for breeders of sport horses.

To provide support to young rider development, the School will accommodate three training bursaries to young riders competing in the disciplines of show jumping and eventing. The School played host to the National Junior and Young Rider Showjumping selection trials. The School also accommodates applications for work experience from Transition Year students and requests from interested groups and individuals to visit the premises. The Army Equitation School Horse Purchase Board will continue to source high quality horses for purchase and lease for competition at home and abroad.

  69.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Defence    if his attention has been drawn to the impact of the pension levy and pay cuts on the pay of members of the Defence Forces as against deduction made from the non public sector works pay (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30145/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The pension-related deduction (commonly known as the pension levy) was provided for in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. The reductions in public service pay effective from 1 January 2010 [209]were provided for in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (No. 2) Act 2009. Each of these Acts applies exclusively to public servants (with some exceptions in each case) and the scope of the application of the Acts does not extend outside the public service. The Acts apply to members of the Permanent Defence Force on the same basis as to other public servants generally.

The Government appreciates that the two measures in question have a significant impact on the take–home pay of public servants. These measures were, however, essential elements of the Government’s strategy to consolidate the public finances and to address the overall economic situation.

Question No. 70 answered with Question No. 34.

  71.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence, in view of    the severe winter weather conditions in 2009-2010, his plans to review the resources and equipment available to the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29792/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  In accordance with the Framework for Major Emergency Management, the Defence Forces in their role as aid to the civil power (an Garda Síochána) and aid to the civil authorities (i.e. local authorities, HSE, etc.) can be called upon to provide support to locally based services. During the period of severe weather conditions earlier this year all assets, resources and capabilities of the Defence Forces throughout the country were made available to assist the civil authorities where and when called upon.

During that period the Defence Forces met all requests for assistance, received from the civil authorities, from within their existing capacity and resources. The provision of Defence Forces capabilities is dependent on the exigencies of the service and within available resources at the time. However, where additional forces are required in an emergency in any one particular area, the Defence Forces has the adaptability to marshal capability to meet the need. I am satisfied that the resources and equipment available to the Defence Forces are sufficient to allow them provided assistance to local authorities as and when requested.

  72.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Defence    the proposals, if any, he has regarding the procurement of a replacement vessel for Asgard II; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30156/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  In the context of settling the Estimates for my Department for 2010, the Government decided that the national sail training scheme operated by Coiste an Asgard would be discontinued as recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure. As a result of that decision, the sum of €3.8m representing the insured value of Asgard II was transferred to the Department of Finance as Extra Exchequer Receipts and any plans to procure a replacement vessel have been shelved.

Question Nos. 73 and 74 answered with question No. 60.

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 41.

  76.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    if he remains committed to involv[210]ing Reserve Defence Force personnel overseas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30161/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  In March 2009, the Government introduced a moratorium on recruitment to the Public Service. This moratorium prevented the planned recruitment of members of the Reserve to the PDF for the purpose of overseas service, as intended. Reductions in the Defence payroll budget at that time also limited the scope for payment of additional personnel. Accordingly, arrangements to send members of the Reserve overseas, which were well developed in line with the RDF Review Implementation Plan, were suspended.

To date, the operational requirements for overseas service have been met from within the Permanent Defence Force, without recourse to Reserve capabilities. As outlined in the budget in December 2009, Defence Forces commitments to overseas peace support operations are being scaled back in 2010. As a consequence, the number of PDF personnel serving overseas has reduced. Accordingly, the plan to deploy members of the Reserve Defence Force on overseas peace support operations has been postponed for the foreseeable future.

The Reserve Defence Force was selected for review as part of the 2009-2011 phase of the Government’s Value for Money and Policy Review initiative and this review has commenced. The findings of the Value For Money review, including the lessons learned from the RDF Review Implementation Plan process, will inform future plans for the reserve.

  77.  Deputy Jim O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for Defence    the position regarding the return of the vehicles and equipment used by the army in the Chad mission; the cost involved; and if same will be reimbursed. [30034/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  Following the decision to withdraw the Irish Contingent from the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic of Chad (MINURCAT), the priority for the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces was to achieve an orderly withdrawal of personnel and equipment from the country. The Irish contingent deployed with MINURCAT was withdrawn in May 2010 and I am advised that the recovery of equipment and assets, which is a huge logistical task, is well underway at this stage.

The recovery operation has been contracted to a company in Chad, SDV TCHAD based in N’djamena. The company is providing a door-to-door service for the recovery of all the Defence Forces assets from Chad to Ireland. This included the transfer of assets and equipment from Goz Beida to N’djamena, the transfer of assets by road/rail from N’djamena to Douala in Cameroon, the air transport of certain assets from N’djamena to Douala, the storage / loading of the equipment in Douala and finally, the shipment of all the equipment to the Defence Forces Training Centre, in the Curragh Camp. At this stage, all the equipment is in Douala in preparation for loading on to a ship. The loading of the ship is scheduled for next week and it is expected that the ship will arrive in Ireland prior to the end of the month.

The cost of the recovery operation will be over €6m. When the operation is complete, negotiations will be undertaken with the UN regarding reimbursement in respect of aspects of the cost of the withdrawal. It is expected that the UN will reimburse a significant element of the recovery costs. However, it is not possible at this stage to establish the exact figure in this regard.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 46.

  79.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will give a breakdown by ranks of all those who have retired from the Defence Forces during 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30158/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  A breakdown by rank of personnel who have left the Permanent Defence Force in 2009 and up to 31 May 2010, the latest date for which figures are available, is provided in the following tabular statement. Within the context of consolidating the public finances, the Government is focused firmly on maintaining the operational efficiency of the Permanent Defence Force. Government approval was secured in the context of Budget 2010 for a level of 10,000 all ranks. This reflects the reductions in personnel recommended in the Report of the Special Group on Public Service Numbers and Expenditure Programmes. While these are challenging times, my priority is to ensure that the Defence Forces are organised, equipped and staffed in a manner which will ensure that they can continue to deliver the services required of them by Government. I am advised that at this time the Defence Forces retain the capacity to undertake the tasks laid down by Government both at home and overseas.

Personnel who have left the Permanent Defence Force 1 January 2009-31 May 2010

Year LT Gen Maj Gen Brig Gen COL LT COL Comdt Capt LT 2/LT Total Offrs SGT MAJ BQMS CS CQMS SGT CPL Total NCO PTE App-rentice Re-cruit Cadet Total
2009 0 2 3 14 18 33 10 0 2 82 9 12 22 25 94 62 224 199 3 7 2 513
2010 0 0 0 1 2 3 3 0 0 9 1 1 6 5 13 23 49 59 0 0 0 117

  80.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Taoiseach    when the next census will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30601/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy John Curran):  The next census will take place on Sunday, 10 April 2011.

  81.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the total spend by his Department on carbon offsets for official travel undertaken by him and his Minister of State for 2007, 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30285/10]

The Taoiseach:  The table below details payments made by my Department in respect of carbon emissions from 14 June 2007 to 31 December 2009. In the case of offsets for travel on the Government jet, these relate to all Ministers and Officials, and not solely to the Department of the Taoiseach. Payments have issued to the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) who have been charged with administering the scheme on Ireland’s behalf. The value of the total offsetting costs in each year is used by Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) to purchase Gold Standard Voluntary Emissions Reductions (GS VERs). In purchasing GS VERs, REEEP focuses on Ireland’s priority Overseas Development Aid countries in Africa.

[212]Details of payments made in respect of Carbon Emissions

Payment Date Amount Details
Apr-09 44,774 Official travel by the Taoiseach, Ministers and Civil Servants on the Government Jet for the period of 14th June 2007 to 31st December 2008
Apr-09 4,356 Official travel by the Taoiseach and Civil Servants at Department of the Taoiseach with commercial airlines for the period of 14th June 2007 – 31st December 2008
Mar-10 19,909 Official travel by the Taoiseach, Ministers and Civil Servants on the Government Jet for the period of 01st January 2009 – 31st December 2009
Mar-10 2,293 Official travel by the Taoiseach and Civil Servants at Department of the Taoiseach with commercial airlines for the period of 01st January 2009 – 31st December 2009

  82.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the total cost of travel and subsistence to public servants in his Department arising from travel to meetings or events in Dublin and Brussels from offices that have been decentralised for 2010 to date, for 2009, and for 2008; if he will state to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30300/10]

The Taoiseach:  My Department has no decentralised offices.

  83.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the total spend of his Department on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television for 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30315/10]

The Taoiseach:  The following table details spend by my Department on public advertisements, in national and local print media, radio and television, from 2009 to end of June in 2010.

Details of payments made in respect of Advertising Costs from Jan 2009 to date

Date Details Amount
Aug-09 Advertising for National Day of Commemoration 3,706
Aug-09* ½ page advertisement for the Taoiseach’s Public Service Excellence Awards in the Public Sector Times 1,701
Sep-09* ½ page advertisement for the Taoiseach’s Public Service Excellence Awards in the Public Sector Times 1,701
May-10 Advertising of Information Notice in Conradh na Gaeilge brochure 200

  84.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Taoiseach    if he will confirm the most recent unemployment figures at the Tallaght social welfare office, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30658/10]

The Taoiseach:  The Live Register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming Jobseekers Benefit, Jobseekers Allowance and other registrants as registered with the Department of Social Protection. Figures are published for each county and local social welfare office. The most recent Live Register figures available are for June 2010. The table below [213]contains the numbers signing on in Tallaght local office on the last Friday of June 2010. It should be noted that the Live Register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers, and seasonal and casual workers entitled to Jobseekers Benefit or Allowance.

Persons on the Live Register in Tallaght Local Office by sex and age, June 2010

Male Female Both sexes
Under 25 years 1,666 945 2,611
25 years and over 5,754 2,297 8,051
All ages 7,420 3,242 10,662

  85.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Taoiseach    the number of applications from staff for transfer, relocation or exchange received in his Department and or other bodies or agencies under his aegis funded by his Department in each of the past three years to date in 2010; the number of approvals; the number of rejections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30777/10]

The Taoiseach:  Of the 167 civil servants currently serving in my Department, 20 have applied through the Central Applications Facility (CAF) to relocate under the Decentralisation Programme. The breakdown by grade is:

Number
Assistant Principal 5
Higher Executive Officer 4
Administrative Officer 2
Executive Officer 4
Clerical Officer 5

32 former members of staff have already been assigned to decentralised posts.

The Department of Finance is responsible in Government for all applications under the Decentralisation Programme including the Dublin arrangements for transfers, relocations and exchanges. Since 2007 to date, 5 applications to transfer to my Department were received outside of the Decentralisation Programme. No similar applications were made to the Bodies under the aegis of my Department during the period in question.

  86.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Taoiseach    the funding that has been made available for training civil servants in 2010 in his Department; the extent to which this sum has been further reduced since the initial allocation in the Estimates for his Department; the extent to which such sums have been spent to the end of June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31682/10]

The Taoiseach:  The annual training budget has been reduced in recent years in line with cost savings throughout my Department. The training budget in the 2010 Estimates was €433,000. Whilst the initial budget allocation made in the Estimates has not been reduced, the Training [214]Unit will, as always, return savings if the allocation is not spent or is not likely to be spent in the year. Total expenditure to end June 2010, from the training budget amounts to €34,573.

  87.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the position regarding a claim for payment from the insolvency fund in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [30267/10]

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 understand that an RP50 was submitted in this case but unfortunately the required documentation to process the claim was not provided. It is my Department’s practice not to enter incomplete claims on the system as these claims cannot be processed until the necessary documentation is lodged. Forms are returned to allow missing details and/or supporting documentation to be submitted. The documentation required in support of lump sum claims, is set out on my Department’s website at www.entemp.ie. Submission of correctly completed Redundancy claim forms (RP50’s) with all of the required documentation greatly facilitates the processing of claims.

The documentation required in support of lump sum claims comprises evidence of the employer’s inability to pay the redundancy entitlements to the employees. This involves requesting a statement from the company’s Accountant or Solicitor attesting to the inadequacy of assets to make the redundancy payments and, the latest set of financial accounts for the company. The employer is also asked to admit liability for the 40% liability attaching to the company arising from the redundancy payments.

If this information is provided to the Department, the employees are paid their redundancy entitlement from the Social Insurance Fund. Upon payment, the Department pursues the company for the 40% share that the company would ordinarily have been expected to pay to the employees. If the necessary supporting documentation required from the employer is not provided to my Department, the employee is advised by my Department to take a case to the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) against the employer to seek a determination establishing the employee’s right and entitlement to redundancy. Once such a determination is available, the Department is then in a position to make the payment to the employee concerned. Should the outstanding documentation be provided by the employer during the period while the case is pending a hearing before the EAT, this would allow the claim to be processed by my Department in the usual way.

  88.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the total spend by his Department on carbon offsets for official travel undertaken by him and his Minister of State for 2007, 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30278/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Irish Government Offsetting Scheme was established to introduce carbon offsetting for official air travel [215]undertaken by Ministers and officials. The scheme is co-ordinated by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and applies to official air travel undertaken since 14 June 2007. Under the scheme, an annual payment, based on carbon dioxide emissions associated with official air travel, is made by Departments to a fund which is administered on Ireland’s behalf by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP). REEEP is a non-profit, specialist organisation located in Vienna, which promotes renewable energy and energy efficiency. The first contribution made by my Department under the Government Offsetting Scheme was made in August 2009 and covered travel undertaken on commercial flights in the period 14 June 2007 to 31 December 2008. The payment amounted to €8,811.73.

A second payment, covering air travel on commercial flights in the period 1 January to 31 December 2009, was made by my Department in June of this year and amounted to €3,942.60. These payments covered air travel undertaken at Ministerial level and official level. It is not feasible to separate out the contribution of Ministers from officials in calculating payments due under the scheme. Carbon offsetting calculations in respect of travel undertaken by Ministers and officials using the Government jet are determined by the Department of Defence and I am advised that the offsetting costs of these flights are paid by the Department of the Taoiseach. Details of the final beneficiaries of the offsetting fund are a matter for the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government as the coordinating Department for the Government Offsetting Scheme.

  89.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the total cost of travel and subsistence to public servants in her Department arising from travel to meetings or events in Dublin and Brussels from offices that have been decentralised for 2010 to date, for 2009, and for 2008; if she will state to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30293/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  My Department has decentralised offices located in Kilkenny and Carlow. The Patents Office is located in Kilkenny, while part of the Companies Registration Office and the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA) are located in Carlow. NERA also has regional offices in Dublin, Sligo, Shannon and Cork. At present, 57 staff work in Kilkenny, while 129 staff are based in Carlow and the regional offices of NERA outside of Dublin.

My Department’s accounting system does not capture details of travel costs to individual destinations or events. Therefore, it is not feasible to provide details of costs associated with attendance at meetings or events specifically in Dublin or Brussels. Details of travel to specific destinations could only be obtained by retrieving and reviewing all original travel claims submitted in respect of all staff of the offices in question over the last three years. This would be a costly exercise in its own right in terms of the absorption of resources and would be difficult to justify.

However, I can provide the Deputy with the total cost of travel and subsistence related to all EU business for staff of the Patents Office, the Companies Registration Office in Carlow and NERA. These costs may include travel to destinations other than Brussels in connection with EU business. The total costs for 2008, 2009 and 2010 to date are provided on the table below.

Year Patents Office, Kilkenny CRO, Carlow NERA Carlow and Regional Offices outside Dublin
2008 16,472.87 442.50 2,666.27
2009 10,822.23 0 1,482.57
2010 (to date) 11,322.10 0 859.62

  90.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the total spend of his Department on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television for 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30308/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The total spend of my Department and the Offices of my Department on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television for 2009 was in the region of €189,000. Statutory requirements accounted for approximately 80% of this overall spend. The spend, to date in 2010, for my Department and the Offices of my Department, on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television is in the region of €59,000. Again, statutory requirements, accounted for approximately 90% of the spend, so far this year.

  91.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of visits organised by the Industrial Development Authority for foreign direct investors to each area here in June 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [30335/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I have been informed by IDA Ireland, that during the month of June 2010, there have been a total of 28 site visits by potential investors, to a variety of locations throughout the country. Details of the locations of those visits are set out in the tabular statement below.

Location Louth Cavan Galway Offaly Westmeath Cork Dublin
Number of visits 1 1 4 1 4 1 16

  92.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if any review is planned of the Border, midland and western region from a geographical perspective to investigate possible areas (details supplied) that have lost industries or suffered from lay-offs recently with the view of providing stimulus packages or grant assistance for such areas to counteract such employment losses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30433/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The composition of regions is not a matter for my Department. However, the position in relation to State aid is that aid for investment in companies in the various regions of Ireland must be in accordance with the Regional Aid Map 2007-13 approved by the European Commission. This Map was drawn up in accordance with the Commission’s Regional Aid Guidelines. Under these Guide[217]lines, Ireland was entitled to designate regions representing up to 50% of the population for regional aid. Ireland fully utilised this quota when drawing up the Map and there is no scope to designate further population areas. The Mid-East Region, which includes Kildare, was not designated as it was relatively more developed than other areas in the State. While the Mid-East region is not entitled to regional aid, undertakings in the region continue to qualify for other forms of State aid, including aid for small and medium-sized enterprises, aid for Research and Development and Training aid which are available in all areas.

Sustaining employment is a priority in the face of increasing unemployment. During 2009, Enterprise Ireland pursued a Sustaining Enterprise agenda that prioritised helping client companies through the economic crisis. Schemes such as the Enterprise Stabilisation Fund and Employment Subsidy Scheme were introduced to assist companies address the difficulties arising from the challenging trading conditions as a result of the recent recession. In addition, the agency is offering a range of New Funding Supports in 2010 including the Job Expansion Scheme, Lean Initiative Programmes, New Market Research Programmes and Key Manager Grants. In 2009 there were 173 Enterprise Ireland aided companies in Kildare and they employed approximately 5000 people.

The role of Kildare County Enterprise Board is to provide a source of support for micro-enterprise in the start-up and expansion phases, to promote and develop indigenous micro-enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurship at local level. The Board can support individuals, firms and community groups provided that the proposed project has the capacity to achieve commercial viability. The Board delivers a series of support programmes to underpin and to fulfil this role and can provide both financial and non-financial assistance to a project promoter. The 2010 capital allocation for Kildare is €372,108, which is being used to promote enterprise development across the County including the areas of Castledermot, Athy, Monasterevin, Kildare, and Rathangan. At the end of 2009, there were 897.5 jobs existing in Kildare County Enterprise Board supported companies.

In March 2010, IDA Ireland published ‘Horizon 2020’, its strategic document for attracting Foreign Direct Investment into Ireland in the coming decade. One of the high level goals set out in that strategy is that by 2014, 50% of all investments will be located outside Dublin and Cork. IDA’s focused strategy for County Kildare has been to promote the county as part of an integrated East Region with access to a population base of 1.5 million people. County Kildare has in recent years attracted some world class manufacturing companies such as Intel, Wyeth Medica (now Pfizer), Braun, Hewlett Packard and Oral B. At present there are 26 IDA Ireland supported companies in Kildare employing approximately 9,131 people.

  93.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of employment opportunities created by Enterprise Ireland in Kildare South for each of the past five years; the level of funding or grant assistance involved for each year and each project; the proposals or plans that Enterprise Ireland has for the area for the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30447/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The Enterprise Ireland employment figures are compiled annually in the Forfás Annual Employment Survey, the most up to date of which details employment figures until 2009. As the information is compiled on an annualised basis, the figures in respect of 2010 will not be available until 2011. Data is collected and collated at county level by the agency therefore it is not possible to provide information specifically for Kildare South. Details of the number of full time job gains in Enterprise Ireland assisted firms in County Kildare for each of the years between 2005 and [218]2009 is set out in the following tabular statement. Total grant assistance to Enterprise Ireland client companies in Kildare in the period in question amounted to amounted to €21,425,883, made up as follows, a total of €857,743 in 2005; €2.3m in 2006; almost €1.9m in 2007; €3.9m in 2008 and over €12m in 2009.

Companies in Kildare have also been supported both through the Enterprise Stabilisation Fund (ESF) and the Employment Subsidy Scheme, administered by Enterprise Ireland. These schemes were aimed at helping viable but vulnerable companies to survive the global downturn. To end of June 2010, there have been 9 projects valued at €7.6m approved in County Kildare under the ESF and since the launch of the Employment Subsidy Scheme in August 2009, approximately €2.8m has been approved for 36 companies located in County Kildare to date, with the result that these companies have committed to maintain 1,618 full time and 514 part time jobs to 30 November 2010. In 2010 Enterprise Ireland will focus on sustaining companies that will as the year progresses lead to these companies preparing for growth. Enterprise Ireland will place a strong focus on four key areas to achieve this i.e. maintaining and winning new sales, driving lean manufacturing, and competitiveness, promoting innovation, commercialisation and R&D and developing new start-up companies and fostering entrepreneurship.

Full time job gains in Enterprise Ireland assisted firms in County Kildare

County Kildare 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Full Time Job Gains 314 461 560 350 351

  94.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of itineraries organised by the Industrial Development Authority that visited Kildare South (details supplied) in each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30449/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I am informed by IDA Ireland that the Agency tracks site visits on a county-by-county basis only. In the 5 year period from end June 2006 to end June 2010, there have been a total of 5 site visits to County Kildare. Details of the number of visits made in each of the years in question is set out in the tabular statement.

Table showing the number of site visits made by potential investors to County Kildare in the period end June 2006 to end June 2010.

Year 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Number of visits 0 1 1 1 2

  96.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to ensure a successful green card appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) whose salary will be in excess of €60,000 and    who will introduce the product specifics and unique expertise for what is hoped will quickly become a multi-outlet business with considerable employment prospects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30464/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  My Department processes applications in respect of the different types of employment permits (Green Cards Permits, Work Permits, Spousal/Dependant Permits and Intra-company Transfer Permits). All applications are processed in line with the Employment Permits Act 2006. I wish to advise the Deputy that this application was refused on 23 June 2010 on the grounds that it is current Government policy to issue new employment permits for highly skilled, highly paid positions or, in respect of non-EEA nationals who are already legally resident in the State on valid employment permits or, where there is an officially recognized scarcity of workers of a particular type or qualification. Furthermore, the Green Card Scheme is designed for high-level, strategic skill shortage occupations and the position on offer does not appear to fall within the Scheme. An appeal in respect of this decision was received in the Employment Permits Section on 5 July 2010. All appeals are dealt with in date of receipt order and the Appeals Officer is currently dealing with appeals received in the week beginning 22 March 2010. Therefore, a decision is not due on this appeal for another 10-12 weeks.

  97.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if he has had meetings with the Industrial Development Authority in relation to lands within the agency’s remit with the view of ensuring that such lands are available for development; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a previous engagement between a local authority and the IDA (details supplied) was unsuccessful in obtaining an agreement as to the sale of the lands to ensure indigenous economic development in areas where such is urgently needed; and if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that it was due to the fact that the IDA wanted present day prices for lands unused since purchased in 1973 that no deal could be agreed to; and if he will seek to have this matter addressed. [30465/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The management of IDA Ireland’s industrial property portfolio is a day-to-day operational matter for the Agency, as part of the statutory responsibility assigned to it by the Oireachtas, and it is not a matter in which the Minister of the day has any involvement. I am informed by IDA that the IDA Board [220]agreed to the sale of the Castledermot lands to Kildare County Council as far back as 2003, but the transaction was never finalised due to a failure in negotiations. IDA has been in constant contact with the council about these lands and the Council have again confirmed to IDA that they have no interest in acquiring these lands.

The IDA lands remain available to support economic development projects from any of the enterprise development agencies and the County Development Boards. Furthermore, any potential economic development project outside the remit of the above agencies would be considered by the IDA Board on a case by case basis. IDA is available at all times to discuss any such proposals. With regard to the question of land prices, all IDA land is valued by a panel of independent valuers, who are appointed consequent to a public tendering process. These valuers take cognisance of the prevailing circumstances in the property market at the time of any proposed sale. As IDA land is purchased with public monies, the Agency is bound to obtain a return on its investment.

  98.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of persons employed in the aeronautics sector; the number that were employed in the aeronautics sector each year from 2005 to 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30511/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  Data on the aeronautics sector is captured in the Forfás Annual Employment survey as part of the overall metals & engineering sector. Therefore there is no overall breakdown for the aeronautics sector for the industrial development agencies under the aegis of my Department.

As regards the indigenous aeronautics sector, there are 11 aerospace companies that are Enterprise Ireland clients, which can be considered as aeronautical companies. Employment in this group amounted to 185 by the end of 2009, 170 at end 2008, 130 at end 2007, 110 at end 2006 and 67 at end 2005. IDA Ireland has a small number of client companies operating in the aerospace sector. The number of people in permanent employment in those companies was 1242 in 2009, 2056 in 2008, 2158 in 2007, 2013 in 2006 and 1833 in 2005. I understand from Shannon Development that the employment in the aerospace sector supported by the agency was 1747 in 2009, 1743 in 2008, 1621 in 2007, 1633 in 2006 and 1727 in 2005.

  99.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of staff that have transferred from the labour services unit and those dealing with FÁS to the Department of Education and Skills since responsibility has been transferred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30644/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The number of staff that transferred to the Department of Education and Skills from Labour Force Development Division, including those staff dealing with FÁS was 24.8 full time equivalents. A further 6 staff transferred from the European Social Fund Financial Control Unit to the Department of Education and Skills in line with the Taoiseach’s recent restructuring announcement.

  100.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    his plans for south Tipperary in terms of job creation measures; the key industries he has focused on for [221]south Tipperary; if a unique policy has been drafted to encourage trade and innovation to the area; the role the Tipperary Institute can play in attracting jobs; the number of Industrial Development Authority jobs that have been created in south Tipperary each year since 2005 and to date in 2010; the meetings that he has had with the IDA to attract jobs to south Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30648/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The industrial development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the Tipperary South County Enterprise Board, which function under the aegis of my Department, are responsible for investment and enterprise development in South Tipperary and, through their activities to achieve job creation. Following announcements of significant job losses in South Tipperary, the County Manager, in 2008, convened a task force to respond to any downsizing and closures in the county. It has met a number of times over the past two years and convenes as necessary to respond to jobs crises in the region. Enterprise Ireland has been an active member on this task force, along with FÁS, IDA Ireland, the South Tipperary County Enterprise Board, Tipperary Institute and Tipperary County Council.

Enterprise Ireland continues to foster job creation in Tipperary South through the creation of new jobs through supporting entrepreneurs in setting up new High Potential Start-Up companies and the retention and creation of new jobs in existing client companies. The agency is enhancing the innovation capability of Ireland, at a national and regional level, through support of research in companies and third level institutions.

Enterprise Ireland supports the Enterprise Platform Programme, a one-year incubation programme designed to provide hands-on support and management development for entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own business, by funding eligible participants to attend. The programme includes expertise from Waterford Institute of Technology, Tipperary Institute and external consultants. Enterprise Ireland works with interested parties from South Tipperary and refers them to this programme. The South-East EPP Programme for 2009-2010 started in September 2009 and recruitment for the 2010-2011 programme is currently underway. Enterprise Ireland has also engaged with Tipperary Institute in Clonmel to discuss how they can encourage entrepreneurship.

The role of Tipperary South County Enterprise Board is to provide support for the micro-enterprise sector in the start-up and expansion phases at a local level throughout South Tipperary. The core activities of the Board include the provision of financial interventions to support business development, the provision of business advice and mentoring, the delivery of programmes aimed at improving the skills of owner managers so as to assist business survival rates and facilitate future growth, creating local enterprise awareness and developing an enterprise culture.

The forms of available financial assistance, subject to certain eligibility criteria, include the priming grant, the business expansion/development grant and the feasibility/innovation grant. The latter is available to micro-enterprises to assist with the cost of necessary pre-start up studies carried out for the purposes of assessing market interest in or demand for a proposed new product or service, the appropriateness of the associated funding plans, the general viability and sustainability of the venture and assistance with innovation.

The number of jobs created in IDA supported companies in South Tipperary in 2009 was 252, in 2008 was 262, in 2007 was 604, in 2006 was 233 and in 2005 was 56. The figures for 2010 will not be available until the end of this year. Since becoming Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, I have had meetings with both the Chairman and the CEO of IDA Ireland to discuss all aspects of foreign direct investment. In marketing South Tipperary for new foreign [222]direct investment, IDA Ireland is focused on attracting overseas companies in the services and knowledge based industries, including advanced manufacturing. The future development of the Ballingarrane Estate in Clonmel incorporating an IDA Business Park and Tipperary Institute will be a key asset in the quest for further overseas investment in the County. In addition, IDA continues to invest in existing companies in the region, through research and development investment and other schemes, to maintain and grow jobs in those companies. The key industry sector for South Tipperary is life sciences, which accounts for almost 90% of employment.

IDA Ireland continues to work closely with third level educational institutions in the region so that the skill sets necessary to attract high value added employment to the county are being developed. Tipperary Institute and Waterford Institute of Technology are key resources that will be critical to attracting and maintaining overseas companies in the county. The recently announced integration of Tipperary Institute and Limerick Institute of Technology will create a significantly enlarged third level institution that will enhance higher education opportunities throughout Tipperary and surrounding counties.

  101.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if he will provide an overview of the video game industry here; if he will provide a list of the companies located here working in this industry; the total employment in the sector; the estimated net benefit to the economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30654/10]

  102.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    his views on whether the video game industry could benefit from direct oversight by a semi-State agency in order to assist growth in this market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30655/10]

  103.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the supports for video game companies here; the way in which these compare to our international rivals, particularly Canada, France and the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30656/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 101 to 103, inclusive, together.

The industrial development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the City and County Enterprise Boards, which are under the aegis of my Department, are the bodies responsible for investment and enterprise development across a broad range of sectors, including the video game and related industries. The majority of Enterprise Ireland clients in the indigenous games sector are established less than 10 years and the potential for growth is strong. Additionally, a growing number of start-up companies are also focused around the Internet.

Statistics for the video game sub-sector are incorporated within Enterprise Ireland in the broader digital sector encompassing communication, health, media, entertainment, education, and financial companies. The digital sector consists of approximately 350 Enterprise Ireland client companies. Approximately 60 companies have a high profile and have closed significant deals with large telecom operators and media/entertainment companies. An opportunity exists to deliver supports to management teams on business opportunities and exploit the key areas of high potential growth for the next 3-5 years.

Irish companies in the games sector include KORE, Zamano, Selatra, Trust5, Silly Goose, Tribal City, Dark Water, Steve Trout & Smith, Red Wind, Marino Software, Ideal Binary, [223]Mercury Girl, Eclipic Labs, Blue Aura, Magnosphere and Breakout Games. Multinational firms purchased a number of other Irish companies. An emerging trend is the massively multiplayer online role-playing games, casual games and funware games and Enterprise Ireland is working closely with start-up companies in these areas. The business models for the majority of social gaming is Freemium, which means initially free to use with revenue coming from virtual gifts to enhance game play and with a fee for the higher levels or more intense play. Advertising is also an additional revenue stream.

Enterprise Ireland has funded or co-funded the majority of incubator and hub space in Ireland for early stage business. Incubator space for start-ups in the Gaming/Entertainment is focused in Dublin and provided by the Digital Depot and Media Cube. Both centres provide spaces for over 50 digital related companies.

Enterprise Ireland is the agency tasked with supporting indigenous companies across a variety of sectors and in relation to the Digital Sector, the agency provides funding support to third level institutions, start-up and established companies. Specific support to individual companies includes research and development grants for technology development, support for management development and key hires, support for implementing lean processes, for market assessment and for attending specific trade shows and support for working with Business Accelerators in key markets. At the start up stage, Enterprise Ireland can invest by way of equity in the companies and over the last number of years a vibrant venture capital market has been developed to invest in early stage start-ups. Overall, the agency’s comprehensive suite of supports compares favourably with competitor countries.

In relation to foreign owned companies, Ireland is well positioned to become a leading player as an international centre for games companies. The marriage of computing communications, content and consumer electronics is creating many opportunities, but is also blurring the boundaries between market sectors and is proving to be a powerful force for innovation and change. Of the overseas companies located in Ireland, many work across multiple platforms. A number of companies are publishers setting up localisation and support centres for their European games sales such as, companies like Microsoft and Activision/Blizzard. Indeed, in the case of GALA Networks, they have set up their European publishing Headquarters. There is also a strong presence from casual games companies such as PopCap, BigFish, and Crowdstar. Joining this list is GameStop, which recently acquired the Irish company Jolt. Other companies include Intel / Havok and Electronic Arts.

IDA Ireland offers a wide range of supports both financial and non-financial to companies in the games industry seeking to establish in Ireland. The agency monitors competitor countries such as the UK, Canada and France and their product offerings and the Agency is confident that Ireland is an attractive location for overseas games companies to service and grow their European and international operations. There are approximately 20 overseas and indigenous companies employing 1,500 people in the video games industry sector representing growth of more than 400% since 2002 and the potential for future growth continues to be strong.

  104.  Deputy Charlie O’Connor    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the steps that he is taking to create employment initiatives in the Tallaght area of Dublin in view of the concerns of this Deputy and others; if he will confirm the contacts being made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30676/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The industrial development agencies, Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, and the South Dublin County [224]Enterprise Board under the aegis of my Department, are responsible for investment and enterprise development in the Tallaght area and the activities carried out to achieve these objectives result in job creation. Since 2008, Enterprise Ireland has made payments of over €24 million to client companies in the Tallaght and South Dublin region. The agency actively engages with client companies and has a number of supports and initiatives in place to assist them. In addition, the agency is offering a range of new funding supports in 2010 such as the Job Expansion Scheme, the Lean Initiative Programmes, New Market Research Programmes, Key Manager Grants as well as the continuation of the Enterprise Stabilisation Fund.

The role of South Dublin County Enterprise Board is to provide a source of support for micro-enterprise in the start-up and expansion phases, to promote and develop indigenous micro-enterprise potential and to stimulate economic activity and entrepreneurship at local level. The Board can support individuals, firms and community groups provided that the proposed project has the capacity to achieve commercial viability. The Board delivers a series of support programmes to fulfil this role, and provides both financial and non-financial assistance to a project promoter.

Tallaght and South County Dublin are well equipped to compete with other areas for potential Foreign Direct Investment, with superb infrastructure facilities at City West and Grange Castle and a Third Level Institute of Technology at Tallaght. Both of these business parks are easily accessible to the population of Tallaght. In 2009, Pfizer merged with the Wyeth Corporation. The former Wyeth Biotech Campus at Grange Castle, Clondalkin is now Pfizer’s largest investment in Ireland — a €1.8 billion biopharmaceutical campus located in South County Dublin. Over 1,220 full time employees work at Grange Castle, which is part of the Pfizer Specialty and Biotech manufacturing network. The agency works closely with the Pfizer Company to encourage additional development and expansion.

Last September, Microsoft opened its new “mega” data centre, a 303,000 sq-foot facility in the City West Business Campus. The investment in the facility is part of Microsoft’s long-term commitment to the region. This site will be the infrastructural hub for online services and cloud computing across Microsoft. In May of this year, SAP commenced recruitment of 75 additional jobs at its City West facility bringing the employment figure to over 1,000 at the campus. The industrial development agencies and the County Enterprise Board will continue to promote the Tallaght area for investment and enterprise development and there is a concerted effort by IDA to promote South County Dublin to potential overseas investors. These activities will drive job creation in the Tallaght area.

  105.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of applications from staff for transfer, relocation or exchange received in his Department and or other bodies or agencies under his aegis or funded by his Department in each of the past three years to date in 2010; the number of approvals; the number of rejections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30770/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The following outlines my Department’s practice with regard to internal staff transfers and requests from staff for relocation or exchange.

(i) My Department has a long-standing policy of affording staff the opportunity to experience different types of work in order to further their career development. The objective of the staff mobility policy operating within the Department is to help staff develop their [225]full potential in a systematic way while also meeting the business needs of the Department. Internal staff transfer requests are facilitated in line with this policy.

(ii) Staff at Clerical Officer and Staff Officer grades may apply to transfer to another Department in an established provincial location through the Central Transfer List, which is operated by the Personnel Section in my Department. Staff can make application to the Personnel Section outlining their location preferences and are facilitated as much as possible. However, this is dependant on the business needs of the Department at any given time. Seven staff transferred out of the Department via the Central Transfer List in the past three years.

(iii) A staff member at any grade up to Principal Officer who wishes to transfer to another Government Department must identify an officer of the same grade in the other Department who is willing to exchange positions. Such exchanges can only take place with the agreement of the Personnel Officers in both Departments. Two such transfers occurred in the past three years.

(iv) Staff may apply to decentralise to their chosen location through the Central Applications Facility, which is administered by the Public Appointments Service. The following table outlines the number of staff who were approved for transfer to a decentralised location:

2007 2008 2009 2010 to date
76 16 16 13

In relation to (ii), (iii) and (iv) above, my Department has not rejected any applications for transfer from staff in the past three years to date. The question as it relates to other bodies or agencies under the aegis of my Department is a day to day matter for the bodies and agencies concerned and I have no function in the matter.

  106.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the funding that has been made available for training civil servants in 2010 in his Department; the extent to which this sum has been further reduced since the initial allocation in the Estimates for his Department; the extent to which such sums have been spent to the end of June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31676/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The allocation for training civil servants in my Department’s Estimates for 2010 is €611,000. This allocation is intended to cover all training and development activities including training delivered in-house; attendance of staff at relevant external training courses, seminars and conferences; and refunds of fees made to staff who participate, in their own time, in approved Third Level courses of study. At the end of June, €50,587 had been expended.

The training and development needs of the Department are determined through the Performance Management and Development System (PMDS) which seeks to ensure that the business needs of the Department are met through ensuring that staff have the appropriate skills to best deliver on those needs. A lower than expected spend thus far in 2010 is primarily due to the reduction in staff numbers and the difficulty that many business units of the Department have in releasing staff for training courses at a time of depleted resources.

As is normally the case, spending requirements in all areas of my Department’s Administrative Budget are carefully controlled and monitored throughout the year. However it is too early at this stage to determine what, if any, level of savings might arise on the Department’s [226]training budget for the year as a whole. In the area of training in particular it is not unusual that spending increases in the latter half of the year due, for example, to the refund of fees at the end of the academic year.

  107.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to plans in relation to the development of Doe Castle and its grounds in County Donegal as a tourist attraction; the details of these proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30353/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  Doe Castle, Co Donegal has been in State ownership since 1932. Programmes of works have been carried out on the castle from the 1960s culminating with an extensive programme of conservation works between 1996 and 2002. The grounds of Doe Castle are opened daily (7 days) by the Caretaker between 09.30a.m and 6.00p.m. During the months of June, July, August and September the door to the tower house is open allowing access to the ground floor. The grounds of Doe Castle are accessible year round and car parking is available.

  108.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will ensure that public servants are encouraged to advance their careers through commitment to a programme of continuing professional development in view of the changes and reforms that the Croke Park agreement will involve for the public sector; his views on whether such a continuing professional development scheme will be beneficial in view of the need to develop specialist skills within the public sector and in view of the widespread development of CPD across a range of employments in the State aimed at enhancing performance, service delivery and effectiveness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30432/10]

  126.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the measures and initiatives he will be taking in view of the agreement to implement the Croke Park agreement to ensure that public servants are equipped with the skills and perspectives through training and upskilling to adapt to the requirements of the public service reform programme; if he is allocating a specific budget to achieve this objective; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30430/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 126 together.

The Government is committed to the ongoing training, upskilling and development of the staff of the Public Service to ensure that the changes envisaged not only by the Croke Park Agreement but also the Transforming Public Service agenda are implemented. This commitment is part of its long term policy of supporting the development of all staff, across the Public Service with a view to enhancing the overall level of core workplace skills and in turn the performance of organisations. Specific training and development needs are generally advised in the first instance within a performance management context, such as the Performance Management & Development System in the Civil Service and Local Authorities. Training and development needs that are identified can be addressed in a number of ways such as on-the-job training, coaching, targeted training courses using internal and external providers and self managed learning.

[227]Training and development needs will vary across the Public Service depending on the particular needs of different sectors. Specific budgets are provided depending on the sector. For example, within the Civil Service 4% of salaries is devoted to learning and development. Existing training programmes are currently being refined and developed. I am particularly keen to advance continuing training and upskilling within the Civil Service. I recently announced the establishment of the Senior Public Service which is to be commenced in the Civil Service before extending to the wider Public Service. I can confirm to the Deputy that the Senior Service will involve a developmental as well as mobility element. Achieving improved performance of individuals across the Public Service through appropriate relevant training and development has always been, and will continue to be, an integral element of ensuring the effectiveness and ongoing improvement of the delivery of services to the taxpayer.

  109.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many street markets operating around the country are illegally selling tobacco and other products; the steps he will take to ensure that illegal traders at street market level are adequately penalised for breaking the law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30619/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of tobacco products tax and tackling the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products, that procedures are in place to confront the problem of illegal selling of tobacco products in street markets. There is close co-operation with An Garda Síochána and multi-agency operations are mounted where appropriate to detect the distribution and sale of illicit tobacco products. In December 2007, the Revenue Commissioners commenced an operation codenamed “Operation Downstream” which specifically targets the sale of illegal tobacco products at “inland” locations. As part of this operation, Revenue enforcement officers regularly conduct checks at street markets. The number of detections of illegal cigarettes made at inland locations under Operation Downstream is as follows:

Year Number of seizures Number of cigarettes seized
2007 (December only) 12 1.0m
2008 128 6.4m
2009 284 9.7m
2010 (to date) 116 3.7m

In 2009, 165 convictions were obtained for smuggling and selling untaxed cigarettes, of which 146 related to cigarette smuggling and 19 related to the sale of untaxed cigarettes. With regard to legislation, the penalties for tobacco offences were significantly increased in the Finance Act 2010. The penalties on summary conviction for evasion of duties remain at €5,000 and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding twelve months, while the penalties for conviction on indictment were increased from €12,695 to €126,950 or up to three times the duty paid value of the goods, whichever is the greater, and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.

  110.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [30268/10]

[228]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Deputy’s corespondent seems to be asking how many of the recommendations in the report of the special group on public service numbers and expenditure programmes have been acted upon and how many of these recommendations were originated by the Special Group. The answer is that all of the recommendations originate from the exercise conducted by the Special Group although many would, in the normal course of affairs, have been surfaced before. Of the 289 recommendations made by the Special Group, to date 42 are being implemented in full and 103 in part. The Report of the Special Group remains under consideration in respect of all its recommendations.

  111.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    if an application for an income levy repayment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick will be expedited. [30271/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a refund of the Income Levy in the amount of €599.69 issued for payment to the bank account of the applicant on 3 June 2010.

  112.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the total spend by his Department on carbon offsets for official travel undertaken by him and his Minister of State for 2007, 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30280/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The amount paid by my Department in respect of carbon offsets for commercial flights undertaken for official travel by both the Minister for Finance and Minister of State at the Department of Finance for the period 14 June 2007 to 31 December 2009 are set out in the table.

Period Ministerial Travel total spend on carbon offsets Minister of States Travel total spend on carbon offsets
14 June 2007 to 31 December 2008 83 163.00
2009 Nil 30.00

Carbon Offsets for 2007 and 2008 flights were paid in 2009, and carbon offsets for 2009 flights were paid in 2010. Flights taken in 2010 will not be offset until the first quarter of 2011. Payments for carbon offsets, in respect flights taken by the Minister of State, were also made by the Office of Public Works. For official flights taken in 2009 the offsetting costs in respect of the Minister of State came to €36.23. I have been informed by the Office of Public Works that they do not have an individual breakdown of air miles travelled by the Minister of State for the period 14 June 2007 to 31 December 2008 and therefore do not have an individual offset cost for the Minister of State’s travel during this period.

The offsetting costs of all travel by Government Ministers and civil servants on the Government Jet are paid by the Department of the Taoiseach. Monies for carbon offsets are paid into an offsetting fund which is administered by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP). Investments by the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership on Ireland’s behalf will focus on the purchase of Gold Standard carbon credits generated [229]by small-scale activities/projects in Ireland’s Priority Oversees Development Aid countries in Africa.

  113.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the total cost of travel and subsistence to public servants in his Department arising from travel to meetings or events in Dublin and Brussels from offices that have been decentralised for 2010 to date, for 2009, and for 2008; if he will state to whom this money, if any, has been awarded; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30295/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The costs of flights for staff headquartered in my Department’s decentralised office in Tullamore in connection with events or meetings in Brussels, and which were charged to the Vote in the years in question, were as follows:

Year 2008 2009 2010 (to date)
1,855.51 355.72 105.66

Other travel and subsistence costs in respect of travel to events or meetings in Dublin and Brussels, which were paid to 88 staff headquartered in Tullamore in the years in question, were as follows:

Year 2008 2009 2010 (to date)
96,264.38 57,844.66 20,784.97

The costs of flights to Brussels would arise regardless of the location of the staff. Similarly, subsistence and accommodation costs for staff, which arise while they are in Brussels, are not dependent on the headquarters of the staff in Ireland.

  114.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    the total spend of his Department on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television for 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30310/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The below table sets out the total spend by my Department on public advertisements in national and local print media, radio and television for 2009 and to date in 2010.

Year Amount
2009 56,734.90
2010 (to date) 10,114.00

  115.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance in view of annual results of Anglo Irish Bank, which stated that    the Irish Central Bank had a master loan repurchase agreement with the bank worth €11.5 billion if he will outline lending assets which this loan was secured upon; if they are development land or investment properties; when the facility was approved by the Central Bank; if the collateral extended on the loan differs to the collateral [230]accepted by the European Central Bank; if the facility was approved by him and when; the current exposure for the Irish Central Bank from the MLRA: his plans, if any, to write off part or all of the principal; the measures which have been put in place to ensure repayment in full; the way the facility has been accounted for in the financial accounts of the Central Bank; if consideration has been given to the treatment of the loan should Anglo Irish Bank be split; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30318/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As the Deputy is aware arrangements in relation to exceptional liquidity assistance (ELA) are generally between the Central Bank and financial institutions concerned. However, the Central Bank has informed me that similar to other central banks, the Central Bank of Ireland can supply ELA to institutions when that is judged necessary. This facility is not part of regular monetary policy operations. The Bank does not comment on operations undertaken with individual institutions. ELA is only extended where it is collateralised. Because of the nature of this Special Liquidity Facility i.e. it is not part of regular Eurosystem monetary policy operations; it is recorded under the “Other Assets” category in the Balance Sheet of the Central Bank.

The Report and Accounts of Anglo Irish Bank for the financial period ending 31 December 2009 referred to a short term liquidity facility arranged through the Central Bank of Ireland in 2009 that amounted to €11.5bn at 31 December 2009. The Notes to the accounts (Note 37) state that the necessary collateral is derived from the Bank’s customer lending assets. Further, Note 27 of the accounts, under the heading of ‘Loans assigned as collateral’, outlines that loans with a carrying value of €12.49bn have been assigned as collateral under a Master Loan Repurchase Agreement with the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. The Bank does not report on the split between development and investment loans. However, Note 27 of the relevant accounts does provide further disclosure in relation to the composition if the Bank’s loan book.

The European Central Bank could accept similar collateral, but not the same collateral, once the loans were suitably structured in an eligible security. Further, there are no plans to write off any part of the principle involved and the amount outstanding under this facility is likely to be reduced by the receipt by NAMA bonds following the transfer of assets to NAMA and by other funding flows in the course of this year. In addition, I do expect that the bank’s longer term funding requirements will be addressed in the context of the EU Commission decision on the revised business plan submitted at the end of May and which is due in July or August.

  116.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    when he intends to publish the revised National Asset Management Agency business plan. [30320/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The NAMA business plan is a matter for the Board of NAMA. It was published by NAMA yesterday, 06 July 2010, on the NAMA website. I laid copies of the report before both Houses of the Oireachtas and arranged for copies to be sent to each Deputy and Senator.

  117.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Finance    when he plans to lay before the Oireachtas and to publish the first National Assets Management Agency quarterly report. [30321/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The first quarterly report was laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and published yesterday, 06 July 2010.

  118.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 115 of 30 June 2010 the landlords to whom the State pays ground rent for the properties; and the annual rent in each case. [30325/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  Having regard to the properties listed in the reply to Parliamentary Question No. 115 of 30th June 2010 on Ground Rent payable, the attached report schedules the Landlords to whom the State pays Ground Rent for the properties concerned and the associated annual rent in each case. A property will appear more than once in the report where multiple Ground Rents apply.

County Property Name Rent PA Landlord Details
CARLOW Carlow Agriculture Office 6.98 Carlow Town Council, Town Hall, Carlow, Co. Carlow
CAVAN Swanlinbar Garda Station + Customs Post 25.39 Bridget McGoldrick, Carramore, Ballyconnell, Co. Cavan
CLARE Lissycasey Garda Station 5.71 Patricia Lynch, Lisseycasey, Ennis, Co. Clare
CORK Cobh Custom House 4.39 Col W P H Rushbrooke (Deceased), c/o Ronan Daly Jermyn & Co Sol, 12 South Mall, Cork
CORK Cork Custom House 468.83 Mrs. B J Knights, 19 King Alfred Place, Winchester, Hampshire, SO23 7F, England
CORK Cork Custom House 574.32 Ms. Bevan, West Wrattins, West Wrattins Hall, Cambridge, England
CORK Cork Customs and Excise Parnell Place 66.03 Mrs. Gillian Leonard, 3 Dornden Park, Booterstown, Co. Dublin
CORK Crosshaven Garda Station & Houses Complex 19.05 Dovey International, Charlemont Buildings, Rochestown, Cork
CORK Fermoy Garda Station 22.63 Fermoy Estates, c/o Anthony Carroll & Co Solicitors, Carlton House, Fermoy, Co. Cork
CORK Glengarriff/Garinish 101.58 Executors of Garde Estate, c/o M J McCarthy & Son, 15 South Mall, Cork
CORK MacCurtain Street Garda Station 28.53 Thomas Crosbie & Co Ltd., Patrick Street, Cork
CORK Youghal Former Military Barracks 7.07 Thomas Farrell Estate, c/o M J McCarthy & Son, 15 South Mall, Cork
CORK Youghal Former Military Barracks 39.07 Daniel J Hamilton, c/o Barry M O’Meara & Son Solicitors, 18 South Mall, Cork
DONEGAL Bundoran Garda Station 25.39 Trustees of the Will of Simon Sheil, c/o Donal Gallagher Solicitors, Donegal Town
DONEGAL Kilmacrennan Garda Station 5.08 Earl of Leitrim, Mulroy, Carrigart, Co. Donegal
DUBLIN Abbotstown Farm 2.34 Fitxwilliam Land Securities Ltd., 57 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Botanic Gardens 24.90 Birdfield Securities Ltd., 24 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Botanic Gardens 78.91 Birdfield Securities Ltd., 24 Suffolk Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Botanic Gardens 146.02 North Presentation Convent, Gerald Griffin Street, Cork
DUBLIN Burgh Quay 13-14 177.76 Irish Press PLC, 7 Clanwilliam Terrace, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Burlington Road 10 1.21 Earl of Pembroke, c/o Pembroke Estates Management Ltd., 17 Merrion Row, Dublin 2

County Property Name Rent PA Landlord Details
DUBLIN Cathal Brugha Barracks 25.39 The Secretary, Kilruddery Farms, Kilruddery, Bray, Co. Wicklow
DUBLIN Cathal Brugha Barracks 275.73 The Secretary, Kilruddery Farms, Kilruddery, Bray, Co. Wicklow
DUBLIN Cathal Brugha Barracks 419.36 Sweetman Estate, Ambarron Farm, Sandhurst, Berks, England
DUBLIN Dublin Castle 7.33 Dublin Corporation Rentals, Block 3, Floor 3, Civic Offices, Wood Quay, Dublin 8
DUBLIN Dublin Castle 21.33 Representatives of R T Harris Estate, c/o Robert A Mullan & Son Solicitors, 9 Trevor Hill, Newry, Co. Down
DUBLIN Dublin Castle 28.38 R T Harris Trust, Executor of Estate, R T Harris (Deceased)
DUBLIN Dundrum Central Mental Hospital 59.58 Gwendoline Guilford, 21 Kilcolman Court, Glenageary, Co. Dublin
DUBLIN Fitzwilliam Place 31 19.68 Earl of Pembroke, c/o Pembroke Estates Management Ltd., 17 Merrion Row, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Four Courts 220.27 The Hon Society of Kings Inns, Henrietta Street, Dublin 1
DUBLIN Government Buildings 3.52 Duke of Leinster, c/o Huggard & Brennan Solicitors, 2 Rowe Street, Wexford
DUBLIN Government Buildings 4.49 Duke of Leinster, c/o Huggard & Brennan Solicitors, 2 Rowe Street, Wexford
DUBLIN Kildare Street 23-28 7.29 D M Murphy & A Freyne, c/o Corrigan & Corrigan Solicitors, 3 St. Andrew Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Kildare Street 23-28 7.62 D M Murphy & A Freyne, c/o Corrigan & Corrigan Solicitors, 3 St. Andrew Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Kildare Street 23-28 18.20 D M Murphy & A Freyne, c/o Corrigan & Corrigan Solicitors, 3 St. Andrew Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Kildare Street 23-28 47.04 Very Rev Paul F Fitzgerald, c/o Reddy Charlton & McKnight Solicitors, 12 Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Kildare Street 4-5 13.42 Duke of Leinster, c/o Huggard & Brennan Solicitors, 2 Rowe Street, Wexford

County Property Name Rent PA Landlord Details
DUBLIN Kildare Street 4-5 14.44 Duke of Leinster, c/o Huggard & Brennan Solicitors, 2 Rowe Street, Wexford
DUBLIN Merrion Row 7-9 63.49 Simon Broadhead, 39 Sydney Avenue, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
DUBLIN Merrion Row 7-9 87.03 First Management, 16 Wellington Road, Ballsbridge, Dublin 4
DUBLIN Merrion Square 16 69.84 Pembroke Estates Management Ltd., 17 Merrion Row, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Merrion Square 5 69.84 Earl of Pembroke, c/o Pembroke Estates Management Ltd., 17 Merrion Row, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Merrion Square 6A 31.74 The Trustees George Simpson Hospital, Wyckham, Ballinteer Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14
DUBLIN Merrion Street Upper 14-16 116.42 Bank of Ireland Group Property, Finance and Operations, Nassau House, 33-35 Nassau Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN O’Connell Street Upper 11-13 63.69 Fitzwilliam Land Securities Ltd., 57 Fitzwilliam Square, Dublin 2
DUBLIN O’Connell Street Upper 11-13 230.20 Executors of Coyne Estate, c/o Jean Burrows, Laharde, Whitegate, Co. Cork
DUBLIN O’Connell Street Upper 14-15 176.98 M.D Pennefather, c/o Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Innisfail, Queensland, Australia
DUBLIN O’Connell Street Upper 44 76.18 Earnest Preston, Silverwood, Dromin, Dunleer, Co. Louth
DUBLIN St. Stephen’s Green 50-51 161.42 J H J Thacker & Others, c/o Arthur F Bennett & Co. Solicitors, 22 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN St. Stephen’s Green 50-51 258.14 Mrs. W C Kennedy & Mrs. H D Wood, c/o Casey Estate, Matheson Ormsby Prentice Solicitors, 30 Herbert Street
DUBLIN St. Stephen’s Green 78-81 0.55 Governors of King Charles II, c/o The Bursar, The Kings Hospital, Palmerstown
DUBLIN St. Stephen’s Green 78-81 165.07 The Bursar, The Kings Hospital, Palmerstown, Dublin 20
DUBLIN St. Stephen’s Green 78-81 257.76 Mrs. Julia Hely-Hutchinson, c/o Reeves Solicitors, 28-30 Burlington Road, Dublin 4
DUBLIN Terenure Garda Station 36.62 Stanley Siev Solicitor, George’s Chambers, 31 Aungier Street, Dublin 2
DUBLIN Thomas Lane 1-2 72.38 Tadgh Gleeson, Brookhill, Fethard, Co. Tipperary

County Property Name Rent PA Landlord Details
GALWAY Furbo 1.27 Udaras na Gaeltachta, Na Forbacha, Co. Galway
KERRY Killarney National Park 66.66 R W Boyle, 42 Eland Road, London SW11 5J7, England
KERRY Killarney National Park 105.40 Lake Hotel Ltd., Muckross Road, Killarney, Co. Kerry
KERRY Tralee Godfrey Place 76.18 Thomas J O’Brien & Robert J O’Brien, Ballyvelly, Tralee, Co. Kerry
KERRY Tralee High Street 3.31 Executors of Finnerty Estate, c/o Hudson & Browne Solicitors, 2 Princes Street, Tralee, Co. Kerry
LAOIS Portlaoise Site 128.00 IDA Ireland, Wilton Park House, Wilton Place, Dublin 2
LIMERICK Limerick Custom House 26.96 James Dundon, 2 Silchester Park, Glenageary, Co. Dublin
LIMERICK Limerick Custom House 62.51 Representatives of Admiral Whyte, c/o Security Estate Management Ltd., 85 O’Connell Street, Limerick
LIMERICK Limerick Henry/Cecil/Glentworth 64.12 Sisters of Mercy, Loreto House, Convent Road, Blackrock, Co. Dublin
LIMERICK Limerick Henry/Cecil/Glentworth 64.52 Desmond J Devane, c/o O’Donnell Dundon & Co Solicitors, 101-102 O’Connell Street, Limerick
LIMERICK Limerick Henry/Cecil/Glentworth 68.77 Mrs. M McCarthy, Rosheen, Orwell Park, Rathgar, Dublin 6
LIMERICK Limerick Mallow Street 33.48 Ulster Bank, 95 O’Connell Street, Limerick RSPCA
LIMERICK Limerick O’Curry Street 31.74 Shannon Foynes Port Co., Harbour Office, Foynes, Co. Limerick
LOUTH Drogheda Government Offices 29.29 Trustees of Leighs Charity, c/o McKeever Taylor & Son Solicitors, 34-35 Laurence Street, Drogheda
OFFALY Birr Garda Station 76.18 Captain T B Hackett, Kilmoney Cottage, Carrigaline, Co. Cork
WATERFORD Waterford Catherine Street 13 12.70 Richard Bayly, Bayly Estates, c/o O’Doherty Warren & Associates Solicitors, Melrose Charlotte Row, Gorey, Co. Wexford
WATERFORD Waterford Catherine Street 3 13.97 Bayly Estates, c/o O’Doherty Warren & Associates Solicitors, Melrose Charlotte Row, Gorey, Co. Wexford
WEXFORD New Ross Former Garda Station 25.39 Governor & Co of Bank of Ireland & Robert G Tottenham, Mount Callan, Co. Clare
WEXFORD Wexford Anne Street 181.23 T G Robert Hughes, Ballycross, Co. Wexford

  119.  Deputy Damien English    asked the Minister for Finance    the role of the Chief Boundary Surveyor; the legislation prescribing his functions; his current level of remuneration; his output in the year 2009; the necessity for both his role and that of Ordnance Survey Ireland; his future plans for that office; and if the Chief Boundary Surveyor has completed the duties bestowed upon him by the Navan Town Boundary Alteration (Supplementary) Order 2009, SI 137 of 2009. [30333/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Chief Boundary Surveyor is a statutory officer appointed by the Minister for Finance pursuant to Section 1 of the, Boundary Survey (Ireland) Act, 1854. The office is combined with, though subsidiary to, that of Commissioner of Valuation. The level of remuneration paid to the occupier of the combined offices is equivalent to that of Assistant Secretary in the Civil Service. The Commissioner of Valuation /Chief Boundary Surveyor also performs the function of Chief Executive Officer of the Valuation Office.

The role of the Chief Boundary Surveyor is to fix maritime and internal boundaries for public purposes in accordance with the provisions of the Boundary Survey (Ireland) Acts, 1854, 1857 and 1859. In the case of maritime boundaries, he revises the land boundaries of counties and their constituent denominations, such as baronies, parishes and townlands, following the reclamation of land from the sea and in the case of internal boundaries, he revises land boundaries requiring to be surveyed and determined arising from changes to town, borough and city borough boundaries under Local Government legislation. During 2009, The Chief Boundary Surveyor was required to deal with two boundary changes relating to the towns of Balbriggan and Navan. On 1st May, 2009, he determined the new boundaries of Balbriggan Town in accordance with the terms of the Balbriggan Town Boundary Alteration (Supplementary) Order, 2009 and on 4th June, 2009, he determined the new boundaries of Navan Town in accordance with the provisions of the Navan Town Boundary Alteration (Supplementary) Order, 2009.

In his statutory role, under the Boundary Survey Acts, the Chief Boundary Surveyor receives the necessary technical support of Ordnance Survey Ireland in the performance of his duties in determining statutory boundaries and in the delineation of such boundaries on maps. As the State mapping agency, the primary function of Ordnance Survey Ireland (OSI), under its founding legislation — Ordnance Survey Ireland Act, 2001 — is to create and maintain the definitive national mapping and related geographic records of the State. It has also developed a commercial business which makes a significant contribution to the national geographic information industry. Its role does not include the defining of legal land and maritime boundaries, that being the statutory prerogative of the Chief Boundary Surveyor.

The Chief Boundary Surveyor fulfilled his obligations as required under section 13 of the Navan Town Boundary Alteration (Supplementary) Order, 2009 on 4th June, 2009 by preparing, signing and sealing four copies of the map attached to the Order, showing the relevant areas and the altered boundary of Navan Town. The copies of the official map were then deposited with the offices of the Town Council of Navan, the offices of the County Council of Meath and the office of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

  120.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Finance    the percentage of the total income tax take that is spent on local authority services. [30407/10]

[237]Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Income tax receipts were 13,177 million euro in 2008 and 11,835 million euro in 2009. The forecast for 2010 is income tax receipts of 11,530 million euro.

I understand from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the Local Government sector was responsible for a total current expenditure of some 5.1 billion euro in 2008. Local authorities receive current funding from General Purpose Grants from the Local Government Fund (20% of funding in 2008), income from rates on commercial premises (27%), local charges (28%) and specific Government grants (23%).

The Local Government Fund is financed by the full proceeds of motor tax and an Exchequer contribution. The Exchequer contribution to the Local Government Fund in 2008 was 548.7 million euro, in 2009 was 443 million euro and there is an allocation of 226.4 million euro in 2010.

As the proceeds of income tax are not ringfenced for particular expenditure, it is not possible to calculate the percentage of the total income tax take that is spent on local authority services, either through the Exchequer contribution to the Local Government Fund or the provision of specific Government grants.

  121.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Finance    the percentage of the general tax take that is spent on local authority services. [30408/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Total tax receipts were 40,777 million euro in 2008 and 33,043 million euro in 2009. The forecast for 2010 is total tax receipts of 31,050 million euro.

I understand from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government that the Local Government sector was responsible for a total current expenditure of some 5.1 billion euro in 2008. Local authorities receive current funding from General Purpose Grants from the Local Government Fund (20% of funding in 2008), income from rates on commercial premises (27%), local charges (28%) and specific Government grants (23%).

The Local Government Fund is financed by the full proceeds of motor tax and an Exchequer contribution. The Exchequer contribution to the Local Government Fund in 2008 was 548.7 million euro, in 2009 was 443 million euro and there is an allocation of 226.4 million euro in 2010.

It is possible to calculate that approximately 5.4% of the general tax take was provided to local authorities in 2008 towards the costs of their day-to-day services, through the provision of specific Government grants and funding through the Local Government Fund.

  122.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    further to Parliamentary Question No. 112 of 29 June, if he will provide the breakdown of taxation on cigarettes including the percentage of ad valorem tax and percentage of specific excise duty on cigarettes; if he will consider introducing measures similar to Sweden (details supplied) where the Minister for Finance has proposed reform of the taxation structure on cigarettes in order to prevent cheap cigarettes entering the market as well as increasing their overall revenue from cigarettes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30423/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In accordance with the relevant EU Directive the overall excise duty on cigarettes is made up of a specific (fixed) element and an ad valorem element. Based on the information already available to my Department, and that supplied by [238]the Deputy, Sweden have put forward proposals to move its excise duty on cigarettes from being one based mainly on the ad valorem element to one based mainly on the specific element.

As stated in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 112 of 29 June 2010, Ireland already applies a high specific duty element and a low ad valorem element in setting its excise duty for cigarettes relative to other Member States. It is intended to continue that approach in setting our excise duty for cigarettes. It has also to be recognised that Ireland has the highest prices and excise duty levels for cigarettes in the EU. For example the level of excise duty on cigarettes in Ireland (€5.22 for a packet of 20) is around double that in Sweden. It should also be noted that the increase in excise duty on cigarettes since Budget 2007 (December 2006) far exceeds increases in inflation over that period.

  123.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views of whether the illicit cigarette trade here over the past year is out of control; if he will confirm reports that the illicit cigarette trade is now larger than the cocaine trade; if he will consider an inter Departmental review of the tobacco regulatory framework in view of the growing illicit cigarette trade; if he will consider conducting a review of the impact the point of sale display ban is having on the illicit cigarette trade since its introduction one year ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30426/10]

  124.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of cigarette seizures; the number of cigarettes seized; the total revenue value of the cigarettes to date since the introduction of the point of sale display ban one year ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30427/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 123 and 124 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of tobacco products tax and tackling the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products, that they are concerned at the level of cigarette smuggling and the illicit trade in cigarettes. It has to be acknowledged that tobacco taxes in Ireland are currently the highest in the EU and despite the comparative small size of the Irish market, significant profits can be made by fraudsters who engage in this type of illicit activity.

It is difficult to speculate as to the extent of the illicit tobacco problem. However, official figures show that between 2008 and 2009, the quantity of cigarettes on which duty was paid fell by only 6.7% (from 4.9 billion cigarettes to 4.6 billion cigarettes). At the same time, due to rate increases, the total excise duty on tobacco products increased by €45 million.

Regarding the cocaine trade in Ireland, Revenue can confirm that seizures at importation by its Customs Service have been in decline since 2008 and this is in line with current national and international trends. The current recession and non-availability of cash and capital is believed to be a factor in this decline.

I am aware that Revenue ensures that all aspects of its ability to deal with the threat of the illicit trade in tobacco products are subjected to continuous review. My Department, in consultation with the Revenue Commissioners, regularly review the legislative framework. For example, the penalties for tobacco offences were significantly increased in the Finance Act 2010 when the penalty for conviction on indictment increased from €12,695 to €126,950 or up [239]to three times the duty paid value of the goods, whichever is the greater, and/or a term of imprisonment not exceeding five years.

Data relating to cigarette seizures over the past twelve months is as follows:

CIGARETTE SEIZURES

Period Number of Seizures Quantity Seized (pcs) Estimated Retail Value Total Duties (Excise & VAT)
01/07/2009 to 30/06/2010 9,398 284,548,432 119,866,027 95,394,862

It should be noted that these figures are distorted by a single seizure of 120 million cigarettes in October 2009 which was the largest ever in the E.U.

There is no evidence to show that the point of sale display ban has had any effect on the market for illegal cigarettes. Prior to the display ban, counterfeit and contraband cigarettes were rarely on open display at retail outlets. In fact, a thorough search of suspect premises was usually required in order to find illegal cigarettes. Revenue have engaged with representatives of the retail outlets and invited them to supply relevant information or intelligence that would assist with this investigation.

  125.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the justification for a public authority, Iarnród Éireann, to charge prospective tenderers up to €930 per annum through a private company (details supplied) in order to register for receipt of relevant documentation for public tenders; the benefit that the tenderers receive for such a charge; his view on whether such a charge is inconsistent with the stated objective of opening public tenders to the small and medium enterprise sector; if he will ensure that such practices are discontinued immediately in view of the hardship they impose on the SME sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30429/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Iarnród Éireann is a commercial state body within the ambit of my colleague the Minister for Transport, with whom I will take up this matter. I am concerned to facilitate SMEs tendering for public sector contracts and this must be balanced against the costs of running the tendering competition. I will contact the Deputy in due course.

Question No. 126 answered with Question No. 108.

  127.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Finance    the funding that has been made available for training civil servants in 2010; the extent to which this sum has been further reduced since the initial allocation in the estimates for relevant Departments, the extent to which such sums have been spent to the end of June 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30431/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  An allocation of €335,000 has been made in respect of my Department for the purpose of staff training and there has been no reduction in this allocation. The total amount spent from this allocation up to the end of June 2010 is €86,500 [240]or 26% of the overall budget. Greater expenditure is normally profiled from the training budget arising from the operation of the refund of fees scheme which fall due for payment in the later half of the year.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the funding made available to train Revenue staff in 2010 is €1,927,500. There has been no reduction in this allocation. The expenditure on training to the end of June amounts to €663,131. Expenditure to the mid point of the year is 34% of the budget. This is in accordance with the expenditure profile, which envisages the majority of expenditure payments occurring in the later half of the year when the balance of some larger bills, such as University of Limerick and refund of fee’s fall due for payment.

In the case of the Office of Public Works, I am informed that the allocation of funding for non-industrial staff, under Subhead A3 and A5 of their Vote for Training and Development for 2010 is €603,000 and this has not been reduced since the Revised Estimates for Public Services was published on 18 February, 2010. Of this, the total spend to date for Training and Development in 2010 is €209,557. In addition, training for State industrial employees is funded from the various operational programmes of the Vote as and when required. Expenditure to date in 2010 for such training amounted to €121,656.

  128.  Deputy Seán Fleming    asked the Minister for Finance    if staff employed by the Pensions Board in Dublin are eligible to apply for a transfer to a Government Department in any other county outside Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30477/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Eligibility to apply for transfer from one Government Department to another is regulated in accordance with arrangements agreed centrally with the Civil Service unions. These arrangements apply to the transfer of civil servants within the Civil Service.

The staff of the Pensions Board are public servants and are therefore not eligible to apply for transfer to a Civil Service post under the above arrangements. However, the Decentralisation Programme allows public servants to express an interest in transferring to locations identified under the Programme.

  129.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will make a statement on a matter (details supplied). [30502/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I understand that a competition was held by the Public Appointments Service (PAS) to establish a Clerical Officer panel in Limerick & Tipperary which was advertised in July/August 2008 in anticipation of creating a panel from which future vacancies could be filled. The competition required candidates to undergo tests at the first stage of the selection process. These tests were held during late August. As subsequent selection stages, including interview, have not been held, no panel has been established from this campaign. Given the current recruitment moratorium it is difficult to forecast whether or not any vacancies might be filled from this competition. The PAS treats each application on a confidential basis. I understand that the person in question has been in touch with that Office recently and the position has been outlined to her.

  130.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    the steps that the Office of Public Works will take to address the flooding on the River Suck in Winter 2009-2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30608/10]

  131.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Finance    the steps that the Office of Public Works intends to take to address the flooding on the River Shannon in Winter 2009/2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30609/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 131 together.

The Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme under the direction of the Office of Public Works, will develop a comprehensive plan for the management of flood risk for the River Shannon including tributaries such as the River Suck. OPW, at present, is in the process of procuring consultants to undertake the CFRAM studies.  In the interim, the OPW has allocated funding under the Minor Works scheme for flood relief works to Local Authorities at a number of locations in the County, including areas affected by the Shannon and Suck. A number of other funding applications submitted by the Council are currently under consideration. It would be open to the Council to submit further applications during the year. If further applications are received, they will be assessed having regard to the eligibility criteria of the scheme and the overall availability of funding for flood mitigation measures.

  132.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    if the flood relief scheme for Clonmel, County Tipperary will be expedited to prevent future flooding problems; if this situation will be alleviated; when the funding for the next phase of the scheme will be allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30646/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The first phase of the Clonmel Flood Relief scheme (Clonmel West) is now substantially complete. The second phase comprising of the Clonmel North and East schemes has just been confirmed by the Minister for Finance, and the Office of Public Works is in the process of finalising the procurement of a Civil Engineering Contractor for this second phase. Provision has been made in OPW’s budget for the funding of these works and it is envisaged that a contractor will be on site this year. Works on the second phase are expected to be carried out over a two year period.

  133.  Deputy Tom Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    when funding will be allocated to formally take the Bolton Library into the ownership of the Office of Public Works; when work will commence on the building to ensure it is suitable for use by tourists; his plans for the building; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30647/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  It is hoped that later this year, when legal formalities have been completed, the Bolton Library will come into the care of the Office of Public Works and then refurbishment works could commence on the building. The Bolton Library will be part of the Rock of Cashel complex for management purposes and provide a visitor outreach for the town of Cashel.

  134.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on amending section 481 tax relief to extend to the video game industry; the estimated cost of such an action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30651/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The cost of extending to the video game industry a tax relief similar to the scheme for film relief operating under Section 481 would depend on the level of uptake by investors and the amounts invested. I am not therefore in a position to provide such an estimate. I have no plans to extend Section 481 to the video game industry.

  135.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding the provision of an extension courthouse in Waterford City; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30668/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  The provision of Court accommodation is , in the first instance, a matter for the Courts Service. The Commissioners of Public Works, acting on behalf of the Courts service, expect to be in a position shortly to carry out site investigation works. Following this, arrangements will be made to appoint a number of Consultants whose services are necessary in order to progress the project to planning permission stage and to enable production of detailed drawings, specifications and a Bill of Quantities with a view to tenders for construction being invited. It is envisaged that commencement of construction will be in 2011, subject to approval of the Courts Service and availability of financial resources.

  136.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of applications from staff for transfer, relocation or exchange received in his Department and or other bodies or agencies under his aegis by his Department in each of the past three years to date in 2010; the number of approvals; the number of rejections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30772/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The following is the information requested in relation to my Department and information supplied by the Offices under the aegis of my Department. This information does not include applications for transfers to decentralised locations through the Central Applications facility (CAF) for which the Public Appointments Service have central responsibility.

Finance

The information does not relate to applications for temporary secondment (e.g. EU Commission) or reassignments within the Department itself. In 2009 a levy was placed on most Departments to provide staff to the Department of Social Protection. Within the total a levy of 15 was applied to my Department. 65 people applied and 15 have since transferred.

[243]Office of the Revenue Commissioners

Revenue maintains internal Transfer lists for i