Dáil Éireann

30/Nov/2010

Prelude

Estimates for Public Services 2010: Message from Select Committee

Ceisteanna — Questions

Freedom of Information

National Reform Programme

Priority Questions

State Property

Fuel Poverty

Company Takeovers

Energy Supply

Other Questions

Postal Services

Alternative Energy Projects

Adjournment Debate Matters

Leaders’ Questions

Introduction of New Member

Request to move Adjournment of the Dáil under Standing Order 32

Order of Business

EU-USA Financial Messaging Data Agreement: Motion

EU-IMF Programme for Ireland and National Recovery Plan 2011-14: Statements

Stability and the Budgetary Process: Motion

Adjournment Debate

Credit Review Office

Local Authority Funding

Fishing Industry Development

Written Answers

Telecommunications Services

Departmental Agencies

Regulatory Institutions

Telecommunications Services

Energy Resources

Telecommunications Services

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Websites

Electricity Transmission Network

Energy Conservation

Disconnection of Utilities

Knowledge Society Strategy

Alternative Energy Projects

Electricity Generation

Fuel Poverty

Telecommunications Services

Energy Prices

Energy Conservation

Telecommunications Services

Energy Resources

Telecommunications Services

Electricity Transmission Network

Telecommunications Services

Electric Vehicles

Telecommunications Services

Electricity Generation

Telecommunications Services

Electricity Generation

Energy Conservation

Alternative Energy Projects

Telecommunications Services

National Statistics

Departmental Expenditure

Energy Resources

Census of Population

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme

Third Level Fees

Higher Education Grants

Schools Refurbishment

Universities Building Projects

Third Level Courses

Training and Work Experience Programmes

Departmental Bodies

Training and Work Experience Programmes

Third Level Courses

Special Educational Needs

Energy Resources

Teachers’ Remuneration

Departmental Agencies

Special Educational Needs

Third Level Courses

Higher Education Grants

School Inspection Reports

Schools Building Projects

Departmental Agencies

Training and Work Experience Programmes

Departmental Correspondence

Schools Building Projects

Departmental Agencies

Higher Education Grants

School Transport

Schools Building Projects

Higher Education Grants

Schools Building Projects

National Lottery Funding

Tax Code

Flood Relief

State Property

Conflicts of Interest

Flood Relief

Missing Persons

Disabled Drivers

Bank Guarantee Scheme

Energy Resources

Tax Yield

State Savings Products

Fiscal Policy

EU Funding

Employment Levels

Tax Collection

Departmental Agencies

Tax Collection

Banking Sector Regulation

National Recovery Plan

Economic and Monetary Union

Official Engagements

Public Service Staff

Proposed Legislation

Insurance Industry

Suicide Prevention

Cancer Screening Programme

Hospital Waiting Lists

Hospital Services

Health Services

Hospitals Building Programme

Hospital Services

Hospital Waiting Lists

Hospital Services

Mental Health Services

Hospital Accommodation

Mental Health Services

Health Services

Medical Cards

Health Service Staff

Services for People with Disabilities

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Medical Cards

International Children’s Day

Hospital Waiting Lists

Medical Cards

Child Care Services

Hospital Services

Medical Cards

Health Services

Services for People with Disabilities

Nursing Homes Support Scheme

Energy Resources

Child Care Services

Health Service Staff

Hospital Services

Health Service Staff

National Lottery Funding

Health Services

Mental Health Services

Health Service Staff

Child Care Services

Nursing Home Subventions

Health Service Staff

Medical Cards

Health Service Staff

Services for People with Disabilities

Health Services

Medical Aids and Appliances

Health Services

Hospital Services

Lourdes Hospital Redress Schemes

Services for People with Disabilities

Traffic Management

Energy Resources

Road Network

Departmental Agencies

Asylum Applications

Garda Vetting of Personnel

Citizenship Applications

Energy Resources

Visa Applications

Proposed Legislation

Asylum Applications

Children Act 2001

Road Traffic Offences

Human Rights Issues

Energy Resources

Consular Services

Product Labelling

Community Development

Social Welfare Benefits

Grant Payments

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Advocacy Services

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Energy Resources

Departmental Staff

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Code

Energy Resources

Architectural Heritage

Local Authority Staff

Local Government Elections

Local Authority Housing

Energy Resources

Planning Issues

Homelessness Strategy

Electricity Transmission Network

Energy Resources

Postal Services

Telecommunications Services

Alternative Energy Projects

Broadcasting Services

Electricity Generation

Broadcasting Services

Alternative Energy Projects

Electricity Generation

Energy Resources

Farm Incomes

Grant Payments

Energy Resources

Grant Payments

Sheep Sector

Live Exports

Beef Quality Assurance Scheme

Grant Payments

Redundancy Payments

Work Permits

Energy Resources

Job Losses

Employment Rights

National Recovery Plan

Proposed Legislation

Redundancy Payments

National Recovery Plan

National Minimum Wage

Energy Resources

EU Directives

Pension Provisions

Defence Forces Personnel

Overseas Missions

Energy Resources

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Select Committee on Social Protection has completed its consideration of the following Supplementary Estimate for Public Services for the service of the year ending 31 December 2010 — Vote 38.

  1.  Deputy Enda Kenny    asked the Taoiseach    the number of freedom of information requests received by his Department during October 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41190/10]

  2.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Taoiseach    the number of applications received under the Freedom of Information Act in the first ten months of 2010; the way this compares with each year since 2002; in respect of the 2010 applications, the numbers granted and the numbers refused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42573/10]

The Taoiseach:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

Ten freedom of information requests were received in the Department of the Taoiseach in October 2010. Some 91 requests were received during the first ten months of the year, of which 70 were granted or part-granted and four were refused. No records were held in nine cases, while three requests were withdrawn. Five requests are ongoing. The comparative figures for the first ten months of each year since 2002 are: 2002, 113; 2003, 133; 2004, 39; 2005, 49; 2006, 48; 2007, 58; 2008, 59; 2009, 82; and 2010, 91. All freedom of information requests received in my Department are processed by statutorily designated officials in accordance with the Freedom of Information Acts. I have no role in processing requests.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Freedom of Information Act 1997 applies to the Department of the Taoiseach in the same way that it applies to every other Department. It was introduced as a means of bringing transparency and accountability to governance. Some time ago, the Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, Deputy Allen, said that although the Freedom of Information Act provides for information to be given to individual private citizens, legal diffi[392]culties arise when the same information is sought by a body like the Committee of Public Accounts. I am sure the Taoiseach, as a former Minister for Finance, would not be pleased with such a situation. The intent of the Freedom of Information Act was to allow citizens and anyone else to access information about the way the Government is run. We support that. Surely there is something wrong when the HSE says it might encounter legal problems if it provides to the Committee of Public Accounts information that it can provide to John Citizen on the street. There seems to be something wrong there. I know it is not directly related to the issue of costs, or the number of requests that are made to the Department of the Taoiseach. In certain circumstances, these problems with requests could arise in that Department as well. Does the Taoiseach not think we should examine the system and free it up so it operates in the manner that was originally intended?

The Taoiseach:  The Freedom of Information Act provides for citizens to obtain relevant data and information regarding their own particular position, as set out under the legislation. That is fine for people who require their own personal data and information. As the Deputy knows, data protection legislation means that not everyone’s personal records or data should or could be available to a wider audience. Various countervailing provisions in legislation ensure those rights are respected as well. The wider issue of the possibility of prejudicing existing legal actions comes into play when decisions are being made on what information is available and when it can be made available. These constraints apply to freedom of information legislation, in line with the general principle that constitutional and natural justice should be afforded to all concerned, including State agencies against which suits have been taken and the individuals concerned, or whatever the case may be. These general principles are applied in each individual case. Therefore, the level of information that is available has to work within the broad legal parameters that exist. The overall position is that freedom of information legislation has been extended to various agencies over many years. That continues to this day. We have seen extensions of the legislation in a whole range of areas. That happened as the legislation bedded down and evolved. We gained experience of how it was working, what way it was working effectively, and how we could move it along. We cannot postpone legal considerations. At the same time, we obviously have to try to ensure there is as much transparency as possible, consistent with those legal principles.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  On the general principle, obviously the Freedom of Information Act has been constrained by amendments introduced by the former Minister, Mr. McCreevy. The Freedom of Information Act was used by the Fine Gael Party to gain information about FÁS and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority and had that not been so, a lot of things might have remained covered up, as it were. As the Information Commissioner said, the Ryan commission of inquiry into the abuse of children in institutions might not have been necessary had the Freedom of Information Act been in operation a number of years ago. Given the number of quangos and agencies still outside the scope of the Act and based on the Taoiseach’s comment about the general principles, does he agree it would be a good idea to have all of these covered under the Act so that any citizen wishing to obtain information about governance or the activities of authorities or agencies should be able to do so, an exception being very sensitive information?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is broadening the question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I realise I am slightly off the question but I am only following on the Taoiseach’s own comment about general principles and it is something that Members of the Oireachtas should take as a matter of course.

[393]The Taoiseach:  When the Freedom of Information Acts were introduced they applied to about 67 public bodies and they now extend to more than 500 public bodies, an eightfold increase in the number of organisations to whom the legislation applies. This indicates to me that there has been an extension over time to include many areas of activity which were not initially contemplated to be included. I am sure they were contemplated but the legislation had to start somewhere and these were included over time with a wider application of the Act. I do not think there is any disagreement on that point. Some changes were introduced arising out of the operation of the Act as there were indications that the freedom of information legislation was being used almost as a trawling exercise all over the place. This resulted in a significant use of time and effort with no specific objective in mind other than to find a whole heap of information. The purpose of the legislation has to be to provide information but to do so in a way that meets objectives. It was designed for individuals or others seeking information rather than people having to trawl all over the place and people not being sure what information was being sought. In my view, the appeals mechanism and fees process put in place have not compromised to any extent the work of legislation and, quite the contrary, as there has been a few extensions of this legislation.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Now that the Government appears to have agreed to requests for a reform programme for Ireland in the context of the discussions with the European Union and the IMF, will the Taoiseach agree that one of the critical items for reform will be to restore the Freedom of Information Act which was pretty much filleted by the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act which the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy, introduced in 2003? This amendment significantly increased the charges——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is really broadening the range of questions. The questions are, by and large, of a statistical nature and they are being broadened out to the policy position.

Deputy Joan Burton:  No, I asked if the Taoiseach agreed that in the reform programme or reform agreements that are mentioned, there is mention in the documents and in the four-year recovery plan of a reform of practices. Does this reform include the reform and reinstatement of the Freedom of Information Act which was filleted by the then Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy? Second, a number of the institutions——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The line Minister for freedom of information requests is the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Institutions that are specifically excluded from the Act or are not comprehensively covered include the National Treasury Management Agency, the National Pensions Reserve Fund and the Central Bank.

With regard to the issue of cost, I have put in a number of requests since the establishment of the bank guarantee about interactions between the Department of Finance and Anglo Irish Bank, and have been obliged to go through appeals and reviews. Does the Taoiseach think that Deputies who are members of committees and so on should be obliged to spend considerable amounts of money making requests under the Freedom of Information Act? So little information is supplied to this House that we have no alternative. This is quite important information that should be in the public domain.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will need to table a separate question on this issue——

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is a Second Stage speech.

[394]An Ceann Comhairle:  ——which, although important, is not contemplated under this range of questions.

The Taoiseach:  The detailed application of the Act is a matter for the Minister for Finance but, based on the information I have before me, I will put some facts on the record that may be germane to the questions being asked. The system of fees was introduced in 2003 when Mr. McCreevy was Minister for Finance. A fee of €15 could be regarded as modest, particularly when compared to the average estimated administrative cost of €485 for processing an FOI request. I do not believe anyone could argue that a fee of €15 is unreasonable or discourages responsible requests. It is important to note that there is no charge for the time taken to examine records sought to determine whether they may be released; nor is there any charge for access to personal information. The fees have not increased since their introduction in 2003, although there has been a continuing increase in the number of requests received by my Department in recent years.

An internal appeal costs €75, while an appeal to the Information Commissioner costs €150. There are significant reductions for medical card holders, with fees of €25 and €50, respectively, for internal appeals and appeals to the Information Commissioner. Appeals concerning personal information are entirely exempt from these fees. If the contention is that the objectives of the freedom of information legislation have been thwarted by the introduction of what is regarded as a reasonable fee structure, I do not think this is borne out by the evidence.

An appeal to the Information Commissioner is a quasi-judicial process that can require many months to complete and entail a considerable amount of work. The fee is a fair reflection of the nature of the appeals process and the costs and time involved. A balance must be struck with regard to the availability of information and people’s right to seek information, and the seeking of personal information is exempt anyway. In view of the fact that in recent years, in my Department at least, there has been an increase in the number of freedom of information requests, and given the cost to the taxpayer of the implementation of the legislation, a reasonable balance is being struck.

I do not believe the information has been filleted, as has been suggested. The fact that information is now available from 500 public bodies rather than the original 67 is an indication that, over time, there has been considerable expansion of the freedom of information provisions.

Questions about financial matters are best put to the Minister for Finance himself. However, we have implemented significant changes in financial regulatory structures. The Minister, as we know, has introduced legislative proposals relating to the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland. Significant issues relating to the confidential and commercial sensitivity of much of the information within the possession of that organisation, the international framework of its operations and its role in maintaining and protecting the financial stability of the State would have to be taken on board in any consideration of the scope of the Freedom of Information Acts being extended. That would be regarded as a reasonable premise. The question of commercial sensitivity and what is in the public interest is an issue where public bodies have commercially sensitive information given competition, competitiveness and others issues in terms of that information not being available in other jurisdictions.

The scope and application of our Freedom of Information Acts compares favourably with our nearest neighbour and other jurisdictions. A balanced view would suggest that the overall scope and application of the information legislation is significant and at the same time sensitive to obvious factors that must be considered in the context of what in the public interest as well.

[395]Deputy Joan Burton:  Following my request with regard to Anglo Irish Bank it was revealed to me that in late December 2008, some months after the guarantee, the talks between Anglo Irish Bank and the Department of Finance involved discussions on €1.5 billion of funding from the State and €1.5 billion to be raised by the bank through private capital. It is useful to get such information.

The programme for Government contains a reference to obtaining environmental information through the Aarhus Convention. I realise this was probably an item from the Green Party but, if it was not, has the possibility been pursued in Government by either Fianna Fáil or the Green Party that freedom of information should be extended under the Aarhus Convention?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot broaden this segment of Question Time as you are trying to. You are going to have to find another way.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We addressed these questions last February. At the time I called on the Taoiseach to comment with regard to the view that the banks had lobbied strongly, and apparently successfully, not to have NAMA included under the Freedom of Information Act. The record shows the Taoiseach indicated at the time that there was no evidence of this and that the Taoiseach’s view was that it should not be included. Has the Taoiseach been presented with any evidence since that the banks were indeed proactive in this regard? Has the Taoiseach’s view changed in any way in the period since then? Does the Taoiseach agree not only that NAMA but also the banks should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act given that they are now almost all in State control?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are broadening the base of the questions.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This was alive in February and I can only bring it forward in a natural tangent. The Taoiseach indicated at the time that we were suggesting that people’s accounts be opened up to public scrutiny. That is not the case nor was it then. However, I am referring to the management of the banks, the remuneration of management, detail on interest fees and other charges, the value of the banks and balance sheet information.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, you are moving too far from the base of the question.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Has the Taoiseach noted the evidence given by the representatives of NAMA to the Committee of Public Accounts in recent weeks in which they indicated that the banks had been supplying them with false information? Surely, this is a serious matter.

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

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Were the Freedom of Information Act to apply it would help to ensure that the banking institutions operated under full scrutiny and transparency in this regard. Let there be no doubt, these are the same banks which have brought the economy to virtual ruin at this stage and into which we are pouring billions of euro of taxpayers’ money.

The Taoiseach:  As I said earlier regarding making financial information available, banking laws and legal parameters are set out. We are operating in a commercially competitive environment. No one would suggest, given the investment taxpayers are making in intervening to maintain a viable banking system, that we should put the banks at a commercial disadvantage.

Freedom of information legislation does not apply to commercial State bodies. If increasing public ownership of our financial institutions comes as a result of the financial crisis and the need to provide a way forward, we would not suggest putting those institutions at a commercial [396]or other disadvantage against those with which they are competing. It is not sensible when there are other companies in the same sector being excluded from the ambit of the freedom of information legislation. Why should one put one’s organisations at such a disadvantage, particularly when it is an area with issues of legitimate commercial sensitivity?

NAMA has a commercial mandate to obtain the maximum return for the taxpayer. It is required to enter into complex commercial negotiations and settlements with financial institutions and must be in a position in which it can do so. I do not hold any brief for false information or people not being frank. That is an issue that will have to be dealt with by NAMA in its dealings with the various institutions.

We must take into account issues of our own interests and commercial sensitivity in these matters. We cannot defend these if we decide to throw open all information regarding the institutions, given that there are other institutions in the same market which could gain a commercial advantage as a result. We must work within existing laws to maintain confidence among depositors and ensure a viable financial system.

It would be better for the Deputy to table a direct question about the Aarhus Convention to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. I understand the Department is working closely with the Office of the Attorney General to complete all the necessary steps to ensure Ireland’s ratification of the convention as soon as is practicable. In 2010, the High Court made a judgment in a case the Government took against a decision of the Office of the Commissioner for Environmental Information, details of which I have given in previous replies.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I have a beagáinín supplementary question.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will allow it but the Deputy must be brief.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Taoiseach spoke about confidence in the banking system but people have no confidence in it. We need certainty. This proposal would not disadvantage the banking institutions or NAMA. There is basic information which should be readily available, I believe, given the banks are now, to all intents and purposes, State institutions and we are bailing them out at enormous cost.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Questions Nos. 1 and 2 relate to freedom of information legislation but the Deputy is moving into another area entirely.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Regarding the banking system, the people have been asked to buy a pig in a poke. The people have no idea of the risk factors involved; it is like looking into a dark hole. Each and every family has been severely affected by the banking crisis. There is not only merit but an absolute case for ensuring basic information on the governance and activities of the banking institutions is made compulsorily available in the public arena. That is not to disadvantage one against the other; it should apply to them all.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy submit a question to the line Minister on this matter?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  They all ought to be treated the same. Will the Taoiseach, accordingly, give my proposition his serious consideration?

Deputy Darragh O’Brien:  Is that a beagáinín question?

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  It is for Deputy Ó Caoláin.

[397]The Taoiseach:  Questions for the operation of financial institutions are a matter for the Minister for Finance to ensure up to date and accurate information. There are valid and legitimate issues of commercial and financial sensitivities regarding freedom of information and the banking institutions.

The wider policy issues are to be considered on a continuing basis by the Dáil through a series of parliamentary questions and legislation.

  3 o’clock

With regard to freedom of information requests tabled to my Department, I have indicated that the ambit of the legislation is considerable. There has been a history of expanding it to cover a wider group of public bodies over the years. Issues relating to commercial State bodies are different to those concerning non-commercial State bodies. However, that does not mean that they are not accountable. They are accountable through their boards and to Oireachtas committees and various investigations are ongoing in that respect. With regard to freedom of information requests, the situation is as I have outlined it.

  3.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Taoiseach    the preparations his Department has undertaken in preparation for the implementation of Ireland’s national reform programme in the context of the Europe 2020 agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41649/10]

The Taoiseach:  The Europe 2020 Strategy has been adopted as a successor to the Lisbon Strategy for Jobs and Growth. Its goal is to enable Europe to emerge stronger from the current economic crisis as a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. The strategy addresses the major challenges facing Europe today, including the economic crisis, climate change, globalisation and an ageing population. The June European Council confirmed the five headline targets which will guide member states in preparing and implementing national reform programmes, along with integrated guidelines for economic and employment policies.

An initial draft of Ireland’s national reform programme is expected to be submitted to the Commission shortly, with the final version due next spring. Clearly the national reform programme will be strongly informed by the four year plan, which the Government published last week. There have been recent discussions between Irish officials and relevant officials from the European Commission on the draft national reform programme and these discussions will continue concerning the national targets and finalisation of the national reform programme next year. Arrangements for the implementation of the national reform programme will be established following its publication in the new year.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I understand that the first draft of the national reform programme was due to be sent to the European Commission by 12 November 2010. Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House whether or not such a plan has been submitted? Will the Taoiseach elaborate on the interaction and overlap between the national reform programme and the four year plan? Is the latter plan, in effect, the same as the national reform programme?

There is a reference in the national reform programme to stakeholders — including parliamentary oppositions and civil society — being consulted. Will the Taoiseach comment on whether he proposes to do so?

The Taoiseach:  It was agreed that we would hold back the draft programme until the four year plan was agreed because that was the priority as far as the European Union was concerned. Arising from that work, we can now turn to the draft reform programme, which will incorporate the four year plan.

[398]The five headline targets that have been set out are for employment, research and development, climate change and energy, education and social inclusion. Work is ongoing on the formulation of Ireland’s national targets. Targets in some areas are close to finalisation but work remains to be done in other areas. Initial considerations of the national targets will be submitted to the European Commission as part of the draft plan. The final one, to be submitted in the spring, will contain definitive targets for Ireland.

It is clear that some of the targets in the Europe 2020 process will be challenging for us. We are working closely with the European Commission to ensure that national targets are meaningful, achievable and sufficiently ambitious. It is not a requirement that the targets for Ireland should match EU targets. Instead, each member state, including Ireland, is expected to set national targets based on its own particular circumstances. We will continue to engage positively in the process. The targets are not legally binding. However, they are focused on areas the Government has prioritised and, as such, they are complementary to existing policy. The reform programme will contain an introductory section, a section on the macroeconomic scenario and surveillance and a section on horizontal and methodological issues. National targets will form the centrepiece of the programme and work is ongoing. The reform programme should be seen as complementary to the wider economic strategy.

Deputy Joan Burton:  In the context of the national reform programme and targets, does the Taoiseach accept the view of the European Commission, given yesterday, that the most Ireland can hope for growth in 2011 is 0.9%, as opposed to the Government’s forecast in the four year plan of 1.75%? The Commission’s view yesterday is significantly lower than what the Government set out in its four year plan. Does the Government accept the European Commission’s view as stated by Commissioner Olli Rehn on the likely growth forecast?

With regard to the Stability and Growth Pact, will the national reform programme have to be in agreement with it? I asked the Taoiseach about the role of stakeholders specifically referred to in the plan, including national parliaments, Opposition parties and stakeholders in civil society. The reform programme strongly suggests all of these should be consulted. Where stands the reform programme and the four year plan in respect of the European Commission’s revised estimate for Irish growth at 0.9% if the four year plan has priority?

The Taoiseach:  Various targets and scenarios are set out by various organisations, including the European Commission, the OECD, the IMF, the ESRI and the Department of Finance. One can consider a range of growth scenarios. The assumptions we made in respect of our plans reflect a knowledge of the flexibility of the Irish economy, its resilience and its broad base. In many cases, the models used in continental Europe, which has a different demographic profile, do not take into account the flexibility of the labour market in this country compared to some continental countries. That has always been a difference in the modelling that takes place.

Regarding engagement with various stakeholders, the process represents a framework at EU level, which allows for a structured approach to measures and initiatives likely to be needed over coming years. In this context, engagement with the social partners is desirable and worthwhile. Initial contacts began before the summer break, when meetings took place at official level. These were an opportunity for social partners to express the views of their sector on the strategy as was emerging at that time. A number of them have recently made written submissions in respect of the preparation of Ireland’s draft national reform programme. As the Government continues to prepare that programme for submission next April, I anticipate further engagement with social partners and other stakeholders.

[399]With regard to engagement with the Oireachtas, a cross-departmental delegation of officials discussed the Europe 2020 strategy with the Oireachtas Joint Committee on European Affairs on 3 June. I expect further engagement with that committee early in the new year. Regarding engagement with regional government, officials from the Department of the Taoiseach and the Department of Finance attended the joint meeting of Ireland’s representatives on the Committee of the Regions and the Association of Irish Regions last Friday. Officials briefed delegations on the process and invited written submissions. We anticipate further consultation with regional interests in the new year.

Deputy Joan Burton:  When he met the Opposition parties some ten days ago, Commissioner Olli Rehn indicated that he accepted the Government’s growth forecast of 1.75%. Yesterday, very shortly after he made that statement, he said he had changed his mind and his view of Irish growth is that it will be 0.9%. Given that the Commission is the one who appears to be acting very toughly in terms of the bailout for the banks and the cost to this country, can the Taoiseach just brush aside Commissioner Rehn’s view that growth next year will be only 0.9%? Can he simply put that down to differences in calculating growth between the mainland of Europe and the island of Ireland? When Commissioner Rehn came to Dublin, he met the Opposition parties. He met the Government as well. He said he was standing by the Government’s growth forecasts but yesterday he repudiated those forecasts and cut them in half. Is it sufficient simply to say that he counts in a different way? It seems very odd to me. It also seems quite damaging.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I urge the Deputy to ask a short supplementary question, as promised.

Deputy Joan Burton:  How does one square that circle? What growth forecast will the Government use for the national reform programme? Does the Government take the Commission’s view on the Stability and Growth Pact or does it pick whatever it feels like picking?

The Taoiseach:  It is not a question of picking what one feel’s like picking but of looking at the various assumptions that are made in various forecasts. As the Deputy is aware, forecasts are based on various assumptions. Whether one agrees with them all or not depends on what one’s experience of the economy has been. Prior to this crisis, in the previous ten or 15 years the Department of Finance on annual averages has been as close to actual outcomes as anyone else. By definition, forecasts are forecasts. The four year plan has been adopted by the Government. It has been agreed as the basis for the reforms that must take place and the fiscal policies that have to be implemented. We have signed up to the targets of €6 billion by 2011 and €15 billion by 2014 that have been outlined in it. The issue that arises from the programme, as the Deputy is aware, is that while doing that, if at the end of that process — these programmes are subject to annual review so this clearly will be a matter——

Deputy Joan Burton:  Quarterly review.

The Taoiseach:  There is an annual review in the programme itself and surveillance and monitoring on a quarterly basis.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Very detailed monitoring.

The Taoiseach:  Yes, of course.

Deputy Joan Burton:  A policeman riding shotgun.

The Taoiseach:  It will be a matter for Governments between now and the end of the programme to decide if they wish to take up the funding based on the terms and conditions that [400]apply. That is the issue. One cannot predict too far into the future given the volatility of bond markets at the moment but one would hope at some stage that some degree of normality would return and we could go back into the markets at a time when rates will better than are now available from any source. These are issues that must be considered and dealt with in the appropriate way as we go forward, but on the basis of providing a security of funding for the country in order to find the time and space in which to deal with the reforms that must be implemented for the purpose of bringing financial stability and obtaining a way forward that will provide us with sustainable growth. There is no doubt that based on market conditions at present that this is the best option for the country. The forecasts that we have set out are based on the Department of Finance’s proposals having listened to all and looked at all of the issues. We must proceed along those lines. There have been times when the forecasts from the Commission have proven to be correct or incorrect. It depends on market conditions and many other factors. We have seen very fast moving issues in the past 12 months which confounded all of the best forecasters.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Three of the Europe 2020 goals are reducing the number of Europeans living below the poverty line by 25%, in other words by 20 million people, of the 80 million currently in poverty across the European Union, raising the employment rate and reducing the number of early school leavers. How can the Taoiseach square these goals with his Government’s intention of cutting social welfare payments and the minimum wage? It is hardly going to assist people getting out of poverty. How can the number of early school leavers be reduced when capitation grants to primary and secondary schools are to be reduced and third level student registration fees are to be increased? How can an IMF-EU deal and a four year plan with no job strategy or stimulus for growth raise the numbers in employment? Everything the Government is about runs contrary to the stated objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy.

The Taoiseach:  I do not agree with the contention made by the Deputy. The policy framework that we are setting out is about stabilising the economy and then moving forward to growth for the economy, albeit recognising that very serious adjustments must be made. A precondition for growth, investment and increased resources for the State is the establishment of a growing economy, which cannot be established if there is a failure by Government to put to rights the financial stability of the State. No one could suggest that an investment profile would be positive if we are not prepared as a country to bring our finances into order.

If one considers our successive budgets, even in difficult times, the redistributive effects of much of what we have done has shown that, up until recent times at any rate, we have been able to provide standards of social transfer that far exceed European averages. If one looks at the progressivity of our tax system, where the top 8% pays 64% of income tax and 40% on working wages do not pay tax at all, it has been the result of a considerable effort made to improve the situation. Regarding the question——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is the effect of reducing supply. The austerity cuts——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, allow the Taoiseach to respond.

The Taoiseach:  The issue is what is sustainable for this country in the present circumstances and how do we ensure that we are in a position to promote policies of social inclusion. That last can only be done on the basis of sustainable finances. If one does not have sustainable finances, what one is really saying to people is that we will maintain the present level of provision for as long as we can but, as soon as we run out of funds, we will have to cut that by [401]40% or 50%. It is a far better proposition to get a sustainable level going forward and an adjustment over a period of years that would be sustainable and that would still compare quite favourably with our European counterparts.

  10.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will reconsider his opposition to the sale of State assets like ESB Powergen, Bord Gáis and ESB customer supply in view of the crisis in the public finances and the International Monetary Fund-EU intervention; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45063/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  As the Deputy is aware, I have responsibility for a range of commercial semi-State bodies. These companies play critical roles in the economy by providing essential infrastructure and services to consumers and enterprises. They are also significant employers and most of them contribute substantial dividends to the Exchequer.

The major energy utility companies referred to by the Deputy, ESB and Bord Gáis Energy, BGE, are key contributors to the achievement of the Government’s energy policy objectives. These objectives are fully in line with EU energy policy objectives. The State utilities are collectively committed to decarbonising the energy system in support of our smart economy. They ensure security of supply to the economy, business and domestic consumers through investment programmes in the energy networks and power generation, including major renewable energy investments. The supply businesses of ESB and BGE have also contributed to the much more competitive regime now operating in the electricity and gas markets.

The Deputy is aware of the review group on State assets and liabilities, chaired by Professor Colm McCarthy. Along with officials from my Department, I have met the review group, with which I had a wide-ranging and useful discussion. I expect the group will report to Government around the end of the year. In this context, the recently published national recovery plan indicates that the Government will consider the disposal of assets. The work of the review group presents an opportunity to examine existing structures and practices within the State ownership model, and to assess how best these valuable assets can contribute to national investment priorities and help restore growth.

I agree that given the current economic situation and the severe pressures on the public finances, consideration should be given to making the best use of State assets, including their possible disposal or part disposal. The consideration must be a fully balanced one which takes account of wider policy considerations and, in the specific case of our State energy companies, the vital role they are playing to deliver policy objectives such as security of supply, competitiveness and promotion of renewable energy. I am not in favour of any measures that will undermine the significant progress made to date in network and power generation investment and offering meaningful choice to business and domestic consumers. I remain of the view that State ownership of the energy companies was and will remain a key element in achieving these objectives.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I asked the question because of a speech the Minister made some weeks ago. I do not want to go into the question of NewEra, but the Minister largely misrepresented it and then underlined his opposition to the sale of any State assets. He pointed out [402]that a number of the semi-State companies are engaging in investment programmes, which is correct. Of course these are all the network companies that we would retain in State ownership. However, we are now in a different situation and need a stimulus in the economy. The National Pensions Reserve Fund has largely been given away to the banks by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government, and the best option, in my view, is to sell off the non-essential semi-State companies and a minority share in the monopoly companies to raise, according to estimates by Davy, some €9 billion, which is an enormous amount of money that could be used to fund a stimulus in the economy and avoid many of the very painful measures this Government intends to impose on the people.

The Minister did not answer my question. I asked him whether he was reconsidering his position, to which he indicated he was and he was not, which is typical of the Greens. One does not know whether they are coming, going or staying put. I will put the question clearly: will the forthcoming budget on 7 December include provision for revenues from the sale of State assets? If one looks at the budget, there is about €2 billion in tax cuts, €2 billion in spending cuts, and €700 million under the category entitled “other”. Does that include the sale of semi-State assets and in the event, will he vote against the budget?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I am not completely opposed to the sale of State assets, where appropriate, but the Deputy’s question asks about ESB and Bord Gáis Éireann. In regard to——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  And ESB Powergem.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister to reply.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ESB and Bord Gáis——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I did not ask about the ESB, but rather about ESB Powergem.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——I disagree with Fine Gael policy and do not believe it makes economic sense.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  What about Bord Gáis?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I believe that separating supply generation from the network businesses would undermine the investment opportunity the State needs. With regard to the benefits we are starting to see from the competitive and effective electricity and gas markets, the policy approach is working. Deliberately breaking up those companies would undermine something that is working and the investment case we need.

I say this in particular, with regard to the Fine Gael separation proposal which seeks to sell the generation and supply businesses——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Will the Minister answer the question about the budget?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The budget will be set out next week. Whatever it says in terms of revenue streams will be true but I do not believe——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Will it include the sale of State assets?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  ——it should include the sale of Bord Gáis Éireann or the ESB because those companies provide a significant dividend stream to the State, which represents important revenue at this time. Those companies are making massive investments in our State, and helping private sector companies use the networks to make other investments. These areas [403]of economic policy are working. What Fine Gael is trying to do would cause enormous dislocation in what is an effective energy policy approach.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  It seems the Minister has answered my question to the effect that the budget will provide for an initial public offer of the semi-States bodies. Will he confirm for me that there will be a sale of State assets under his remit in the budget next week? There is some confusion about the memorandum of understanding and perhaps the Minister can explain it. There is some suggestion to the effect that it has been agreed that if any State assets are sold, the money will have to go towards paying off the national debt and that the next Government would not have the right to use it as it sees fit. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The budget next week will be written by the Minister for Finance but I do not expect any major change in the policy that I have set out as Minister responsible for an energy policy that is working in terms of bringing down prices, introducing investment in jobs and having a competitive market where State companies allow other concerns access to the networks while at the same time allowing their energy and supply companies to develop. This policy is working, it makes economic sense and is creating jobs. What Fine Gael is planning would break up all that and damage the country, which I would not allow.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Answer the question.

  11.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    in view of the commitment in the four year national recovery plan to double the carbon tax, the measures he plans to take to alleviate the difficulties this will impose on persons on lower incomes who are struggling to afford to heat their homes; if he has achieved his programme for Government commitment to publish a fuel poverty strategy; if his attention has been drawn to the increasing number of disconnections in electricity and gas; his views that the growing social problem of fuel poverty must be addressed as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45227/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I share the Deputy’s concerns about the risks of fuel poverty in the current economic climate. The proposal over the period of the national recovery plan to double the price of carbon from €15 to €30 per tonne underlines the commitment to actions to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change. It was decided not to increase the carbon tax rate in 2011 because of other tax increases faced by householders. The carbon tax will be increased on a phased basis in 2012-14. The Government has been, and remains, fully committed to protecting vulnerable households from energy poverty.

Such poverty is caused by the interaction between energy prices, thermal inefficiency of the home and low income. Government action to mitigate energy poverty has focused on providing assistance through the Department of Social Protection and, critically, providing energy efficiency upgrades to low-income, or at risk households, under the warmer homes scheme. Payments under the fuel allowance scheme will be around €230 million this year. The electricity and gas allowances under the household benefits package will cost around €226 million this year. Overall, therefore, the Government is spending over €450 million on relieving fuel poverty this year. This is considerably more than the UK and other European countries.

The warmer homes scheme was established to systematically address poor thermal efficiency performance of low-income housing. The scheme provides attic insulation, draught proofing, lagging jackets, energy efficient lighting, cavity wall insulation and energy advice at no cost to eligible households. These measures significantly reduce the amount of energy required to heat [404]and light the home, thus bringing benefits to recipients in terms of energy affordability, health improvements and overall comfort.

Since 2007, I have steadily increased the funding year on year to the warmer homes scheme. This has enabled the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to deliver an ever increasing number of upgrades. In 2007, 3,378 homes were retrofitted. The following year, 2008, this increased to 5,343. In 2009, I again delivered increased funding, enabling 19,126 homes to benefit from energy efficiency measures. This year, I provided funding to deliver a target for the scheme of 22,500 homes. This target is set to be exceeded by year end.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Already 20,711 homes under the scheme have been completed by a network of private contractors and community-based organisations that stretch into every county in Ireland.

The increased level of disconnections is a concern for the Government, the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and energy suppliers. I am satisfied that all energy suppliers have put in place codes of practice setting out the steps to be taken before initiating a disconnection. This includes working with the customer and putting in place a payment plan, or working with a third party who may be acting on the customers behalf. There are also specific legal protections for vulnerable customers, which include prohibiting electricity suppliers from disconnecting elderly customers in winter months.

The CER has just published its decisions on disconnection charges and on how the costs of disconnection are allocated between suppliers and customers. I welcome these developments. Measures to protect vulnerable customers from disconnection, high energy bills and thermally inefficient housing will be set out in the proposed affordable energy strategy. I expect the strategy to be submitted to me shortly, with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Perhaps I should ask the Minister to reflect on what it is like to be poor and cold. We are in a very cold spell at the moment, and I ask him to consider the thousands of people who have a choice either to be desperately cold or desperately worried as to whether they can meet their bills. Already, about a quarter of the population is in arrears with some type of household bill.

I ask the Minister not to give the House the type of answers we get time and again, which do not provide a response to the question being asked. In the programme for Government the Minister promised that a fuel poverty strategy would be published in 2009. Why does the Minister make these promises when he does not deliver on them? That is a very clear promise. It is clear that it will be 2011. Why does he do it, and raise people’s expectations and hopes, just to dash them?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  That strategy will be presented within the coming weeks. It has been completed in my Department and we have to work within time lines with the Department of Social Protection and at Government level before publishing it. We will do that. I fully understand and accept what the Deputy is saying. In this very cold weather this issue is of critical importance, and I sympathise and have a sense of what those families are going through. That is why something like €450 million has been provided to try to help such families in such difficulty. Retrofitting 22,000 homes to ensure they do not have to use as much fuel is a critical and real response. Furthermore, the disconnections policy issue, which was raised at an Oireachtas committee, will be changed, with a different approach to be taken to ensure people are not inappropriately cut off and that the cost is not fully borne by the householder. We [405]recognise this is an issue that must be tackled through a series of measures, including buildings, low incomes and disconnection policies so that people are not moved from a difficult to a worse situation.

Deputy Liz McManus:  The Green Party drove the carbon levy idea. This tax, when introduced, was on the basis of there being in place a special fuel scheme to protect people on low incomes. This appears to have been abandoned. Perhaps the Minister will explain how he can justify this. The carbon levy is to be doubled under the four year plan. The Government has not yet told us how the effect of this will be mitigated for low income families.

Before the Minister goes on again about the warmer homes scheme, that scheme, desirable and all as it is, is extremely limited in that one must be in receipt of the fuel allowance to qualify for it. Thousands of people living in substandard cold homes, whose fuel bills are high because of the condition of their homes, will never get help under the warmer homes scheme. What does the Minister propose to do to help those people?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  It is critical that we target people in receipt of fuel allowances because they are the ones in extreme poverty.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Not necessarily.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  It is right that the warmer homes scheme targets these people. Also, this scheme has been increased ten-fold since the coming into Office of the Green Party. I have outlined how further funding can be provided and, a more effective way of delivering it by using the ESB, Bord Gáis and other energy companies to continue that work. Keeping heat in is the best way to tackle fuel poverty. This is the most useful thing we can do to ensure people’s homes are warmer. I am committed to ramping up this scheme through the provision of further funding. Deputy McManus is correct that we must target this area.

We must address this issue in the context not only of people in receipt of the fuel allowance but for those involved in other social welfare schemes. We must recognise the energy performance of buildings as being the key metric and must use our regulatory and social welfare provisions to make improvements in this area and to ensure private landlords upgrade their houses so that those in rented accommodation who are in fuel poverty are least affected.

Deputy Liz McManus:  That is cold comfort to people living in fuel poverty.

  12.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the reason he approved the purchase of Northern Ireland Electricity by the ESB and if he is satisfied with the price paid in view of the large debts of NIE; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45064/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  With the agreement of the Government, ESB received my consent, and the consent of the Minister for Finance, to the acquisition of Northern Ireland Electricity, NIE, in July last. These consents were given after consideration by my Department and the Department of Finance of detailed legal and financial advice in relation to the proposal and its implications for the ESB Group, including financial gearings, borrowing levels and investment programmes.

Under the terms of the transaction, ESB will pay £1,034 million, or €1,248 million, for the NIE Group, subject to certain adjustments when the transaction is complete. NIE is a regulated utility and its revenue is derived principally through charges for transmission and for use of its [406]distribution system. NIE’s regulated asset base at 31 March 2010 was £1,007 million, or €1,215 million. ESB will also assume obligations of NIE, including those under a £175 million Eurobond, which is the only debt to be taken on by ESB in this transaction. NIE made a profit after tax of some £60.6 million in its last financial year.

Together with the Minister for Finance and my Government colleagues, I am confident that this transaction, when complete, will be an investment that will be to the benefit of both economies in terms of potential synergies and will critically underpin the delivery of the ambitious renewable energy targets set by both administrations North and South. It will allow for greater co-ordination and network planning in relation to the integration of high levels of wind onto the systems.

Security of energy supply is critical for business and domestic consumers and continued cost efficient development of the networks North and South will ensure that the island of Ireland has secure, environmentally sustainable, energy supply for the long-term. This is crucially important for business confidence and competitiveness in both our economies.

In light of the detailed analysis of ESB’s own due diligence and all the metrics of this transaction provided to my Department and to our legal and financial advisers, I am satisfied that ESB will pay a fair price for the NIE assets. The acquisition will increase the regulated earnings of ESB and contribute to the value, profitability and growth of the group.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  This decision may turn out to be the biggest made by the Minister during his time in office. I hope he has made the right decision. I am concerned that adequate scrutiny has not been given to this acquisition.

Does the Minister agree that the €1 billion being spent by the ESB would have been better invested in the Republic of Ireland rather than on purchasing an asset in Northern Ireland? At a time when we need investment in our economy, would it not have been better to spend that money here? Can the Minister confirm — this is important — that the only obligations the ESB is taking on from its purchase of NIE is the €175 million Eurobond? According to NIE’s accounts, it is carrying a debt of almost €1 billion, a debt almost equal to its value making its real value approximately €100 million, yet ESB is paying €1 billion for it? Perhaps the Minister will confirm — this is important for the future — that the only debt the ESB is taking on is the €175 million Eurobond?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The position is as stated in my reply. This acquisition has been thoroughly examined by financial advisers for my Department, the Department of Finance and the company.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Which ones?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  It makes sense because this is a regulated asset which provides a steady regular return. There is very low risk attached to it. It broadens the regulated asset base which provides the company with stability and does not push up gearings to the high levels, in regard to which the Deputy expressed concern. This makes business economic sense. The acquisition has been examined at length because it is a large deal.

On the Deputy’s strategic point that we should not be investing in Northern Ireland, I disagree with that. We have during the pass three years moved to a single electricity market which is to the benefit of people North and South. This deal will further develop that. There will be economies of scale from this and developments on the network in the North will benefit from ESB’s involvement. Through this single integrated distribution network we can gain efficiencies across the Border regions and on our whole network. We have huge advantages on this island [407]in one of the fastest growing areas of the e-economy, namely, smart grid, because we have a single distribution network. That is advanced by this deal, which makes strategic and economic sense. I do not understand Deputy Varadkar’s figures.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The country is in crisis. There are 450,000 people unemployed and the Minister thinks it appropriate to spend €1 billion on power lines and €500 million on roads in Northern Ireland. The sooner this Government is out of office the better if that is its approach.

I wish to raise with the Minister the recent statement by the Green Party that it had been misled and betrayed. Yesterday, on “The Week in Politics” the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Carey, said he felt betrayed by the Green Party. The Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport, Deputy Hanafin, said the same.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Deputy Varadkar must remain relevant to the question.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Green Party in its statement said it had been misled and betrayed. Who misled and betrayed the Green Party?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Gormley, said the people felt that. I want to return to the key issue which relates to presenting economic growth for our country.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I ask Members to remain within the confines of the question.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Fine Gael is saying we must show where the growth is and where the new jobs are.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  In Northern Ireland, apparently.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  One area from which growth and new jobs will come is the green e-economy through the development of new electric vehicles, smart metering and renewable generation, which will bring with it a whole range of different services. There are huge economic opportunities for Ireland in this area. We are getting good at it. This investment fits in within that context. Fine Gael cannot on the one hand state in its NewEra document that it will do this, that and the other and on the other hand seek to stop any element of this happening, suggest we break up companies so they cannot invest and stop investments which make strategic sense. Fine Gael cannot on the one hand talk up growing the country and on the other come in here and when provided with specific policy details on how to do so state its opposition to everything. That makes no economic sense.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  It is in Northern Ireland.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The Deputy is talking nonsense.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  We do not want to grow the economy in Northern Ireland.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  We do not know how the energy area can and will grow.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Minister is more interested in Berlin and Belfast than he is in Ireland.

  13.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural [408]Resources    his view on the proposal to reduce reconnection and disconnection charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45065/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The increased level of disconnections of gas and electricity customers is a concern for the Government, the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and energy utilities. I emphasise the key message for all customers, which is to contact their suppliers to make arrangements before the situation gets to the point of disconnection. I am assured by all energy suppliers that they will continue to work with all customers in genuine difficulty.

The CER has announced its decision that the cost of disconnections for electricity and gas be shared equally between the supplier and the customer in the case of non-payment of account. This is an interim measure commencing on 22 December and will remain in place for 12 months. I welcome this measure and the CER’s recognition that the current economic climate is placing additional pressures on energy consumers and that customers’ rights needs to be enhanced. I also welcome the regulator’s decision to review disconnections charges levied by networks companies and the revision of the code of practice for disconnections to include additional supplier measures to assist domestic customers in managing their bills and reducing disconnection rates.

The Government is committed to mitigating the cost of energy for all consumers and policy and regulatory actions taken to date are paying dividends. EUROSTAT data on energy prices across the member states up to the end of June 2010 indicate that, in the 12 months to June 2010, Ireland experienced the largest decrease in electricity prices in Europe for medium to large business consumers with falls of between 20 and 35%. This compares to an average 4% fall across the rest of the Europe.

Ireland’s domestic energy prices have also improved in relative terms in the period to June 2010, with Ireland’s domestic electricity prices equivalent to the EU average and Ireland’s gas prices now 5% cheaper than the EU average. While working to keep downward pressure on energy prices, we will continue to address the needs of vulnerable consumers in these difficult economic times.

I am also working closely with the Ministers for Social Protection and the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to deliver a fully cohesive Government response to the challenges of addressing energy affordability in Ireland. I expect the affordable energy strategy to be submitted to me shortly with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This strategy will be the framework for building upon the many measures in place to protect vulnerable households at risk from the effects of energy poverty. These measures include social welfare supports such as the fuel allowance and the household benefits package advice on energy efficiency. The warmer homes scheme, WHS, administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland provides significant energy efficiency improvements in low-income homes. Improving the thermal efficiency of houses is a critical means of addressing energy affordability.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I am pleased that the CER has moved on this matter and that the cost of disconnection-reconnection will be shared. We have discussed the extent to which people are having their power cut off or “de-energised”, as the ESB likes to describe it. It is appalling that when people come to an agreement to sort out their bills, they are then charged for reconnection.

However, something has come to my ears in recent days about which I am concerned. While the ESB is cutting off power to vulnerable people who cannot pay their bills, it is giving free [409]electricity units to senior managers and executives and retired executives. Will the Minister confirm that the ESB does not give free electricity units to its well paid employees while it cuts off power to its customers?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I have not heard details of that but I will come back to the Deputy——

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Can the Minister confirm this is untrue?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I have never heard of such an arrangement. I will check and come back to the Deputy straight away.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Would the Minister be horrified if it was true?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Yes, I do not believe that it would be appropriate. I prefer to reply to the key issue of those in danger of disconnection because these are the people we have to care about. We have witnessed a change in the arrangements whereby the disconnection charge has been lowered but it is critical that under the new arrangements suppliers have to give clear written communications and refer to MABS in disconnection cases. There has to be a minimum of four successful contacts with the customer, at least two of which would be in writing, with each attempt to be made no less than three working days apart. There has to be a mandatory notice of supply disconnection with a minimum of seven to ten business days notice.

The CER has responded and the utility companies will have to respond further in recognising that there are customers in difficulty who have to be managed. The changes in the code will help and we will have to monitor everything to make sure people are not cut off in difficult times.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We cannot take Question No. 14 as Deputy D’Arcy is not present.

Question No. 14 lapsed.

  15.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on the need to retain the universal service obligation for postal services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45000/10]

  19.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the protections in the Postal Services Bill to ensure that An Post does not require State subsidy or support as a consequence of cherry-picking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44883/10]

  56.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the extent of any discussions he has had with An Post, management and staff, such as postal workers, post masters, sub-post masters; if he has set out his proposals at any such discussions with reference to the Postal Services Bill; if he has received submissions from the sectors; if he has agreed a formula to ensure countrywide next day delivery service and retention of the network at all levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44974/10]

[410]

  248.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the position regarding a matter raised in correspondence (details supplied) [45089/10]

  257.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his policy for the future of the postal sector [45336/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 19, 56, 248 and 257 together.

The Government’s core policy goal for the postal sector is to ensure that Irish customers, both business and residential, enjoy competitively priced, high quality postal services. The Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill 2010, which transposes the third postal services directive, has been published and Second Stage was taken in the Seanad last Wednesday. The directive provides for the final step in the gradual and controlled opening of the postal services market to competition.

In designing the new regulatory framework, the key principles are the maintenance of a universal postal service, the essential element of which is the collection and delivery of mail to every address in the State on every working day, and the development of a competitive sector providing competitively priced, high quality postal services to both business and residential customers.

The continuing provision and maintenance of the universal postal service is an explicit requirement of the directive. This key principle is enshrined in the new Bill, which designates An Post as the universal postal service provider. Designating An Post offers certainty to postal service users, An Post, the market and the EU that the universal service obligation will be met throughout the whole country, with no urban-rural divide. In addition, the Bill designates ComReg as the postal services regulator and one of its statutory functions is to ensure the provision of a universal postal service that meets the reasonable needs of users.

An Post has, to date, met the costs of providing the universal postal service from its own resources and it is my preference that it would continue to meet these costs from its commercial revenues. However, in line with the options permitted by the directive, a provision has been included in the Bill whereby any potential costs that arise in meeting the universal service obligation which are found to be an unfair burden will be met by the postal industry through a sharing mechanism.

It is right and appropriate that those postal service providers competing with An Post within the universal service contribute where the regulator verifies that an unfair burden exists. Exchequer funding of the universal service is not an option and consequently the Bill does not provide for such funding. There is a commitment to the delivery of a high quality postal service and the Bill provides that ComReg, the postal regulator, continue to set targets for and monitor the quality of service in relation to next day delivery provided by An Post, in its provision of the universal service.

Employment and service standards within the postal sector are the responsibility of the management of postal service providers. In addition, general employment legislation applies across the economy as a whole.

With regard to discussions held with An Post on the Bill, I and my officials regularly meet representatives from the company to discuss a range of matters of importance to the company, including issues relating to the liberalisation of the postal market. In addition, the issues for Ireland, arising from the directive, have been widely and comprehensively consulted upon. In 2008, a public consultation was held which elicited responses from many of the key stakeholders [411]in the sector. These fed into an options paper, published by my Department in 2009, which examined the options for a liberalised postal market and made a number of recommendations.

I also hosted a postal forum, in November 2009, which was attended by many stakeholders in the sector, including postal service providers, the wider business community, the postal regulator, staff representation groups and users’ interests groups, and in the main, there was broad support for the recommendations outlined in the options paper.

Following passage of the Bill through the Seanad I look forward to the debate in this House. It is my objective to have the legislation enacted before the end of the year.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I thank the Minister for his reply. I appreciate that the legislation flows from an EU directive but the difficulty with the universal service obligation is the context now is radically different from when the legislation was first proposed. An Post does an excellent job and it has proved to be efficient by making progress on delivery times and so on. The Minister referred to a consultation period in 2008. The volume of post declined by 10% in 2009 and it looks like it has fallen by 16% over the past 18 months. Volumes have plummeted as a result of the recession and technological advances and this will affect the capacity of An Post to deliver a universal service into the future. Will the Minister take on board that the recession is putting pressure on postal services? We all want a universal service. Does he consider that the sharing mechanism is inadequate? We have witnessed how the risk equalisation mechanism introduced for health insurance failed when it was challenged in the courts but, in regard to postal services, the position could be exacerbated by not having competitors in the market to pay for this sharing mechanism. The solution could be exacerbated for postal services by not having competitors in the market to pay for it.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I agree with the Deputy that the circumstances have changed in the last two years. The reduction in mail volumes have accelerated far quicker than anyone could have expected. Rather than being a motivation for maintaining the status quo, it reinforces the need that we will have to do something different. We will have to operate our postal services system in a different way. If we try to maintain the existing structure, operational arrangements and marketing approach in a dwindling market, it will lead to an ever-contracting service that would not be able to cope. We will have to reinvent and create new business opportunities that provide revenue and income streams for a highly skilled and committed workforce in An Post.

We raised these scenarios a year ago at a forum we held on the issue. What happens when the development of the Internet leads to a reduction in mail volume, but potential increases in other volumes? What do we need to do and how do we do it differently? The Bill going through the Oireachtas at the moment creates a better environment for an invigorated An Post that goes after new business opportunities.

Senator Quinn is a former chairman of An Post, and the speech he gave on Second Stage of the Bill in the Seanad was reflective of an attitude where we will have to look at doing things differently, allowing other providers in at various streams within the cost of business, and to give An Post a sense of new opportunities and new growth, rather than trying to maintain business as is happening at the moment.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I believe that the deadline for the transposition of the directive into Irish law is 31 December. It would appear that the Bill will not be enacted before that deadline. Can the Minister confirm this, or will he attempt to guillotine the Bill before that date? If it is not met, does the State face the possibility of having European fines imposed on it due to the Minister’s tardiness in bringing it before the Oireachtas? Can the Minister assure me that he will not use this Bill as some sort of excuse to extend Green Party participation in the Government into January or February?

[412]Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The Bill is going to Committee Stage in the Seanad tomorrow and I hope to bring into the Dáil as soon as we can after that, so that we can order our business to get it done before the end of the year. That is my intention. It is needed to meet the directive but also to give the workers in An Post and in the rest of this industry a sense of direction and new opportunities that I talked about earlier.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Nobody has a problem with the Minister’s approach. We are talking about competition and opening up new business, and this is not an issue. The issue is about the customer and making sure that whether one lives in Falcarragh or Foxrock, one is treated equally for postal services. From experience elsewhere, we need to do something specific to protect that universal right. That may include State aid. The Minister blithely said that this is not an option, but I understand that there is no reason it cannot be in the Bill and that the commission can make a decision on it.

The Minister should stop thinking about markets and getting excited about new business, and remember that the customer will lose out badly unless the safeguards are in place to ensure that regardless of where one lives in this country, one has access to a decent and efficient postal service.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I agree and the legislation seeks to maintain that universal service provision so that someone in Falcarragh is treated in the same way as someone in Dublin 4. The question of whether there should be State support for that depends on one’s perspective. I believe that the national distribution network could be an asset in a new business model that would have to develop, rather than a cost or a liability. For example, if we are looking to develop Internet parcels or other arrangements, having a guaranteed national network service with offices and skilled people is a huge resource, rather than just a cost. We do not have the State funding to provide support for that but I believe that the important thing to do is to concentrate on a new business model that will use that network to develop revenue streams that help pay for it.

  16.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if the position of the Data Commissioner regarding the introduction of a unique identifier postcode system has changed; if he will provide an update on the postcode project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44976/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Ireland is the only country in the EU and OECD which does not have a national postcode system. In the context of the national postcode project, I and my Department have had meetings with the Data Protection Commissioner and his officials as part of our approach to the introduction of postcodes. These communications have addressed the implementation, dissemination and commercialisation of postcodes in order to ensure that all pertinent data protection legislation is adhered to. Details of these measures will be made available as part of the procurement process.

An invitation to tender was issued on 10 May 2010 for consultants to assist in selecting a body to implement and manage the delivery of a working national postcode system. These consultants have now been appointed and are working with my Department’s steering group to introduce a six digit alpha numeric model that is also capable of being refined into a location based code. A process of consultation with interested parties has recently concluded. A prior information notice was published this month relating to the process and my objective is to move to the procurement phase within the coming weeks.

Deputy Liz McManus:  The Minister is great at making promises and then not delivering on them. He promised that we would have postcodes in early 2011, but there is not a chance in [413]hell of that happening now. How do these promises come about? I plead with him to ensure that we have the most efficient postcode system possible.

We cannot afford to do anything less and he needs to ensure that we have a unique identifier system. Nothing in the reports stated that the Data Protection Commissioner was saying that we cannot have a unique identifier. He said that there needs to be a debate. The Minister has had discussions and surely common sense will tell him that he should move to a unique identifier now and save a lot of money. This is better than going the route he is talking about, which is a cluster alpha numeric system that will be costly and will need revision all the time. The Minister talks a lot about market opportunities. The market opportunities of the unique identifier system are incomparably better than what he is proposing.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  We must have a unique identifier and we will have it.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Why not have it now?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  We will have it now because that is exactly what we are doing. We are about to procure that service.

Deputy Liz McManus:  The Minister is not doing that.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Yes I am. That is exactly what I said.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Minister said he would do it in the future.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I said that the procurement process will start within weeks. That will lead to the delivery of a postcode service that meets the objective of having a postcode that is easy to remember and that has a unique identifier that can be used within the proper data protection regime and which the Data Protection Commissioner has every right to insist on. In our meetings with the commission, we have outlined how exactly that can and will work.

  4 o’clock

We are ready to go with this. We consulted with about 60 different bodies and every single one of them stated that we are doing the right thing. We are finding huge savings in the public service and in the private sector, and in An Post. The further we go to getting this thing up and running, the more sense it is for us to do it and we have the right approach. It will be open in a tendering process to any company and any individual to explain how they can manage the system. We will get the least cost and the best solution, which is why there is an open procurement system. It will be done on a basis that delivers a postcode and a location code, because we need both.

Deputy Liz McManus:  We do not need both. The Minister sounds silly when he tries to sell this message. We started out with a cluster system.

I did not agree with it but it was consistent. However, it was challenged by the technology advance and Google Street View now allows one to pinpoint a house on a street at any time one wishes. However, one cannot have a postcode that pinpoints the same house and this does not make sense.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  A question, Deputy.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I again plead with the Minister not to have this amalgam that no one has sought. No matter what the Minister might say, people sought a cluster system or for a unique identifier but no one sought a system that has both. This is what the Minister proposes but it will not serve the people well at a time when we need to work smarter.

[414]Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Since I started this process three and a half years ago, I have stated at each step of the way that there should be a location code as well as a postcode. I stated that the Government accepted the work that had been done by the previous Administration in deciding that a postcode with an alpha numeric basis was the correct choice to make. While I agreed with this, I decided that we needed to go further by including a location code. I recognised this from the very outset and have insisted on it at each step of the way. The Deputy is correct that as the technology has improved, it has shown that the benefit of having a unique house identifier is becoming real. It must be done correctly, subject to proper data protection issues, to avoid invading people’s privacy. This can be done and is being stitched into the procurement system——

Deputy Liz McManus:  It will be a secret postcode. We will have postcodes but they will be a secret.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please. I wish to allow in Deputy Varadkar for a question.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  No, it will not be a secret. One will need to know one’s own postcode in order that when one is on the Internet or contacting other bodies, one may enter one’s identifier. People must be able to have ease-of-use of such an identifier. Remember——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Go raibh maith agat. If the Minister will allow, a final question from Deputy Varadkar.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I agree strongly with Deputy McManus that unique identifier postcodes should be adopted and that the location code should be one’s postcode. I believe this is the point we both are making. It is not just because of market opportunities, because other issues also arise, such as emergency access in particular. As someone who has done a small amount of medical work driving around the back lanes of County Kildare, the advantage of being able to pinpoint a particular house or farmstead with a postcode is huge.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  This could be a matter of life and death and not simply a matter of what type of post one receives. However, again I am completely baffled by the Minister’s answer. I understood him to state that we would have an alpha numeric-based postcode system that could be modified at a later stage to become a location code. He then stated that next year, which is only a few weeks away, we are going to have both. I really do not understand. Are we going to have a location code as a postcode or not? Alternatively, the Minister might clarify whether we are going to have a postcode that could be converted into a location code at some stage in the future but about which a decision has not yet been made. He might also clarify that if we are to have an alpha numeric system, although I would rather opt for a numeric system, will the alphabetic part of the alpha numeric code reflect the name of the area in Irish or English language?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Yes it will and that is one of the benefits of a postcode in order that people can remember and identify with their postcode, rather than simply a series of random numbers with which it would be more difficult to identify personally. Moreover, the identification code also allows one to adopt such a six-digit alpha numeric code into a location code as a separate field immediately, not far off into the distance but as part of the system. The Government intends to leave it open to a tendering process which will ask people to set out how they would suggest doing it and how it would work. Let all-comers come and outline how they would do it. However, we now are well placed in this regard. We have our data systems [415]ready to go, An Post has been highly supportive and people are rowing in behind the concept in the public consultation process. It is ready to go, to be purchased and to save Ireland millions. I am keen to get on with it and this will be done.

Deputy Liz McManus:  I must stand in defence of the people——

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

Deputy Liz McManus:  ——who are not so stupid that they cannot remember a number code. Perhaps the Minister is unaware that everyone has a PPS number.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  And a telephone number.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  If the Minister wishes, briefly.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Absolutely. They also would have a postcode number that would help them carry out a range of different services and would help the public and other services relate to them and achieve real efficiencies. It will be a major project, whereby our social welfare, health and education systems will begin to use these data fields to deliver services far more effectively.

Deputy Liz McManus:  The health service seeks a unique identifier.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  This is what we will be able to do with the unique identifier, which will be provided for in the new system the Government is putting in place.

  17.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his policies and those of the EU on alternative fuels; the steps he has taken to introduce a mix of fossil fuels and alternative fuels for the haulage industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42720/10]

  40.  Deputy Brian O’Shea    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the percentage of bio-fuels used here that is imported; the percentage of the 4% bio-fuel obligation that he envisages will be imported to reach that target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45002/10]

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 40 together.

The Government’s policy on renewable transport fuels is underpinned by the EU renewable energy directive of 2009, which sets a binding 2020 target of 10% renewable energy in transport for all EU member states. The most achievable and promising means of introducing renewable energy into the transport system are liquid bio-fuels and electric vehicles. In respect of renewable energy for the haulage sector, the mineral oil tax relief schemes, MOTR, and the bio-fuels obligation scheme are the most relevant measures.

The mineral oil tax relief schemes, which expire at the end of the year, were designed as an interim measure to enhance the level of bio-fuels in the fuel mix and to encourage the development of an indigenous bio-fuels industry. The objective was to establish and develop the potential of domestic bio-fuel production and to introduce early volumes of bio-fuels into the supply chain. MOTR II involved the granting of more than 660 million litres worth of excise relief to 16 companies, following an open tender competition in 2005. Prior to the introduction of the schemes, market penetration of bio-fuels in Ireland was almost non-existent. In 2007, market [416]penetration was 0.6% and by 2009 it had increased to 2.2%, approximately 42% of which was imported.

The bio-fuel obligation scheme, which came into effect in July of this year, establishes a clear, stable and long-term framework for the delivery of the national target of 10% renewable energy in transport by 2020. The obligation delivers the best balance available in providing a stimulus to the market. It will underpin the ongoing development of an indigenous bio-fuels industry, while keeping the cost to the consumer as low as possible. The legislative basis for the obligation is provided for in the Energy (Biofuel Obligation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2010. The Act is the framework for ensuring that Irish consumers have access to appropriately priced, sustainable and reliable sources of bio-fuel by creating a guaranteed market that will require in excess of 200 million litres of bio-fuel in 2011.

Domestic producers can access the market by a number of means, including sale of bio-fuel direct to obligated parties or alternatively, producers can sell into local markets or sell certificates earned to obligated parties. This trading mechanism allows the scheme to provide a stable market, protecting consumers from structural rigidities in the fuel supply market, which could result in episodic periods of high fuel prices, while also ensuring delivery of targets.

The level of obligation set for 2011, at 4%, represents almost a doubling of size of the existing bio-fuel market in Ireland. I am confident that the obligation will promote the sustainable growth of the Irish bio-fuels market, thus supporting the growth of sustainable indigenous production of bio-fuels. In the first few months of the obligation, the 4% market penetration target is already being achieved. This is early testament to the effectiveness of the obligation mechanism. The bio-fuel is primarily reaching the market blended with mineral petrol and diesel. The vast majority of Irish motorists are now using bio-fuels in their fuel mix at blends of up to 7%. A number of road haulage operators have already converted trucks to run on pure plant oil. Each litre of pure plant oil brought to market is eligible for a bio-fuel obligation certificate, which can be traded to obligated parties. This incentive will underpin further development of the sector.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I thank the Minister for his response, which in many ways indicates the point I was making. The pre-budget submission of the Irish haulage industry states that it is extremely disappointed with the amount of alternative fuel that has been made available and does not discern the provision of any viable alternative to them. At the same time, one should recall this is an industry through which 99% of all goods are transported throughout the country and for which fuel costs amount to 30% to 40% of the total. Last year, there was a 5% increase in excise duty, as well as the imposition of a further 5% carbon tax on diesel from 1 July, yet the haulage industry finds it impossible to source alternative fuels. The Minister stated that penetration was 2.2%, most of which is imported, whereas the target is 10%.

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

Deputy Joe Costello:  Why can one not get a viable alternative fuel source to fossil fuel at present?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  The scheme is designed to develop a stable bio-fuel supply in Ireland using a market mechanism that does not lead to huge price spikes and that is consistent. As I stated, the evidence from the first few months is that it is starting to deliver the level of targets I set. I acknowledge that it is primarily blended, rather than pure plant oil or other single fuel systems. However, the critical point is to provide a stable market that will allow alternative suppliers, where they wish to contract with a haulage company or anyone else, to trade in [417]obligation certificates. The creation of such a stable market and the placing of a value on an alternative fuel supply is the best mechanism for Ireland to try to set up that developing industry and to enable local producers here to supply to local transport providers. One must be careful with regard to the development of bio-fuels. Their purpose is to be a strategic backup reserve to try to provide some stability or security against future oil shocks but not necessarily to take off in a massive way that would have huge land use or other environmental implications globally. It must be developed sensitively. We have to monitor and review it. In particular, we have to look at the development of second generation bio-fuels that have fewer land use concerns. We have to do all of that within the EU obligation structure we have set up. I sense that it is working.

Deputy Joe Costello:  Given that no viable alternative to the carbon tax has been provided, is it not a punitive tax? Carbon emission targets have been set in the absence of a viable alternative. The haulage industry, which has experienced a drop of 40% in its activity already this year, is being penalised. Heavy fuel costs are being encountered within the industry, which is necessary for the distribution of goods throughout the country. The Government is not providing a meaningful alternative source of fuel. The Minister is sitting on his hands, in effect, in regard to the haulage industry.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  One of the purposes of this approach is the security purpose I mentioned. To my mind, it is the primary purpose in terms of security of oil supply. A secondary purpose is carbon reduction. As I understand it, one of the aims of the scheme that has been designed is to cut 700,000 tonnes of carbon from our transport budget.

Deputy Joe Costello:  When will it happen?

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  That is the equivalent of taking approximately 200,000 cars off the road.

Deputy Joe Costello:  While we are waiting for the future, we need to do something about the present.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  This year’s measure is the first step in the roll-out of that scheme. The scheme is meeting its target for the first year. We have to continue to review it to make sure the planned carbon savings accrue. We need to ensure new technologies, such as those relating to second generation bio-fuels, are fed into it. It is providing a mixed fuel supply system that helps to provide a more stable, clean and secure transport fuel solution, which is what it was meant to do. That will benefit the haulage industry in the long run.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Will the Minister accept that although the carbon tax has a nice name, it is just another tax? It is nothing more than a new tax with the word “carbon” stuck in front of it. Does the Minister intend to develop a facility to make progress with the development of alternative fuels? The Government has already wrecked the sugar company facility that would have served such a purpose neatly. Does the Minister intend to commend to his Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Finance, the introduction of a landing tax for our natural resources? He should do so while he is still there. The Green Party needs to exercise influence on the capture of some of the wealth associated with our natural resources. The people of this State certainly need such wealth at this time.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  The Deputy is broadening the question somewhat.

[418]Deputy Eamon Ryan:  Revenues from the carbon tax have been used for the retrofitting of homes, which is an issue we discussed earlier. The fuel bills of people suffering fuel poverty have been cut. This money has been used in a range of other energy areas to create jobs and develop the new economy. It is starting to work. We have been able to get a competitive and clean energy supply, which is crucial. We have started a process that will allow this country to tap into the comparative advantage it enjoys through its renewable resources. That will facilitate real national self-sufficiency, provide for long-term income streams and create jobs. As it is the clever economic thing to do, all parties in this House should row in behind it and ensure we continue to develop it.

Deputy Joe Costello:  The record speaks for itself. We have set a short-term target of 10%, but we have achieved just 2.2%. I do not know how we will fulfil that target. We are importing half of it already. The haulage industry is simply not getting any assistance in reaching its targets. As this industry has huge fuel costs, it should be a priority for the Minister. I would like to know why it is not.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  We are meeting our target. We have reached a level of 4%. We have to work on the measures that were included in legislation in this House to try to ensure these fuels are home-grown and Irish producers and farmers can benefit as a result. The legislative measures we introduced were supported on both sides of the House. We need to put them into action so that Irish farmers benefit from this as well. At the same time, we need to be careful. While bio-fuels give us security benefits, we do not want their land use effects to distort the price of food. We will have to keep an eye on both aspects of the matter. We will have to make sure the obligations system, which is working, develops sustainably.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.

An Ceann 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 Pádraic McCormack — the need for subcontractors to be paid by the relevant Department when the main contractor on a public buildings project goes into receivership or examinership; the protection of subcontractors who have worked on such projects, given that they are not at fault when the main contractor goes into examinership; and the right of subcontractors to obtain moneys owed to them; (2) Deputy Michael Moynihan — the progress being made with the purchase of a site for the proposed amalgamated national school in Kanturk, County Cork; (3) Deputy Deirdre Clune — the long waiting times for orthodontic assessment and treatment in Cork; (4) Deputy Lucinda Creighton — the performance of the Credit Review Office; (5) Deputy Joe McHugh — the future of white fish fishing in the context of the European Council fisheries quota negotiations; (6) Deputy Ciarán Lynch — the need for the Minister for Finance to debate the reduction or suspension of the disbursal of national lottery funds in light the continued popularity of the scheme, given that sales have increased by 20% over the last three years; (7) Deputy Joe Costello — the need to provide additional funding to local authorities to deal with the current weather conditions and to instruct local authorities to provide stockpiles of grit and salt; and (8) Deputy Tom Hayes — the need for the Minister to instruct local authorities to provide stockpiles of grit and salt to individuals to spread on local and regional roads, which carry the majority of traffic in Ireland but which are not being gritted or salted by the NRA.

The matters raised by Deputies Lucinda Creighton, Joe Costello, Tom Hayes and Joe McHugh have been selected for discussion.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Last Sunday, 28 November 2010, the future of the Irish people and the sovereignty of this nation was decided on behind closed doors. The deal that was announced last Sunday is a bad deal for Ireland. It has been forced on us because the Taoiseach and his fellow Ministers ran up such debt over the last ten years. Their inept supervision of the banking system, along with their negligence and arrogance, led to the collapse of that system. The Government refused to face the reality of these problems and the extent of its failures. As part of the deal, the International Monetary Fund and the EU institutions have arrived on our shores to bail out this State, for which our forefathers fought. The children of the next generation will pay for the obscene waste of money and incompetence of recent years. That will be legacy of the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government. We have been forced to borrow billions of euro——

The Taoiseach:  Where is the question?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  ——to prop up——

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

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Mismanagement, maladministration and misguided decisions have left the people with this problem. We are now depending on handouts from these institutions.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, this is not a Second Stage debate. We need a question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The bailout from the Swedish Government and the British Chancellor of the Exchequer is not what the people of this sovereign State expect from their Government

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  It is not what they expect from a sovereign Government. We now face a crippling debt that will place the Irish people in hock for the next generation.

The Taoiseach:  I am waiting for a question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  We face punitive tax rates because of the ineptitude of this Government.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, could we expect a question?

The Taoiseach:  It is a joke.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The family silver has been sold.

An Ceann Comhairle:  This is Leaders’ Questions.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The people’s money has been raided.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I expect a question.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In view of the collapse of this Government, can the Taoiseach explain how the deal that has been forced on the Irish people represents a good deal for Ireland and its people?

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

[420]The Taoiseach:  We have funding for this State’s requirements up to July of next year. There are choices available to this country. If Deputy Kenny’s view is that this deal should not be taken up, I ask him where he expects this State to get funding. It is clear that the secondary markets are charging over 9% for money at the moment——

Deputy Seymour Crawford:  Whose fault is that?

The Taoiseach:  ——whereas this deal offers money for 5.8%.

The second point I would make to Deputy Kenny is that this country now has the ability to draw down funds. We can now find the room and space in which to pursue a policy pathway that will enable us not only to stabilise the economy, but also to look for growth in the economy in the years ahead. It is a question of trying to find a means of increasing confidence in the economy domestically and internationally. We are a small open economy. We require the stability of the euro, which is the currency in which we operate. It is in our interests that the euro is stable. The agreement that was reached last Sunday will allow us to obtain moneys for seven and a half years, on average. This drawdown facility will fund Ireland’s requirements to the tune of €50 billion in respect of its own requirements plus allowing us to further capitalise the banking system so that we can have growth and jobs in the economy again. This is of fundamental importance and on that basis I believe it is the right deal for this country at this time.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  That does not answer the question nor is it any valid reason for accepting an agreement that is not in the interests of this country. The reason we cannot go near the markets to borrow money is because of the gross ineptitude, incompetence and downright arrogance of the Government over the past number of years. The Taoiseach created the situation in which this country has not been able to go to these markets. It ill becomes any Minister of the Fianna Fáil Government to come in here and tell us we are getting a good deal at the level of interest rates now being charged. What is happening here and what happened last Sunday was a demonstration——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Kenny——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Ceann Comhairle interrupts me every time I go to make my point.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am not interrupting the Deputy. I am requesting that he respects Standing Orders on Leaders’ Question Time.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Ceann Comhairle should respect impartiality.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I respect Standing Orders and I hope the Ceann Comhairle respects my right as leader of this party to make my point here. What happened last Sunday was a demonstration of the art and the craft and the skill of national destruction. This deal was done by a respected academic and a regulator without any real political input, bargaining or negotiation. It was done as if the people did not matter, as if the people did not count and as if the people did not exist, because if they did matter and they did count, and they did exist, they would have been consulted. They were not consulted and neither was this Parliament, this Oireachtas. It was a case of doing the deal in Brussels and let them eat cheese as the sleek limousines ploughed their way through the slush.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  Hear, hear.

[421]Deputy Enda Kenny:  This Government has facilitated the banks, it has facilitated rack and ruin and the placing of a debt on the shoulders of every man, woman and child in this State for the next generation. It is time to go. What is the Taoiseach’s response? I met with the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission, the very same Commission that yesterday sent a torpedo through the Government’s own growth projections for next year. What is the Taoiseach’s answer to a deal which was done behind closed doors and bulldozed through on a Minister who has lost political credibility and political momentum, a deal which is now foisted on the Irish people for years to come? What is the Taoiseach’s answer when that same Commission says that the growth rates as put forward by the Government are not valid and will not stand up? Does the Taoiseach have the courage or the gumption to see that this deal is at least put to this House by way of vote and endorsement, in view of the foul financial deed perpetrated on our people last Sunday?

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  On every occasion when a serious matter is discussed the Deputy seems to retreat into flights of rhetoric that fail to confront any sort of reality. That is his choice and his political style, as he seeks to grab a headline rather than to deal with the substance of the issue before us.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputies, the Taoiseach without interruption, please.

The Taoiseach:  The substance of the issue before us is——

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach has his head in the clouds. He has lost touch with reality. He is divorced from reality.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Reilly, please do not interrupt.

The Taoiseach:  ——that this country requires funding for its own requirements and to ensure we have a banking system in the future. This is what the Government is doing. This requirement will be a priority for the country in coming months and years. The Government stands by its own growth forecasts in our plans because it is clear the difference——

Deputy James Reilly:  The Irish people will sink underneath.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputy.

The Taoiseach:  ——in private consumption suggested by the Commission is a feature of forecasts from every international and domestic forecaster and such forecasts from the IMF, the OECD and the European Commission are not all exactly the same. However, the Department of Finance stands over its own forecast for next year at 1.75% growth. We need to rise above partisan politics now and again in this country. We need to inject confidence for our own people. Far from referring to Ireland as either banjaxed or an economic corpse, which have been the comments of the Opposition over the weekend at a time of serious import for our country, we need to recognise that——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I offered the Taoiseach an option last week and he did not take it.

The Taoiseach:  ——people are going to work, people are in business and we have entrepreneurs in both the public and private sector who are trying to provide a good wage and standard of living for the workers in those sectors. We need to offer support rather than this [422]constant negative rhetoric that emanates from the Opposition benches — particularly from the Leader of the Opposition — on every occasion. He fails to confront the basic issue, which is that the funding requirements of this State——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I offered the Taoiseach a constructive suggestion last week and he shot it down.

The Taoiseach:  ——are now on a far firmer footing as a result of making this agreement than would have been the case without making an agreement and that by setting out——

Deputy Enda Kenny:  He voted against credit for small business. He voted them down.

The Taoiseach:  ——that medium-term strategy for the country, we have a prospect not only of recovery but also of future prosperity.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The Taoiseach’s legacy is that we will be in hock for a generation, in debt for a generation.

Deputy P. J. Sheehan:  The time has come to bid adieu.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I did not think that it was possible for the Taoiseach and this Fianna Fáil Government to do any more damage to the country after the disastrous decision it made to provide the blanket guarantee to the banks which tied the banks to the State and which has brought us to this sorry pass with one disastrous economic decision after another. However, by any standards, the deal that was done last Sunday is a sell-out of this country. It is a sell-out of the taxpayer, who will now have to pay the full cost of bailing out the banks, protecting the European banks and paying the full cost for the mismanagement of the economy by Fianna Fáil.

Last Sunday, the Taoiseach and his Government took this country to the pawn shop. I cannot believe that he comes to the House and tries to convince us that what he got last Sunday represents some kind of a good deal. He got a loan facility but €17.5 billion of it is our own money, most of which is from the National Pensions Reserve Fund which should be used to invest in jobs and to get some growth back into the economy instead of it being pumped into the banks to follow all the money we have already pumped into them.

The Taoiseach has ended up with a rate of interest for the loan facility which is higher than the interest rate applied to Greece.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I do not know whether it is the Taoiseach’s intention but he has ended up with an agreement which, in effect, purports to tie the hands of the next Government. I do not believe it had to be like that because going into those negotiations with the international organisations I believe this country had some bargaining power——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question.

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——but the problem is the Government could not exercise it because it is now a weak Government in its last days. It did not have the credibility or the authority or ability to negotiate a decent honourable deal for this country.

[423]I have one question for the Taoiseach. Will he put the agreement to this House for its approval or rejection?

The Taoiseach:  First I must deal with the many assertions made by the Deputy before asking his question.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Taoiseach should just answer it.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Gilmore suggested that this is a worse rate of interest than the deal with Greece and that is not correct. He probably knows this is not correct but it does not stop him trying to say it to the public now that there is an opportunity on national television. The rate of 5.8% over seven and a half years compares very favourably with the 5.2% over three years obtained by Greece. If it is such a bad deal, why is Greece looking for terms like ours?

Greece has now indicated to the European Union it would like to have similar terms. If it is such a bad deal, is Deputy Gilmore suggesting the Greek President is seeking a worse deal than the one he already negotiated? Clearly that is not the case; Deputy Gilmore’s assertion is not correct and I will dispense with it on that basis.

Second, on the question of whether this was a good deal, on the basis of those negotiations, the Government went in with a four year plan that provides a forward path. It does provide, on the recommendation of the Governor of the Central Bank and the chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency, the best deal under the circumstances in which we find ourselves. I simply asked a question: what is the alternative? Is the Deputy suggesting that moneys are available from Europe under more favourable terms than those offered by the IMF? This is a technical matter, but the interest rate that applies to moneys from the IMF is the same as that of one of the European funds — 5.7% — while another European fund has an interest rate of 6.05%. The composite rate is 5.8%. It is not correct to suggest a better deal was available, because the basis of the calculation of interest is set out by those organisations. We also made sure, on the European side, that we were given interest rates comparable with that available from the IMF, since this was the first time one of the European funds had ever been used. Again, the assertion made by the Opposition was not correct.

On the question of whether this will tie the hands of future Governments, it is a matter for this or a future Government to decide whether it wants to draw down money from the facility. The terms and conditions upon which European partners are prepared to provide those facilities are set out. Therefore, there is no fettering of future Governments. If a future Government could go back to the markets to borrow at better rates than are available now, of course it would do so. That is what any Government would do. At the moment, however, given the market dislocation, this money is available far more cheaply than on international money markets. They are the only places from which we can obtain money. Eighty-five percent of our bonds are held by international investors. Where else do the Opposition Members suggest the money be obtained? We can obtain it either on the money markets at 9% or on the terms of our European partners at 5.8%. It is all right to come to the House and suggest otherwise, but those are the facts of the matter.

Deputy Gilmore asked about the possibility of putting the agreement to the House. The first instalment of money will be in the 2011 budget. Even if we had never had a banking crisis, our income level is much lower than our spending.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  That is the Government’s fault.

Deputy James Reilly:  Of course, the Government has nothing to do with that.

[424]The Taoiseach:  We must obtain €19 billion this year and a smaller amount next year. We are funded up to next June. If the Opposition does not have an alternative source of funding, it is saying that cuts of 38% or 40% will be required in pensions or something else, because we do not have the money required beyond next July.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  The Government has given it away.

The Taoiseach:  That is not a policy that is either credible or sensible.

Let us get beyond the rhetoric and deal with the reality. This country ran surpluses for many years. It has been hit with a financial and economic crisis and lost a third of its tax revenues in one financial year.

Deputies:  Why?

The Taoiseach:  We have been making corrections, but every measure we have introduced has been opposed by the Opposition. With regard to the banking policy initiatives, regardless of Deputies’ assertions to the contrary, what we are being told is that we must continue and accelerate them in order to increase the banks’ capitalisation. It is on that basis that we must seek funding elsewhere in addition to our own.

What is Deputy Gilmore suggesting? One journalist in the economic field, who has an expertise in this area, gave an analogy yesterday. If a person has a financial problem and goes to his family for help——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  The Mafia.

The Taoiseach:  ——but he also has a savings account, can he expect to have his problems sorted out without looking to his own deposits?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  We gave it away.

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the National Pensions Reserve Fund, I can quote many instances of criticism by Opposition Members as far back as the establishment of the fund.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  We gave it to the banks.

The Taoiseach:  When Derek McDowell was the Labour Party spokesperson on finance he said that €5 million or €6 million of it should be used to purchase building land——

Deputy Joe Costello:  Sold out to the banks.

The Taoiseach:  ——and other spokespersons from the Labour Party said in 2002 that the fund was a waste of money and that the money should be spent on infrastructure. The Labour Party was at no time a supporter of the fund.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  Give it to Seánie and his friends.

The Taoiseach:  In fact, in 2002, when Deputy Quinn was leader, it argued that the money should be spent, which would have inflated the economy further.

Deputy John Cregan:  Magic wand syndrome.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach has no shame.

[425](Interruptions).

Deputy John Cregan:  They have the magic wand.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  After what he has done to this country, to stand here on the day he comes back with a lousy deal and try to spin it as he has done is shameful. Let me tell the Taoiseach about the National Pensions Reserve Fund. What the Labour Party did propose was that we might have used it to provide the hospital places the Fianna Fáil Government never provided.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy John Cregan:  Do not forget the schools.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Would it not have been a better use of the fund to fund hospital places——

A Deputy:  Is the Deputy happy now?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——rather than to fill the hole in the banks — a hole, incidentally, the Government created?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Gilmore, could we have a question, please?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach comes in here and tells us he has a bargain for us.

Deputy Thomas Byrne:  I wish we had got a bargain from the Deputies.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  In anybody’s language, 5.8% is more than 5.2%, and it is far more than is being required of other member states. It is that high because of the economic problems the Government and the banks have created. The money that is in the NPRF, which could be usefully spent——

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  Hear, hear. To stimulate the economy.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  ——on providing jobs and economic growth and a bank that might actually lend to businesses, will now be used on top of the money that has already gone into the banks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we conclude with a question, please?

Deputy John Cregan:  They can wave the magic wand.

Deputy Peter Power:  Is the Deputy proposing that we borrow it? Is that what the Labour Party would do?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Taoiseach has come in here and told us the deal that was negotiated last week was a good one. Yes, we have gone to our family; that is true. However, our family has a problem too, and we were in a better bargaining position than the Taoiseach’s weak, end-of-days Government allowed for. A better deal could have been negotiated for us.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have a question, please?

[426]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  My question remains the question that the Taoiseach did not answer: will he put the deal to the House? The Constitution states, in Article 29.5.2°, “The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.” Will the Taoiseach put the lousy deal he negotiated last Sunday before the Dáil for approval?

The Taoiseach:  The agreement is not a international agreement as outlined in that article. The agreement is of the type referenced in Article 29.4 — Deputy Gilmore could have read that one out, but he did not — which deals with the question of exercising executive power in external relations pursuant to that article. The agreement makes available a facility for money which, in terms of financing and funding the State, is normally obtained by the National Treasury Management Agency——

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Does the Government have the support of the Dáil or not?

The Taoiseach:  ——on international money markets. Such bond issuances do not require the approval of the Dáil because they are not the type of agreement mentioned in Article 29.5.2°, which the Deputy read out.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  The Government should seek the approval of the Dáil anyway.

Deputy Brendan Howlin:  Does the Government have the support of the Dáil or not?

The Taoiseach:  However, let us leave aside that for the moment. Deputy Gilmore has not responded to any of the facts I mentioned with regard to the assertions he made.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is why I am asking the question.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Put it before the Dáil.

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

The Taoiseach:  What I have been doing, since taking office and since this crisis emerged, is to take every step possible, in the national interest, to secure our future and allow this country to move forward again.

Deputy James Reilly:  Every wrong turn possible.

The Taoiseach:  I have been opposed at every turn by the Deputy, which is fair enough; that is his democratic entitlement. However, he should not suggest that the policy initiatives his party suggested were correct, when everyone in Europe is saying precisely the opposite.

Deputy James Reilly:  Look where we are.

The Taoiseach:  They have said we must build on and accelerate the initiatives we have made to solve the problems in the banking system, and the Governor of the Central Bank, who is far more of an expert in this area than the Deputy or me, has confirmed that is what we must do to bring financial stability to the State.

The Deputy also attempted to make a broader political point, which was that he would have obtained a better deal. I am asking him simply on what basis he would have obtained that deal. How could there have been a change in the basis for the calculation of interest by the IMF or the European Financial Stability Facility?

[427]Deputy Liz McManus:  We would have a mandate.

The Taoiseach:  It does not exist.

Deputy James Reilly:  Not in the Taoiseach’s mind.

The Taoiseach:  The Government, over the past couple of weeks, has sought in every possible way to make sure the parameters of the discussion and the ultimate deal were consistent with our own interests in terms of the adjustments we would have had to make even if we had never had a banking crisis. Even if we did not have a banking crisis, these are adjustments we would have had to make. Second, and very importantly, we now have in place funding arrangements for the country that enable us to find the time and space to do what needs to be done, to deepen the reforms in the banking sector, to bring about a greater consolidation in the banking sector and to create jobs and growth for our economy as we provide the funds necessary to fund the pensions for our pensioners and to ensure we provide the hospital beds for our people.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have the Taoiseach without interruption, please?

The Taoiseach:  Regarding the National Pensions Reserve Fund, Deputy Gilmore cannot get away from the fact that the idea of the Labour Party coming forward as the guardian of the fund is at total variance with every public policy position he has outlined since the legislation was brought forward in 2000.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Government is closing hospitals.

The Taoiseach:  The debate that will ensue today and tomorrow will put it on the record.

Deputy Michael D. Higgins:  That is not true.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Jim O’Keeffe:  Has the Attorney General confirmed the position on Article 29.2?

Deputy James Reilly:  The Taoiseach is fond of legal opinion. Did he get that one?

The Clerk of the Dáil made the following announcement:

I gcomhlíonadh Bhuan-Ordú céad seachtó de na Buan-Orduithe i dtaobh Gnó Phoiblí, tá orm a chraoladh go ndearnadh, sa Chorrthoghchán a bhí ann an fiche cúig lá de Samhain, dhá mhíle agus a deich, de chionn an Teachta Pat ‘the Cope’Ó Gallchóir a thoghadh chun Parlaimint na hEorpa, an comhalta seo a leanas a thoghadh don Dáil:—

In compliance with Standing Order 170 of the Standing Orders relative to Public Business, I have to announce that at the by-election held on 25 November 2010, consequent on the election of Deputy Pat ‘the Cope’ Gallagher to the European Parliament, the following Member has been elected to the Dáil:—

[428]

Dáilcheantar Dhún na nGall Thiar Theas

Constituency of Donegal South-West .. .. .. .. .. .. Pearse Doherty

Tá Rolla na gComhaltaí sínithe ag an Teachta de réir Bhuan-Ordú 1.

The Deputy has signed the Roll of Members in accordance with Standing Order 1.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I wish to offer some words of welcome. Ba mhaith liom fáilte mór a chur roimh an Teachta nua do Dhún na nGall Thiar Theas, an Teachta Piaras Ó Dochartaigh. Gan dabht, thug muintir an Dáilcheantair sin freagra don Rialtas agus thacaigh siad leis an Teachta Ó Dochartaigh agus le Sinn Féin. I extend a warm welcome to the newly elected Deputy for Donegal South-West, Pearse Doherty. I also welcome his wife, Róisín, and his mother, Gráinne, who are both with us. I recognise that the weather has prevented many more people from attending, including family, friends and the extended organisation from Donegal South-West who, unfortunately, cannot be with us here today. Comhghairdeas leo agu fáilte rompu go léir. Deputy Doherty is deserving of every commendation for his courageous stand in vindicating the rights of the people of Donegal South-West through the courts and for his role as an elected representative of the people for many years, representation that has now secured the overwhelming support of the people in Donegal South-West in last week’s by-election.

In particular, I commend the Sinn Féin organisation in Donegal South-West and throughout the country which mustered help to ensure the success of the recent campaign. Clearly, it is a forerunner of a general election that we hope will be held sooner rather than later. I reserve my final and most important thanks for the voters and electors of Donegal South-West, who responded magnificently to the appeal of Deputy Pearse Doherty and Sinn Féin when they accorded him such a resounding victory in last Thursday’s poll. Go raibh céad míle maith acu uilig. The newly-elected Deputy Doherty will make his maiden contribution to the proceedings of the House at 8.20 p.m. this evening at the conclusion of Private Members’ business. Go raibh céad míle maith agat arís. Cuirim fáilte roimh an Teachta Piaras Ó Dochartaigh.

The Taoiseach:  Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a ghabháíl le Piaras Ó Dochartaigh as ucht a bheith tofa mar Theachta Dála do Dhún na nGall Thiar Theas sa toghchán a bhí againn an tseachtain seo caite. Is lá bródúil é an lá inniu dó féín agus dá chlann agus ba mhaith liom mo chomhghairdeas a ghabháil leis. I congratulate Pearse Doherty on his election as a Deputy in the by-election in Donegal South-West. It is a proud day for him and his family — I recall a similar occasion myself.

I am pleased to say that the circumstances in which the vacancy came about were not as a result of the death of the incumbent but rather the fact that Pat “the Cope” Gallagher has gone to the European Parliament having been elected a Deputy in the last general election for the constituency. As leader of Fianna Fáil it would be remiss of me not to take this opportunity to put on record our appreciation for the wonderful work he did throughout his time as a Deputy for that constituency on behalf of our party and the people of Donegal South-West.

I offer my congratulations to Deputy Pearse Doherty. It is his day today. The hustings beckon a good deal closer than would be the case normally but I wish him well and it is a great day for his family.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Ba mhaith liom fáilte mór a chur roimh an Teachta Ó Dochartaigh. Mar aon leis an Taoiseach, is cuimhin liom go maith teacht isteach anseo i ndhiaidh fothoghcháin blianta fada ó shin. Is cinnte gur lá bródúil é an lá inniu do Róisín agus do mháthair an [429]Teachta nua, Gráinne. Mar dhuine a bhfuil gaol agam le Dáilcheantar Dún na nGall Thiar Theas, aontaím gur fíor go bhfuil an fháilte seo tuillte ag an Teachta. Tá súil agam go néireoidh go maith leis as ucht a chuid oibre a dhéanamh mar Theachta Dála ar son mhuintir Dháilcheantair Dhún na nGall Thiar Theas. Mar a dúirt an Taoiseach, tá olltoghchán ag teacht go luath.

Deputy Paul Gogarty:  Tiocfaidh bhúr lá.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  Deirim leis an Teachta nua nár cóir dó a scíth a ligean ach gur cóir a bheith gnóthach sna sléibhte agus sna bailte móra agus na sráidbhailte, mar beidh sé amuigh ag iarraidh vótaí arís go luath.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Thar cheann Páirtí an Lucht Oibre ba mhaith liom cur leis an fháilte roimh an Teachta Piaras Ó Dochartaigh. Ar ndóigh, is lá bródúil é dó féin, dá chlann, dá pháirtí agus dá lucht tacaíochta é a bheith tofa mar Theachta Dála. On behalf of the Labour Party I welcome Deputy Pearse Doherty and congratulate him on winning the Donegal South-West by-election. I have a feeling that his membership of this Dáil will be short-lived but that he will be around for some time in this House and I wish him well for the future.

Deputy Eamon Ryan:  On behalf of the Green Party, I extend the same congratulations to Deputy Pearse Doherty. It is a proud day for him, his family and his party and we all recognise this.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  On behalf of the Independents I congratulate Deputy Pearse Doherty and welcome him to the Dáil. Also, I wish to say to his wife and mother that it is a great honour and privilege to serve in this House. I commend Deputy Doherty for the legal case he took. It was in the interests of the country and democracy and I look forward to working closely with him.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  Will we get the auld technical group before the budget?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Aontaím leis an fháilte agus an comhghairdeas. Go n-éirí an bóthar leis an Teachta sna blianta amach romhainn.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Before coming to the Order of Business, I propose to deal with a notice under Standing Order 32 submitted by Deputy Ó Snodaigh.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Ba mhaith liom an Dáil a chur ar athló chun an cheist rí-thábhachtach seo a phlé, namely, in view of the fact that nearly one quarter of all Irish women have been abused by a current or former partner, the need for this House to take seriously the unacceptable prevalence of domestic violence against women in our society. This is especially the case at a time of economic hardship when many families find themselves in difficult situations. As we approach the Christmas period, during which many studies have shown that instances of domestic violence are at their height, it is incumbent on Deputies on all sides of this House to support the campaigns of groups, such as Women’s Aid, and work together to muster the political will necessary to change this.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Having considered the matter raised, I do not consider it to be in order under Standing Order 32.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 5, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of financial messaging data from the European Union to the United States for the purposes of the terrorist finance tracking programme, back from committee; and No. a15, statements on the EU-IMF programme for Ireland and the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014. 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 adjournment of Private Members’ business which shall be No. 81, motion re stability and the budgetary process, which shall take place at 7 p.m. tonight or on the conclusion of the Leaders’ speeches of No. a15, whichever is the later, and which shall adjourn after 90 minutes; No. 5 shall be decided without debate; and the proceedings in No. a15 shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 7 p.m. tomorrow night and the following arrangements shall apply: the statements of the Taoiseach and of the Leaders of Fine Gael, the Labour Party, the Green Party and Sinn Féin, or a person nominated in his stead, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case, the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and of the main spokespersons for Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 20 minutes in each case, the statement of each other member called upon shall not exceed ten minutes in each case, a Minister 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.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 5 agreed to?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The first item on the Order of Business is No. 1, that the Dáil shall sit later than 8.30 p.m. tonight and shall be interrupted on the adjournment of Private Members’ business. I do not accept this Order of Business. No. a15 is statements on the EU-IMF deal. This should be a motion that should be voted on by the Dáil. Accordingly, I object to the Order of Business.

The deal was not discussed by this House nor were the people consulted about it. If we had real democracy like when we joined the European Union or changed its competencies, there would have been a referendum on this matter. The Oireachtas has not even been consulted. This measure requires a vote in this House and I propose that it should happen.

  5 o’clock

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Labour Party objects to today’s arrangements. The agreement negotiated with the EU and the IMF is the product of a process the Government denied existed until the very last minute. The Taoiseach denied he was entering into these discussions or that any discussions were taking place and then announced them last Sunday week. These discussions were undertaken without any prior discussion in the Dáil as to their content or the Government’s mandate and authority to conduct them. Instead, the discussions were conducted in private and the only information we have about them are the public statements made at their conclusion. The documentation, which sets out the detail of the agreements, has not yet been circulated, including the memoranda of understanding and the memorandum on economic and financial policy.

In any event, an agreement of this kind which is of such importance to the country, has implications for the country’s finances and budgets for the next four years should not be finalised without being put before the Dáil for decision and a vote. There should be a motion before the House today setting out whatever approval the Government wants for it. Instead, we are again getting the same old formula of statements. If the Dáil — the Parliament of the [431]country — is to have any real meaning, an agreement such as this should be put before it. In any event, I believe the Government is constitutionally obliged to put an agreement of this kind before the Dáil.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The five Sinn Féin Deputies do not agree to No. a15. I like the sound of that so I will say it again. The five Sinn Féin Deputies will not agree to the Order of Business.

Deputy Paul Kehoe:  They are getting there.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Government is proposing to act unconstitutionally by not allowing for a proper debate or a vote to take place in this House on this agreement. Last week I challenged this not once but twice. Article 29.5.2° of the Constitution states:

The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.

The Government is trying to force on the people an IMF-EU deal that will put not only this generation but future generations into economic bondage. No mistake should be made about it. No international agreement could have had a greater element of public funding commitment than this one. This is a matter that should not be addressed by statements but by a full debate and vote in this House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  This is going to be a Second Stage speech.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We are being asked to nod through this agreement when this morning——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Order of Business allows for a brief intervention, not a Second Stage contribution.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——on the national airwaves the Minister for Justice and Law Reform stated:

Clearly there were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us, as a sovereign state, into making an application, throwing in the towel before we had even considered it as a government. There was quite incredible pressure on this country and, if you notice, they are doing the same with Portugal now.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  How can this deal be accepted when, first and constitutionally, it should be properly put to the elected representatives of the people?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will have ample opportunity to make these points later.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  In Sinn Féin’s view, this deal should not be debated at all. The Taoiseach published whatever information he had on this deal in the four year plan. I suggest——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please, we are on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——the Taoiseach goes to the Phoenix Park this evening to dissolve this Dáil.

[432]An Ceann Comhairle:  We are on the Order of Business, not Second Stage.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  He should allow the people the opportunity to have their say. No other action is acceptable.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy will resume his seat.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  A Cheann Comhairle, you are the only one who will not have to contest your seat in the upcoming general election.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We can discuss those matters another time but not on the Order of Business.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  This agreement is neither acceptable nor constitutional.

The Taoiseach:  This agreement is in compliance with our Constitution. Draw-down facilities are available on an ongoing basis.

These specific facilities are being provided at rates which are far less than the normal source of that funding, which is the international money markets. From the point of view of the country’s stability, it is important that we avail of these funds. To those who criticised it, I have repeatedly asked what their alternative is. The luxury of being in opposition, however, is that they do not have to have an alternative.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We have already made that suggestion long before now.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We need to move on.

Deputy Seán Barrett:  Go to the country and let the people decide.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Are the arrangements for the late sitting agreed to?

Deputy James Reilly:  They are not agreed to.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with the late sitting be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 69.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Brady, Johnny.
 Browne, John.  Byrne, Thomas.
 Calleary, Dara.  Carey, Pat.
 Collins, Niall.  Conlon, Margaret.
 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.
 Hanafin, Mary.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 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, Peter.  Power, Seán.
 Roche, Dick.  Ryan, Eamon.
 Sargent, Trevor.  Scanlon, Eamon.
 Smith, Brendan.  Treacy, Noel.
 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.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doherty, Pearse.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Higgins, Michael D.  Howlin, Brendan.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kenny, Enda.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lynch, Kathleen.
 McCormack, Pádraic.  McEntee, Shane.
 McGrath, Finian.  McHugh, Joe.
 McManus, Liz.  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.  Reilly, James.
 Ring, Michael.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sheahan, Tom.  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 Paul Kehoe.

Question declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. 5, motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of the agreement between the EU and the US, back from committee, without debate, agreed to?

[434]Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  It is not agreed. Given the level of leaks of classified and restricted documents of late from the US, in particular on wikileaks.org, and the question of data protection, which this motion must properly address, rather than pass this motion I suggest we delay its passage until the full extent of the undermining of restricted and sensitive documentation in the US has ended. In this way, European and Irish citizens in particular can know that whatever documentation and data are being processed and sent to the US fall within a proper data protection regime rather than having the possible consequence of exposure in The Guardian or wherever else the material from wikileaks.org turns up.

The Taoiseach:  The scope of the application of the agreement is limited explicitly to the purpose of prevention, investigation, protection and prosecution of terrorism or terrorist financing. I cannot understand why anyone would be opposed to that.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  Will Deputy Ó Snodaigh publish his data on Members of thisHouse?

Question, “That the proposal for dealing with No. 5, without debate, be agreed to,” put and declared carried.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with No. a15, statements on the EU-IMF Programme for Ireland and the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, agreed to?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is not agreed for the reasons I have already stated. It is incredible that the Government persists with an alleged certainty——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, we have been over this territory during Leaders’ Questions.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Am I allowed to speak at all?

An Ceann Comhairle:  A brief statement.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I am making the point, once again, that it is our belief, and it is not confined to Sinn Féin opinion, that what is proposed——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Can we have some ciúnas in the Chamber?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I hope that applies to speakers here as it applies to speakers elsewhere in the Chamber. What is involved in this IMF deal requires not only statements in this House but a proper debate and a vote. Constitutionally, the Government is obliged to refer this matter for the approval of the Dáil because public moneys are indeed involved and Article 29 of the Constitution——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, I will not allow the debate to develop.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Something that has been ordered in the House and could be contrary to the terms of the Constitution is a valid matter for a Member of this House to raise. That is what I am drawing attention to. It is my belief, as a Member of this House and a belief shared by my colleagues in Sinn Féin, that this is——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Provision has been made for statements and a question and answer session at the end.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  ——unconstitutional and I refer the Taoiseach to Article 29 of the Constitution and request that the matter be properly addressed in this House and that [435]a vote be taken. The preference of Sinn Féin is that the Taoiseach does not proceed with this and that the only steps he takes are to Áras an Uachtaráin to convey his resignation and that of this Government.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The Labour Party is opposed to the proposal and I set out the reasons for this during Leaders’ Questions and when I spoke on the proposal for the late sitting. I do not propose to repeat those reasons.

The Taoiseach:  My response has set out that this matter is totally within the exercise of executive power and external relations pursuant to Article 29.4 of the constitution rather than Article 29.5 and Article 29.6, to which Deputy Gilmore referred earlier. Now that Deputy Ó Caoláin has come round to recognising the legitimacy of the State, I would have thought he would also recognise the legitimacy of raising finances for the State.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is clear that if the Taoiseach is resorting to that response, he is lost.

Question put: “That the proposal for dealing with No. a15 be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 76; Níl, 68.

 Ahern, Dermot.  Ahern, Michael.
 Ahern, Noel.  Andrews, Barry.
 Andrews, Chris.  Ardagh, Seán.
 Aylward, Bobby.  Behan, Joe.
 Blaney, Niall.  Brady, Áine.
 Brady, Cyprian.  Browne, John.
 Byrne, Thomas.  Calleary, Dara.
 Carey, Pat.  Collins, Niall.
 Conlon, Margaret.  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.  Harney, Mary.
 Haughey, Seán.  Healy-Rae, Jackie.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kelly, Peter.
 Kennedy, Michael.  Killeen, Tony.
 Kitt, Michael P.  Kitt, Tom.
 Lenihan, Brian.  Lenihan, Conor.
 Lowry, Michael.  McEllistrim, Thomas.
 McGrath, Michael.  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, Peter.
 Power, Seán.  Roche, Dick.
 Ryan, Eamon.  Sargent, Trevor.
 Scanlon, Eamon.  Smith, Brendan.
 Treacy, Noel.  Wallace, Mary.
 White, Mary Alexandra.  Woods, Michael.



[436]Níl
 Allen, Bernard.  Bannon, James.
 Barrett, Seán.  Breen, Pat.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Bruton, Richard.
 Burke, Ulick.  Burton, Joan.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Carey, Joe.
 Clune, Deirdre.  Costello, Joe.
 Coveney, Simon.  Crawford, Seymour.
 Creed, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Doherty, Pearse.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Martin.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Gilmore, Eamon.
 Hayes, Tom.  Higgins, Michael D.
 Howlin, Brendan.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kenny, Enda.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  McCormack, Pádraic.
 McEntee, Shane.  McGrath, Finian.
 McHugh, Joe.  McManus, Liz.
 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.
 Reilly, James.  Ring, Michael.
 Shatter, Alan.  Sheahan, Tom.
 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 Paul Kehoe.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  In view of the comments made by the Governor of the Central Bank yesterday that he sees the wind-up or wind-down, as the case might be, of Anglo Irish Bank taking place in the very near future, does the Taoiseach consider it necessary to introduce legislation to give effect to any element of that wind-down of the bank or can this be done by financial recommendations or directions from the Department of Finance or the Central Bank withdrawing a licence?

I was concerned recently at the discussion that took place at the Committee of Public Accounts when the representatives of NAMA attended. This is now causing paralysis and complete gridlock in the property business. Is there any mechanism available to the Oireachtas or the Government in view of the way that NAMA has been set up to prize it open, as it were, to create some fluidity in the property market which is currently gridlocked and paralysed?

The Taoiseach:  On the question of the bank reorganisation that is envisaged as a result of the discussions that took place, banking legislation will come to the House the week after the budget. We will need co-operation on it because it is important that it is brought forward.

On the more general question regarding the building industry and the role NAMA has played, there is a further proposal that land and property portfolios worth less than €20 million [437]will be considered for inclusion in NAMA. That is part of the programme. We must arrange for legislation to come to the House the week after the budget on that matter. We seek the support and co-operation of everyone in the House to ensure that the legislation proceeds because it is in the interests of the country that it happens.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I note the comments made by Mr. Peter Bacon, who was the original author of the NAMA concept. He made a point about public interest directors and whether they are entitled to comment on the situation in so far as NAMA is concerned. Has the Minister for Finance asked the public interest directors for their views on Mr. Bacon’s comments?

The Taoiseach:  I am not aware that is the case. As I said, I am not au fait with the precise comments to which the Deputy referred, but these are matters that could be addressed to the Minister himself.

Deputy Joan Burton:  On the same matter of banking related legislation, will the Taoiseach confirm whether legislation will be required in respect of the National Pensions Reserve Fund making investments in banks like Anglo Irish Bank, the EBS and Irish Nationwide Building Society? When will the Minister for Finance introduce that legislation in the House?

Yesterday, there was mention in The Irish Times that the Minister for Finance had extended a guarantee, presumably by ministerial order, to Anglo Irish Bank in respect of securitised loan transactions which were the subject of derivatives and, possibly, credit default swaps. Will the Minister bring an order to the House in respect of this further guarantee and will he specify the amounts involved?

When is it proposed to introduce the additional legislation on the transfer of the remaining loans for property, land and so on from the covered institutions to the National Asset Management Agency? I understand that legislation will be required in terms of the NPRF. Given this agreement, when will that legislation be before the House? Will the Minister undertake to provide a special debate tomorrow on the guarantee in respect of securitised transactions and derivatives in Anglo Irish Bank or will he introduce an order in the House, which would be the requirement, regarding those transactions?

The Taoiseach:  In respect of the NPRF, as the Deputy is aware, there is already legislation in place that enables the fund to be used for banking, for example, in AIB and Bank of Ireland.

Deputy Joan Burton:  No.

The Taoiseach:  The power to direct the NPRF Commission is there.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Directed investments.

The Taoiseach:  There is also the question of looking at all of the legislative requirements that would arise. We would look to the co-operation of the Opposition the week after the budget to facilitate that and to accelerate the re-organisation. It is in everyone’s interest now that we have available to us the funds that will be required to accelerate and deepen the reforms of the banking system, as has been suggested.

Deputy Joan Burton:  The Taoiseach has not answered the question, which was on the extension——

An Ceann Comhairle:  There is probably another way to raise this matter.

[438]Deputy Joan Burton:  ——of a specific guarantee to Anglo Irish Bank. Will there be a statement in the House as to how that came about?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We are rocking the foundation of the banking system.

Deputy Joan Burton:  More importantly, the investments in the Bank of Ireland and——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Order of Business is not Question Time and there will be opportunities to ask these questions at a different time. Will the Deputy co-operate with the Chair?

Deputy Joan Burton:  The investments in the Bank of Ireland and AIB were indirect investments because they were quoted companies at the time. Investments in Anglo Irish Bank, EBS and INBS are not direct investments.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Statements are scheduled and the Deputy will have an opportunity to ask these questions at that point.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Has the Government received the advice of the Attorney General on this matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  These are ideal questions for later.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Legislation might be required to direct the NPRF. I do not agree that the Minister for Finance has those powers.

The Taoiseach:  Can I make a point?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We are not putting moneys from the pension fund into Anglo Irish Bank.

The Taoiseach:  There is no question of NPRF money going into Anglo Irish Bank, if that is the consideration. As to the other consideration that the Deputy mentioned concerning derivatives, this issue first came up when Deputy Rabbitte spoke on radio on Sunday. It was conveyed as being a revelatory matter. In fairness, whatever point Deputy Rabbitte was seeking to make, it was cleared up by the Governor of the Central Bank yesterday in his interview. This emphasises the need for us all to try to deal with these matters in a calm, measured way. We do not want a situation in which people do not have confidence in the system we have. We are talking about strengthening the system, providing more capital to it, engaging in more re-organisation of the system and bringing forward legislation that will provide for that. Let us do that in a way that, for the benefit of everyone going forward, we will have a banking system in which our people will know their deposits are safe.

As to the question of looking to problems, we are dealing with all of the problems that have been identified as they have been identified. The Governor of the Central Bank gave some reassurance in respect of this matter yesterday. It is incumbent on us all to try to raise issues that need to be raised, but let us raise them in a calm and measured way and deal with them on a factual basis.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I have one question for the Taoiseach. It relates to the Government’s intention to cut the national minimum wage by €1 per hour. As I understand it, this cannot be done by way of ministerial order in the absence of a Labour Court recommendation or a national agreement to that effect. Primary legislation will be required if the Government wants to proceed with its intention to cut the national minimum wage. Does the Government intend to introduce a Bill to cut the minimum wage? Of everything we have heard in recent [439]times, this is the one measure with which the Government should not proceed. People on the lowest level of pay should not have it cut. The Government should abandon this idea.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot debate the matter at this point.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  If the cut is to be proceeded with, I understand it will require legislation. Does the Government intend to introduce such legislation and when will that be?

The Taoiseach:  Legislation will be required and it will be brought forward as a post-budget matter. I understand it is agreed by everyone that there should be a review of the whole REA system as well.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is different.

The Taoiseach:  On the basis that this issue must be addressed, there is also the issue of the minimum wage. We still have a minimum wage that is one of the highest in Europe and it has been raised in excess of inflation. These are difficult points and difficult structural reforms that have to be considered and implemented in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, but we need to proceed to make sure that we provide as much flexibility in the marketplace as possible. For many people in labour-intensive sectors like hospitality and elsewhere, we need to make sure that we can provide opportunities for our own people and that they can take up some of those opportunities.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  That is rubbish.

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  How dare Deputy Gilmore talk to the Taoiseach like that in the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot debate this matter now.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The minimum wage applies to people who have a relatively small——

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  The Deputy is Mr. Unreality. We have spent two years listening to his economic unreality.

Deputy Liz McManus:  It is apropos.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  May I ask about——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, there will be ample opportunity to expand on the points Deputy Gilmore wishes to make at a later stage, but not on the Order of Business.

Deputy Bobby Aylward:  The Labour Party banjaxed the——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  I am asking about legislation, but the Taoiseach did not answer as to when the Government intends to introduce this legislation. Primary legislation is required. It is a mean attempt by the Government in any attempt.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask Deputy Gilmore to respect the judgment of the Chair.

Deputy Dick Roche:  He dodges the issues.

[440]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Legislation regarding the timely calling of by-elections has been recommended by two Oireachtas committees on the Constitution, one in 1996 and again this year. Following the by-election in Donegal South-West, has the Taoiseach given any consideration to a call from a variety of parties across this Chamber for legislation to be introduced by agreement to the effect that by-elections will be held——

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

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  That is what he is asking.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Has it been promised?

Deputy Brian Lenihan:  We will be here until next Christmas.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Does the Ceann Comhairle understand? Two Oireachtas committees have recommended that this take place. I am asking the Taoiseach whether, as a collection of political voices in the House have urged, he will sit down or designate someone to sit with the other parties to agree what is a reasonable timeframe? We waited a long time for the Donegal South-West by-election, so the Taoiseach can wait——

The Taoiseach:  It is a long sentence. I know exactly what question Deputy Ó Caoláin is asking, but I did not think it would take him so long to ask it. I can answer it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We waited a long time for Donegal South-West, so the Taoiseach can wait until after I get out two sentences. Will the Government facilitate legislation?

The Taoiseach:  I feel like Bruce Grobbelaar. I will try to put the Deputy off in a minute.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I know the Taoiseach is weary, God bless him. He knows what to do when he is that weary — it is time to chuck it in. I am asking whether he will facilitate legislation now to allow for by-elections within a clearly defined period.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will the Deputy desist for a moment, as the Taoiseach is anxious to reply to him?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  Will he save the taxpayers’ money that he is squandering in his Supreme Court appeal? It is time to stop it.

The Taoiseach:  I have responded to this already. There is an issue on appeal to the Supreme Court and it needs to be clarified for the purpose of providing certainty regarding whatever laws are made in the future if we decide there should be a definitive timeframe within which by-elections are held. This is not the case under statutory law at the moment, but it should be decided and we need to have a Supreme Court interpretation behind the issue.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Supreme Court has made an interpretation in relation to the judgment.

The Taoiseach:  I have given my reply. The Deputy may not agree with it but that is my reply.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is going to have to pursue the matter by way of a parliamentary question.

[441]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  He knows that is not the right answer. Does he want three more by-elections or to exit in a general election?

The Taoiseach:  Which does he want? He wanted a general election a few minutes ago.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We want a general election first.

The Taoiseach:  He wants the three by-elections first and then a general election. The Deputy should go off to the Politburo and find out what they want. Gerry wants a general election. We are getting mixed messages here.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, I call the good Deputy from Dublin North, Deputy James Reilly.

Deputy James Reilly:  I want to ask about the VHI and its recent edict to private hospitals, as reported to me, to the effect that there is now a cap on funds available and certain procedures must stop or they will not be paid for. I remind the House that the VHI’s contract is with its clients. It cannot advise me as a client not to have a heart attack over Christmas, or any other ailment that might befall me or the hundreds of thousands of its members.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy——

Deputy James Reilly:  I am sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, but this is an outrageous situation. The VHI is now adopting HSE-style tactics to health and to the health issues of the country.

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

Deputy James Reilly:  If it cannot afford to pay the hospitals, it should renegotiate the fee structure. It cannot simply say there is a cap and no more procedures for hips, tonsillectomies or stents are to be done. I am referring to item No. 70, the risk equalisation transitional Bill, and asking when it will be introduced, if the Government is going to address this issue or whether the VHI is completely out of control. Will the Minister for Health and Children make a statement to the House on the matter as she is the main shareholder on behalf of the people?

The Taoiseach:  There is no legislation.

Deputy James Reilly:  He lets the country go to rack and ruin, but he should try to look after the healthy.

Deputy David Stanton:  Last January, the Minister for Transport indicated that legislation would be introduced to oblige people to clear footpaths outside their homes and businesses in the event of the type of weather we have at the moment, snow, ice and so on. I am not sure whether I missed that legislation or if it is still pending. It seems to be needed at this point, and was promised.

The Taoiseach:  There is no legislation promised, I understand.

Deputy Noel Dempsey:  There is none needed either. I will talk to the Deputy afterwards.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  Regarding the EU directive pertaining to the deposit guarantee scheme, whereby €2.7 billion has to be put into security in the Central Bank by 2020, will the Taoiseach say whether provision has been made for this in discussions with the IMF-EU, and where this is——

[442]An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, there will be ample opportunity to raise this point and to ask that question. We must finish the question and answer session. The Minister for Finance, I am sure, will be taking questions on that point.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  There was no need to interrupt me. That is approximately €300 million per year, being set aside for the next ten years.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy does not listen to me. He may ask that later on at the conclusion of the Order of Business.

Deputy Tom Sheahan:  The Government is talking about the shrinkage of the banking system, so where is the money going to come from? That is all I want to know. Has provision been made for it?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Pat Rabbitte.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  There is further change to the schedule of business. The Multi-Unit Development Bill was scheduled for Report and Final Stages. That is the Bill to do with management companies and it has fallen off the schedule to be replaced by the Dublin mayor Bill. There are literally tens of thousands of people waiting six or seven years and we are within an ace of completing the Bill. It looks like the house of cards could come down before the Bill and it could fall. Meanwhile, the Taoiseach gives the slot to keep the Minister, Deputy John Gormley, on board. If that is the only way the Taoiseach can keep him on board, I know what I would tell him to do with his Dublin mayor Bill.

We need to complete this legislation and I ask the Taoiseach to give a commitment to the House that we will complete it before Christmas.

The Taoiseach:  It is intended——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I support what Deputy Rabbitte said.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Durkan, the Taoiseach was going to tell us what the position was. It could have anticipated your question in the matter.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I agree with what Deputy Rabbitte said.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not necessary.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hold on now, a Cheann Comhairle. There is enormous concern, particularly among young home owners who have been faced with responsibility arising from development that has taken place over the last ten years and who have had huge costs foisted on them. I totally support Deputy Rabbitte’s point and call on the Taoiseach to bring that legislation back before the House now.

The Taoiseach:  As I said, it is intended to deal with that legislation before Christmas. We had to provide for statements here in relation to current matters. We are trying to accommodate everyone. We also have a Social Welfare Bill that has to be passed before the budget as well.

Deputy Pat Rabbitte:  The Taoiseach is replacing it with this Dublin mayor Bill.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Rabbitte, please, allow the Taoiseach to explain the position.

[443]The Taoiseach:  It is not about replacing it, but rather of trying to get through all the business, and we will get through that as well.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We will move on to the motion re the approval of Dáil Éireann——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I want to ask about something else.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please, you can do so tomorrow and the following day.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  That is the reason the country is in the state it is in — tomorrow will do for everything. Can I respectfully ask the Taoiseach, arising from the points raised by Deputies Kenny and Gilmore earlier about banking legislation — there is promised legislation on this, about which I have asked several times before — and given the views expressed by the Governor of the Central Bank, whether any direction has been given by Government as to when the necessary legislation to consolidate the body of legislation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am sure the Deputy will be speaking later in the statements process, when these points can be made.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is a separate issue that is of enormous importance, a Cheann Comhairle, because it relates to policy and whether there is any particular reason for the delay in bringing the legislation before the House.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is not in order.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Why should the Governor of the Central Bank have to ask the European negotiators what should be done about a particular bank?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  This is about promised legislation, but the Taoiseach is not answering.

The Taoiseach:  I have told the Deputy about this on a number of occasions — let us be fair about this now. We have important issues to deal with, including any queries Deputies have, but I have answered this question about the Central Bank consolidation Bill for the Deputy at least three times in the last two months, and for many others as well. Is it believed in this House that this is a good way to spend our time, where Members ask consistently and regularly about the same legislation? Different Deputies come in on different days who were not here on a previous day——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I was there on the previous day and every day.

The Taoiseach:  I have indicated to Deputy Durkan, and I will always be courteous to a colleague——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  And likewise.

The Taoiseach:  I have indicated to him on a number of occasions that the Central Bank consolidation Bill would be coming in next year and that there was another Bill of greater priority and importance. Consolidation Bills, by their very nature, are fine in the context of improving the legal framework over time, but that is not an issue of greatest import regarding Central Bank reform.

[444]Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Anything on regulation is important.

The Taoiseach:  I have made that point on a number of occasions, and I do not see the value of us continuing to inquire about this. There must be some means of being able to circulate to Members what the up-to-date position is regarding pending legislation. We spend a great deal of time on these matters, a Cheann Comhairle, and——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  And so we should.

The Taoiseach:  ——not to much effect, since it is simply a matter of repeating information that I might have given 24 hours previously.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are moving on.

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

That Dáil Éireann approves the exercise by the State of the option or discretion under Protocol No. 21 on the position of the United Kingdom and Ireland in respect of the area of freedom, security and justice annexed to the Treaty on European Union and to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, to accept the following measure:

the Agreement between the European Union and the United States of America on the processing and transfer of Financial Messaging Data from the European Union to the United States for the purposes of the Terrorist Finance Tracking Programme,

a copy of which was laid before Dáil Éireann on 20 July 2010.

Question put and agreed to.

The Taoiseach:  I rise this evening to seek to bring to the attention of the House the agreement reached in relation to a financial package with our EU partners and the IMF. The key message I would like to convey is that as things stand Ireland is funded until the middle of next year but the current cost of new borrowing is not affordable for us. This agreement ensures that Ireland has secure access to the funding it needs as it sets about stabilising its finances and building confidence that the banks are well capitalised and able to meet the economy’s needs. It is money that we would have had to borrow in any case. This deal provides money at a lower cost than is currently available in the market. That is the key point to make when we discuss all of the politics around this issue, and there has been much politics in this regard.

Deputy Gilmore asked me during Leaders’ Questions if I was not ashamed of myself. What I am ashamed of is commentary in relation to important matters of public debate, such as that our economy is banjaxed and is an economic corpse. These are high rhetorical tones which basically seep confidence from the country, internally and internationally. Everything that is said in this country is being looked at very closely. I do not see how that could be regarded as either an accurate or responsible statement. Those statements have unfortunately come from the Opposition in the past 48 hours.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Do not blame the Opposition.

The Taoiseach:  It is not a question of blaming anyone. I will deal with the issues as they are.

[445]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Take responsibility.

The Taoiseach:  I am making my contribution now and will listen attentively later to what Deputy Gilmore has to say. I do not believe it is in the interests of this country that we conduct political debate at that level on issues of such urgent public importance. There is a lot more in us and far more substantive critiques to be made than simply heading for the cheapest jibe or the biggest headline that can be got by way of what I regard as the tabloidisation of a very serious matter, a matter which we can discuss here and have a decent debate on and on which people can offer different views. It will not serve this or future Governments or this country now or in the future to conduct our affairs in that way. There are plenty of points that can be made and plenty of issues that can be raised, but I do not think that is the way in which we have to conduct ourselves. I do not care whether people agree with me on that point, but I wish to put that on the record.

We do not appear to have the capacity to deal with these matters in a calm and measured way, as people are entitled to expect at a time when we are trying to build confidence, avoid flights of deposits or people going into a different currency area and trying to ensure we can convey to the people outside and at home a sense of direction in terms of where the country is going, how we can deal with this situation and find the time and space to plan our way through what is a difficult crisis for whoever is in Government at this time. It is true that we have great difficulties and that families are worried but, thankfully, some 1.8 million people in this country are in work. Those people cannot be told they are living in a country described as an economic corpse. That does a great disservice to people who are trying to keep businesses going and provide employment. We all know there are many people sitting down with the owners of small and medium-sized enterprises discussing having to work one day less a week so as to prevent two or three colleagues being made redundant. There is much solidarity up and down the country. All I am saying is, let us have a debate but let us have a debate that recognises where the real economy is, what the funding problems are and what are the real alternatives and choices for this country in the face of what we are confronting.

I reiterate the point I made earlier, namely, what alternative is being put forward by the Opposition? What constructive alternative is being put forward to address our funding issues in relation to the economy, State finances and banking in the months and years ahead? Three issues arise, namely, whether one obtains funds at a more affordable price, whether one takes them at an unaffordable and prohibitive price or whether one decides to ensure one’s revenues and spending are brought into line more quickly, in respect of which one is prepared to enforce deeper cuts, higher taxes, put more enterprises at risk and not use the adjustment period in a sensible, responsible and rational manner. Those are the choices. The same issues face any Government led by me or anyone else in the next quarter, year or the next three or four years, namely, how are we to fund this State’s requirements beyond July of next year. The only way to do this is on the basis of the financial package set out and the basis of the calculation for the interest on which and the creditworthiness of this country being set out as outlined by me in Leaders’ Questions.

We have a draw-down facility of €85 billion, consisting of €12.5 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and €5 billion cash reserves. It has been mentioned in the critique that this is an unfortunate aspect of the agreement. How strong a position would we be in if we did not have our own domestic cash resources to contribute to such a package? Do people expect that we would have lower interest rates or that we would have to borrow less money, that in relation to money we have built up, which is not earning the type of interest which it would cost us to borrow on the market, that we should borrow more money while holding onto it? Clearly, that does not make sense in terms of the funding requirements of the State. Do people [446]expect in the international arena that we will have access to funds from the IMF and EU while allowing our own cash reserves to be left unattended as a means of contributing to reducing our borrowing and funding costs? It is not realistic to put forward such a proposition. There is no Government of any composition that would be able to come forward and say that the €85 billion should be all borrowing and that we should not use €17.5 billion of our own resources towards ensuring we deal with these problems and put our economy back on a sounder footing. That is the contention that is being made. For some reason, it is being suggested that we had a weaker hand because we did that. We had a stronger hand because we did it. Had we conducted the policies suggested by other parties — they are on the record and I will not refer them now — over the past ten years in relation to that fund we would not have had these reserves in place. They would have contributed to the spend of the country and would not be available to us now. Those are the facts.

Another issue raised is that of senior bondholders, in respect of which the default argument has been put forward. I have only two points to make in this regard, the first of which is a more general point. Do people suggest that the default option is a consequence-free option, namely, that there are no consequences for this country should that be decided? As part of a wider currency area which goes beyond our own jurisdiction, do people suggest we have a unilateral ability to make that decision without consequences? If it is the view, as it was of other institutions such as the Central Bank and Commission, that it was not option upon which they were prepared to provide financial support for the country, are people on the Opposition benches saying they would have pressed that button anyway and would have forfeited the opportunity of getting the funding that is required? Perhaps the Opposition would like to outline what the consequences of that might be.

We are saying that, in the absence of agreement with our partners, this is an option that could not be effected. That is the situation. To suggest otherwise is to suggest that it would be free of consequences. As has been said, in the considered view of the bank and others, it would affect the stability of the European banking system generally at a time of great dislocation in the markets, and add greater turbulence to them. It refers to 5% of the total debt, the unguaranteed senior bondholders. We have already been involved in, as a matter of policy, discounts in relation to junior bank bondholding debt for Anglo Irish Bank and others. This can have wider application in current circumstances as well.

  6 o’clock

All of those issues can be considered but to state at the end of the day that it is the solution to the problem is to fail to recognise what the consequences of those actions would be and what power Government would have unilaterally. Let us be clear about what is Labour Party policy. As I understand it, it is that we should never have had a guarantee and should have let the economy implode in 2008. Deputy Gilmore said we should not have an asset management agency either and, therefore, the assets would not be segregated. He then said the bondholders should be burned and one senior Labour Party member said over the past 48 hours this should include senior bondholders. If that is his policy, he should state it and state what the consequences are in his considered opinion, state why he considers that to be a better policy and state why everyone in the European Union and the eurozone disagrees with him but he is right anyway. Everyone else is saying the policies of capitalisation, reorganisation, resolution and so on put forward have to be accelerated and more funds have to be provided to do that. That will contribute to greater stability. I cannot predict everything that will happen but all I can say is the balance of evidence is far more on the side of the Government than on the Opposition on these matters. If we never had a banking crisis, the people with whom we are dealing in the currency area make those points as well.

[447]The Labour Party then suggested the European Central Bank should provide money at an interest rate of 1%. That is a totally unrealistic option. The ECB does not lend directly to member states. Again, that is nice populist argument that will find favour with people and leave it out there. Deputy Gilmore argues about the need for credibility. Where is the credibility in that argument when money is clearly not available to any country let alone Ireland at that interest rate? That is not the way central banks operate in the first place.

With regard to the circumstances in which all this happened, we had to make sure the parameters of the discussion were such that were we to apply, we were in a position to say, “Yes, this could be in our interest to do that”. The suggestion is there were vested interests. Of course there were interests who were trying to suggest Ireland had opened negotiations when it clearly had not. When we indicated talks were going on in regard to wider currency issues, we had nothing to hide in this regard. It was only when the Minister for Finance with a mandate from the Government on the Tuesday went to the Eurogroup meeting and we agreed to short focus discussions with the IMF, the EU, and funds people in the Union and the Commission, that things moved along to the point where the following Sunday we formally applied because we believed that would be the best option available to us based on previous discussions.

There is no reference to a change in the 12.5% corporation tax rate in the agreements and the adjustments of €6 billion and €15 billion still form a central part of the correction programme but if in 2014 we have not reached the target of 3% of GDP, an additional year will be available to reach it. That is in the interest of the country and whatever Government will have the tough job of implementing what is necessary to bring this country back to financial stability, growth, jobs and investment in the future. Surely we should be able in the context of our discussions to acknowledge those as positives for whatever Governments will have to implement policies to bring about these options.

I have stated in the context of the four year plan the differences that exist in the tax and expenditure policies as best I can glean from the policy positions of the Opposition parties. The Labour Party said the ratio should be 50:50, €7.5 billion in tax and €7.5 billion in expenditure. Fine Gael says it should be 3:1 rather than 2:1 which is our position, which means 75% cuts and 25% on tax increases. I understand from Sinn Féin’s submission that it wants 80% taxes and 20% cuts in the €15 billion adjustment. It would raise €12 billion in taxes and €3 billion in cuts. The Government’s position, which we believe is consistent with maximising and retaining to the greatest extent possible jobs and providing for job creation in the future, as has been done in much documentation that has been issued in regard to the dynamics of the economy, is that the ratio should be approximately two thirds expenditure cuts to one third taxation increases, and we have put that forward.

With regard to the agreement, we know why we had to borrow if we are going be honest. We know what the options were and we know the details of the programme. Debt sustainability is then a big issue for the country. How do we make sure we have a sustainable debt position and that we are in a position to pay back the debt? That is outlined based on how the country performs and how the international economic environment works out but if one takes the central forecast in the plan, one will see prior to the programme being agreed the debt to GDP ratio would increase to 102% in 2013 and then fall in subsequent years. In other words, there will be a slight increase in borrowing as a percentage of what we produce as a country every year and then a reduction after 2013.

Even if one were making a sufficiently conservative and prudent assumption that the requirement of the banks is €25 billion out of the €35 billion contingency fund — I do not suggest that nor has the Governor of the Central Bank — then the debt to GDP ratio would rise to [448]approximately 113% on the basis of the central forecast in 2013 and then reduce. The debt interest payment relative to the total tax take is 20 cent in the euro in the plan and it could rise to 23 cent in the euro at the peak point given the increase in the debt-GDP ratio as borrowing increases over coming years and then reduces. That compares with the debt interest payments we made in this economy in 1992 and 1993. We had a serious deficit and debt crisis in the mid-1980s for other reasons and we had a repayment of approximately 35% in terms of debt interest as a proportion of tax take. That gives an indication of the debt sustainability issues, which are challenging, tough and difficult, and we make no bones about that but we believe it is the right course of action.

Let us be clear. The main part of the facility is for ongoing funding of public services. If we never had a banking crisis, we would have had this difference between our revenue and expenditure and that has to be closed over the next number of years. We have to fund those reducing deficits and that is what this facility provides for us. That would not be affordable for us on the markets, which is the normal place the NTMA sources such funding on behalf of the State. If during the plan, normality returns to the markets, it will be open to future Governments to return to them and, therefore, we are not tied in to use the facility regardless of our circumstances but its availability provides us with the space and time we need to plan and provide for recovery in our economy. If we did not have that time and space, it would be most difficult for any Government to confirm both domestically and internationally that there is sufficient confidence in the funding of the State, let alone in regard to ensuring we can invest in growth.

The second part of the package relates to the banking facility. The Minister for Finance and others will go into that in detail but I make the same point about this. We need to have the markets acknowledge, understand and accept that the work being done has validity and that we are prepared to accelerate and deepen that work. The question, therefore, of capitalisation of the banks and doing what we can to reorganise them emerges. Reference is made to core and non-core activity. It is clear the priority of the Irish banking system should be to provide for Ireland’s needs and if that means banks having to divest themselves of activities that benefit other economies as a result of previous expansion policies and the commercial presence individual banks had in other jurisdictions, then that will have to take second order to the primary responsibility they have, which is to serve the needs of the economy at this critical time. That is precisely what deleveraging and downsizing the banks is about, thereby making sure the exclusive focus of the banking system on the basis of further capitalisation is about providing the credit businesses need and getting themselves back to a position to be funded by the markets rather than through short-term funding available from the European Central Bank. It is true that the European Central Bank has been providing important liquidity funding for the Irish banking system since this crisis began because it is fundamental to making sure that business can continue to be conducted and that businesses can keep people in work. Had we seen an implosion in the banking system, which could have occurred and which was set out in reports far more dispassionate than any speech I can make, we would not have the numbers employed in our economy that we have today. The many difficult decisions that were taken by this Government were done exclusively in the public interest, and for no other interest, and we took those decisions based on advice given to us at the time.

Much has been said, but none of it has been withdrawn, in spite of the content of reports that can be brought to a particular Deputy’s attention, but I do not expect to see anything withdrawn, because the Deputy might have to acknowledge that he crossed the line on a [449]particular occasion. I am thick skinned enough to take it and I do not expect it to be retracted. It is part of the game.

According to those with whom we operate in the euro currency area, we must intensify our efforts on banking policy initiatives. For all the criticism made, the fact is that the balance of evidence is more in favour of this Government than the Opposition in respect of how we try to get a viable banking system up and running. The Deputy stated that one of the Labour Party initiatives is to set up a strategic investment bank and take €2 billion out of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. That will not be sufficient to fund the bank. I presume he will be looking for deposits. Deposits in the Irish banking system are where they are.

Deputy Damien English:  They are not where they were.

The Taoiseach:  We will have an increasing measure of ownership by the Irish public in our existing banking system, following whatever capitalisation that emerges. We will have to wait and see how that works out in the coming weeks and months. To suggest that we set up another bank to take funds from existing Irish banks, and weaken the banks that we are trying to ensure do not falter, is not a very convincing critique. I am sure the Deputy will go into far greater detail at some stage than just mentioning the €2 billion he will get from the NPRF. We await the development of that with eager ears.

Deputy Joan Burton:  That is a sad case. We have a long detailed policy document on that. The Taoiseach might take time out of his busy schedule to read it.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy should send it over to me as soon as she can.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Burton, you will get an opportunity to speak later.

The Taoiseach:  The aim of the facility we have brought forward is to make sure that we have an adequate funding mechanism so that this economy, which is stabilising, can provide growth and jobs for the future. Without that, there are no prospects for us to achieve those objectives. If the Opposition’s view is that there is a better deal available and it wishes to paint that picture, I would like to hear in detail the outcome it suggests was available. If the Opposition suggests that there was a different interest rate available, I would like to hear the detail of it. Opposition Members can make all the populist gestures they like, but the bottom line is that this country needs this package at this time. This is the best available package for this country at this time. I believe there is a great challenge facing our country in the coming years that will involve the consolidation and adjustment of our public finances. The record will show that there was nothing to suggest in the policy positions of the Opposition throughout this crisis, apart from using funds for more spending, that this was an avoidable consequence.

We must have an effective and viable banking system, and we must have a recovering economy. We must engender confidence and we can do that in our political debate, regardless of elections. We do not have to consign our vocabulary to one of “banjaxery” or “economic corpses” or depicting the country in a way that is not accurate. I accept that we are in difficulty. I do not for one moment underestimate the challenges that face the country, but let us portray the country with its strengths as well as its weaknesses. To magnify weaknesses and to forget about strengths is to do the country a disservice. We need to be prepared to talk about the country in a far better way than is currently the case. We all know there is an election in the air when we finalise our post-budgetary arrangements and put in whatever legislation is neces[450]sary. If people feel it is more important to play that game than to deal with the issues of the day, then that is fair enough. We have brought forward a proposal which we believe serves the interests of this country and into the future. We believe it provides the time and space for growth in the economy to return.

The export-led recovery is under way and has brought a stabilisation in the last 18 months and is now proceeding next year on the basis of policies that we have brought forward that have improved competitiveness, lowered costs and enabled exporters to be more successful in markets in a more difficult trading environments, since the huge hit to this country in the autumn of 2008. We are now seeing signs of stabilisation, both in terms of export performance, moving to balance of payments surpluses and a stabilisation in the live register. The current rate of unemployment at 13.5% is very high and I do not for a moment suggest that any of us in this House are satisfied with that, but we must pursue the policies outlined in the four year plan that can bring our unemployment down to less than 10%, which was the case in 1997 when we came into office. We can do that if we stick to the plans and if we are prepared to do the most important confidence building measure that this Dáil can achieve in the next week, which is to pass the budget.

We have a four year plan. We have this deal in place and we have a budget to pass. If the Dáil passes that budget and gets on with the business of making the corrections that we must make, then we will provide the prospect of a good future for our people and we will demonstrate to ourselves and to the international community that we are taking on a responsible role that will make sure that this country gets back on its feet sooner rather than later.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I hope the Taoiseach is not accusing me or the Fine Gael Party of introducing language such as “banjaxery” or “morbid corpses” in respect of our country. I spoke the truth when I said that the decision made last weekend has foisted upon the shoulders of every single person in the country a debt that will not be paid off for a generation or more. That is the truth of the Ireland that we live in now.

The Taoiseach also spoke about having a rational debate about serious issues, and I think that is true. However, the Taoiseach should recall sitting on these benches when issues of extradition were being discussed and other sensitive issues in respect of Northern Ireland were being discussed between ourselves and Great Britain. Every day, one Opposition spokesperson after another created holy hell in the 1990s in respect of issues that were sensitive at the time. I am not using that as a justification for what is happening now. The reason there is anger and viciousness out there is that people do not believe the Government. The reason they do not believe the Government is based on sound history. For the past few years, Minister after Minister, but especially the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance, came in here and spoke elsewhere outside this House. They stated that green shoots were appearing, that we had turned the corner, that NAMA would provide a wall of cash, that credit would be available for small businesses and that this was the cheapest bailout in history on which the people actually would make a profit. Did I or did I not hear those words? I think I heard them from Minister after Minister.

The reason the population now is angry and quite vicious is that there has been no clarity of agenda on the part of the Government as to where we are headed. This was epitomised by the Taoiseach’s own words this evening when he stated the Government was bringing forward a proposal. This is not a proposal from the Government but is a capitulated statement because it has been put together by technicians and civil servants and adopted by the political process. The Taoiseach is aware that politicians are not technocrats but are elected representatives of [451]the people and, as such, have two fundamental responsibilities to carry through. First, they must identify solutions and, second, they must make decisions.

In this case, what happened was that this statement, decision and deal was put together by people who are not elected. They tossed it around for a number of weeks and eventually came to a conclusion that was endorsed and accepted by the Minister for Finance on behalf of the Irish people and Government.

This was not done in my name because I do not understand the negotiations that were conducted here. I note the Taoiseach is an experienced campaigner. This was a situation in which one was told by the Minister for Finance and other Ministers that no negotiations were under way about any bailout, that no representatives from the IMF were in Ireland, that no representatives from the European Central Bank or the European Commission had been over in the Department of Finance for a number of weeks and that there were no discussions between the Chancellor of the Exchequer in Britain and Irish civil servants from the Department of Finance on a bilateral contribution from Great Britain. One subsequently found out all these things were happening when eventually the Governor of the Central Bank, while standing on a street in Frankfurt, decided to ring the national broadcaster and state the discussions pertained to tens of billions of euro being drawn down as a loan at a then undetermined interest rate, which subsequently has been set at 5.83%.

These are some of the reasons the population is as angry as it is. I do not understand the reason the Government was not in a position to place political bargaining at the centre of matters. Whatever the respected academic, regulator and civil servants were able to put together, surely one ultimately must introduce politics and politicians to decide what is the best deal, given the circumstances we face. The reason Ireland is in this position is that the Government would not listen. Two and a half years ago, the Fine Gael Party proposed that Anglo Irish Bank be wound down but was scoffed at. The Fine Gael Party proposed that subordinated bondholders should make their contribution as part of the solution but again was scoffed at. Eventually, however, such things have come to pass. Chancellor Merkel stated there should be a bank resolution legislation system whereby senior bondholders certainly could be part of the negotiations for a winding down of banks when such an event took place. Commissioner Almunia wrote to me this week and stated he is pursuing this element of legislation within the Commission at present but that until then, we are bound by existing regulations.

I was struck by the announcement or admission on RTE yesterday by the Governor of the Central Bank that, in his words, what has happened was not his preferred option. He wanted a form of insurance scheme whereby were there to be drawdowns or difficulties with banks, a scheme would be put in place.

The Taoiseach:  It does not exist.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  However, what has happened is not what he would have preferred. Instead, the Irish taxpayer will be obliged to bail out these banks to pay off banks in Frankfurt or France.

The Taoiseach:  He recommended acceptance of the loan. He made the point about insurance in the context of were such a scheme available. One is not available.

Deputy Joan Burton:  Why did he not try to negotiate one?

Deputy Enda Kenny:  I heard him state this solution was not his preferred option. While he is a respected Governor of the Central Bank for me, the absence of political negotiation in this [452]regard has resulted in the people being forced to stump up billions and billions yet again. They cannot see any jobs being created and the attendant despair and disillusionment among a huge segment of our population is the cause of all this angst and anxiety. Moreover, again following on from the Governor’s statement yesterday, that Anglo Irish Bank will no longer be a bank, what will happen to senior bondholders who remain locked into their investment in Anglo Irish Bank when it no longer is a bank? Will such bondholders, who invested in Anglo Irish Bank, be party to or the subject of a discussion in respect of a contribution they can make?

The Taoiseach states this is a proposal from the Government. However, if he looks back over the Governments spanning the past decade of which his own party has been the lead party, surely he can see that Ireland should not be in this position in the first place. Had the Government listened to advice from my party and others, as well as from objective commentators from outside the House, or had it taken some of it, the position would not be as bad or as serious as it is at present. However, given our current position, the people have good reason not to believe the Government and it is evident, no matter where one goes nationwide, that the time for decision is nigh. I regret the failure of the Government to have real heavyweight political negotiations in this respect. When the Taoiseach asks what is Fine Gael’s alternative, my response is that we should not be in this position in the first instance. The reason we are in this position is because of reckless trading that was allowed to happen under the watch both of this Administration and its predecessor. It is clear that unfairness crept into the system and was allowed to spread its wings across all segments of every kind of lending.

The question that must be asked and that is being asked is who was in charge of all this? I thank the Taoiseach for the telephone call he made to me in which he stated that he would allow other parties to have access to the financial advice the Government was receiving and that it would be appropriate to meet the delegation from the IMF, the European Central Bank and the Commission. I did meet them, together with Fine Gael’s finance spokespersons and others. The point they made was that this was a deal for Ireland and that it was being put together by civil servants, that is, between the delegation and the Department of Finance and the Central Bank. We asked them what flexibility might exist for a future Government, in the event that the people decided to change the Government, in the context of a deal being done. I state quite openly they made the point that, within the parameters of the overall target being achieved, which then was 3% by 2014 and now is 3% by 2015, they would be happy to hear other programmes that might be stronger in respect of incentive or investment for job creation, which would improve growth rates for the country, which would improve competitiveness or which would improve the capacity of our people and our island to generate further wealth with a view to being able to get back to the bond market is at an earlier time. They also made the point that within the four year plan adopted or put forward by the Government, some elements of which appear to have the thumbprints of the Commission on them, there also was room for consideration of some of its aspects. However, what has happened has been and will be a constraint on whatever Government the people decide to elect for the future.

People note the British Chancellor of the Exchequer has stated the British Government also intends to give Ireland money. Chancellor Osborne has stated that Ireland is Britain’s nearest trading partner, that it is very important for Ireland to have sound public finances and that good trading relationships should be maintained. This is correct and goes without saying. However, it also is a fact of life that this loan is being given in order that money can be returned to banks in Britain, which must be paid for by the Irish taxpayer. That is the principal reason the Chancellor made this offer. No clarity of agenda about what has been going on has been transmitted [453]to the Irish people. The message has been confused and woolly. All they know is that they are drowning in billions of euro that have been borrowed to pay banks that appear to have a never-ending chasm, which will be opening in front of the Irish electorate for the foreseeable future.

I agree with the Taoiseach that some fine things are happening in this country. When one talks to those involved in the export business, they say their projections are strong and their productivity has increased significantly. They are happy with the quality of the graduates and other young people available to them. There are problems in the indigenous manufacturing sector, however. Small businesses have been scalded by being refused access to credit. Thousands of retail outlets have real concerns. It is difficult for people to get employment. Many qualified graduates are sick of going for interview after interview without anything happening.

The real concerns and problems I have mentioned, which are affecting huge swathes of Irish life, are being compounded by the black cloud represented by the borrowing of billions of euro at exceptionally high interest rates that will be difficult to manage. The European Commission said yesterday that the Government’s projected growth rates will not stand up. If that is the case, it will make it even more difficult for us to manage. I appreciate that the Taoiseach said on Leaders’ Questions that there are always differing views on projected growth rates. Given that the Commission, like the ECB and the IMF, was represented on the delegation during the week, further difficulties will be created by its suggestion that the growth rates projected by Ireland will not stand up.

I have been informed by Deputy Coveney that there was a row at the European Parliament today about Ireland’s 12.5% corporation tax rate. It appears that eight German and French MEPs, who are co-ordinators of political groupings, are trying to get up to 350 MEPs to sign a petition that recommends a minimum corporation tax rate of 25% should apply across the EU. That will become the position of the European Parliament if 350 signatures are achieved. Irish MEPs from all parties are objecting strenuously to this proposal. The Irish people gave their approval of the Lisbon treaty to the EU, at the second attempt. The matter had been discussed vigorously inside the European People’s Party on many occasions. The big issue for EU member states was that EU institutions should be able to do what was intended under the Lisbon treaty. After much debate, the Irish people decided to give the EU that right, distinction and responsibility.

I reject completely the attempt by eight German and French MEPs to thwart the clear provision in the Lisbon treaty that taxation is a matter for each individual country. If their efforts were to succeed, it would represent a massive breach of trust. Every Deputy will recognise that foreign direct investment in this country has always been a cornerstone of Irish job creation policy. We need to be able to attract jobs to this country from overseas. We need to speak well of our country. I do not see why we cannot demonstrate and prove that this country, by 2016, will be the best small country in the world in which to do business. That will involve dealing with red tape and bureaucracy and clearing the obstacles that prevent employers from employing or retaining employees. In that way, we can restore the pride, confidence and hope of our people. All of these things can be done. The people have been beaten down by disillusionment and lack of confidence. There has been no clarity of agenda or clarity of outcome. This deal only adds to that.

I would like to emphasise a crucial point that has been lost in the middle of the financial row that has blown across Ireland for the last two years. Ireland is not this Government. The people have lost faith, confidence and belief in this Government. Ireland is not the Taoiseach or the individual Ministers. It is gone. It is over. It is practically at an end. The people will eventually have their say. Ireland is not the parties that comprise this Government, which is [454]supported by Deputies from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party and the Independent benches. The Ireland I know is the Ireland of people across all walks of life who want a reasonable standard of living and a roof over their heads. The Irish people want the members of their families to have an opportunity to receive a decent education that sends them out with the competence and confidence to stand against anyone else from any part of the world. They want a working health system that is based on one’s medical needs, rather than what one has in one’s pockets. They want to be able to get on with living the lives they expected to live. Instead, they are encountering a constant barrage of disillusionment and despair, caused by the inability of the Government to set a clear agenda for the future. The Ireland I know will always remain a sovereign and independent nation. People feel very aggrieved about the recent loss of sovereignty.

I do not understand the Government’s clear failure to protect the serious amount of money that has been invested in the National Pensions Reserve Fund. It was put there by the people, for the use of the people. It was not put there to be handed over as a contribution to the banks. I recognise the argument that says one must have a contribution if one has savings. In light of the plethora of ideas that have been proposed, some of which are first-class and excellent, I do not understand why the Government has not decided to invest in a strong programme for the provision of infrastructural facilities and jobs. Such a programme would aid the perception and reputation of this country if it were extended to areas like water, communications, renewables and people going to work. It would make the place much more attractive to local and foreign direct investment than it is in many cases at present. It has not happened, however. All of these things emphasise the fact that it is not the people of Ireland, or the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, who have lost this country’s sovereignty. It has resulted from the failure of the Government to address and understand its responsibility to lead the people and the nation to the future I know we can have.

During the hiatus between this disastrous deal and the election, the people are waiting for the opportunity to give their verdict on those who stand for election all over the country. We should not have arrived at the point at which a deal had to be done. My belief, from a political perspective, is that when that point came, political negotiations in here would have delivered a better deal in the interests of Ireland because of the fact that we had to get money. I was told that this deal was conducted by civil servants with civil servants. When the Minister for Finance flew to Brussels to meet all the other Ministers, they said, “That is it, take it or leave it”. If I had been there, I would have expected somebody to say, “This is about politics, ladies and gentlemen, and if you don’t give me a better deal than what the civil servants have put together, I am going home”. Ireland has a problem and Europe has a problem. I understand this evening that the contagion is alleged to have spread to other countries.

The Taoiseach:  At least we know the Deputy’s strategy anyway.

Deputy Enda Kenny:  The fact of the matter is that political negotiations were absent from this deal. Political negotiations were left behind in Ireland. The failure to engage in political negotiations has resulted in a bad deal for our country and its people.

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The subject of this debate is the agreement the Government has concluded with the EU and the IMF. I consider it to be a sell-out for the country, a failure of negotiation, a failure of diplomacy and a failure of nerve. I expected the Taoiseach to come here to explain the deal and set out its terms for us. Instead, he came here to give us a lecture. He started by telling us all to be responsible. He then said that rather than engaging in a [455]political debate, we should conduct it as a debate that goes above politics and electoral considerations. Instead of providing an explanation for the agreement, the Taoiseach makes what is in effect his first election speech of this election campaign and it is a blunderbuss approach to the Opposition in general. He fires a few missiles in the direction of the Labour Party and does not explain the deal to us. He takes issue with a couple of comments made by Opposition spokespersons over the weekend and suggests that somehow, these are the cause of the damage to Ireland’s reputation abroad. The cause of the damage to Ireland’s reputation abroad is the way in which he and his Government have mismanaged the Irish economy. He calls on us to articulate the alternative yet repeatedly over the past two to three years, when the alternative was put to him, he rubbished and rejected it. He was wrong about the bank guarantee; he told us that the bank guarantee would cost the taxpayer nothing and now we know. I remember on the day of the bank guarantee, we asked him specifically if he would remove the people who were in charge of the Irish banks but instead he left them in place and he did not begin to remove them until the skeletons started to hop out of the cupboards of Mr. FitzPatrick and others.

When we suggested to the Taoiseach different ways of reorganising and restructuring the Irish banks, such as the establishment of a banking commission, he rubbished that suggestion in the early stages of the banking crisis. We suggested to him a different approach to dealing with the bad debts of the banks rather than going down the NAMA route. We suggested taking the banks into temporary public ownership and dealing with the restructuring of the banks at that stage. He said he could not do so because the banks could not be taken into public ownership but they are now being taken into public ownership by a far more scenic and far more expensive route.

The Taoiseach has given us all of these political assaults or comebacks which perhaps makes for a good election speech but it does not tell us very much about the deal that he has just concluded with the EU and the IMF. I understand there are three sets of documents that have to be agreed and that a memorandum of financial and economic policy has to be concluded with the IMF, with the EU and with the ECB. He has told us nothing about what is to be contained in it and what he has agreed with regard to it. I understand there is to be a memorandum of understanding to be concluded with the European institutions in respect of the European portion of the funds to be made available. I understand further that this memorandum of understanding is to be quite detailed in respect of the measures and conditions attached to the money being provided. He has told us absolutely nothing about that and he has not told us about what way it will relate to the four-year plan. On top of that I understand there are to be some operational agreements dealing with, for example, the way in which the moneys are to be reviewed. It is reported in the public press that there is to be a quarterly review carried out with regard to drawing down the money and the attached conditions and the Taoiseach has told us nothing about those arrangements. The reason he has not told us anything is that he is ashamed of the agreement he has concluded. He has done nothing here this evening either to defend it, to explain it, to provide the rationale for it or to provide the House with any additional information.

This is a deal done by a broken Government with no friends left in Europe. It is a deal that hangs the Irish people out to dry. The deal is an agreement by the Irish Government to accept a loan from the IMF and the European Union to bail out the European banking system and to ensure that the Irish taxpayer picks up the tab. It is a deal to ensure that European banks, who contributed to the property bubble in Ireland by lending to our banks, will not pay a penalty for their folly. That burden will be borne by this country for decades to come. It is also [456]a deal to provide funding to the Irish State to fund its deficit, provided that an enormous fiscal hit is first inflicted on the Irish economy. It is a deal to borrow money from our European neighbours at a higher rate than is being offered by the IMF. It is not a good deal for Ireland but rather it is a lousy deal for Ireland. While the first responsibility for it lies with the Government, we have been let down by our partners in Europe also. Because for all that they may want to punish the Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil, it is the Irish people who are paying the price. The Irish people did not create this problem; Fianna Fáil and the banks did.

Saying this is a bad deal does not mean this is not an Irish problem because it clearly is. However, it is an Irish problem set in the context of a broader European problem. Ireland has duties as a member of the eurozone, but European solidarity is a two-way street. The Irish people feel very let down by the European Union, in particular by the Commission. The attitude taken has been unduly punitive and does not fit with the founding principles of the European Union.

We must be clear about what has happened. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance are fond of telling us that their policies have been fully endorsed by their European partners, going back to the night of the blanket guarantee. I wish to nail that nonsense here and now. The policies of this Government have caused significant annoyance and frustration in Europe. The blanket guarantee, in particular, caused outrage in several European capitals, precisely because of its blanket nature and because it forced other European countries to follow. They did not emulate it — as Fianna Fáil like to claim — they were forced to follow it although none were as stupid as our Government. The diplomatic fallout for Ireland has been enormous.

Throughout this crisis, Fianna Fáil has over-promised and under-delivered insofar as our European partners are concerned. The losses in the banking system have mounted and just as it has over-promised to the Irish people, Fianna Fáil has over-promised to Europe. With market confidence plummeting and when it came to framing the budget for 2011, Fianna Fáil had no cards left to play. It is pretty obvious that the highest budget adjustment that the Department of Finance thought possible was in the region of €4.5 billion. The Department’s figures, as supplied to the Labour Party, show that the Department was arguing that going above €4.5 billion would be essentially self-defeating.

The scenarios presented to us were intended to show that front-loading beyond €4.5 billion actually made the problem worse, but the Government caved in. In the last frantic attempt to convince the bond market to lend money to Ireland, the Government capitulated to the Commission and shifted the amount up to €6 billion. Then, when that gambit failed, it was forced to call in the IMF and to apply to the stabilisation fund. Having announced €6 billion, the Government and the Commission would lose face if the amount were any less. It is striking that the EU Commission and Commissioner Rehn, while trenchantly demanding a €6 billion adjustment, have taken the precaution of lowering their growth forecast for Irish GDP growth in 2011 to 0.9%. Having come to Dublin only three weeks ago to endorse the budget strategy and the Government’s forecast, they have now changed their tune. It is an admission, if admission were needed, that they do not regard growth in the Irish economy as a priority. They are content to allow activity and employment in Ireland to stagnate, provided that their €6 billion adjustment is implemented. They have also taken the precaution of moving the target for achieving the 3% deficit target from 2014 to 2015. In doing so, they are effectively endorsing the Labour Party’s view that €6 billion is too much and that it risks doing damage to the fabric of the Irish economy. It is confirmation that they do not believe in the confidence fairy either.

[457]Today’s debate is a farce. It is one further ignominy that the Irish Parliament should be reduced to talking about a deal that has not yet been published and on which no vote is to be permitted. It is little more than a set of press releases, setting out the outlines of a deal. There is a lot of information we do not have, particularly with regard to the banking system. We know the Irish Government must pump €10 billion into the banks, but we do not know how it will be used. We know that we will have to liquidate much of the National Pensions Reserve Fund as a contingency for the banks, but we still do not know what kind of banking system will result. We do not know how the extra capital will be used and whether it will guarantee a flow of credit to Irish business to help the Irish economy grow.

It is deeply ironic that Fianna Fáil, which argued that we could not take money out of the NPRF to capitalise a strategic investment bank, now says we can take most of what is left to underwrite losses in existing banks, with no guarantee of credit flow to the domestic economy. The Labour Party’s proposal for a strategic investment bank was designed to ensure precisely this objective — that when the downsizing and restructuring was completed, Ireland would still have an indigenous banking capacity that understood the strategic needs of the Irish economy. Yet we do not know whether this objective will even form part of the strategy being followed as a result of this deal.

As we watch the NPRF being cleared out for the banks, it is more than a little ironic to remember the hysterical reaction of Fianna Fáil — repeated again today by the Taoiseach — when Labour first suggested it could be used to support investment in Ireland. Where are the people who screamed about raiding the pension fund now? What we do know is that our limited national treasure is being handed over to the banks and senior bondholders are to be left unscathed. This, we are told, is to avoid contagion — which is another way of saying that profits are private but losses are public.

If the European Commission and the ECB want to insist on this point, where is their contribution to this end of the problem? Yes, they are offering a line of credit, but at what interest rate? An average of 5.8%, with the IMF money being the cheapest. In what sense is that a contribution to solving the problem, rather than shifting the problem back to the Irish taxpayer? It is symptomatic of an ostrich-like approach to the whole crisis. It stands in contrast to the approach taken by other partners that have come forward with bilateral loans. The loans from the UK, Sweden and Denmark, which are not members of the eurozone, are primarily a recognition by those countries of mutual interdependence and solidarity.

For the Irish people, the interest rate being charged is the clearest indication of the unwillingness of the Commission to approach this issue in anything other than a punitive way. In doing so, they are threatening core principles of the European Union in a manner that will be noted not just in Ireland but also in other small European member states. Yesterday, Deputy Rabbitte, on behalf of the Labour Party, called on the Government to clarify the exact status of the proposed bailout deal in Irish and international law. He said that uncertainty about the status of the agreement would give rise to challenges in the courts and lead to further instability.

Let us be clear on what we are talking about here. There is to be external provision of €67.5 billion of financial support to Ireland, from four sources, namely, the European financial stabilisation mechanism, the European Financial Stability Facility, the International Monetary Fund, and bilateral loans from the UK, Sweden and Denmark. Contrary to the impression given yesterday by the Minister of State, Deputy Barry Andrews, just the first of these — the stability mechanism — derives from regulations made by the Council of Ministers under the EU treaties. The stability mechanism is a short-term response for cases in which a member state is seriously threatened with severe difficulties caused by natural disasters or exceptional [458]occurrences beyond its control. The funds available to meet all contingencies throughout the Union are limited to just €60 billion. The only short-term disaster beyond this country’s control is that we still have a Fianna Fáil Government, which has outstayed its welcome by more than two years and is propped up by a partner that knows they both should go but cannot find the courage to leave.

The Minister must know that the legality of the stability mechanism has been questioned, most notably in a case pending in the German Federal Constitutional Court. It has been argued that the sovereign debt crisis cannot be dealt with under a natural-disaster-type provision of the treaties. It is also argued that, because the stability mechanism involves all member states’ being party to a guarantee for the full amount loaned, if one state defaults, the other states must step in to cover its responsibilities, and that this is a breach Article 125 of the Lisbon treaty, which states that a member state, “shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of central governments, regional, local or other public authorities, other bodies governed by public law, or public undertakings of another Member State”.

The second proposed source of funds is the EFSF. This is also the name of the special purpose vehicle, a limited company set up in Luxembourg, managed by Klaus Regling and owned by the eurozone states, to make loans to one of their own up to an amount of €440 billion. Unlike the stability mechanism, the EFSF was not set up by Council regulation or under any article of the treaties. It was set up by just the 16 eurozone countries and, although the Commission acts as agent for the members, it is not an EU institution or governed by the treaties. It is clear that the EFSF was set up pursuant to an international agreement between some member states of the EU. It is also clear that the international agreement was never laid before the Dáil and that Dáil approval for its terms was never sought. Exactly the same can be said of the framework agreement, negotiated between the same states, that governs the working of the EFSF. Yet the Government still insists that the original EFSF agreement and the proposed bailout, to be finalised next week, are not international agreements. Of course, it is also entirely silent about the three bilateral international agreements, with the UK, Sweden and Denmark, none of which, apparently, is to be laid before the Dáil. This argument suits a Government in retreat, which will do all in its power to avoid a debate and vote on its actions and which, in particular, will not submit this shameful bailout to a Dáil vote.

Ours is not the only Government in retreat from Parliament. Some will unite in their efforts to prevent the European Parliament from debating and voting on the Irish bailout. However, if no aspect of the bailout and the accompanying agreements amount to an international agreement, then it is either an ordinary contract or simply a statement of future policy, having much the same status in law as an election manifesto or a programme for government. As we pointed out yesterday, the problem here is that the courts have severely restricted the ability of a Government to enter into a binding contract which deprives it and its successors of the sovereign right to alter policies in the future.

Of course the Government can borrow money on behalf of the State and negotiate terms and conditions for repayment, but it is not entitled to contract away, on its own behalf and that of its successors, the discretion to shape future policies differently. Nor does it have complete freedom to take away by contract the sovereign rights of the Oireachtas to legislate on future taxes, future expenditure and future laws on a raft of disparate issues including, for example, advertising by GPs. As the Supreme Court has made clear, it is not within the competence of the Government to fetter its future executive action, which must necessarily be determined by the needs of the community when they arise. It cannot by contract hamper its freedom of [459]action in matters that concern the welfare of the State. That was the reasoning that led to the Supreme Court judgment in the Crotty case in 1987. Mr Justice Walsh held that the freedom of action conferred on the Government to decide issues of policy does not carry with it the power to abdicate that freedom, or to enter into binding agreements with other states to exercise powers in a particular way, and so to bind the State in its freedom of action. To do that, a referendum to amend the Constitution would be needed.

The Taoiseach:  Who is the lawyer?

Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  The bailout deal will be signed by the Government and the other EU Governments some time next week. However, despite the reply of the Minister of State, Deputy Andrews, yesterday, neither we nor they know what its legal status will be. It is clearly not done under the EU treaties or necessitated by membership of the Union. It seems the Government does not regard it as a treaty. Is it an ordinary contract, binding in its terms, or just a statement of intent?

The Government, in its response, seems to be trying to have it both ways. Although the bailout is a legal agreement and legally binding, a future Government, according to the Minister of State, is not obliged to draw down any funds and so the actions of a future Government are not fettered. His argument ignores the point that the memorandum of understanding setting out economic policy conditions and a fiscal adjustment programme applies from the time it is signed and the conditions attached to the loans apply from the very first draw-down. It is entirely specious to argue that the Government can walk us down this fiscal cul-de-sac, sign us up to these disastrous terms and conditions, impose on us a ruinous four year plan and then insist its successors have complete freedom of action to deal with the mess they have created. One might as well argue that a child dropped into the polar bear’s pit at the zoo is free to find his or her own way out. It may be that this is the best deal Fianna Fáil can get but it is not the best deal that Ireland can get. That is something which must be pursued by the incoming Government which, I hope, will succeed the current Government sooner rather than later.

Deputy Liz McManus:  Hear, hear.

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  The decision to support the EU-IMF programme is remarkably difficult but we believe it to be absolutely necessary and unavoidable. In the first instance, there is no other realistic option. Ireland is funded into the middle of next year, but it will need to borrow more money. We will need that money to make the social welfare payments, the old age pension payments and the carers payments to the most needy in our society. We must borrow to pay the wages of our doctors, nurses, gardaí and prison officers. We must borrow to ensure that our transport infrastructure continues.

The agreement will be for a facility of €85 billion. Several key points should be borne in mind with regard to the facility. The provision of an €85 billion facility does not mean that the State will use all of the funds. The State will likely re-enter the bond markets as early as possible. The funds identified for the financial sector are in the form of contingency capital, which will only be drawn down if required. The State will contribute €17.5 billion towards the €85 billion from its own resources, including some of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. The bulk of the funds are provided for the financing of the State’s budget deficit, which has already been factored into the budgetary projections.

[460]The reality is that the interest rates currently demanded by the markets are too high, meaning the EU-IMF mechanism is unavoidable. We believe the alternative is a good deal worse. With the bonds markets effectively closed off to us, the only other option to the current programme is to reduce our deficit to come into line with our taxation income. If we could not access these funds on the bond markets, we would be obliged to immediately balance our public expenditure against the tax we raise. In 2010, we are borrowing €19 billion of the €50 billion that we spend. This would necessitate immediate cuts in pay and social welfare of 38% to balance the books, something that cannot be contemplated or countenanced.

The interest rate agreed in the programme must also be considered in terms of relative cost. The projected average interest rate of 5.8% should be compared with the rates currently available on the international bond markets, which are significantly higher for Irish and Portuguese bonds. This deal is for a far longer period than that arranged with Greece and therefore compares favourably with it. The liquidity of our banking system has been dependent on the European Central Bank funding of more than €100 billion at remarkably low rates.

There has been much comment on whether the senior bondholders in the banks should be “burned”. I fully favour the idea that those who made bad lending decisions in respect of our reckless banks should also share the consequences. However, many commentators and politicians have presented the concept of senior bondholders sharing the burden of bank debt as an easy “get-out-of-jail” card that the State could play. The reality is that such a decision is not one Ireland could ever make unilaterally. It was pointed out at the launch on Sunday last that such a move would have consequences for the entire eurozone and far beyond. Its knock-on effects in terms of the future of the euro would be very severe. For our own economy, the consequences would be even greater and we would risk an effective drying up of funding for Ireland and our banks. The consequences of such a unilateral move are unthinkable for people seeking access to their cash and for businesses in need of ongoing credit. No individual or person would remain unaffected. It would threaten the very functioning of our economy.

The EU-IMF programme provides us with an opportunity to achieve a properly function banking system. It will involve an intensification of the measures already adopted by the Government to reform our banking system, which will be fundamental in getting our banks lending again. The programme provides for a fundamental downsizing and reorganisation of the banking sector such that it is proportionate to the size of the economy. This will lead to a smaller banking system, capitalised to the highest international standards with renewed access to normal market sources of funding and focused on supporting the recovery of the economy.

The EU-IMF programme combined with the national recovery plan contains many painful measures. However, there are also reforms in the programmes that offer us an opportunity to restructure our economy and put it on a more sustainable footing. We must seize this opportunity to deliver further on the reforms necessary to create a strong and sustainable economy in which the needs of our people are placed above those of interest groups.

During the debate in recent days several points have been made which must be addressed because some of them have been unfair. It has been put that the negotiators who carried out such sterling work on our behalf gave us a bad deal and that we should not have supported their recommendation. None of those who were negotiating on our behalf, including Patrick Honohan, Mr. Cardiff and Mr. Corrigan, are attached in any way to any political party. They are independent people. Deputy Gilmore suggested his party may be in Government soon. That may well be the case but in that instance he would have to work with these individuals. I believe these individuals are people of calibre, commitment and integrity. If Deputy Gilmore [461]found himself in exactly the same situation where these people made a recommendation to him while looking out for the best interests of the country, what would he have done? Would he have rejected it out of hand? I believe he would not have done so. They found themselves in a very difficult situation as did the Government. This was not something anyone would wish to contemplate before entering Government.

There has been much debate on whether it was the guarantee or NAMA that sparked this problem. As far as I know there was no such guarantee in Greece or Portugal. I do not believe there has been any equivalent to NAMA in those countries. In any case, the debate on the NAMA issue has changed. At the time, we were told NAMA would not pursue the builders. Certainly, it has done so. We were told it would pay over the odds. That is not the case. The criticism levelled at NAMA now is that it has led to the crystallisation of losses in the banks. The debate has changed. I do not believe these things led to the problems we face now.

Let us be honest with ourselves. What has led to this problem is the fact that the ECB has lent money in a reckless way to reckless banks. That is a fact and we must ask ourselves some difficult questions in this Chamber about the nature of the ECB and the euro project at this stage. I recall vividly the debate that occurred in this Chamber and the whole question of what Hans Tietmeyer of the Bundesbank termed an asymmetric shock. He stated that if there were an asymmetric shock in the eurozone it could not survive. This is what we are now experiencing. We must ask ourselves these questions. What should we do now at this stage with regard to the euro? This question is far bigger than anyone in this Chamber.

  7 o’clock

The satellite vans have gone. There are one their way to Portugal and, God knows, perhaps they will be on to Spain after that. What will we do with the euro? How can we survive this crisis? Inevitably, if the euro is to survive it will require some form of federal Europe. That is the only way. We could end up with a two-speed Europe. These are the realities that we must discuss in a very honest way in the coming weeks. Perhaps this is one of the things we would prefer to avoid but it is now unavoidable. If there were such a thing as a federal Europe, what would it lead to? It would lead to harmonised taxes. These are the realities to which everyone here must face up and it is likely Deputy Gilmore will have to face these when he takes on a role in Government.

It has been stated by Deputies on the other side that the Opposition has been placed in a straitjacket. That is an apt analogy in more ways than one. I warn those other parties that they should know when they enter government during this crisis, they will be entering an asylum. They will have to endure the sleepless nights, the no-win situation and the non-stop criticism.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister never said a truer word.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  The Minister should be certified.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The bank managers are not having too many sleepless nights.

Deputy John Gormley:  I have no doubt Deputy Gilmore will sit in my place next year, looking up at the Sinn Féin Deputies who will be criticising him non-stop. All Deputy Gilmore will be able to say in reply, just as we have said, is that he has no choice but to act.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Deputy Gormley should have stuck with his Government.

Deputy John Gormley:  There is nothing worse in a democracy when a politician must act in a way because his or her choices are limited. Deputy Gilmore will be faced with that lack of choice which will eat him up inside. I wish him well but there is much awaiting him.

[462]Deputy Eamon Gilmore:  Deputy Gormley is making assumptions about the general election that even I would not make.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Will the Minister do us a favour and bring the election on soon?

Deputy John Gormley:  For too long, we have engaged in auction politics and soft choices in this country. Fundamental reforms are required in our taxation and levy system to move it away from the boom-and-bust cycle of the past. Our economy must become more competitive so that we can export goods and services that will bring in the foreign earnings needed to restore the economy.

Fundamental mistakes were made as far back as 1977 when our tax system became skewed and made incomprehensible to many people. Many do not understand why we cannot have real local government, local taxes or water charges. For the first time, these issues will be addressed, which represents some form of progress.

Ireland will recover faster than many people have predicted. Our status as a small open economy means that while we suffer disproportionately on a downturn, we will benefit disproportionately on an upturn when the world and our trading partners enter economic growth. We are already trading in the black with exports exceeding imports. The value of exports by July 2010 had risen 12% since the previous July. New export businesses expanded in each month since September 2009, with overall manufacturing increasing by 5% by the middle of this year. Retail sales increased by 1.3% in August 2010 compared to August 2009. Unemployment rates always lag behind recovery but there is a marked decrease in the live register. September’s figures saw a 24,506 overall decrease.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  Probation more like it.

Deputy John Gormley:  As well as grappling with the problems of the past, we have worked hard to create the economy of the future, one in which our goods will be digitally traded and the energy balance of payments deficit of €6 billion — mostly through the import of fossil fuels — will be rectified in our favour. Such an economy will be created by a baseline electricity and broadband infrastructure. They are to the new economy what railroads were to the industrial revolution. The doubling of renewable energy sources on our energy system, the trebling of broadband provision and the €8 billion stimulus from the energy semi-State companies over the next four years will create and sustain thousands of jobs, jobs that cannot be outsourced in industries that have a long-term future. Much credit must go to my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Deputy Ryan, for his work in these areas.

We can see there are grounds for hard fact-based hope, not blind optimism, in this regard. We have the youngest economy in Europe with one in three of our people under the age of 23 years. We have the highest proportion of graduates in the 25-to-34 year age group. Our direct inward investment is five times that of the OECD average.

Jobs in the ICT sector increased by 6% last year to 73,000 according to the national skills strategy. I have seen many of these new jobs in Google, Facebook and eBay. Thousands of Irish software companies sell their innovation to the rest of the world.

The new economy will be more durable than the old because we understand the inherent dangers of short-term thinking. We must get the basics right and learn from the incredible mistakes made over many decades such as the lack of regulation and the skewed tax system. We have much to recommend us as long as we harness our potential to long-term sustainable recovery. None of this will be easy or simple. We must retain our optimism and confidence in [463]ourselves and in our people that we can and will emerge from this to overcome some of the greatest challenges ever to face this State.

Deputy Gilmore suggested the junior partners in the Government do not have the courage to leave it. I have said clearly, we want to stay to put through a budget. It takes courage to stay in to put through the toughest budget this country will ever see. I do not relish it but I will do it because it is the right course of action.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The asylum system is a thing of the past. I presume the asylum of Government Deputy Gormley referred to should also be a thing of the past.

The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government is acting in violation of the Constitution by imposing on the people this disastrous deal with the IMF and EU. The Government, with no mandate or political authority, has signed a deal that amounts to economic treason. It condemns this and future generations of Irish people to economic bondage for many years to come. This has been done not to address the State’s deficit problem but to shore up a corrupt banking system and protect international financial gamblers.

Under Article 29.5.2° of the Constitution there is an obligation on the Government to place before the Dáil all international agreements. It specifically refers to treaties which involve a charge on the public. If the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government persists in refusing to put the IMF-EU international loan agreement before the Oireachtas, it will be acting unconstitutionally.

Article 29.5.2° clearly states:

The State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann.

The Taoiseach’s attempt to refute this argument earlier today carries no credibility. It is an external agreement that involves the use of significant public funds in a long-term commitment that will strap future generations into economic bondage.

Even if the Taoiseach’s argument were right, there would still be a compelling moral and democratic obligation on the Government to place such a hugely important measure to a vote of the elected representatives of the people. I urge the Government to reconsider its whole approach to this matter.

It will not be put to a vote because the Taoiseach knows his chances of getting it passed in the Dáil are slimmer than those of passing the budget, even with Deputy Gormley’s commitment to vote for it. The budget might just scrape through. I hope it does not. This deal will be too much to swallow even for some of those with lead-lined stomachs on the Government backbenches. Deputies Lowry and Healy-Rae now hold the fate of this Government in their hands. It is time for them to realise that Kerry South and Tipperary North are part of the nation. Acting in the real national interest is also acting in the interests of the people of those constituencies. The tidal wave of damage that will be done to our people across the State if this rotten deal and the forthcoming savage budget are passed, will not somehow miraculously bypass Kerry South and Tipperary North.

We now have an insight into how this rotten deal was done thanks to a disgruntled and embittered Minister for Justice and Law Reform who announced today that he is to abandon the sinking ship of Fianna Fáil. He and others can couch it in any terms they like, but those are the facts. On the national airwaves today, Deputy Dermot Ahern said, “I do believe there was an effort to bounce us into a discussion before the Cabinet had even discussed it”. Just a [464]week ago, the outgoing Deputy for Louth told us that the prospect of an IMF intervention was “fiction”. In today’s radio interview, the Minister said it was the European Central Bank that “bounced the Government into the deal”. He added:

Those few days were extremely fraught. Quite clearly, there were people from outside this country who were trying to bounce us as a sovereign State into making an application; throwing in the towel before we had even considered it as a Government. They were leaking in the papers that Sunday. There was quite incredible pressure on this country and, if you notice, they’re doing the same with Portugal now.

The Minister also said that there had been no discussion at Cabinet over the IMF’s so-called bailout prior to the application. This was not clear before, but the Minister said there was no discussion at Cabinet before the application was made. To what type of collective coalition Government responsibility does that point? What an indictment of how the ECB works in the first instance, and what an indictment of this Cabinet and the Government. In spite of all this, however, the Minister says he is still backing the deal. Incredible is only one word to describe this situation, but there are many others. It is certainly incredible.

Thanks to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and, above all, a craven Fianna Fáil-Green Government, the people are being sold into economic bondage. We will be burdened with an average interest rate on this loan of at least 5.8% with the Government admitting this can vary according to market conditions. These conditions will almost certainly see this interest rate rise. What are the interest rates for the different elements within the plan? None of that detail has yet been shared with us in this Chamber. We do not know what the real cost of this loan will be because so much information is still being withheld.

The IMF representative has also made clear that funds can be shifted between elements of this deal. In other words, funds supposedly allocated for the public finances can be added to the billions that are to be thrown into the black hole of the banks. Last week, we met with the same IMF figures who appeared on our television screens. I do not know what others have said to them, but we put it to them that they were surely cheer-leaders through all the years of the so-called Celtic tiger. At that time, they encouraged and bualadh-bosed this Government’s tax cuts and public spending reductions. They were cheer-leaders in creating the conditions that gave rise to the property madness which burst the bubble and created all that we are having to suffer. Yet they can now stand on the sidelines and present themselves as if they were saviours, here to rescue the situation. They have been complicit in its creation, however, and they should share a significant part of the pain as a consequence. The same applies to the European Central Bank that unleashed billions into Irish banks. Those banks, in turn, let it out free-handedly into the property developers’ hands thus feeding into the self same madness that prevailed over many years. They are now ensuring that the only people who will bear the burden of responsibility in having to face up to this and pay for it are those who are absolutely innocent of its creation.

The extension by a year, to 2015, of the time set for the reduction of the deficit vindicates what Sinn Féin said, uniquely among the Dáil’s political parties, that the four-year timeframe is totally unrealistic. Yet we were dismissed by the Government and other voices for taking that position. Make no mistake, however, even an extension of 12 months, and pursuing the so-called objective by the method and approach to which this Government is absolutely wedded, will again result in a failure to deliver by that timeframe. The approach is wrong and so [465]is the timeframe. It will not matter what adjustment is made to the timeframe if one does not also adjust one’s approach.

This deal protects bondholders while being linked to a four year plan that punishes low to middle-income earners in Ireland and which will devastate public services. It is appalling that this deal is to take money from the National Pensions Reserve Fund to shovel yet more resources into the black hole of the banks.

Sinn Féin’s economic recovery plan for 2011, entitled “There is a Better Way”, called for the transfer of €7 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund for a State-wide investment programme. This would be a 3.5 year employment and infrastructural development package to provide stimulus, to protect existing jobs and to create new employment. Instead, however, we have an EU-IMF deal to raid the fund and bail out the banks. In addition, we have a so-called recovery plan for four years with no stimulus for growth and no strategy for job creation.

I note that on today’s Order of Business, the Taoiseach again referred to our proposals as “rubbish”. He is someone to label another party’s views and arguments as rubbish. He is the captain of a ship with that very name on its stern. If this Taoiseach and Government had shown less arrogance and more willingness to listen to alternative viewpoints and proposals, it would not have led the State into the current perilous position in which we find ourselves.

My party has some experience of negotiations, so I can tell the House this. Looking at this rotten deal, I can only conclude that this Government, and those who have represented us, irrespective of what the Minister, Deputy Gormley, had to say, could not negotiate snow off a rope. The consequences of this deal are so huge that I can only compare it to the Act of Union. In that case there was a vote in the Irish Parliament and the British Government had to bribe Members to vote for the union. The difference is that this Government saves itself the need to consider bribing the Members on the Government benches because it is denying everyone a vote. We will not have a say.

The Tánaiste:  How will we pay for everything?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Tánaiste should take the time to read what we have said. It is still possible for us to draw the State back from the brink. All is not over yet. The money must be drawn down before it must be repaid. This Government is on its way out, as Deputy Gormley has acknowledged repeatedly, and has stated there will be a drawdown delay with, for example, Bank of Ireland given until the new year to sell assets and see if it can raise money. Unanimous pressure must be applied on this Government and all Opposition parties, Independent Deputies and Fianna Fáil backbenchers who have expressed no confidence in the Taoiseach. No fewer than five of them did so between Friday and Monday of last week and they need to mould together and vote against the budget on 7 December, thereby ensuring an immediate general election. That is needed.

A new Government should refuse to honour the terms of the loan agreed by a Government that is roundly rejected by the electorate and widely acknowledged to be one of the most inept Administrations in the history of the State. The State still has options. We can burn the bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank. We can offer to buy out bondholders in AIB and Bank of Ireland at hugely discounted rates to go away before we fully nationalise both banks or we can burn those bondholders also. This is a market solution to a market problem. This is bank debt, not Irish Government or sovereign debt. Let us not forget it. The blanket banking guarantee must be immediately abolished and the only guarantee to remain should be that for depositors and deposits up to €100,000. This will show international markets that we are serious about [466]protecting our citizens and rebuilding our economy at the earliest opportunity. That is the message the international community and serious players in the bond markets overseas are looking for from Ireland.

The terms of the EU-IMF loan are absolutely ludicrous. The average interest rate on the deal is 5.8%. The Greek deal was at 5.2%. The interest payments alone will cripple our public finances for years, let alone payments on the lump sums if it is drawn down. There is no provision for servicing this debt in the four year plan. All future tax measures and spending cuts will be used to service the debt. They will not reduce the State’s structural deficit. International confidence in our economy is not improving. On the contrary, interest rates have shot up again and, as Mr. Paul Krugman pointed out, “investors have noticed that all those austerity measures are depressing the Irish economy — and are fleeing Irish debt because of that economic weakness.”

This deal must be rejected and cannot be binding on a future Government. The Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government should immediately resign. This disastrous agreement has profound consequences for Irish society for many years to come. We are calling on Members of this Dáil of all parties and Independent Members to stand up and oppose this deal. The only way we can truly ensure it is confined to the pages of history is to have this Government brought screaming before the electorate and for the electorate to make its judgment.

Deputy Michael Noonan:  I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

recognises the urgent need for the establishment of economic and political stability;

believes that an accelerated budgetary process would contribute to economic stability;

notes that Dáil Éireann is currently scheduled to sit for just eight days during the month of December;

notwithstanding anything in Standing Order 26 resolves that the Dáil should, if necessary, sit on each working day during December to deal with the budgetary process; and

agrees that the 2011 Budget, and the legislative measures to give effect to it, should be presented to, and disposed of, by the House before the end of December 2010.”

I propose to share time with Deputies Michael Creed, Denis Naughten, Shane McEntee, John O’Mahony and Bernard Durkan. In this motion we express the view that we will facilitate the Government to conclude all the necessary budgetary business before Christmas. We are doing this because if what happened in Ireland happened in a private company, the first move would be to change the management team. The same rules should apply to the country. The people should be consulted and given an opportunity to change the management team by electing a new Government. This should be done in January, as stated by the Green Party. The Fianna [467]Fáil component of the Government should not prevent this by deliberately delaying the legislation underpinning the forthcoming budget. I refer to the social welfare Bill and the finance Bill. I understand the Government intends bringing forward the debate on the social welfare Bill, as it did last year, to the day after the budget and subsequent days. Fine Gael will facilitate the Government to introduce the finance Bill before Christmas also. We will do so by agreeing to sit on whatever days are necessary to enact the finance Bill in its totality before Christmas. We will do so whether the sitting days are in plenary session in this Chamber or Committee Stage is taken in the committee rooms.

There is plenty of time to bring forward the finance Bill between now and Christmas. The debate in negotiations with European Central Bank, the IMF and the European Commission has been so prolonged that the preparatory work for the finance Bill is ready. While there may be some drafting necessary, there is no reason everything cannot be concluded in time for the Christmas recess.

We agree it is necessary to enact the social welfare Bill before 1 January because the measures in the Bill will date from 1 January. However, we do not agree that it is necessary to enact the finance Bill but, seeing as this is the Government’s position, we are prepared to facilitate it. In respect of financial resolutions, the website of the Department of Finance states: “If there are Financial Resolutions under the 1927 Provisional Collection of Taxes Act in the Budget, the Second Stage of the Finance Bill must be passed in Dáil Éireann within 84 days of Budget Day and the Bill must be signed by the President within 4 months of Budget Day.” Once the financial resolutions are passed on budget day, the Government is not constrained to rush the finance Bill. The finance resolutions are passed on budget day and there is a four-month lifespan before the President must sign the finance Bill into law.

The finance resolutions survive a dissolution of the Dáil. All other items before the Dáil die on the dissolution of the House but not the finance Bill. It is not necessary to enact the Second Stage of the finance Bill for 84 days after budget day. It does not have to be signed into law for 100 days. There are precedents for this. One in which Fine Gael was involved was when the 1982 Government came into power on 14 December. The finance Bill was not taken until the first week in April. If the Government insists on passing the finance Bill, Fine Gael will facilitate it by doing so before Christmas. We do not agree that this is necessary and we do not want the processing of the finance Bill to be used as an excuse by this failed Government to delay an election which is now so necessary.

In view of this and as the Government disintegrates, as Ministers leave the field of battle, and as the Taoiseach looks increasingly like Macbeth in the last act, surrounded by enemies, abandoned by friends but pledged to go down fighting, is it not time to take this Dáil out of its pain and let us have an election early in the new year? Let us give the people an opportunity for a fresh start, an opportunity to elect a new Government, rebuild our shattered confidence, our shattered lives, our shattered hopes and dreams and step forward into 2011 with hope, confidence and optimism with new men and women in charge committed to change, to rebuilding this Republic and to taking our people forward with a restored economy to better times.

The most extraordinary thing that happened today was the interview by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform when he announced his retirement from politics. I wish him well in his retirement. His interview on the “Today with Pat Kenny” show was extraordinary. He described, in effect, how the Government had been mugged by the European institutions, dragged like victims, unknowing what the agenda was, to sign an agreement which was negotiated by civil servants and in which the Government played no part. Was there ever a better [468]reason for sacking this Administration than that apologia presented by the Minister for Justice and Law Reform? If work needs to be done between now and Christmas, we will not support the Government in voting that agenda through but we will support the Government in providing the time for it to do that work. The Government should take that opportunity and let us go at home at Christmas with the intention of the Dáil not coming back in January and for the Taoiseach to call an election in the first week in January because this has to end. It is painful to look at this Administration at present. It is time for change if there was ever time for change.

Deputy Michael Creed:  I commend Deputy Noonan for tabling the motion before the House and for affording me an opportunity to make a few brief comments on it. The country yearns for stability more than anything else; political stability and economic stability. The only real way that can be delivered is by the people having their say in a general election. Politicians do not like elections at the best of times. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Mansergh, is not particularly looking forward to an election either.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I am actually.

Deputy Michael Creed:  None the less——

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  A minority of turkeys look forward to Christmas.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  I do not think it will be before Christmas.

Deputy Michael Creed:  To delay the inevitable any longer is to stick one’s finger in the eye of the public who are seething with anger about where we are and how this Government has led us to this scenario.

As far as I am concerned the blame game is over. The focus now is on how we can progress from here. The fundamental foundation of any progression will be democratic legitimacy. In the context of the enormity of what the Government is contemplating leading the country into, the fact that it does not have the democratic imprimatur of the public means it will never be accepted. It will always be a millstone around the neck of Fianna Fáil but it may well be a millstone around the neck of incoming Governments if it is not given the democratic legitimacy an election affords. Therefore, to deliver political and economic stability we need to clear the decks. We need to know that there will be a general election early in the new year. In order to get to that position we are saying to the Government that we will co-operate in terms of time provision to bring forward the finance Bill, social welfare Bill and the budget. That is eminently sensible and reasonable. I cannot understand why the Government will not accept the motion.

Woodrow Wilson, a former President of the United States, said on the occasion of the passing of the Federal Reserve Act, which I understand is the foundation stone for the American taxation system, that America was a country controlled by its credit system. He went on to say that it was no longer a government by free opinion, conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men. How applicable, regrettably, that is to where we are at as a nation. We are subject to the duress of a small group of dominant players outside of this country. The duress to which we are being subjected has never been debated or approved in a public forum. In the context of the enormity of what is being considered an election is the only way that such legitimacy can be brought about.

[469]We are told that what is contemplated in the bailout by the IMF and the European Union cannot be renegotiated. It will be subject to quarterly reviews. We were also told it was an article of faith that the Lisbon treaty could not be renegotiated. Yet, no sooner had it been rejected in the initial referendum in this country but wheels were put in place to take on board the reservations, improve the treaty and offer greater guarantees in respect of the fears that were expressed by the Irish electorate. Ultimately, a better deal was secured. A better deal can be secured in this regard also.

I acknowledge that we must get access to funds given that we cannot do so at market rates because of the mess the Government has led us into. We need access to funds. In many respects we are fortunate that people are prepared to give us funds. It is ironic that having been good Europeans for years, the funds available from Europe come at a premium whereas the funds available from the IMF are at a more favourable rate. That sticks in the craw of many people in this House and around the country who have supported the European ideal and movement.

In respect of where we are at and the deal that has been the subject of debate earlier, last year the Government introduced a national recovery bond at 3.96% over ten years. There were soundings in the four year plan published last week about a national recovery bond. We should be in a position to take maximum advantage of the remaining capital that is held by Irish investors in Irish banks and offer them an equivalent rate to put their funds into a national recovery bond for a shorter term than the ten years originally envisaged. Ten years is too long a period not to have access to one’s funds. It should be done on a comparable basis for three, five or seven years in the same way as the various funds that are available to us in the rescue package. We should pay that rate to Irish investors and get Irish capital. That would establish a platform to which ordinary citizens of this Republic can contribute.

I am alarmed at the use of the National Pensions Reserve Fund. In effect, what we are being asked to do with our pensions reserve fund is to bail out pension fund managers across the European Union who put their pensioners’ funds into Anglo Irish Bank and other banks in the State. We have a ticking timebomb in respect of the cost of pensions. Now we have this pot plundered to the extent of €20 billion —€10 billion under this deal and €10 billion previously. No consideration has been given to that ticking timebomb, which is arising due to our demographic profile, in terms of future pension provision.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  An act of treachery is the only way one could describe what went on over the weekend in terms of the agreement that was signed by the Government on our behalf. This contract of shame will bring real poverty to many homes throughout the country. Every man, woman and child will need to pay €6.50 in interest every day. It will be a millstone around every citizen’s neck. It will bring poverty to homes where people worked long and hard during the boom so that they could have better days. They are now looking to their children’s piggy banks to pay for Christmas, all for a deal at any cost from a Government of half truths, part truths and blatant untruths. The Taoiseach has told us it is imperative that the budget be passed and that we send a clear signal to the international money markets that we will pass it and the Finance Bill, yet we are being told there will be time enough to pass the Bill next March or April. If it is so important, introduce it in the House and we will debate and pass judgment on it.

Let us go to the people and let them have their say once and for all. This country and its people are crying out for the truth, hope and a future. The people were betrayed by the Government before the last general election. We were told by the then Minister for Finance of soft landings which failed to materialise. We then had the Taoiseach’s words of wisdom in [470]May 2009, when he stated: “We are beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.” That light was the septic bank express coming down the track straight at us to pulverise our country and economy.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  We cannot have hope without truth and we cannot have a future without hope. For the people, this situation is like falling down a well. They are falling and falling while the Government tells them to trust it and that they will reach the bottom some time. The more they fall, the darker it gets, yet they are being told that, if they have confidence and believe in the Government, they will hit the bottom, but they are not hitting the bottom. Instead, they are continuing to fall. There is nothing worse than the feeling of never knowing when one will reach the bottom. We need to put in place a floor for this mess once and for all and restore confidence in the economy. If people hit the ground, look up and see even a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel high above, they will know there is hope. As long as they continue to fall, this will never occur.

We need an election. I urge Green Party Members, who rarely attend the House to hear what is said, to look up at their television monitors and to attend the House tomorrow night. If they want to give the people a say, they should vote for this motion. They should give the people a democratic choice in January by voting the Government out of office and allowing a new Government, one of reform and honesty, to be formed.

Matters are bad, but they can improve. However, we need a Government that is prepared to protect that which is important, namely, jobs, a proper health service, the disabled and the elderly. We do not need a Government that protects those who shout the loudest and believe they are important, such as the banks and Fianna Fáil’s donors. Our job as Members of the national Parliament is to provide a future to young people. We need to focus on this future if we are to provide jobs and realistic medium-term plans. We need to ensure the most vulnerable in our communities, namely, the working poor and those who cannot work, for example, children, the disabled and the elderly, are not sacrificed to address budget stabilisation measures. We need a Government that is willing to make a real difference and to help those who want to help themselves.

Our economy has sound fundamentals, so we need to give people the small bit of confidence they need. We must support our small indigenous businesses, including those in our agrifood and tourism sectors. A small, simple step that could be taken tomorrow morning would save money, although I know that a discussion on saving money is alien to this Government. Let us start breaking up public tenders. We could give our small companies the opportunity to tender for Government contracts, which would provide local jobs instead of hiving everything off to multinationals elsewhere in Europe. What about supporting small businesses? We would not need the 70 State agencies and quangos involved in supporting and regulating small businesses. It is time the Government got its act together, but the only way to do so is to get out and give the country the opportunity to hope. Give people an election.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I thank my party colleague, Deputy Noonan, for an opportunity to speak on this crucial issue. Of most concern to me is the degree to which the Opposition was appealed to in recent months to be constructive and to support the Government in its future projections and policies. We were also asked to support the likely conclusions of the negotiations that were held in Brussels in recent weeks. Amazingly, there was no provision for [471]the Opposition to make an input into those negotiations. We were expected to give a carte blanche. We could not make any submission whatsoever to the European institutions or the personalities involved in the arrangement before the House. Worse still, elected Members who were supposed to represent the country had little participation in those deliberations. This concerns me greatly. It appears that a prescription, one which it is deemed will resolve our problems, is about to be administered to the people of this country, but some of us believe it will create even greater problems. It is about to be visited upon a luckless public who did not call for the situation at which we have arrived.

I worry about the far-reaching consequences of the route that has been embarked upon. I respectfully suggest that the Government should re-examine some of the provisions it agreed in recent weeks. It should then revise its opinions, particularly those on growth. I cannot understand how the growth projection figures put out by the Government and discounted by European institutions could sit alongside the punitive fiscal measures that have been proposed.

Another issue must be borne in mind. A theme seems to be running across European opinion to the effect that a number of countries must be severely punished for what has occurred. Perhaps the economic model we pursued in recent years was not as water-tight or correct as it should have been. While Ireland and its Government made several mistakes culminating in the debt now being foisted upon the public, it would appear that there were also flaws in the economic policy pursued at EU level.

  8 o’clock

At a meeting in Brussels some time ago when confronted with assertions by banking and investment institutions that the old ways did not work and new ways to deal with the situation needed to be found, a senior European administrator was quick to point out that the old and established ways did work and had done so for generations, but were ignored while new ways that no one observed were introduced. Unfortunately, this is what occurred in Ireland. If it also occurred across Europe, which seems to be the case, there is a serious and fundamental problem that cannot be resolved by this country on its own, only by the EU’s full recognition that everyone in the bubble was responsible. A great deal of blame has been attached to the global economic downturn, Lehman Brothers and all the other things, and the worldwide recession. It is true that there is a worldwide problem, and it is serious, but this country has its own problem. It was built on the property bubble, when the property market here became a lending and borrowing institution, and the whole thing went crazy and went off the rails.

There have always been economic norms in lending and borrowing, what is prudent and what is not. These have been accepted internationally. Why were they ignored for so long? We are still ignoring them in this House, even today. I raised a question about various legislative proposals in relation to banking, control and regulation, and the situation still has not changed. After September 2008, I would have thought one of the first things that should have taken place is the type of institutional reform and change to which I refer.

I hope the Government fully understands the magnitude of what has happened. I do not get great pleasure in blaming anybody for it, because unfortunately the main Opposition parties now have to carry the responsibility for bringing this country through what it is a very serious problem. I hope the Government when in Opposition will be as helpful as it claims the Opposition now should be, and has been.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Only when history is written in 40 or 50 years time will we realise how big a week this was for Ireland as regards whether the right decisions were made. It has been 11 months of hell for our people and we only have one month left in 2010. Tomorrow is [472]1 December, and many people in business have said to me, in effect, “If we get to Christmas, we shall see whether we can struggle on”.

Everyone would like to believe they can put this year behind us. Whether it is the IMF that is in control or whoever, we all have a responsibility to get the IMF out as quickly as we can. We have to reclaim our sovereignty back, because by God, it took us so long to get it. I do not know how it may be hurting any other Member of this House, but it is hurting me to think that the Germans, the French and the British are talking about putting money in for the good of Ireland. They are not putting it in for the good of Ireland, but rather for themselves. Whether it is 2.8%, 5.8% or 6.8%, I am not a fool and neither are the people fools.

We cannot pay back those billions. At some stage there must be renegotiation and if the euro is saved, they will have to look to Ireland and write off some of that money, because we simply cannot pay it. I am delighted to hear my colleague saying we will not support the budget. The people who will be asked to pay that will be those on middle and lower incomes. That cannot be done in my constituency. Those are the people I deal with on a daily basis, from morning to night from Ashbourne to Bailieborough. They cannot meet it and any government that tries to force this on them would see us turning against each other.

To think some people are being asked to work for €7.50 an hour when others are earning nearly €200 an hour and will not be touched. That will lead to anarchy. Our young people, after all the education they have received, deserve something. By God, they got some education in the past 11 months. They had a great time for a few years because of their education and everything, but the biggest buck they will get is that there is no jobs for them.

We have to start talking about jobs from 1 January. As some Members from other parties have said, we have a great deal to be proud of. We have a country that is half built. Only half our schools are built. There are 200 girls in Navan, first-year students who have no school to go to next September. Their friends have got their places but there are absolutely no classrooms for them. That has to be addressed. There are people there to build schools, and when we set out to build them, we should not give the work to other than these Irish people.

Agriculture is ready to explode. We have the best farming facilities, the best regulation, the best dairy, beef, sheep, pig farmers in the world. Some 100 million extra people are coming into the world every year, most of them in Asia, and they are eating European foods. We have to start being positive, and promote farming. We need to get people to stay on the land, and persuade our educated people not to go to Australia. Already Australia is full. Three times this week I received phone calls from people who went to Australia. They are roaming the streets there already. That has to stop.

We have to do what India did in the 1970s and 1980s and look after our people. We cannot have people leaving these shores, some of them ending up in jails, without any way to get home, or wandering the streets of Australia, Canada or England. We have a responsibility, and any Member of the Dáil who wants to come back when the new term starts just to serve out his or her time, should stay at home now, because there are many young people here who want to get this country going.

Every day this Government stands still and prevaricates, because it is not being positive in what it is doing. It is causing jobs to be lost and general mayhem. I listened to the Minister, Deputy John Gormley this evening and could not believe what I heard. He is a broken man. If he has sleepless nights, he should quit now. The only one who should have sleepless nights over a business is the bank manager, because it was he or she who gave the money. This [473]Government has a responsibility to its people, not its parties. Do what we are asking. Fine Gael has a plan on how to get people back to work. Give us that chance. Give the people a chance. The parties in government have had a good time at it.

They did much good, too, no question when one looks at the roads and sees what has been done. However, they should take the break and give people who want to run the country the opportunity.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  Every citizen is frightened and apprehensive about the future, whether employed, unemployed, in the public or private sector, parent, grandparent, student or child. I heard a five year old child say to her mother the other day, “Am I going to have to go to America or England when I leave school?”, and it brought home to me the amount of apprehension and fear on the ground.

This motion, if it were agreed or passed, would bring a definite time line for these people into the immediate future. I commend Deputy Noonan for once again capturing the mood and the pulse of the people, and for tabling the motion at this time. Members of the public know that the medicine to be doled out will not be easy, and to some extent they have been conditioned for it. They have lost all confidence in the ability of the present regime to plot a path out of it any time soon. This view is reinforced by the events of recent days which have seen our future and those of our children sold out to the EU and the IMF. We saw much of the proposed recovery plan become obsolete before the ink was dry. In the past 24 hours, for instance, the Government’s growth projection have been drastically reduced by the EU, from 1.75% to 0.9% in 2011, and from 3.2% to 1.9% for 2012. This means that the budget deficit will grow at a much faster rate than was stated only seven days ago. Talk about shifting sands under our feet. We then come to the weekend when we gave away the last piece of our piggy bank, the €17.5 billion of the pensions reserve fund, which was the one good thing done by this Government in the squander mania of the Celtic tiger era. It was to be the nest egg to provide for social welfare and pension provisions into the future but the vast majority of it is now gone to cover the ineptitude and incompetence of this Government.

The body language of every statement, press conference and one-to-one interview on television over the weekend indicated that this Government is a beaten docket, that these negotiations were not really negotiations at all but were totally and absolutely one-sided. If they were negotiations, I would hate to think what the EU and IMF were looking for in the first instance. The reality of these decisions taken after the weekend is that the main agenda of our European partners was to save the euro rather than Ireland and the Government let them walk all over it. It was said to me today that the only thing not conceded in this past week was the playing of the all-Ireland finals for the next ten years at either Wembley Stadium or the Olympic Stadium in Munich.

People are crying out for some sense of certainty and stability, economic and political. This motion, if passed, would give them that. People want to get on with it and to then have a general election as soon as possible after the budget. To bring this about the finance and social welfare Bills would need to come before this House before Christmas. As it is, we will sit for only eight more days this session. These Bills could be dealt with if we sat each working day. This would give people the opportunity to give their verdict early in the New Year on the unfairness, incompetence and arrogance of this Government during the past 15 years.

I note the amendment proposed by Government proposes the usual budgetary practice. It is the usual budgetary practice for the past two decades that has us bankrupt. It is the usual [474]budgetary practice that could have us voting on a finance Bill next March. This country and its people do not have the time or the patience to wait until then.

I commend the motion to the House.

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

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

commends the Government for bringing forward the National Recovery Plan which provides the blueprint to achieve budgetary stability over the next four years;

notes that the Plan provides a credible path towards budgetary consolidation and a return to sustainable economic growth;

notes that the measures in Budget 2011 will give effect to the first phase of adjustment committed to in the Plan to be put into effect in 2011;

agrees that the national interest is best served by all parties in the House facilitating the passage of these measures in the present uniquely serious circumstances; and

endorses a timetable which will see the presentation of the 2011 Budget on 7 December 2010, the introduction of the necessary Resolutions in accordance with usual Budgetary practice and the enactment in the New Year of the necessary legislation to give definitive effect to the Budget measures.

I wish to share time with the Minister for Defence, Deputy Killeen.

While one can agree with Fine Gael that there is an urgent need to establish economic stability, almost all Members of the House also recognise this need. The Taoiseach on 22 November stated that the vital national interests of this country require that financial stability be achieved.He went on to say that with the national recovery plan and the joint ECB-IMF-EU Commission programme for support, adopting the budget with its €6 billion adjustment in 2011 and taking the necessary legislative and other measures to give effect to the terms of the budgetwere how this stability is to be achieved.

Since then, the Government has published its National Recovery Plan 2011-14, which sets out a wide-ranging blueprint for recovery and a return to sustainable economic growth. It has also concluded negotiations on a programme for international financial support for Ireland from the European Union, the ECB, the IMF, as well as bilateral support from the United Kingdom, Sweden and Denmark. Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers have also given their unanimous support to this programme. Having published the national recovery plan and reached agreement on the international support programme, the Government can, to the extent that the business of the House allows, resume work on finalising budget 2011, which will be presented to the Dáil in one week’s time on Tuesday, 7 December.

Next week’s budget will be one of the most important budgets in the history of this State. When passed, it will mark a crucial step towards stabilising the public finances, the financial sector and the economy and will place us decisively on the way to recovery. If this House does not support what needs to be done and if, as a result, these aims are not achieved, those responsible will have to bear responsibility for the consequences.

[475]The terms of Fine Gael’s motion seem to imply that the Government does not want budget 2011 and all of its associated legislative measures to be debated fully in the Oireachtas. As matters stand, if the Dáil does not rise as planned on 16 December, this would result in six additional days being available to the end of the year, namely, 21, 22, 23 and 28, 29, 30 DecemberThese extra days would not be enough to enable the House deal with all of the legislation normally associated with a budget, in particular the finance Bill. Furthermore, it would be impossible to bring forward budget day, in particular in circumstances where the Department of Finance has been so deeply involved in preparing the national recovery plan and in dealing with the negotiations related to the financial support programme for Ireland. The Minister for Finance has been in the past accused of ramming measures through this House and so it is rather ironic that the main Opposition party wants him to rush through the full budgetary process in the short period before the end of the year. This is not what the Minister or any of his Government colleagues want.

The importance of this budget makes it imperative that all sides of this House be given the opportunity to debate as fully as needs be the budget and its associated legislative measures. This debate by Members of this House should enable voters who elected them to be presented with the basis for assessing in a balanced way the details of the measures presented in the budget and their implications for them and their families not just for next year but also for the years to come. Although there is nothing precluding the commencement of the finance Bill process immediately after the budget if the House decides to do so, it is traditional to leave time gaps between Stages, mainly in the Dáil. This is a good tradition which allows Deputies and Senators to examine the Bill and to submit amendments or recommendations to change it. The normal timescale also allows for the drafting of amendments by the Department of Finance, Revenue Commissioners and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel, as well as for printing of the Bill and amendments. Were an accelerated timescale to be adopted, this would also rule out Committee and Report Stage amendments unless they could be done in a short time, namely, within hours. This would not be advisable given the degree of complexity of tax legislation and the consequent risks involved.

Whatever about the length of the process in disposing of budget 2011, there is no escaping the fact that the programme of international financial support for Ireland and the framework set out in the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, which is now embedded in this programme, will have to be implemented. This means that budget 2011 must give effect to the first stages of the programme and the plan. The scale of the proposed expenditure and taxation measures in the national recovery plan as outlined by the Government last Wednesday were such that, understandably, most of the contributions in the House in the ensuing debate and in the media have focused on these and not on the recovery dimension. While stabilising the public finances is essential and imperative, we cannot limit our actions to these areas. I have already referred to the fact that the plan contains a blueprint for recovery and a return to sustainable economic growth.

The plan identifies the areas of economic activity that will provide growth and employment in the recovery and specifies the reforms that the Government will implement to accelerate growth in these key areas. We have to help our economy grow by building on our strong export performance and this means that we have to improve our competitiveness. By this, I do not mean just the usual approach of cutting costs, primarily pay. While this is necessary the plan goes much further by identifying a large number of directions and setting out a wide range of proposals for making the economy, public and private sector, perform better in the future and therefore underpin dynamic growth across the board.

[476]The Government will support the private sector through sectoral policies to deliver reforms, which will remove structural barriers to competitiveness, employment creation, and to securing the conditions for growth. These reforms will help support job growth in key domestically trading sectors, such as retail and hospitality, as well as supporting sustained growth in the key knowledge-intensive sectors. The plan will continue to develop Building Ireland’s Smart Economy, under which the Government has taken action in each of the key areas identified in it. The Government has acted in all these areas to tackle short-term difficulties while laying the basis for future recovery. The new plan contains a large number of action points, on which the Government will deliver to secure reforms in the private and public sectors over the next four years.

I am confident the private enterprise sector will respond well to these reforms, in terms of increases in investment, job creation and growth. However, the public sector must also deliver reforms for private enterprise to prosper. We have to lower the costs of delivering public services, and these services have to be delivered more effectively. This requires transformation in the public service, which requires delivery on the Croke Park agreement. I acknowledge that the costs of adjusting to the present crisis have been greater for public servants than for most of the great majority of workers in the private sector, who have been lucky enough to keep their jobs, though many in the private sector have not kept their jobs and, therefore, that affects the comparison. Nevertheless, more is needed from public servants, if the cost of public services is to be brought to an affordable level, and if the level of these services is to be maintained with reduced resources. Adjusting to this new environment may be difficult for some in the short term. On the positive side, however, the result of these reforms will be that it will be easier in the future for public servants to do a better job and to gain recognition from their colleagues and from the public for doing so.

The set of reforms outlined in the plan is ambitious but these measures will work. The adjustments made to improve competitiveness through reducing pay and increasing productivity are having a positive impact. Our export growth will be strong this year and will remain so over the period of the plan. Over the past two months or so, there have been welcome indications that the labour market, in terms of employment and unemployment, is stabilising. Economic output, measured in terms of gross domestic product, will show a small increase this year. Given the fall of more than 7.5 % in GDP in 2009, this is a heartening demonstration of the resilience of Ireland’s economy and of the potential for recovery over the next four years. Even today, the KBC-ESRI consumer sentiment index showed an increase in November after three months of sharp falls.

The indications of stabilisation are also evident in the retail sales index where the rate of decline in core sales has slowed in recent months. Although we should be cautious about these data, they are pointing in the right direction. Uncertainty is still playing a major role in economic developments, but the combination of the budget 2011, the EU-IMF programme and the national recovery plan will remove most of this uncertainty and allow for more informed and positive consumption decisions.

The amendment states, “the national interest is best served by all parties in the House facilitating the passage of these measures in the present uniquely serious circumstances”. Fine Gael accepts the Government’s overall objective for stabilising the public finances. While elements of its budgetary menu differ from those of the Government’s, much of it is the same because we all have little room for manoeuvre. I, therefore, call on Fine Gael, Labour, Sinn [477]Féin and other Members of the House, who have the national interest at heart, to facilitate the passage of budget 2011 in what are uniquely serious circumstances.

The budget will be hard but necessary. The world is watching what we do more closely than it has ever done. The House is expected to do the right thing by facilitating the passage of the measures that are needed now to extract us from the crises in the financial sector and in the public finances as fast as possible. If we do this, the underlying dynamism of our economy will provide a sustained upsurge in growth, which will create jobs and enable our young people to make their living in their own country. If, however, we are not decisive in our commitment to these measures, what is at stake is not just Ireland’s future but also the welfare of the citizens of our fellow members of the EU. I am confident the House will know to do the right thing.

I always have a wry smile when literary and historical references are made by Opposition Members. Deputy Noonan conjured up the brave Macbeth who was a strong leader but I was thinking of the Forest of Dunsinane to describe the Fine Gael benches. Credit problems have been an issue for governments throughout the ages. Emperor Charles V was dependent on his banker, Fugger. The collapse of credit led to the French Revolution while British financial difficulties following the First World War, particularly loans from America, were a substantial motive for them to conclude the truce because of the effect this would have on American opinion.

Opposition Members are less concerned about the grave situation of the country and more eager for an immediate election. They will not have to wait long and, therefore, they might curb their impatience.

Deputy Naughten touched on the issue of procurement. He should note what the national procurement service has done in breaking up contracts and trying to make the system as friendly as possible to SMEs but, at the same time, one cannot ignore that Ireland is a member of the Single Market. One cannot apply to procurement the economic self-sufficiency model that existed in Ireland prior to the mid-1950s, as we have to conquer markets. We cannot simply reply on the home market.

Border issues were raised regarding the IMF and the EU. When the British Labour Government sought help from the IMF in 1969 and 1976, nobody argued for long that it had lost its national independence and sovereignty and it is quite clear that we have not. I refer to three areas in which it is clear we maintain control of our affairs. The purpose of the loan is to maintain the services we have, need and want. The 12.5% corporation tax rate is an important dimension of sovereignty and that was not touched. Much to the rage of some of our friends in the Sunday Independent, the Croke Park agreement continues to exist.

Deputy Durkan referred to countries being punished. I presume this was an oblique reference to the hard line attitude of the German Government to bailouts but I remind Fine Gael Members that they are part of the Christian Democrat grouping in the European Parliament and they are political allies of Chancellor Merkel. If they find themselves in power they will be able to exercise more influence than we have done but I have my doubts.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  I thank the Minister of State for his confidence.

Deputy Martin Mansergh:  Reference was made to the property boom. We had a high stamp duty rate, particularly at the higher levels, which was again complained about by our friends in the Sunday Independent. People wanted to lower or abolish them but that would not have been a cure for the property boom.

[478]Deputy McEntee correctly mentioned the more upbeat mood in the agriculture industry. This has been a better year for farmers. I met a veterinarian recently who said that, for the first time in three years, his bills are being paid. Deputy O’Mahony spoke about a five year old worrying about whether he would have to emigrate. I have a daughter who spoke in her teenage years of emigrating, but she is working in Ireland. These things go around in cycles. The Deputy claims to have no faith in this Government, but I am not sure there is much faith in the alternatives either. To some extent, we are all in the same boat and we have to recapture the faith of the electorate.

Language like “sold out to the EU and the IMF” is very irresponsible and emotive. These are not our enemies. We will need the help of our friends and partners in Europe and the IMF. The director general of the IMF is not a hard right neoliberal, but a French socialist who is rumoured to be a possible candidate for the next presidential elections. Deputy O’Mahony referred to “squandermania”, but putting aside €25 billion in the National Pensions Reserve Fund is not “squandermania” by my standards.

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The Minister of State has just made a very compelling case for the Government amendment on the timescale involved in preparing and passing the Finance Bill. It is important to bear this in mind because this important work needs to be done in a considered fashion. We need to accept on all sides of the House that people who are elected to the national Parliament come in here with the best interests of the country at heart and take the action which they believe is best to address the difficulties of the moment. The situation for the Government is different because the Government is in a position where it must make decisions and the role of the Opposition is to address those points and argue against them. However, there have been a number of occasions over the past two years, and especially over the past couple of weeks, when the interests of the country have been significantly damaged when points made by Opposition Deputies and commentators in the media have gone much further than is warranted. These comments have grievously undermined the confidence in the country and, as a result, have damaged its interests.

A point is frequently made in the House and in the media about the mandate of the Government. It is incumbent on all of us who have been elected to this House as representatives of the people to defend the mandate, as set out in the Constitution and in subsequent legislation, that is given to the Taoiseach on the formation of the Government and at frequent intervals when motions of confidence are debated in the House. There can be absolutely no doubt about the mandate of the Government. It may well be that, at some time in the future, other combinations of parties form a Government here. In view of the fact that this is a possibility, and a probability according to opinion polls, it is incumbent on people who are currently on the Opposition benches to take account of the fact that the mandate of the Government is constitutionally based on the will of the people expressed in a general election, and not in those opinion polls. We need to differentiate very clearly between our duty to uphold the constitutional provisions and the will of the people as expressed exclusively in the ballot box.

Newspaper owners benefited enormously from the financial windfall of their property supplements and they might now be peddling books with plagiarised remedies on the economic and political situation. We must differentiate ourselves from such people. When we hear a remedy put forward that calls for a number of experts from outside the political system be put in charge so that they run the country and de facto undermine the very existence of democracy, then it is time for all of us to address that and say “No”. There is a constitutional provision under which a Taoiseach is elected, who then nominates a Government and goes to the Pres[479]ident for ratification, and that this is the lawful Government of this country until beaten in a vote or defeated in an election. It would be an important step towards restoring confidence not just in the country, but also in the political system, were we to point out this fact. We can have plenty of arguments on ancillary matters, but we need to differentiate between ourselves as elected parliamentarians and those who invested unwisely and lost large amounts of money on property portfolios in Ireland or abroad and have an agenda arising from that. That is a particularly important consideration.

Reference has been made to a statement made by one of my colleagues about the experience of being in Government. I have been in the Government for a short period, but while it has been challenging, it has been fulfilling and I have found the Taoiseach and my colleagues able to face up to the challenges of the day, weighing up the options, taking advice from the Governor of the Central and the CEO of the NTMA, Mr. John Corrigan, and others, examining the options and then making decisions about the EU and IMF funding. This is very important because my experience has been positive. It has been difficult and difficult decisions have been made, but if one wants to serve the people in Government, then one would have to be prepared to face up to the difficult decisions and to face the fact that the options are not always exclusively attractive or acceptable. The decisions made in my view are taken from the best options available at this particular time.

We often forget that there are very positive indicators in the economy. There was an acknowledgment by Deputy McEntee of Fine Gael that considerable work had been done on the infrastructure of the country, and that is a testament to good investment in times when we had plenty. We also had huge investment in human resources, education and health and in other areas. We had an extraordinary level of investment in areas like pensions, social welfare payments and right across the economy, and not just in the public sector. Having faced difficult challenges over the last two years, we continue to have 1.8 million people in employment, which is twice the figure of the late 1980s. We continue have an extraordinary level of productivity, huge success in our export sector, and a move from a 10% drop in GNP in 2009 to a slight increase this year, which is de facto an 11% improvement. The 2009 drop followed from a 4% drop in 2008. There are some highly positive trends and facts to be dealt with in the real economy, as opposed to the difficulties created by the banks and the difference between funding from all sources of taxation and the expenditure of the State. These are the challenges that continue but can be addressed.

That the four year plan has been outlined allows Ireland de facto to deal with that deficit over a four-year period, rather than what we otherwise would be obliged to do, which is to make a reduction of €18.5 billion immediately. This is a positive element to which people do not normally advert. People speak as though the choice was between continuing with the status quo with an €18 billion deficit or moving into an intermediate phase. However, the status quo simply is not an option. To be fair, this is accepted by parties on all sides of the House. The position of Fine Gael in respect of the €6 billion adjustment is the same as that of the Government, although the proportion between taxation and expenditure cuts is somewhat different. There also are various differences between the parties in the House but there is general agreement on reaching the 3% target. While it was to have been reached by 2014, and I believe will be so reached comfortably, there is a year of grace now available, should that be necessary. The other point people tend to forget is that the amount of borrowing that will be required from the European Union institutions and the IMF is precisely the same as would be required in any event to deal with the services of the country and to provide them over the same timescale. This point frequently is overlooked in this respect.

[480]Another area in which we have been extremely slow to face up to reality pertains to the consequences of a default. The consequences of a default were set out clearly by Professor Honohan in particular, as well as by Messrs Regling and Watson, in their respective reports. It would be instructive for everyone, and I intend to so do myself, to read back over these reports to ascertain exactly what they stated were the difficulties that led to the shortfall in funding, which pertained to the taxation model, and then in respect of the difficulties in employment and the banking sector. The latter are set out clearly in respect of the behaviour of senior personnel in a number of banks in the first instance, as well as the failure of the regulatory system, which Opposition parties often lay at the door of the Government. This ignores the point that, were the Government to directly control a regulatory system, this at the least inevitably would lead to charges of political interference in the financial running of what de facto are private institutions. This would completely undermine the capacity of this country or any small country which trades internationally in the manner that does Ireland, to do its business. We are obliged to export more than 90% of our goods and services and are happy to so do. Ireland is more than happy to reach the standards that are required in international markets and to sell its goods highly successfully. Moreover, it continues to do so to an extraordinary extent, even under these difficult circumstances.

Deputy Joan Burton:  With the permission of the House, I wish to share time with the new Member, Deputy Doherty, to congratulate him on his election and to welcome him to the House.

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

Deputy Joan Burton:  When I worked as an accountant, there were a number of simple rules in respect of accounting and the concept of whether a firm, company or perhaps a country is a going concern, that is, can expect to continue in ordinary business for the foreseeable future. The test of being a going concern in accounting is whether one can meet one’s debts as they fall due for payment. The difficulty for Ireland in the current situation is that were we simply facing the issue of the fiscal deficit, although we would be obliged to effect reforms and probably some cutbacks, we undoubtedly could meet our debts as they fell due, on foot of understanding arrangements with our creditors and supports from appropriate support sources.

I will outline what has sunk Ireland in respect of being solvent because in business, unless one is able to meet one’s debts as they fall due one is insolvent. If one has access to funding from other sources, such as a friendly bank, one’s great-aunt or someone who will lend one money for the business, one is only technically insolvent. However, what has sunk Ireland is that in addition to Irish obligations arising from the fiscal deficit, on the night of the blanket bank guarantee the State decided to take on all the debts of the banks unilaterally and unconditionally. This was not limited simply to depositors, as recommended by the Labour Party to the Minister for Finance two or three weeks before the blanket guarantee. I am sure what I wrote to the Minister resides somewhere within the archives of the Department of Finance. Consequently, the banking debt is joined to the State debt. When people consider Ireland, they see a small country with an open economy and a relatively small population when compared with the United Kingdom or many other European countries. They ask, as they might of a firm, whether this small country can meet this extraordinary level of debt comprising both the ordinary fiscal State debt and the debts the country has taken on in respect of the bank guarantee. Unfortunately, the answer consistently is that although they like Ireland, which has done [481]some great things, they do not consider it can meet those extraordinary levels of debt because of the banks.

This is the difficulty and is the reason for a decision made by the European Commission, perhaps two or three weeks ago but probably as early as the end of August when the Governor of the Central Bank was writing increasing numbers of cheques for Irish banks that no longer had collateral. Someone within the European Central Bank, which already was into the Irish banks for €90 billion in advances at a rate of approximately 1.5%, said stop. Since then, the Government has been struggling to escape the fate into which it delivered Ireland on the night of the blanket bank guarantee. One can put all the fine and fancy words or reports that one wishes on the blanket bank guarantee. There of course were advantages to Fianna Fáil in the manner in which the bank guarantee was implemented. It was a surprise move and the Government had first-mover advantage, as no one had ever done this before within the European Union. Many other countries were angry, perplexed and enraged, as were the Germans in particular. Members should recall this was after the episode involving DEPFA Bank and Hypo Bank, which were located in and linked to the IFSC, even though we managed to avoid taking responsibility for them.

Ireland used up a great deal of credit by stating this was the cheapest bank bailout in the world and that it had stolen a move on everyone else within the European Union. For instance, the Hungarians were distraught because they faced their own problems. Similarly, the Brits were distraught because they had their own issues, as were many other member states. Consequently, while the Government now states that Europe went along with the blanket bank guarantee, perhaps it did but people did so because it was a first mover and they were left with very little option. Moreover, I refer to the pressure from Fianna Fáil within the Dáil and the bullying with regard to the national interest. Fine Gael buckled under the bullying and Sinn Féin buckled under the demands of Fianna Fáil. Sinn Féin, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael all voted for the guarantee. That was not a good judgment call for two reasons. Not only did the blanket bank guarantee include subordinated debt, which was extraordinary, but it also included a lot of senior debt.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  That was not in the proposal on the first night in September 2008.

Deputy Joan Burton:  It emerged in subsequent days.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  We voted against it.

Deputy Joan Burton:  I am trying to recall what happened. If it happens again, we will need to think about how we approach it.

Deputy Arthur Morgan:  We were lied to.

Deputy Joan Burton:  In the blanket bank guarantee, we essentially drew the losses of the banks onto the shoulders of the citizens. We had privatised bank profits up to that point, in effect, and from then on we socialised all bank losses onto the citizens of the country. To date, no one has been able to work out how to unravel what was created that night.

There is a great deal of conversation about defaulting at the moment. When people talk about defaulting, they are basically talking about two separate things. It might be important for people to think about which of them they mean. The first type of default requires bondholders to share in the losses that the citizens are taking on in respect of the banks. The remarks [482]made by Mrs. Merkel a couple of weeks ago caused a huge amount of fluttering, to Ireland’s disadvantage in the international markets. She was basically saying that if a situation like this arises in future, bondholders should bear some of the liabilities. Of course, bondholders do not like to be told anything like that in advance. To be perfectly honest, if one successfully negotiates with bondholders, one should really announce it the day after one has achieved the settlement.

The second type of default that people are talking about is a sovereign country default. I am not aware of any developed European country that has technically defaulted since Germany did so in 1948. While no one has a road map for such a default, we know the borrowing capacity of a country that defaults stops dead and it immediately goes to a zero-based budget. People talk about countries like Argentina, Zimbabwe and Liberia that have defaulted in recent decades. One needs to contrast a commodities-producing country like Argentina, which endured five or six horrible years before successfully returning to the markets, with a small open economy with a small population like Ireland. I do not understand the road plan for a sovereign default by a country like Ireland.

We need to find a mechanism for dealing with the banks. If our construction people borrowed recklessly, it should be stated that some bondholders, particularly the German and French banks, loaned recklessly. They should bear some share of that. It is deeply disappointing that this was not recognised in Ireland’s recent negotiations or entreatments. When we talk about Ireland being insolvent, this is the context. Some parts of the Irish economy are profitable. This country’s responsibility for the debt of the banks remains a massive problem for Ireland. I do not think the arrangements that have been entered into are fair. They will not enable Ireland to get out of that dilemma.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I congratulate Deputy Doherty on the occasion of his maiden speech in the Chamber.

Deputy Pearse Doherty:  Ní bheidh Sinn Féin ag tabhairt tacaíochta don rún atá os comhair an Tí anocht. In áit sin, cuirfimid ár leasú féin — go scoirfear an Dáil agus go gcuirfear an buiséad ar athló— chun tosaigh. Is mian liom an leasú a mholadh anois.

Tá mé iontach bróduil go bhfuil mé anseo mar Theachta Dála i gcuideachta mo chomhghleacaithe, na Teachtaí amháin atá ina bhfíor Freasúra pholaitiúla i dTeach Laighean. Ba mhaith liom mo mhíle buíochas ó chroí a chur in iúl do mhuintir Dhún na nGall Thiar-Theas, a chuir muinín ionam ionadaíocht a dhéanamh dóibh sa Dáil. Is mór an onóir í dom, do mo theaghlach agus do mo phairtí. Tá sainordú iontach soiléir tugtha dom cur in éadan an bhuiséid atá pleanáilte ag an Rialtas, a bheidh frith-dhaoine agus a ghearrfaidh seirbhísí poiblí agus iocaíochtaí leasa shóisialaigh. Tugadh sainordú dom freisin cur in éadan an IMF agus iarraidh orthu a shoc a choinneáil amach as gnóthaí na tíre. Tá mise anseo mar go bhfuil clár oibre agam agus ag Sinn Féin chun Éire níos fearr agus níos córa a thabhairt chun cinn.

Tá sé soiléir ón rún atá curtha chun tosaigh ag Fine Gael sa Dáil anocht go bhfuil siad díreach cosúil leis an Rialtas. Ná bíodh dabht ar bith ag éinne faoi sin. Dá mbeadh Fine Gael ina bhfíor-pháirtí Freasúrach, bheidís ag iarraidh an bhuiséid seo a chaitheamh sa bhruscar agus bheadh clár oibre radacach á bhrú chun tosaigh acu. Bheadh Teachtaí Fhine Gael ag lorg buiséid nach bhfuil dírithe orthu siúd atá ar an ngannchuid ag an bpointe seo agus ag iarraidh ar luch an rachmais sciar cothrom a íoc. Tá Fine Gael ina shuí anseo anocht ag gearán, seachas an bhuiséid a chur ar athló agus toghchán a reáchtáil. Tá siad ag iarraidh an bhuiséid a thabhairt [483]isteach chomh gasta agus is féidir sa dóigh is go mbeidh siad réidh leis roimh an Nollag. Is masla é do na gnáthdaoine a chaithfidh ualach an bhuiséid uafásach seo a iompar.

Sinn Féin will not support the motion before the House tonight. Instead, we are proposing an amendment that calls on the Government to postpone the 2011 budget, seek a dissolution of this Dáil and call a general election. I am proud to be joining my fellow Sinn Féin Deputies today, as part of the only real political opposition in Leinster House. I extend my sincere thanks to the people of Donegal South-West for putting their faith in me to represent them in the Dáil. It is a huge honour for me, my family and my party. I have been given a clear mandate to oppose the savage anti-people budget this Government is planning, to oppose cuts to public services and social welfare and to oppose IMF interference in our country. The platform on which I stood advocated a better and fairer way for Ireland. Sinn Féin is the only party putting forward a constructive alternative in the Dáil.

As part of the consensus for cuts, Fine Gael has firmly nailed its colours to the mast in terms of where it stands on this budget. Any real Opposition party worth its salt would push for this budget to be scrapped. It would pursue a radical agenda that does not target the least well off and makes the wealthy pay their fair share. Instead, Fine Gael has proposed a motion that does not call on the Government to scrap the budget and call an election, but demands that the budget be brought forward so it can be done and dusted before Christmas. It is an insult to ordinary working people, those without work and those who rely on public services. It is inevitable that such people will bear the brunt of this unfair and unjust budget. The people are sick to the back teeth of this type of stale elitist politics. It is exactly the type of politics that has brought us to where we are today.

The measures to be contained in the budget amount to little more than a full-on attack on the least well off and on working people. Anyone who thinks implementing deflationary and draconian measures will fix the economy is delusional. If cuts worked, we would not need the IMF and the ECB to arrive on the scene to run our fiscal affairs.

  9 o’clock

The four year plan which acts as a template for the budget is, in the main, a list of deflationary actions which will deepen and lengthen the recession. The impact of these measures will contract the economy and not a single cent of this will be used to reduce the deficit. Instead, it will all end up being once again pumped into the banks. We are about to embark on an insane course of borrowing to fund a failed banking policy. We cannot afford this plan and we cannot afford this Government. We need real negotiators now to deal with the banks and to burn the bondholders. If the Fine Gael Party were serious about changing the direction and getting rid of this redundant Government, its members would not be sitting here tonight calling for a rush to be put on this lunacy.

Slashing the minimum wage and social welfare payments, reducing tax bands, sacking 25,000 public sector workers, implementing property taxes, water charges, increasing student charges, are not a recipe for recovery. This is a recipe for economic destruction. We need to take this Government down and we need to end these cuts now.

There is a better and fairer way which does not target the most vulnerable and which ensures that those who have most, pay the most. We in Sinn Féin have shown this way in our pre-budget submission. We are the only party to have done so to date.

During the course of the Donegal South-West by-election, I met with many people who were struggling to make ends meet, people who were trying to cope with the rising costs and with Government cuts. I met people like the mother of the autistic child whose special needs preschool is in danger of being shut down, the father of four who is living on a shoestring and [484]who is close to losing his job, people like the elderly man who lives on his own and who has lost his home help service. I also met people like the elderly woman who is caring for her husband with a heart condition and who cannot afford health costs, the young family desperately hoping to be allocated a local authority house in time for Christmas or the first-year student who has to drop out of college, to drop out of education, because she could not get a grant. These are the people whom the political classes want to make pay for their sins and that of the corrupt bankers. These are the same people who time and again are being ignored by those in political power. These people and hundreds of thousands more like them, deserve better than to be treated as mere statistics. They do not deserve the lies, the greed or the cronyism that has got us into this mess. They need and deserve real leadership and real change.

Across the country, young people from my generation and younger, are packing their bags and leaving. They have given up on Ireland because those in political power have long ago given up on them. I come from a family forced to emigrate in the 1960s in search of work. I look around and the same thing is happening all over again. We are losing a generation of talent, energy and enthusiasm. Many of those who leave our shores will never return home again. This Government has not only broken our economy, it has also broken up our families. Emigration has been a part of our past and we cannot allow it become a part of our future. We can stop it now by looking at alternatives which are credible, which work and which are fair.

The Sinn Féin pre-budget submission is credible and it is fair. It is credible if it is introduced with measures such as a wealth tax, which would raise €1 billion by introducing a 1% income-linked tax on all assets in excess of €1 million, excluding the working farmland. We propose a third rate of income tax of 48% on individual incomes in excess of €100,000. We would end the culture of extravagant salaries for those at the high end of the public sector by placing a cap of €100,000 on wages in that sector. The days of chief executive officers of public bodies earning hundreds of thousand euro must end and it must end now. Our proposals would see Ministers taking 40% pay cuts, Deputies taking 20% pay cuts, a reductions in salaries for Senators and an end to the exorbitant expenses scandal. Savings in public expenditure can be made by dismantling the two-tier public health system and eliminating wasteful expenditure such as the rental of prefabs in schools.

The measures in our pre-budget submission would reduce the deficit this year by €4.6 billion. However, we would implement and introduce a job creation and retention strategy by transferring €7 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund, generating much-needed employment and building necessary infrastructure. It is through these measures that the Government can introduce a budget which truly protects the most vulnerable and weakest in society, which does not take from low and middle income earners and which ensures that our public services are fit for purpose for those dependent on them. It is through these measures that we can get our country back to work, harnessing the skills, the talents and the drive of the Irish people.

In the next week, this Government will introduce a budget which is about to cripple the Irish people. Sinn Féin stands here ready to fight this Government tooth and nail to ensure this budget does not happen. Fine Gael tonight shows that it is trying to rush this budget through, ignoring the fact that it will hurt families who are already hurting. All Fine Gael wants is to bring on the election and try to get into power while forgetting about the misery, the pain and the anger and how the ordinary people will be affected.

I am proud to be standing in this Chamber today as a Sinn Féin Deputy for Donegal South-West. I am proud to be standing here with the core republican values deep in my heart and it is these values that will steer me in the times ahead. I know that when Government Deputies [485]walked into this Chamber on their first day, none of them came here with the intention of inflicting pain and suffering on their communities, that none of them wanted to sell out their country to the IMF but that is exactly what they have done.

The time is up for this Government. It is time for the Members opposite to pack their bags. It is time for them to clear out and it is time for real leadership, a real alternative, a party with real vision, such as Sinn Féin is offering, to give the Irish people a chance to get back on track and back on their feet again.

Debate adjourned.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise this very important matter on the Adjournment. It is well known in the House that there has been a particular problem with credit flow to small and medium-sized enterprises since the beginning of the recession over two years ago. This problem has become more acute with time. In light of the deal concluded over the weekend with our partners in the European Union and with the IMF, the options for this country for stimulating growth have been very much reduced. Our hands are tied, as many speakers have pointed out, with the tying up of the National Pensions Reserve Fund in the deal and with the restrictions imposed on our State assets.

It is, therefore, more pressing that we enable our enterprise sector to grow. If we are to achieve the ambitious growth targets for the next four years, as set out in the four-year strategy, we must see that growth driven by the enterprise economy. I hope my raising of this matter will be regarded as constructive.

Credit flow is a significant problem. The establishment of the Credit Review Office was designed to assist with credit flow. According to the Minister for Finance, the CRO was established with the intention of encouraging and increasing the supply of credit to viable borrowers for business purposes. We all know viable businesses that are not benefiting from credit; unfortunately, the CRO has not made that situation any better. The office, as we knew from the very outset, does not have any powers to force banks to overturn decisions. It is an appeals mechanism for business owners who are refused credit, but it has no powers of enforcement. The Minister for Finance said on 21 September that only 20 loan applications had been sent to the CRO for review. Of these, ten have been dealt with and only five appeals were upheld. It is clear that this mechanism is simply not functioning. I believe that what Deputies have been saying in the House for the past 18 months is accurate because I deal with businesses in my own constituency on a regular basis.

In the second quarterly report of 18 November, 19 applications were analysed. Of these, the banks’ decisions were upheld in 12 cases, while in five cases the CRO sided with the borrower. The remainder needed more work. Thus, five SMEs have accessed credit as a result of the CRO, which was set up last April. The chief executive officer of the CRO, John Trethowan, indicated on 18 November that many more cases had been resolved through phone calls and face-to-face meetings, but we have no evidence of this as there is no paper trail. From discussions with owners of SMEs in my constituency, I find it hard to believe. More recently, ISME surveyed SMEs and found that 68% of companies still did not know the service existed.

[486]This year, €3 billion was to be made available to SMEs by Bank of Ireland and AIB, but when I questioned the Minister about this I was informed that he could not tell me, as a Member of the House, how much of this has been actually drawn down as the information was commercially sensitive. I am sorry, but I simply do not buy that. We are aware that Bank of Ireland, AIB and other banking institutions in the State have been entirely dishonest with us, with these Houses, with the Government and with the Department of Finance, but now the Department of Finance is trying to cover up for them, which is unfortunate.

There is an urgent need to secure credit for companies if the enterprise sector is to thrive. At the beginning of this recession, almost 1 million people were employed in SMEs in this country, but this figure is declining rapidly. We must inject some life into the SME and enterprise sector. If all of our targets in the four year plan and our aim of achieving a budget deficit of 3% of GDP by 2015 are to be met, and if we are to service the massive, crippling loans we have now inherited from this Government, we must stimulate growth in the economy. As far as I can see, our options are limited, and I hope the Minister of State has some constructive suggestions on how to address this major problem.

Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Seán Connick):  I thank Deputy Creighton for raising this matter on the Adjournment. I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Finance.

I welcome the opportunity to debate the performance of the Credit Review Office. The office was established under the NAMA legislation and has had an important effect on the availability of credit to SMEs. The office reviews decisions by AIB and Bank of Ireland to refuse credit as well as decisions to reduce or withdraw existing credit and constructive refusals where decisions are not given within the time limit or are unreasonably priced or subject to unreasonable terms or conditions. Mr. Trethowan has submitted two quarterly reports, which have both been published. I must point out that the office is funded by the two banks and not by the taxpayer.

Mr. Trethowan has completed 22 reviews since the office was established. He agreed with the bank in 14 of them, sided with the borrower in five cases, and considered that more work was required by both the borrower and the bank in three other cases. Twelve additional applications are proceeding through the process, with three others awaiting clarification of eligibility. In all the cases in which the office sided with the borrowers, the banks have co-operated when the CRO asked them to reconsider their decisions.

The numbers involved are quite low compared with the noises made by business representative organisations about the availability of credit. I strongly urge anyone who considers he or she has been unfairly refused credit to seek an internal review of the refusal followed by a review by the CRO if necessary. It is only through this process that reliable figures for unfair refusals can be established. Mr. Trethowan has made it clear in his reports that all of the review cases to date have been difficult lending decisions and that there is no evidence that the banks are indiscriminately refusing credit.

Another positive effect of the CRO has been Mr. Trethowan’s work with the two banks to put their internal appeal mechanisms on a more formal footing. The latest figures show that the banks have completed a total of 106 internal appeals, of which 20 resulted in refusals being overturned or sanctioned with conditions, and a further eight appeals are in progress. I must also point out that Ulster Bank, which is not participating in NAMA, has established its own internal review process based on the principles of the CRO. Indeed, the existence of the CRO [487]and the right to both internal review and review by the office appears to be having an effect on credit decisions at local level. Anecdotally, we are becoming aware of cases in which credit has been granted when the issue of review was raised, and the CRO has been able to secure credit in some cases without the need for a formal review.

Some borrowers and representative organisations have raised fears that seeking reviews will damage their relationships with the banks. This is a real fear, and the Department has written to each bank about this. As Mr. Trethowan’s report makes clear, both banks have shown a positive attitude to the process at senior level. Another task performed by the CRO was to review the plans of the two banks to reach the target of €3 billion in lending this year and next year. The plans contained commercially sensitive information but were published in a redacted format. They are considered to be credible, and Mr. Trethowan is satisfied with the banks’ performance to date on them. It is particularly important that the banks’ adherence to marketing and staff development plans to support lending can be assessed if the actual amount lent turns out to be lower than the target.

Banks have experienced pricing increases in their retail deposit and long-term market funding costs, which are now being passed through to borrowers when their facilities are reviewed. Mr. Trethowan has asked both banks to try to minimise the impact of these increases where possible — for example, by increasing the length of the loan to spread the cost. One bank is offering an option to some borrowers to renew for one year or five years to allow borrowers to avail of better rates for shorter term borrowing.

The CRO has been a positive influence on the availability of credit to the SME sector, and I appreciate the efforts of Mr. Trethowan and his team in the office.

Deputy Joe Costello:  I am pleased to have an opportunity to raise this major issue. Every day we can see on our television screens, hear on the radio and read in our newspapers the extent of the adverse weather conditions that have gripped the country for the past few days and, we understand, will continue for quite a number of days to come. Roads, rail and airports are experiencing great difficulties and there are delays everywhere. Primary roads, motorways and national roads are being gritted, but there is great difficulty for local authorities in reaching secondary roads and they may not have enough resources to make sure they are gritted, which is causing major problems.

At present, we need to deal with the initial difficulties that are being experienced. There should have been sufficient warning from last year’s experience to ensure the country would be well prepared for adverse weather and that there would be adequate leadership, including the presence of the Minister in the country. Last year no Minister would take charge, but at least the Minister is here this year. It was important to ensure there would be adequate reserves of salt and sand to allow the local authorities to carry out their work. I was in Drogheda yesterday and I travelled the road from the motorway through to Julianstown to get there. The traffic was bumper to bumper for approximately ten kilometres. The roads were not gritted and traffic proceeded at a snail’s place to prevent accidents from taking place. However, accidents did occur. Clearly, we are not as well prepared as we should be. It is time to recognise that what was an event that occurred once every 50 or 100 years — this is how it was described by people recently — is now happening every year. What were abnormal weather conditions, whether wintry weather or flooding, are now becoming the norm in the country and it is time this was addressed.

[488]Although the emergency planning task force is in operation and the Minister meets the various agencies on a regular basis, there is not much value in co-ordinating the activities of the agencies and the local authorities unless there is adequate funding to ensure the plans can be implemented thoroughly. Last night during the budget debates the manager of Dublin City Council stated that the council had not received one extra cent for this coming year to deal with adverse weather conditions. That is not good enough. Local authorities throughout the country are doing their best to try to provide services but they have one hand tied behind their backs if they do not have extra funding to pay for the overtime, resources and materials required and the work which must be carried out night and day. Almost all of this work must be carried out in the middle of the night to prepare for the morning such that commuters can move.

I call on the Minister of State to recognise that we have a new dispensation at this point. It is no longer the case that Ireland has a mild, temperate climate and does not experience extremes or polarity of weather. It is rapidly becoming the case that we experience extremes of weather, whether flooding or wintry conditions. While recognising this, the Minister must follow on and not simply provide an emergency task force but also provide the resources essential for the task force to carry out the work. This is where the Government has fallen down to date. This is November and December and January are yet to come. I trust the Minister of State will provide us with some detailed and specific information with regard to what the Government will do to ensure the local authorities can provide the services required to keep the country running, to keep the roads open and to ensure workers can get to work in time. These are important issues the Minister must address.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important aspect of what is taking place in rural areas on the Adjournment tonight. I hope some action will be taken to address the restriction in place preventing local authority workers from helping communities and people in their own areas. I refer to a simple plan whereby one could have one tonne of grit mixed with salt kept at the end of many roads on which people have difficulty travelling throughout the country. The reality is that non-national roads will never be gritted by the National Roads Authority, NRA, or the local authorities. They simply do not have the ways or means to get around to gritting them. However, there are several communities, farmers, business people and contractors in many constituencies and rural areas who have the equipment, including tractors, trailers, shovels and pick-ups, to grit dangerous stretches of road. This is a practical and simple solution which would add greatly to the work already being done.

There has been much activity from the local authorities on the main roads throughout the country. They are being well gritted and anyone who drove to Dublin today, such as many in this House, will have observed how well the motorways were done. However, the problem is with the small country roads that people must travel on tomorrow morning after a fall of snow or after a freezing night. These are the forgotten people of rural Ireland. If nothing else this simple practical measure should be facilitated.

The Minister of State is from a rural constituency. He will be aware of what I am referring to and I need not explain it to him. The message must get to the Minister for Transport or to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, whichever of the Departments is responsible. It would be a simple measure but it would alleviate many of the problems.

Some 94% of our roads are regional or local and they carry approximately 60% of traffic, including 43% of all goods traffic. This is relevant, especially at this time of the year when [489]there are many goods to be moved around before Christmas. A good deal of transportation is undertaken on many of our roads including feed to be carried to farmers and heating oil and coal to be brought to many isolated houses. There is a significant argument to support the roll-out of this suggestion. It would be cheap, effective and it would have the support of a significant number of workers in local authorities. I understand many engineers consider this to be a good idea. I call on the Minister of State, who comes from a rural constituency, to ask the Minister to allow local authorities to carry out my suggestion to put salt and grit at the end of each road and to allow the locals to carry out the work.

Deputy Seán Connick:  I thank Deputies Costello and Tom Hayes for raising this matter on the Adjournment, which I am taking on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey. I will respond to the matters raised by the Deputies. The Government response to severe weather is led by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, supported by all relevant Departments. As part of its role on the Government emergency task force, the Department of Transport reviewed the transport-related response to the severe weather events of last winter and has worked with the task force and other Departments to put in place additional measures to respond to similar events.

What emerged late last year and early this year during the severe and lengthy spell of bad weather was the need to overhaul the system whereby each local authority traditionally sourced its own supplies of de-icing salt. Under that system some local authorities had more than sufficient salt supplies while others had to ration it. The Minister for Transport addressed this issue by tasking the National Roads Authority to be the central procurer of salt supplies for all local authorities and to ensure that adequate salt supplies would be available in future to maintain a prioritised road network.

Day-to-day operations on the national roads network is managed by the National Roads Authority, NRA. The authority also provides support to the Department of Transport in respect of the administration of grants for regional and local roads. Such grants are provided as a supplement to own resource funding within local authorities. As part of the planning strategy, the NRA finalised and published an updated winter maintenance guidelines document in October that addresses the response to severe weather events. In response to its role as the central procurer of salt supplies, the NRA advertised a framework contract in August 2010 for the supply of de-icing salt for the coming winter. The contract is for the supply of 80,000 tonnes with an initial call of 50,000 tonnes and a further 30,000 tonnes in January 2011. This supply was in addition to the 20,000 tonnes of salt stock available since earlier in the year. In addition, local authorities can purchase directly from traditional sources should they wish. The NRA is investing €6 million this year in additional dry storage facilities for de-icing salt and a further €2.5 million for grit spreaders and snow blades and so on, for local authorities.

To co-ordinate the overall response to similar severe weather events, the Department of Transport called on its agencies to liaise with local authorities to ensure access to their services are included in the relevant local authority priority routes being provided to the Department.

In response to the current severe weather conditions, the Department and all its agencies have been meeting on a daily basis since last Friday to monitor and provide information to the travelling public on transport issues. A Government task force inter-agency response group on severe weather met yesterday. The group reviewed reports from the various agencies on issues relating to the severe weather. Met Éireann has reported that there is no sign of the severe weather abating. All local authorities are treating roads on a prioritised road basis. The NRA has confirmed that adequate salt stocks are in place nationally and are being distributed as [490]required to local authorities to meet these priorities. The agreed objective for local authorities during periods of severe cold is to keep the full national road network and other key strategic routes and public transport routes open for traffic. These roads carry an estimated 60% of total traffic and about 80% of commercial traffic. Other roads are dealt with on a needs basis by local authorities, for example to provide access for medical facilities and emergency services, schools and commercial districts.

Local authorities also take a pragmatic approach and respond to specific situations or community events. Local authorities also liaise with An Garda Síochána, the Health Service Executive and voluntary community organisations to address specific issues, including working with the Civil Defence and Defence Forces where appropriate to ensure key services, such as public health nurses, are able to access isolated clients in rural areas, and to deal with specific priorities which are agreed locally.

Regarding the request for additional funding to local authorities for exceptional weather events, the Exchequer grants for regional and local roads are allocated each year by the Department of Transport to the local authorities. The Department does not hold back a reserve allocation, at central level, to deal with weather contingencies. Holding back such an allocation would mean a reduction in the road grant allocations made to all local authorities at the beginning of each year. The allocations made to local authorities are inclusive of a weather-risk factor. Local authorities are expressly advised in the annual road grants circular letter that they should set aside contingency sums from their overall regional and local roads resources to finance necessary weather-related works.

This year the planned rehabilitation works on regional and local roads were deferred and greater flexibility was given to local authorities to deal with the urgent repair of damage to the regional and local road network arising from the flooding and prolonged severely cold weather. A total of €188.8 million was provided under this special improvement grant in 2010. Local authorities were also provided with €111 million in maintenance grants in 2010.

The division of moneys between surface dressing and general maintenance works was rebalanced to give councils increased flexibility in responding to events such as the current severe weather. In this context, the moneys provided for discretionary maintenance which can be used for severe weather works, such as salting, were increased from €30 million in 2009 to €51 million this year. Additionally, the National Roads Authority is supplying grit at no cost to local authorities.

The overall impact of the considerable work by the employees of our local authorities has resulted in the public transport services continuing to operate with some curtailments of bus services in areas over the day. Irish Rail and Luas services are fully operational. Air and sea ports are also operational and access routes are being maintained.

Anyone wishing to travel should check with their service provider directly. Access to travel information is also available on the Department of Transport’s website www.transport.ie. Spokespersons on behalf of the transport agencies are providing information to the radio networks and providing customer contact numbers for those without access to the web. Members of the public are reminded by the Garda and the Road Safety Authority to avoid unnecessary travel and to take public transport where possible. Safety advice for road users during severe weather is available from the Road Safety Authority directly at www.rsa.ie. Latest advice on traffic is also available from AA Roadwatch. The Department continues to monitor the situation and will continue to provide information to the public.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I wish the Minister of State, Deputy Connick, well in the forthcoming Council fisheries negotiations on 13 and 14 December, particularly considering it may be his last session with an election forthcoming.

Many fishermen in this country have given up hope for the industry. They bought into an industry in which they were willing to work with the fisheries regulatory authorities and the Department. However, the proposed reductions in the fishing quotas through so-called conservation management schemes will turn the industry on its head.

The word on the street is that the economy is going to get worse as it still has not hit the bottom yet. We did not listen to the word on the street ten years ago when people said the housing bubble would burst, there was no such thing as free money and young people would have millstones around their necks for the rest of their lives. People across the country are now struggling to make ends meet and put food on the table. The Minister of State can make his mark by removing the blinkers from his departmental officials and ensuring the development of an indigenous fishing industry. We have forgotten we are a maritime nation with a strong historical relationship with the sea. The Minister of State must also bring this message to Brussels on 13 and 14 December.

If this so-called EU-IMF bailout is to be repaid, the EU must know how we are going to do it. The four year national economic recovery plan alludes to growth in the seafood processing sector. Does the Minister of State have specific details about this? Does Europe want to facilitate a more radical overhaul of the present system in which most Irish catches land in European ports and not here? For example, Killybegs is only using 20% of its fish processing capacity.

The days-at-sea methodology versus quantity methodology is unfair to small boat fishermen. It counts days when fishermen must return to harbour because of bad weather or when a boat breaks down. For small boats, unable to achieve their traditional catches in the short number of days they are allocated, a mix of fisheries is no longer possible. The methodology was introduced for cod conservation but these small boats have negligible cod catches or bycatches.

There is no Area VIA quota for lesser spotted dogfish, commonly known as rock salmon, which is not consumed by humans. It is used as bait and Irish commercial fishermen import it at €15 per box to use as bait for crab-fishing when it is available on our shores. Will the Minister of State secure a quota for small boat fishermen to fish for rock salmon? Entry into this new industry would also ease pressure on crab stocks.

The EU is threatening to close Area VIIA for conservation purposes which must be resisted. If it is to be closed, it should only apply during the spawning season. Furthermore, if it is to be closed, it should be closed to Norwegian, French and Spanish fishermen too.

The EU white fish conservation effort assumes fishermen are damaging stocks. Irish fishermen, however, do not have the capacity to damage stocks. We can get people back working because for every job we create at sea, seven can be created ashore. We also need to work on the processing sector. I am impressed that the document refers to the seafood sector in the context of value added. Perhaps the Minister can highlight more specific points in his response. He should, however, use that as a main plank in the negotiations. Zaragoza is a major fishing port in Spain with a processing unit capacity of up to 76,000 square metres. We cannot possibly compete with that but we can seek to replicate it in some shape or form. In addition, we can use it as a basis to get this country out of the mess we are in.

[492]Deputy Seán Connick:  I thank Deputy McHugh for raising this issue and for his good wishes regarding the forthcoming European Council meeting. I have just returned from Brussels today, in fact, and it will be difficult to conduct such negotiations given the scientific information that has been put before us. We will be dealing with the consultative groups and I will be meeting with them tomorrow. I have been working with the industry for some time to ensure that we will get the best results for the country.

The annual management arrangements for the Community’s fishing fleets are traditionally agreed at the December Agriculture and Fisheries Council. This year, the arrangements for 2011 are due to be negotiated at the Council scheduled for 13 and 14 December. The levels of total allowable catch, TAC, and ultimately the quotas for Ireland are determined each year at the December Council, following negotiations with member states and the EU Commission.

The process of preparing for the Council is already under way. The European Commission published its proposal for the 2011 fisheries on 10 November. The details of the proposal are based on formal advice received from ICES, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, which is the independent international body with responsibility for advising on the state of fish stocks. It also takes account of the views of the STECF, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries, which gives the Commission its views on the economic and social impacts of the scientific advice.

The Commission’s proposal is currently the subject of detailed and protracted discussions. These will continue over the coming fortnight at EU level with the Commission and other member states, and here at home with industry representatives and other stakeholders. The proposal sets out reductions in the TACs of many whitefish stocks of economic importance to our fleet. It also envisages other measures which will adversely impact on our fishing industry, such as the rearrangement of TAC areas for prawn or nephrops stocks in the north Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and the Aran grounds, and a proposed regime to cap, for the first time, fishing effort for the whitefish fleet in the Celtic Sea off the southeast coast.

There is concern about the poor state of certain whitefish stocks targeted by the Irish fishing fleet and this is clearly reflected in the reductions proposed by the Commission for 2011. The Commission has proposed cuts of 50% for the cod stocks in the waters west of Scotland and in the Irish Sea, ICES areas Vla and Vlla. These stocks are part of the cod recovery plan, which has restricted fishing effort in these areas for fishermen using whitefish or prawn gears. The Commission has argued that the measures implemented by the plan have not been effective. Therefore, it is recommending cuts to these TACs with a view to closing these cod fisheries in 2012. It is also proposing a cut between 25% and 50% in fishing effort in the whitefish and prawn fisheries in these areas for 2011, on top of similar cuts implemented over the last two years. It should be noted that the effort cuts would not be applied to vessels using fishing gear that avoids catches of cod.

Whiting stocks in these areas are also set to be cut severely under the Commission proposal, with the area VI stock being reduced by 50% and the Irish Sea stock cut by 25%. TACs for haddock stocks are also to be reduced, with 25% cuts recommended for haddock stocks in area VI, and a 15% cut for haddock in the Irish Sea.

The Commission has proposed 15% reductions to a number of other stocks including — in area VI — monkfish, prawns, plaice, pollack and sole. In the Irish Sea, sole is to be cut by 20% and plaice is to stay the same as 2010. The TAC for skates and rays are also due to be reduced by 15%.

[493]The Celtic Sea is a very important area for the Irish whitefish fleet, with significant mixed whitefish fisheries. Stocks in this area set for a 15% cut include cod, megrims, monkfish, plaice, pollack, saithe and some stocks of sole. The Commission has recommended a status quo TAC for a number of whitefish stocks. These include haddock in area Vll, hake in VI and VII, megrims in VI and whiting in the Celtic Sea.

The Commission has proposed a significant change to the management of prawn stocks in area VII, which includes the north Irish Sea, Celtic Sea and the Aran grounds. Prawns in these waters have traditionally been managed under one TAC. However, scientific advice is that these waters contain a number of distinct prawn stocks that should be managed under separate TACs. The Commission has accepted this advice and has proposed breaking the TAC into seven separate TACs, one for each prawn stock or functional unit. Under the current proposal, the overall TAC amount for these prawn stocks would fall from 22,432 tonnes set for 2010 to 18,684 tonnes in 2011, a decrease of more than 16%.

I am not in favour of the Commission’s proposal to subdivide area VII into functional units for the management of prawns. These prawn stocks are of vital importance to the Irish fleet and the proposal would have a detrimental impact on current fishing patterns and limit the flexibility available to our vessels at present. The current arrangement allows the fleet the flexibility to operate over a wide area with a single TAC.

I am not convinced that the sub-division of area VII into functional units is the best course of action. I would favour retaining the status quo, with one prawn TAC for the whole area, with additional measures to protect vulnerable stocks within the overall area.

There is concern about the Porcupine Bank stock. Therefore, we have proposed that maximum catch limits be set to protect that stock in addition to a continuation of the closed area for the summer months that was in place for 2010.

The Commission has also proposed introducing an effort management regime in part of the Celtic Sea, in areas VII f and g. This regime would see a ceiling set on the amount of whitefish effort — that is, days at sea — that a member state’s fleet could exert in these areas during 2011. At present, the ceiling would be set at 90% of Ireland’s, and other member states’, effort levels in this fishery in 2007.

I do not support the effort limitation as proposed or the suggested implementing methods. The introduction of an effort regime in an area of mixed fisheries on an ad hoc basis, where many of the stocks have a much wider distribution, has the potential to impact significantly on fishing patterns and lead to displacement of fishing effort without giving assurance on the appropriateness of the regime to deliver on the objectives set.

As in previous years, Ireland will be invoking the Hague preferences in respect of certain of its quotas. The Hague preferences are regarded by Ireland as a fundamental part of the Common Fisheries Policy. They allow Ireland, and also the UK, to claim additional shares of certain whitefish quotas. When Ireland invokes the Hague preferences for a stock, the quota distribution is changed to allow Ireland a greater share of the TAC. There is strong opposition in certain member states to their invocation by Ireland. However, I consider them an entitlement and their delivery will be my first priority at this year’s negotiations. The Hague preferences amount to a safeguard for Irish fishermen and for our coastal communities, which are especially dependent on fishing.

While I know that the Deputy’s focus is on whitefish fisheries, I will also have to deal with the fact that the blue whiting TAC has been cut by 93%. The Commission has recommended a cut of 50% in the main north west herring stock and is considering introducing very restrictive [494]measures for the Boarfish fishery. In addition, I am facing a cut in the Atlanto-Scandic herring quota. Finally, we are actively involved in crucial negotiations that will determine our quotas for the critical mackerel and horse mackerel fisheries.

I am concerned with the level of cuts proposed for whitefish and other stocks, as well as the other measures proposed and their socio-economic impact on fishermen and fishing communities. I am working closely with my Department, fishing industry representatives, the Marine Institute and BIM to get a full understanding of the implications of the proposal and the industry’s priorities. However, I can assure fishermen that I am actively engaged, as are my officials, in delivering the best possible deal for Ireland, taking into account scientific advice.

There will be a lot of long days and late nights in the upcoming negotiations before a settlement is reached on the final package of measures. The reality is, however, that we will experience cuts in some stocks, though the actual level of these cuts has yet to be determined.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1 December 2010.

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The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].

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Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 4 to 9, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 10 to 17, inclusive, answered orally.

  18.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the position regarding the implementation of a one-stop-shop for broadband; if he has met with all the State agencies to ensure open access for telecommunications purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44996/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The objective of the one-stop-shop commitment in the Next Generation Broadband policy paper “Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland” is to facilitate telecoms network operators in gaining access to ducting that exists along publicly-owned energy, transport and other infrastructure so as to facilitate access to backhaul networks in a cost effective manner. Government policy is aimed at leveraging such State-owned infrastructure to help deliver high-speed broadband and improved telecommunications services throughout the country. The policy also strongly supports this being done on an open-access basis and I do not favour exclusive deals whereby one service provider secures exclusive access to a particular State-owned network.

In general terms there are no current impediments to accessing the majority of State-owned telecommunications infrastructure. Both ESB Telecoms and Aurora Telecom, which is a division of Bord Gáis Networks, have developed highly successful commercial ventures in this area. Indeed the recent announcement of Aurora’s investment in ultra-high speed fibre-optic network linking Dublin to the West of Ireland is very positive evidence of the critical role this type of infrastructure can play in the delivery of high-speed networks. ESB’s infrastructure allows the company to provide high capacity managed services and it is also playing a vital role in the delivery of the 100mbps pilot project to secondary schools.

Access to Irish Rail’s network is also available through its long-standing commercial arrangement with BT and I have also enacted legislation earlier this year designating the National [496]Roads Authority as the single point of contact for accessing State-owned infrastructure on national roads and motorways. Open access is also available to Inland Waterway’s ducting running along tow paths on some of our canal network. Coillte possesses some 400 mast sites, including 20% of NBS sites, and have all of the mobile operators as customers. RTE owns some 150 masts and towers at various remote high sites and shares its infrastructure with the mobile operators. Furthermore, approximately 200 of the masts owned by the Garda are used by the mobile operators for GSM and 3G purposes.

Earlier this month I met with all of these relevant State Agencies as well as a representative from the City and County Managers’ Association to discuss how we can work together to ensure that no unnecessary impediments are put in place regarding access issues and, where possible, to open up infrastructure that heretofore has not been utilised for telecommunications purposes. My primary message to the Agencies was that investment in Next Generation Networks was critical given the need for good high quality networks to support future economic growth and that one of the key challenges for all players in the sector was to strike the correct balance between the need for closer collaboration while maintaining the necessary competitive tensions in the market.

There was broad agreement at this meeting that the issue of the most appropriate future role that can be played by State-owned infrastructure should form part of the considerations of the NGN Taskforce that is being set up at present and which will hold its first meeting in mid-December next. As I have pointed out there is already an elaborate network of state owned assets which is open to service providers for broadband purposes and which is playing a very significant and positive part in the development of Ireland’s telecommunications and broadband market. Apart from the quality of service thus provided this is also ensuring market-place competition with the incumbent, eircom. In this way the objectives of the one-stop-shop as set in the 2009 Broadband Policy paper are being delivered.

I am anxious to ensure that this is being done in an optimal way that maximises future provision of competitive next generation broadband in the market by the industry. This is why the views of industry, which will be expressed as part of the deliberations of the NGN Taskforce, will be important in terms of taking informed long-term decisions on how we can optimise the role the State agencies can play in the provision of a modern, fit-for-purpose next generation telecommunications network.

Question No. 19 answered with Question No. 15.

  20.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he has received accounts from the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and if he has considered any requests on the levy on broadcasters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44846/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) Annual Report and Accounts for 2009 have not yet been submitted to my Department. The delay in submitting the Report and Accounts is due to a delay in the completion of the audit of the Accounts by the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG). The BCI submitted draft financial statements to the C&AG in late January 2010 and at that time, the C&AG indicated that some additional work would be required to complete the audit and that this work would not be undertaken until later in the year. The C&AG is expected to issue its final report to the now established Broadcasting [497]Authority of Ireland (BAI) on the 13th December 2010. This will allow the BAI to finalise the content of the report and formally submit the report to my Department.

Section 33 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 provides for the BAI to make on order imposing a levy on broadcasters for the purposes of meeting the expenses of the Authority and its Committees in undertaking the performance of its statutory functions. This is a responsibility that has been placed on the Authority by the Oireachtas. The Act also provides that any unspent levy income in a given year can be refunded to the industry. In addition, the Authority, in accordance with Section 37(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2009, is obliged to submit estimates of income and expenditure to the Minister in respect of the next three financial years.

In relation to the estimates for the period 2011-2013, I can confirm that these estimates were submitted to my Department by the Authority on 29th October 2010. My Department is now engaging with the Authority in relation to the provision of certain further information in accordance with the provisions of Section 37(1) of the Broadcasting Act 2009.

In relation to publication, the legislation requires that, subject to the consent of the Minister and the Minister for Finance, the Authority shall publish its 3-year estimates or a summary of them on a website maintained by the Authority. I am very much aware that both public and commercial broadcasters will be keen to view the Authority’s expenditure proposals as early as possible because of their implications for the industry in terms of the levy. It is my intention to facilitate this as much as practicable. I have been informed by the Authority that it is keenly aware of the need to minimise the burden on industry, and is continually reviewing all expenditure to ensure that it represents value for money.

  21.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to merge utilities regulators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44822/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  There are three utility regulators currently operating under the aegis of my Department. These are the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). The structure of regulatory institutions can be an important, but is rarely a decisive, criterion for regulatory effectiveness. There is a far closer relationship between regulatory structure and both regulatory efficiency and consistency across sectors.

The main rationale for a decision to merge regulators is to improve regulatory decision-making and/or regulatory cost-effectiveness. The prospect of that happening will be heavily influenced by the scale of commonality across regulatory bodies together with the scale of embedded inefficiencies in the pre-existing structure.

At the outset of the establishment of independent economic regulatory structures in Ireland in the mid to late 1990s, the Government chose to adopt a structural model of single purpose organisations, generally headed by a single regulator. Over time, regulatory structure has moved to a multi-purpose organisational structure headed by multi-person commissions. This has been done by grafting new functions onto existing regulatory bodies rather than establishing new agencies. In the case of my own Department, the process of integrating new functions and deploying multi person or commission-based decision-making structures has taken place in both the case of CER and ComReg. The BAI, which has had a commission structure from the outset, has taken over regulatory responsibilities for regulation of important aspects of public service broadcasting.

[498]Speaking generally, I do not see merit in the integration of all public utilities regulators into a single merged entity. I believe that the attention given to the integration process would mitigate against the effectiveness of their operations. I also feel that any costs reductions arising from integration would likely be offset with costs associated with reduced effectiveness in regulatory operation.

Similarly, as regulatory bodies under the aegis of my Department are currently structured the prospects for achieving improved decision-making and cost-effectiveness out of a merger are not established. In addition, any merger process carries with it important costs and the achievement of efficiencies in the short term can probably be realised better by the regulators themselves bringing forward proposals within existing structures.

All of the regulatory bodies have been asked, along with all agencies operating under the aegis of my Department to prepare Action Plans for reform under the Transforming Public Service Agenda. My Department will liaise closely with the Regulators in this regard. The Government Statement on Economic Regulation published in October, 2009 stated that the Government is committed to keeping under review options for further mergers between regulators in the short to medium term including those options set out in the Report of the Special Group on Public Sector Numbers and Expenditure. It pointed out also that there had already been significant mergers across postal and telecommunications, electricity and gas regulation.

The Statement also said that Departments would work with regulators on an on-going basis to achieve greater efficiencies through shared administration and legal services as well as the exchange of personnel and joint procurement and Departments will be asked to monitor progress in this regard. The scope for additional efficiencies through the co-location of regulators will also be examined. These matters will be pursued in the context of the Action Plans referred to above.

  22.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the nature of any talks he has had with Eircom in relation to investment in a fibre network; ComReg’s role in these talks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44993/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The telecommunications market, including the provision of fibre based next generation networks, is fully liberalised and subject to both EU and national competition and regulatory rules. My Department liaises with industry participants including eircom and with ComReg on an ongoing basis and these discussions encompass all matters relating to broadband infrastructure development. As part of the ongoing bilateral engagement with industry players on broadband development, my Department has had discussions with eircom, other market participants and ComReg. I recognise the importance of eircom as the incumbent telecommunications provider and I welcome their stated intention to invest in new next generation networks. Eircom’s recent announcement regarding the provision of next generation Ethernet products to its wholesale operators is particularly welcome.

My Department and ComReg will continue to liaise with a view to promoting the appropriate degree of regulatory and investment certainty available to eircom and all other investors in telecommunications infrastructure, due account being taken of the statutory independence of ComReg.

[499]More generally, I have made it clear on a number of occasions that I favour a collaborative approach to the roll out of broadband infrastructure, where appropriate. The Next Generation Broadband (NGB) Taskforce, which I signalled in my June 2009 policy paper, will be established and meet in the coming weeks. The overall objective of the Taskforce is to foster a dialogue and follow up actions which will promote the advancement of Next Generation Broadband. The NGB Taskforce will consist of representatives of the industry. Its focus will include collaborative approaches to infrastructure roll out, taking account of the existing policy framework and regulatory regime.

This approach is consistent with Government policy on the development of the electronic communications market in Ireland, which is set out in “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”. The policy paper was developed in accordance with various key principles, which are crucial to the development of the market including—

(i) competition,

(ii) investment certainty,

(iii) investment intervention by Government to bridge any digital divide in cases of market failure, and

(iv) appropriate regulation.

This policy has facilitated significant progress in broadband roll out, penetration and quality over recent years. For example, Ireland has over 1.5 million broadband subscribers and our broadband per-capita penetration rate is 34%. In a recent study of broadband services in 72 countries by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo, Spain, which ranks Ireland 13th of the 72 countries studied, ahead of France, Canada, the United States and the UK. Ireland ranks 15th of the EU 27 for fixed broadband penetration and 6th for mobile only penetration. Of the homes with broadband connections, 68.4% of them are using broadband speeds between 2mbps and 10mbps. 72.8% of SMEs with a broadband connection are also using products with speeds of between 2mbps and 10mbps.

  23.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to recommend to the Commission for Energy Regulation to implement a zero disconnection policy here; his views on the zero disconnection policy in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44979/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is the statutory independent energy regulator with responsibility for consumer protection. Recognising that the current economic climate is placing additional pressures on consumers, the CER has consulted on its customer disconnections policy and related costs. The CER has announced its decision that the cost of disconnections for electricity and gas be shared equally between the supplier and the customer in the case of non-payment of account. This is an interim measure commencing December 22nd and will remain in place for 12 months. I welcome this as a significant measure to enhance consumer protection at this difficult time.

The CER considered the option of “zero disconnections” as part of its overall review of customer disconnections policy. The CER noted the disadvantages of such an option include reducing the incentive for customers to manage their debt and restricting customers’ right to switch suppliers. In Northern Ireland, disconnections remain at low levels as around one in [500]four households have pre-paid meters installed. This eliminates the need for energy suppliers to carry out disconnections, as the customer decides on their level of energy consumption and prepays for it. The CER has made additional prepayment meters available for Irish electricity and gas consumers.

The CER is also currently running a Smart Metering pilot scheme which aims to establish how the potential benefits of smart metering can be best applied to prepayment meters for both electricity and gas. A prepayment solution is currently being tested whereby the smart meter could be defined as a debit or credit meter, making the prepayment option more easily available to customers as there would be no need to replace smart meters with specific prepayment meters. The trial, along with a cost benefit analysis, is due to be completed in early 2011. Another potential benefit of smart metering is giving customers the opportunity to access more information about their energy consumption and this is particularly important for vulnerable customers to enable them to manage their energy consumption more effectively.

I am also working closely with the Ministers for Social Protection, and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to deliver a fully cohesive Government response to the challenges of addressing energy affordability in Ireland. I expect the Affordable Energy Strategy to be submitted to me shortly with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.

This strategy will be the framework for building upon the many measures already in place to protect vulnerable households at risk from the effects of energy poverty. These measures include social welfare supports such as the Fuel Allowance and the Household Benefits package, advice on energy efficiency. The Warmer Homes Scheme (WHS), administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland provides significant energy efficiency improvements in low-income homes. Improving the thermal efficiency of houses is a critical means of addressing energy affordability.

  24.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans regarding digital copyright law reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44853/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Copyright and related rights are primarily matters for the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. I am, however, aware of the recent High Court judgement in a case involving UPC and Irish record companies. This case has implications for internet use and is therefore of concern to my Department given its role in relation to communications regulation.

The record companies sought an injunction under the Copyright and Related Rights Act 2000 against UPC to prevent the illegal downloading of copyright material by third parties over the internet and a court order for UPC to block access by its subscribers to sites that facilitate such illegal downloading. In its judgement, the court considered the precise scope of the legislative framework as set out in the Copyright Act and relevant European legislation. The court concluded that the Irish copyright legislation does not provide for the remedies sought and refused to grant them. I understand that the judgement has been referred by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to the Attorney General for advice.

My Department has also sought the advice of the Attorney General in relation to any obligations my Department may have under the EU regulatory framework for telecommunications. That framework includes a provision whereby Member States may only impose restrictions on access to, and use of, services and applications through electronic communications networks, [501]including internet access by end users, subject to adequate procedural safeguards, including effective judicial protection and due process.

I will work with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to ensure that the State develops the right legal and market environment to both protect the rights of copyright holders and, at the same time, ensure we create a positive environment for the development of new internet services.

  25.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on a recent Irish small and medium enterprises survey that showed SMEs are not fully capitalising on the web for online selling due to broadband inadequacies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44997/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Government policy pertaining to the electronic communications market in Ireland is set out in “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, which I published in June 2009. The policy paper complements relevant provisions in the Government’s Framework for Sustainable Economic Renewal “Building Ireland’s Smart Economy”,which recognises broadbandas a key enabling infrastructure for the knowledge-intensive services and activities on which future prosperity will increasingly depend.

The telecommunications market in Ireland is fully liberalised and is regulated by the independent market regulator, ComReg. ComReg publishes quarterly statistical reports on developments in the fixed-line, mobile and broadband communications markets. These reports, among other things, demonstrate the significant progress in broadband roll out and increasing broadband speeds in Ireland over recent years. At the end of March 2007, for example, the number of broadband connections, at 600,000 approximately, first exceeded narrowband connections. Internationally, Ireland ranks 6th of the EU 27 for mobile broadband penetration and 15th for fixed broadband penetration.

This progress is also demonstrated in international comparisons. In a recent study of broadband services in 72 countries by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo, Spain, Ireland is ranked 13th of the 72 countries studied, ahead of France, Canada, the United States and the UK. The study considered broadband quality (i.e. download speeds, upload speeds, and latency) and broadband penetration to map the world’s broadband leaders. Ireland is also grouped amongst the top ten broadband movers since 2009 with 88% broadband penetration, an 11% increase on the previous year.

ComReg also conducts and publishes regular user attitude surveys to telecommunications services. The most recent ComReg customer survey of commercial customers using broadband services found:

Overall, 92% have internet access and rate their satisfaction with the speeds they receive highly — three quarters say they are satisfied.

Nearly half claim download speeds of over 10Mb and 23% have speeds of between 10Mb and 20Mb.

Over 6 in 10 (63%) of all businesses with Internet believe that their Internet service provider is delivering the speeds stated in their package.

56% of broadband users consider the reliability of their broadband connection to be the most important aspect of their broadband service, compared to 5% who believe cost is the most important aspect.

[502]The positive findings in the ComReg attitude surveys are consistent with the more positive findings in the ISME survey which finds 98% of SMEs are using broadband, 83% of companies have websites, and 39% of business have reported that the internet has reduced business costs. Additionally, less than 2.4% of consumer complaints to ComReg in the year to July 2010 related to broadband speeds.

In order to enable more SME’s to unlock the potential of the internet and on-line transacting for their businesses, the Digital Hub Development Agency has piloted a “WebActivate” programme in 2010. Under this programme young people on the live register are being provided with training and support to become self employed as service providers. They then go on to work with small Irish businesses to help those small companies to establish themselves on the internet. This programme is therefore tackling the digital divide for businesses and individuals and complements investments in broadband infrastructure.

Investment in improved broadband services and infrastructure in Ireland is ongoing within a liberalised open competitive market. The Next Generation Broadband policy paper also proposed the establishment of a Next Generation Broadband Taskforce comprising industry, Government and ComReg. It is my objective that the Taskforce can facilitate a collaborative approach to the roll out of next generation broadband to meet the demands of Ireland’s Smart Economy by enabling wider customer access to next generation networks. I look forward to the first meeting of the Taskforce in the coming weeks.

  26.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will identify areas in his Department and agencies where savings can be found in view of the current fiscal crisis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44878/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Under the four year National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, my Department is committed to achieving a targeted €20m in savings by 2014. These savings will be made up of €14.2m on programme spend with the balance of €5.8m coming from pay and administration. €7.9m of these saving are front-loaded in 2011 (€6.2m on programme and €1.7m on administration). The details of the measures underpinning the 2011 savings will be announced on Budget Day.

These measures build on significant savings made by my Department in recent years especially as regards Administration costs. Accordingly the 2010 Administrative Budget allocation for my Department was about €29m as opposed to about €42m in 2007. Over the period the staffing complement of the Department reduced from 339 to 268 at present.

  27.  Deputy Liz McManus    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number and cost of each website that falls under his Department’s remit; the number of unique visitors per month to each website; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44975/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department maintains eleven websites that provide information and mapping services to the wide range of stakeholders that have an interest in the areas for which my Department is responsible. There is a large variation in the number of unique visitors for each site as the following table shows, but this reflects the specialised nature of some of the technical communities that are being served. Whilst the numbers may be relatively small, these sites are a key [503]source of information both to foreign companies interested in Irish mineral exploration, and to the higher education sectors. The type of scientific information is an important raw material in the context of the knowledge society.

The websites share common technologies so they are hosted together on shared servers in order to provide cost efficiencies. The technical support and update of information on the sites, is carried out by the Department’s IT, technical and clerical staff as part of their normal functions. Because of this I am unable to give a breakdown of the costs for each individual site. The total cost of maintaining these websites including technical maintenance, ongoing development, and hosting charges was €178,000 in 2009. The total unique visits for all websites to-date for 2010, is 287,118, which is an average per month of 31,087.

The following table shows the individual site visitor details, as requested.

Website Unique Visits 2010 1-1-10 to
24-11-10
Average per month Maintenance Cost 2009 Maintenance Cost 2010
www.dcenr.gov.ie 115,321 10,484 178,000 131,649
www.egovernance.ie 1,155 105
www.broadband.gov.ie (suspended) 5,484
(Jan 2010 only)
5,484
www.digitaltelevision.ie 33,344 3,031
www.explorationandmining.com 410 37
www.mineralsireland.ie 6,550 595
www.planetearth.ie 3,266 297
www.gsi.ie 105,104 9,555
www.gsishop.ie 2,246 204
www.makeitsecure.ie 14,000 1,273
www.jetstream.gsi.ie (HEAnet) 238 22
Total 287,118 31,087 178,000 131,649

Briefing Note

Under the provisions of the Croke Park Agreement a strong emphasis has been placed on the increased use of shared services for the provision of corporate functions such as ISD, HR and Finance. An early implementation of the action plan prepared in respect of this Department has been an agreement that the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (DAFF) that they will provide day-to-day ICT operational services to DCENR from early 2011. The Department currently uses the LGCSB (Local Government Computer Services Board) and HEAnet to host web services. It is expected that all the LGCSB hosted servers will be moved to DAFF in 2011 with a saving of approximately €70,000 per annum.

A large proportion of the information on the sites from the natural resources divisions are focused on technical or geological information, that while they have a small user base are important sources of information to the exploration and educational communities. The ability of these groups to focus on their specific geographic area of interest and self-service their information requests is an important implementation of an eGovernment service with savings in the staff time that would otherwise be spent servicing these requests. The GSI sites have approximately a terabyte of raw survey data from the Infomar seabed surveys available for download free of charge.

  28.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the effect on electricity prices arising from the recent decision of the Commission for Energy Regulation to grant increased revenue to EirGrid and ESB Networks for transmission investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44812/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The cost of operating, maintaining and developing the electricity transmission network, including capital expenditure on new infrastructure, forms part of every electricity consumer’s bill. The independent energy regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), has the function of regulating transmission revenues for EirGrid as the transmission system operator and for ESB as the transmission asset owner.

The CER has recently published a final decision on network revenues, following the third in its series of in-depth 5-year network reviews, to cover the period 2011 to 2015. This decision provides the framework for ESB Network and EirGrid revenues for the forthcoming period and is designed to provide incentives for delivering efficiencies as well as allowing for significant new infrastructure investments.

The efficiency measures provided for in this decision include 2.5% annual productivity improvements, as well 5% reductions in payroll costs from both ESB Networks and EirGrid. The CER will also propose new incentivisation mechanisms (the detail of which will be further developed with ESB Networks and EirGrid), which will focus on, for example, speedier delivery of grid connections for renewable Generators. This networks decision also allows for transmission capital expenditure of €1.45bn within the period. In approving this amount, the CER was conscious of the need for value for money and identified significant efficiencies in the capital expenditure programme.

This much needed investment in strategic energy infrastructure will underpin security of energy supply, enhance competition in the all-island electricity market and facilitate the delivery of renewable electricity infrastructure to help meet Ireland’s legally binding renewable energy targets.

Transmission charges are set to increase over the next 5 years on foot of this investment programme. The CER has indicated an increase of approximately 3% in transmission charges in October 2011. However, as transmission charges currently make up around 7% of domestic customers’ bills, this will have a relatively small impact on a customer’s overall bill. The delivery at least cost of this infrastructure investment is crucial to enhancing competitiveness in the Irish economy and delivering on the Government’s smart economy agenda.

  29.  Deputy Noel J. Coonan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the progress on his commitment to increase public sector energy efficiency by 33%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44829/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The National Energy Efficiency Action Plan (NEEAP) sets out 90 actions which are already underway, or will be taken in the period to 2020, to achieve the national energy efficiency target. The Government has set a target of 20% across the economy and33% in the public sector. The savings identified in the Action Plan represent approximately €1.6 billion in avoided energy costs for the economy in 2020.

[505]My Department and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) are setting up a comprehensive monitoring and reporting system whereby all energy usage in the Public Sector will be accounted for and progress will be systematically recorded. This system will be fully in place next year, which will enable tracking of progress on an annual basis.

In the public sector, the most significant cost-cutting and energy saving potential lies in improving the energy performance of new and existing buildings and facilities. This will be a key focus of the new National Retrofit Programme, which will seek to raise financing from institutional investors for retrofit work in the public sector. The Public Sector Programme of SEAI is the main delivery mechanism for energy efficiency actions by public sector bodies. This comprehensive programme includes a Public Sector support programme, which provides assessments and training to all public sector bodies and a grant programme to support energy efficiency measures.

In September I announced financial support for 20 projects under the public sector and industry Energy Efficiency fund, which are all scheduled to conclude this year. These projects are anticipated to deliver €4.5 million savings over the lifetime of the measures. They will serve as exemplar projects for the public sector and for business.

In addition, the SEAI is working closely with an increasing number of public sector bodies including An Garda Síochána and the HSE to accelerate development of their energy efficiency strategies. Public Sector bodies are also actively working with SEAI to deliver energy savings in water services, public lighting and Information and Communications Technology (ICT). Participants have made savings of up to 20%, and have identified future saving opportunities of up to 40-50%. The work already under way has highlighted the very significant energy savings achievable across the public sector with commensurate reduction in energy costs for all public bodies.

  30.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number of disconnections of gas and electricity customers to date in 2010; his plans to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45007/10]

  60.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on the reconnection and disconnection fees imposed by the Commission for Energy Regulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45005/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 60 together.

The very significant increase in disconnections is of considerable concern for the Government, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), voluntary organisations and energy suppliers. CER has provided the information set out below in relation to the total number of disconnections completed by ESB Networks on site for Non-Payment of Account:

Year No. of Disconnections
2007 10,921
2008 10,986
2009 9,709
2010 17,389
up to 1st November 2010

[506]CER has advised us that a significant portion of the electricity disconnections have been subsequently reconnected and the remaining often relate to vacant premises.

CER has also provided us with information on the number of gas Meter Locks/ Disconnections. These numbers are not broken down between non-payment and separate meter locking/disconnect requests by customers which can arise for a variety of reasons.

Year No. of Disconnections/Meter Locks
2007 6,277
2008 5,800
2009 5,354
2010 4,371
up to 1st November 2010

Bord Gáis Energy, Flogas and Airtricity operate in the residential segment of the gas market. BG Energy advised in October 2010 that some 90,000 of their customers were experiencing payment difficulties with 26,000 customers currently carrying arrears of more than €500.

The key message for customers is to contact their suppliers to make arrangements before it gets to the point of disconnection. All energy suppliers have a Code of Practice in place setting out the steps to be taken before initiating a disconnection. These Codes of Practice require the suppliers to engage with the customer and /or a third party such as Money Advice and Budgeting Service (MABS) or the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul on pre-payment plans and/or alternative methods of payment (prepayment meters/budget controllers). There are also protections in the current code for vulnerable customers, for example, to prohibit electricity suppliers disconnecting elderly customers in the winter months.

The CER has announced its decision that the cost of disconnections for electricity and gas be shared equally between the supplier and the customer in the case of non-payment of account. This is an interim measure commencing December 22nd and will remain in place for 12 months. I welcome this measure and CER’s recognition that the current economic climate is placing additional pressures on energy consumers and that customers rights needs to be enhanced.

I also welcome CER’s decision to review disconnections charges levied by networks companies and the revision of the Code of Practice for Disconnections to include additional supplier measures to assist domestic customers in managing their bills and reducing disconnection rates. CER also provides a dedicated Energy Customers website and Energy Customer Team, which provides consumer information on the electricity and gas market at www.energycustomers.ie/ .

I am also working closely with the Ministers for Social Protection and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to deliver a fully cohesive Government response to the challenges of addressing energy affordability in Ireland. I expect the Affordable Energy Strategy to be submitted to me shortly, with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.

  31.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if his attention has been drawn to the Icelandic modern media initiative; his plans to introduce legislation similar to this initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45003/10]

[507]Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I am aware of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative. The initiative proposes to “task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedoms of expression and information freedom in Iceland, as well as providing strong protection for sources and whistleblowers”. Iceland sees this, together with interconnection and server costs, as a key to attracting inward investment in the area of international press, media start-ups, human rights group and international data centres.

The increasing use of Internet technologies for social networking, publishing, content distribution and other commercial and social purposes presents challenges and opportunities for growth and is reflected in Iceland’s initiative. In Ireland, these opportunities are being harnessed through the Government’s “Technology Actions to Support the SMART Economy”. This Knowledge Society Strategy paper published in July 2009, sets out a number of initiatives similar to those envisaged by Iceland including the International Content Services Centre (ICSC), Advanced Energy Efficient Data and Cloud Computing Centres; Smart Bay; Smart Electricity Grids and Networks; Work Flow; and the Exemplar Network.

Building on these initiatives, we will continue to explore innovative ways to build Ireland’s SMART economy, by monitoring closely how developments in technology are impacting across the economy and society generally and engaging with the relevant stakeholders to ensure that public policy responds appropriately.

  32.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the percentage of renewable biomass that should be burnt by an incineration plant in order for that plant to be considered fully renewable and qualify for priority dispatch alongside fully renewable plant such as wind; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44987/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive (2009/28/EC) renewable electricity generation, including that from biomass, is required to be granted priority access to the grid. The definition of biomass in this context is “the biodegradable fraction of products, waste and residues from biological origin from agriculture (including vegetable and animal substances), forestry and related industries including fisheries and aquaculture, as well as the biodegradable fraction of industrial and municipal waste”.

The biodegradable fraction of waste therefore is classified as biomass, and electricity generated from this qualifies as renewable energy. However, waste to energy plants generally accept a mixed waste stream, with biomass and non biomass material distributed throughout, so only a proportion of the generation is renewable. Transparent and objective qualifying criteria for priority dispatch are therefore required for all market operators. These criteria would also apply to any other generation plant with a mixed fuel supply, including any peat generation station co-firing with biomass.

The qualifying criteria for multi-fuel or hybrid electricity generation are under consideration by my Department in the context of the transposition of the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive. My Department has been in discussions with the Commission for Energy Regulation, the Transmission System Operator (EirGrid), the European Commission and with other EU Member States, with a view to establishing a system for determining the dispatch status of hybrid plants. There are currently 3 Waste to Energy Plants either in planning or in construction, with the first likely to begin production in late 2011.

  33.  Deputy Pádraic McCormack    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will outline any problems with the current Gate 3 process for wind farm development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44860/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Gate 3 programme allows for the issuance of connection offers to over 150 renewable generators (mostly wind-farms), with a combined capacity of approximately 4,000 MW. The programme has been designed by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) specifically to meet Ireland’s national renewable target of 40% of electricity supplied from renewable sources by 2020. Gate 3 is the single largest connection offer project ever undertaken on the island of Ireland (previously Gate 2 issued offers for 1,300 MW of capacity) and as such it is a complex and long term project.

In order to ensure that Gate 3 offers are rolled out to projects in the most efficient and cost effective manner, the CER required the System Operators (EirGrid for the transmission system and ESB Networks for the distribution system) to develop a detailed project plan for the issuance of connection offers. A project plan has been approved which involves the roll-out of offers over an 18-month period between December 2009 and July 2011. Gate 3 offers have been rolling out according to the plan throughout 2010 so far and the CER is satisfied that there are no delays or problems with the offer issuance programme. 1,422 MW of offers in Gate 3 have been issued by the System Operators to date and EirGrid and ESB Networks advise that the programme remains on schedule with no delays expected.

It should be noted that this schedule refers to the issuance of offers by the System Operators to Gate 3 projects only. Decisions are pending in relation to the scheduling and dispatch of generators in the Single Electricity Market, as levels of wind on the system increase in the coming years. Until the SEM Committee finalise their decision accurate estimates for the level of constraints which will be faced by Gate 3 generators will not be determined. The CER has determined that Gate 3 projects do not have to accept their offers until these decisions are finalised. The CER is working with the Northern Ireland regulator (NIAUR) to finalise decisions through the SEM Committee and to ensure that the most equitable rules are put in place. Once decisions are finalised in early 2011, Gate 3 developers will be in a position to accept their offers.

There is no indication at this point that this matter is causing a problem for the broader Gate 3 programme or for the delivery of the programme to the agreed timeline. It is expected that by Quarter 3 2011, all Gate 3 offers will have issued and all offers will have either been accepted or rejected by Gate 3 developers. This remains in line with the agreed programme. It is the case also that separate from the GATE 3 process itself, there are other challenges to be met by developers in terms of planning, environmental requirements and community acceptance. The CER continues to monitor all issues associated with Gate 3, which are within its control, through the Gate 3 Liaison Group. Full details of this Group and of the roll-out of Gate 3 can be found in the Gate 3 Liaison Group section of the CER website (www.cer.ie).

  34.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to develop a national fuel poverty strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [43806/10]

[509]

  47.  Deputy Joan Burton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the numbers of persons living in fuel poverty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45006/10]

  54.  Deputy Pat Rabbitte    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the timeframe for the energy affordability strategy; if it will require legislation; the way he intends to address the urgent problem of fuel poverty here; the number of homes that were part of the warmer homes scheme for 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44984/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 47 and 54 together.

The Government is committed to mitigating the underlying causes of energy poverty in vulnerable households through a combination of institutional supports, investment in improving the energy efficiency of housing stock and the wide availability of advice on energy efficiency. I am working closely with the Ministers for Social Protection and Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to deliver a fully cohesive Government response to the challenges of addressing energy affordability in Ireland. I expect the Strategy to be submitted to me shortly, with a view to bringing it to Government in the coming weeks.

The affordable energy strategy will be the framework for building upon the many measures already in place to protect households at risk from the effects of energy poverty. These measures include social welfare supports such as the Fuel Allowance and the Household Benefits package, as well as thermal efficiency-based measures such as the Warmer Homes Scheme (WHS), which provide significant energy efficiency improvements in low-income homes. The number of homes that were upgraded under the WHS in 2008 were 5,343, 16,240 in 2009 and 20,711 to date in 2010.

There are three methods of calculating the extent of fuel poverty: the expenditure method or share of income spent on household fuels; subjective measures on the part of occupants; and objective measurement of residence condition and comfort levels in relation to needs. Using the expenditure method, the ESRI estimates that 301,368 or 19.4% of Irish households may have experienced fuel poverty in 2008. Alternatively, using the subjective method 54,372 or 3.7% of households reported that they could not afford to heat their homes adequately in 2008. Updated numbers will be published in the forthcoming Affordable Energy Strategy.

It is not envisaged that additional legislation will be required at this stage. The necessity for legislation to underpin aspects of the strategy in the future will be kept under review.

  35.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on the extent of the digital divide here; the steps he is taking to combat same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44992/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department, and others, have been working, and continue to work, on addressing the digital divide with a range of measures to promote digital engagement. This engagement is being encouraged and facilitated by improving access opportunities.

Having access to broadband connectivity is a fundamental starting point. Where the market has failed to provide a service (primarily due to the lack of commercial returns for such investment) the Government has intervened, thereby ensuring broadband access to those who wish to avail of it. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which has provided a basic broad[510]band service to 1,028 electoral divisions in rural Ireland, is one such example. Since the completion of the roll out of the NBS network last month, every part of Ireland now has a broadband service available from at least one service provider. Additionally, satellite broadband services are available throughout Ireland. I am aware that there continues to be isolated cases of premises throughout the country that are not capable of receiving the broadband services available. Next month, therefore, I intend to launch a Rural Broadband Scheme, jointly funded by the European Economic Recovery and the Exchequer that will provide broadband to the small number of rural premises that were not included in the National Broadband Scheme.

As part of the Government’s strategy to make technology an integral part of the learning process, significant funding is also being given to post-primary schools, for high-tech equipment to improve the ICT infrastructure available in schools. A pilot scheme to provide 100Mbps broadband access and associated services to 78 post-primary schools has also been rolled out. I intend to bring proposals to Government next month to launch the national roll out of this scheme to all second-level schools by 2012.

The issue of digital skills is another key element of reducing the digital divide and is being addressed in several ways. Training opportunities are available from a variety of sources — including opportunities in libraries and in night classes throughout the country, and from a range of private sector training providers.

The Digital Hub — an Agency under my Department — is also helping to address the digital divide in an enterprise context. Through the “WebActivate” programme currently being piloted at the Hub, young people on the live register are being provided with training and support to become self employed as service providers. They then go on to work with small Irish businesses to help those small companies to establish themselves on the internet. This programme, tackling the digital divide for individuals as well as businesses, is one I intend to expand in 2011.

In addition, there is the “Log on, Learn” initiative — a collaborative programme between Intel, Microsoft, An Post and the Department of Education & Skills. The programme is designed to match participating transition-year students with older people on a one-to-one basis, to share skills and knowledge with each other. I understand that over 3,000 people have been trained on this programme. I understand too, that BT is developing an initiative to be deployed in a number of community settings. My Department has also been intervening to bring about increased digital engagement by working with community & voluntary and not-for-profit organisations across the country through the BenefIT e-Inclusion grant schemes. Under the BenefIT schemes, between 2008 and 2009, 89 grants were awarded to a range of local, regional and national organisations to provide digital skills training. To date, over 28,000 people have benefited directly from training under these schemes.

I am confident that the range of initiatives introduced and in progress will significantly reduce the digital divide and develop Ireland’s Smart economy.

  36.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the specific measures he has taken to combat inaccurate advertising of broadband speeds by telecommunications companies here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44998/10]

  51.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the position regarding the commencement of an independent study of broadband speeds available to customers here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44994/10]

[511]Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 51 together.

The regulation of telecommunications operators, including regulatory issuessurrounding the quality of broadband services provided to customers, is the responsibility of the independent Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). In March 2008, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, guided by ComReg and the National Consumer Agency, issued an Advice Note to Broadband Providers, which has had a positive impact in aligning speeds advertised with speeds experienced. My Department has no statutory function in regulating advertising standards.

My Department, in collaboration with ComReg, has been considering how best to generate additional statistical analysis of broadband speeds experienced by end users over the competing platforms in Ireland. In the course of developing the various measurement and related requirements a number of technical issues arose and these issues are currently under consideration by ComReg. I have sought resolution of the issues as soon as possible, with a view to introducing an appropriate initiative.

While I look forward to gathering additional statistical information to inform the policy making process, it should be noted that surveys undertaken by ComReg during 2010 indicate high levels of satisfaction with residential and broadband speeds. Additionally, less than 2.4% of consumer complaints to ComReg in the year to July 2010 related to broadband speeds.

  37.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the way he plans to expedite private sector investment plans in next generation broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44866/10]

  49.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the steps he is taking to provide high speed broadband services in urban areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44789/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 49 together.

Government policy pertaining to the electronic communications market in Ireland is set out in “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, which I published in June 2009. The policy paper was developed in accordance with various key principles, which are crucial to the development of the market. The policy paper sets out the Government’s position that investment in broadband infrastructure is primarily a matter for the private sector, facilitated, where appropriate and possible, by Government. I understand that the industry has invested around €600m per annum over recent years. ComReg, which is the independent market regulator continues to review the level of investment being made by various operators and has a clear role in providing a suitable investment environment especially for next generation networks.

The policy has facilitated significant progress in rolling out broadband services, over recent years. This progress, measured in international comparisons, is demonstrated in a recent study of broadband services in 72 countries by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo, Spain. This study concludes that the broadband services currently available in Ireland are capable of meeting the requirements of today’s broadband applications and overall, in terms of broadband quality and penetration, Ireland ranks 13th of the 72 countries studied.

More generally, of the homes with broadband connections, 77.8% of them and 85.8% of SMEs are using broadband speeds between 2mbps and 10mbps. UPC is providing speeds of up [512]to 30mbps and is rolling out speeds of up to 100mbps. Eircom and the Vodafone/BT alliance are both rolling out speeds of up to 24 Mbps using vDSL technology. In the wireless market, Imagine have launched WiMAX, a broadband product with speeds of up to 8mbps available. In addition, eircom has recently launched an Ethernet product offering speeds of up to and exceeding 1Gbps to wholesale customers and to high-bandwidth users. Since the completion of the roll out of the National Broadband Scheme last month, there is at least one service provider offering a broadband service in any area across every part of Ireland.

While I am confident that the level of investment activity in the market will continue, I am keen to facilitate collaborative approaches to investment that would maximise impact without compromising competitive market principles particularly in investments in next generation services. To that end, the Next Generation Broadband (NGB) Taskforce, which I signalled in my June 2009 policy paper, will be established and meet in the coming weeks. The NGB Taskforce will focus on how possible collaborative approaches to investment coupled with the existing policy environment and regulatory regime, could give rise to higher quality broadband.

  38.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will ensure that the financial costs to consumers associated with supporting peat and renewable energy on the power system, through the public service obligation, will not offset the benefits of a reduced energy price with more renewables on the power system over the medium to long term; the point at which wind energy will be considered a mature technology and the REFIT support mechanism be withdrawn; if he has engaged in any detailed analysis on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44983/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Public Service Obligations (or PSOs) are in place in Ireland and elsewhere to achieve national energy policy objectives which would not otherwise be delivered by competitive energy markets. In line with EU and national legislation, PSOs are in place to support power generation from peat as an indigenous fuel supply for security of supply purposes, to support renewable generation capacity to reduce emissions and reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels and there are still the legacy arrangements from incentivising the development of additional generation capacity when it was urgently needed in advance of the introduction of the Single Electricity Market in 2007. At my request, my Department is conducting a review of the peat PSO levy with a view to mitigating the costs and improving its administration.

All Electricity consumers pay for the additional cost of these supports through the PSO levy. Each year, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) calculates the estimated costs associated with implementing the various obligations and forecasts of electricity market revenues for the energy companies involved. Where market revenues are not sufficient to cover the cost of implementing the obligations, additional supports in the form of “top-up” payments are necessary and are funded by electricity consumers through the PSO Levy.

The PSO levy is supporting the development of renewable electricity in Ireland. At relatively low cost by comparison with other EU Member States, the levy has already supported the connection of more than 1,400 MW of renewable energy mostly wind to the electricity grid. Renewable energy is reducing wholesale electricity prices at times of high wind by displacing higher cost fossil fuel generators.

Each customer’s electricity bill is made up of four key cost components. These are the cost of generating electricity on the wholesale market, network charges, supply costs and the PSO Levy. There are now a number of suppliers actively competing for business in the retail elec[513]tricity market. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has recently deregulated electricity tariffs for business customers and set out the criteria for deregulation of the domestic market, which is likely to happen within the coming year. With price being a key consideration for electricity customers in choosing their supplier, competitive pressures will ensure that suppliers pass on to their customers any cost savings arising from wholesale electricity prices.

The CER has carried out a high-level analysis of the impact of wind generation on the wholesale electricity price for the current tariff year i.e. from October 2010 to end September 2011. This shows that Wind generation is reducing the all-island wholesale electricity price. This wholesale price reduction should be taken into account when quoting the cost of the wind-related PSO for this tariff year.

In this regard, €43 million is the extra wind-related PSO cost in Ireland for the current tariff year. Against this cost, CER modelling shows that the all-island wholesale electricity price (the System Marginal Price) reduces by 5% to 6% due to the wind that is expected to be dispatched during the tariff year. This reduction equates to a circa €80 million reduction in wholesale costs, to the benefit of all customers.

This figure is only an estimate for this tariff year only, and the figure is subject to significant variation if different assumptions of fuel and carbon prices are used or if the contribution from wind is lower than expected. The same uncertainty issue arises looking forward to 2020 when 40% of our electricity is planned to be from renewable sources (typically wind), but it is the case that wind will generally put downward pressure on the wholesale price. Wind provides a “hedge or insurance” against possible rising fuel/carbon prices into the future. The CER will continue to monitor the wholesale market to ensure that it is compatible with the planned increased levels of wind.

On the basis of experience to date with the feed-in system, the REFIT scheme is one of the systems best suited to promoting the production of electricity from renewable energy. This is confirmed by the European Commission which has highlighted that renewable energy feed in tariffs are considered to be the most effective form of support in terms of delivering greater renewable energy penetration at lower costs for consumers. The European Commission has confirmed that support systems are needed to deliver renewable energy competitiveness.

Ireland’s feed in tariff system, REFIT, provides investment security for renewable generators by offering a floor price for certain technologies for electricity from renewable sources. Those accepted into the scheme enter into 15-year power purchase agreements with supply companies. Under the original feed in tariff scheme, applicants were accepted into REFIT up to 31 December 2009 and REFIT could be paid until 2025.

The Department is in negotiations with the European Commission to finalise the State Aid clearance for REFIT to enable projects to enter the scheme between 2010 and 2015 with a 15-year power purchase agreement thereafter. It is the case that technology and market developments and fossil fuel trends will inform any review of REFIT in 2015.

  39.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will provide an update on the national energy efficiency retrofit programme; if the expenditure on existing energy efficiency and renewable energy schemes is still behind profile; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44978/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department has concluded a consultation process on the National Retrofit Programme, setting out a proposed framework and details of how it will operate over the next three years. The [514]programme will be launched in 2011 and will entail the transition of the existing energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes over the course of the year. Expenditure on these schemes to date in 2010 amounts to over €68 million, with a substantial drawdown expected this week. I am advised by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) that they expect the final outturn to be close to the 2010 allocation of €81.756 million.

The Home Energy Saving Scheme (HES) commenced in late March 2009 and provides grant assistance to homeowners for energy efficiency measures. Applicants are given six months in which to undertake the work. Not all projects were completed by year end, leading to less than anticipated expenditure in 2009. To date in 2010, 40,159 homes have received grant payments for energy efficiency upgrades.

The Warmer Homes Scheme (WHS) provides energy efficiency upgrades to low-income houses. The scheme is delivered through a combination of community based organisations and private contractors, who were retained for programme delivery for the first time in 2009. Budget 2010 provided a substantial increase in funding which is allowing for 22,500 homes to be delivered this year, a target that the SEAI expect to exceed. Under the Scheme, structural improvements have been made to 20,711 low-income homes so far in 2010.

The Greener Homes Scheme (GHS), which has been in operation since 2006, currently provides capital support for the installation by householders of renewable energy heating technologies including wood-pellet and chip stoves and boilers, gasification boilers, solar panels and geothermal heat pumps. To date, 30,725 systems have been completed under the scheme. In advance of the transition to the new national retrofit programme, the HES, WHS, and GHS will continue to operate.

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 17.

  41.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the progress from the Government’s working group set up to ensure new buildings will have open-access fibre connections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44999/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The provision of high speed broadband connectivity as a critical element in the development of a competitive Smart Economy and inclusive Knowledge Society is a policy priority. My Department’s policy in this area is set out in the paper “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, 2009. One of the actions in this Paper is the requirement for new premises to have open access fibre connections installed, where practicable.

A working group has been set up comprising officials from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) and my own Department to examine a range of practical issues that needs to be addressed to progress this action. As part of this process, officials from my Department have drafted technical recommendations and have held a pre-consultation with relevant stakeholders. A full consultation with the construction industry and relevant stakeholders will take place shortly with a view to finalising a set of actions over the coming months.

  42.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the way he intends to ensure that the provisions outlined in the national [515]renewable energy action plan are implemented in a coherent, timely manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44989/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department has overall responsibility for leading and ensuring the implementation of the measures in the National Renewable Action Plan, which will deliver the EU renewable energy target for Ireland by 2020. Ireland is set to exceed 15% of renewable electricity in 2010. There is now 1500 MW of wind on the system equating to 122 wind farms.

Delivery of the Plan is a collective national endeavour involving my Department, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the Commission for Energy Regulation, EirGrid and all other relevant Departments and Agencies as well as the renewable energy sector itself. The challenges inherent in achieving Ireland’s renewable energy targets in electricity, heat and transport must be addressed through a fully cohesive approach by all the key stakeholders. My Department is working to ensure such a cohesive approach. The forum of the Renewable Energy Development Group, which represents all key stakeholders, will play a key role in this regard.

  43.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will provide an update on the rural broadband scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44995/10]

  52.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the steps he is taking to provide broadband coverage to areas not serviced by the national broadband scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44788/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 52 together.

It continues to be a priority of the Government that there will be broadband coverage across the entire country. However, despite Government and private investment in broadband, I am aware that there continues to be a small percentage of premises throughout the country that will not be capable of receiving broadband services. This is primarily due to technical and other reasons (suitability of a telephone line, distance from an enabled exchange, no line of sight etc.).

The European Commission has set aside a portion of the European Economic Recovery Programme (EERP) funding for rural broadband initiatives. Using this funding, which will be augmented by an Exchequer contribution, I intend to launch a Rural Broadband Scheme before the end of the year. This scheme will aim to provide a basic broadband service to individual un-served rural premises outside of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) areas.

There will be a competitive process to engage a service provider who will offer a broadband service to qualified applicants under the scheme. While the exact details have yet to be finalised, I expect that the service offered under this scheme would at least match the service offered under the NBS. This process will be technology neutral — it will be a matter for the bidders to decide which technical approach they propose in their bids. Information in relation to acceptance of applications and the process of qualification under the scheme will be made available in due course when the scheme is launched

  44.  Deputy Kathleen Lynch    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on Ireland’s ability to fulfil the EU Commission target to have universal [516]broadband access available across the EU by 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44991/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is a matter for private sector service providers operating in a liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). Broadband services are provided by private service providers over various platforms including DSL (i.e. over telephone lines), fixed wireless, mobile, cable, fibre and satellite. ComReg’s website www.callcosts.ie provides detailed information on the various private sector telecommunications products and services available on a county by county basis.

In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) represents such an intervention. The provision of broadband services under the NBS has advanced incrementally and services are now available throughout the entire NBS area with a current minimum download speed of 1.6Mbps. Under the NBS contract, this minimum download speed will be increased to 2.3mbps in 2012.

Since the completion of the roll out of the NBS network last month, every part of Ireland now has a broadband service available from at least one service provider. Additionally, satellite broadband services are available throughout Ireland. However, despite Government and private investment in broadband, I am aware that there continues to be isolated cases of premises throughout the country that cannot receive the broadband services available. This is primarily due to technical and other reasons (e.g., suitability of a telephone line, distance from an enabled exchange, or no ‘line of sight’ from the premises to the wireless base station).

The European Commission has set aside a portion of the European Economic Recovery Programme (EERP) funding for rural broadband initiatives. Using this funding, which will be augmented by an Exchequer contribution, I intend to launch a Rural Broadband Scheme before the end of the year. This scheme will aim to provide a basic broadband service to individual un-served rural premises outside of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) areas.

There will be a competitive process to engage a service provider who will offer a broadband service to qualified applicants under the scheme. While the exact details have yet to be finalised, I expect that the service offered under this scheme would at least match the service offered under the NBS and that the scheme will be fully rolled out by the end of 2012. Accordingly, I am committed that the combination of private sector investment in telecommunications services, combined with Government’s intervention in the NBS and the forthcoming Rural Broadband Scheme will result in broadband access for all by 2013, in line with the aims of the EU Commission.

  45.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the cost of the independent analysis into electricity transmission assets; when he expects this analysis to be completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45004/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The independent analysis in relation to the electricity transmission assets being carried out by Frontier Economics Limited is close to finalisation. The unbundling of the transmission assets involves the resolution of complex technical, financial and operational issues as well as the possible development of legislation. The independent analysis includes an assessment of costs, [517]benefits and regulatory impact, set in the context of EU developments and the all island single electricity market. The process has involved input from the direct key stakeholders and other stakeholders. The cost of the analysis is €178,500.

  46.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to establish a next generation network task force; the way in which this is distinct from the broadband task force announced in the July 2009 next generation report; the persons who will be on this task force; if this task force has met yet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44986/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Government policy on the development of the electronic communications market in Ireland is set out in “Next Generation Broadband — Gateway to a Knowledge Ireland”, which I published in June 2009. The policy paper proposed the establishment of a Next Generation Broadband Taskforce, comprising industry, Government and ComReg, aimed at ensuring that the development of broadband in Ireland will meet the demands of Ireland’s Smart Economy. I am keen to facilitate collaborative approaches to the roll out of Next Generation Broadband infrastructure to maximise the development of next generation services without compromising competitive market principles and rules.

Any collaborative model would occur in a market which is fully liberalised and subject to national and EU competition rules. The EU Commission first published a public consultation on regulatory rules for Next Generation Access to broadband in September 2008. The issues arising were complex and delayed a formal EU Commission position until September 2010 when its “Recommendation of 20.9.2010 on regulated access to Next Generation Access Networks (NGA)”, was published. The Recommendation concludes that proportionate collaboration among competitors in developing next generation broadband infrastructure is in the consumer interest and permissible. Following this clarification, I have moved to establish the NGB Taskforce which will meet for the first time on 14th December. It will focus, amongst other issues, on how possible collaborative approaches to investment coupled with the existing policy environment and regulatory regime, could give rise to higher quality broadband.

Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 34.

  48.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his targets in relation to electric transport in terms of private car ownership between 2010 and 2020; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42700/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Government has set a target of 10% of all vehicles to be powered by electricity by 2020, which equates to around 225,000 vehicles. Ireland aims to be at the forefront of electric vehicle technology developments and my Department is working with relevant Departments and Agencies to ensure that the necessary structures and initiatives are in place to meet this target.

Last April I signed an Agreement with the Renault Nissan Alliance and ESB, which underpins Ireland as one of the European leaders in electric transport. The Agreement, building on the Memorandum of Understanding last year, includes the development of a nationwide electric car charging infrastructure, the continued sharing of technical and market data between the parties and the early supply of electric cars into the Irish market by Renault and Nissan [518]from next year. Progress has also been made in discussions with other major motor manufacturers to make early production vehicles available to the Irish market. Last month, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Toyota Ireland and I expect that other agreements will be developed in the foreseeable future.

The Electric Vehicle (EV) grant scheme, which is due to commence in January 2011, will provide for grants of up to €5,000 for full battery electric vehicles and up to €2,500 for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. The scheme, which is subject to the approval of the Minister for Finance and availability of the requisite funding, is anticipated to provide grants for up to 6,000 vehicles over a two year period. It will be administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI).

In February 2011, Nissan will begin to supply its all-electric, LEAF hatchback to the car market in Ireland. A number of other car manufacturers have indicated that they will also be launching electric vehicles into the market later in 2011 and in 2012.

The ESB will roll out 1,500 charge points on a nationwide basis by December 2011. These charge points will support both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). The roll out has already begun with 12 on-street charge points, 15 domestic charge points and 13 industrial chargers are already installed. The roll-out of these charge points is continuing, in anticipation of the first production EVs from major manufacturers coming to market in early 2011. It is anticipated that approximately 200 public charge points will be in place by year end. ESB also plans to install up to 30 fast charge points across Ireland by the end of 2011, with nine expected to be set up by the end of this year.

SEAI provided grants of 138,000 euro for eight demonstration EVs in 2009 under its Renewable Energy in Transport Research Programme. Approximately 30,000 euro has been committed by SEAI on IT systems updates in anticipation of the Electric Vehicle Grant Scheme.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 37.

  50.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the percentage of schools in Ireland that have 100Mbps broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44977/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  78 post-primary schools were selected to receive 100Mbps broadband as part of a pilot project in June 2009. These schools have had the bandwidth installed and are actively using this connection. 78 schools represent approximately 11% of all post-primary schools in the country.

Government has committed to rolling out the project to all post-primary schools by the end of 2012. I am confident that my budget allocation for 2011 will allow for half of those remaining schools to be connected by the start of the next academic year. The provision of broadband to primary schools is administered by the Department of Education and Skills under the Broadband for Schools programme.

Question No. 51 answered with Question No. 36.

Question No. 52 answered with Question No. 43.

  53.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 95 of 26 January 2010, 108 of 2 March 2010 and 86 of 20 October 2010, the way he plans to improve take up of the microgeneration programme supported by the ESB; the progress made to date in the review of the take-up of the scheme he commenced at the start of the year in conjunction with ESB; his views on including other electricity suppliers in the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44972/10]

  61.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources,    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 95 of 26 January 2010 and 86 of 20 October 2010, the number of customers now signed up to the microgeneration scheme supported by the ESB; his views on whether the target of 4,000 domestic customers can be reached; the reasons the scheme is still confined to domestic customers given that less than 10% of the take-up target of the scheme has been reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44971/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 61 together.

The total number of eligible customers on the ESB Microgeneration Tariff to date is 337 with a total connected capacity of some 1974.08kW. A total of some 484,115kWh were exported by Micro Generation customers between 26 February 2009 and 31 October 2010. The types of technology used are as follows:

Wind Turbine installations = 290

PV installations = 45

Hydro Turbines installations = 2

ESB Networks (ESBN) is currently processing a further 20 customer applications, although it is noted that they may not all eventually come to full fruition. ESB Networks is providing the necessary import/export metering free of charge to the first four thousand eligible domestic customers. This free metering scheme is open to the domestic customers of allelectricity suppliers who wish to install micro-generators. As a further initiative to support micro-generation, ESB Networks provides an extra support payment of 10 cents per kWh for those eligible customers (irrespective of their supplier) for the first 3000kWh exported annually for a period of five years.

Currently, ESB Customer Supply is the only electricity supplier in Ireland offering micro-generation tariffs to domestic customers who generate up to 11kW (when connection is three phase). This offering provides for a micro-generation tariff of 9 cents per kWh, paid to ESB Customer Supply eligible customers who export onto the grid.

The figure of 4,000 customers was originally agreed between ESB Networks, the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. The ESB has stated that the four thousand free import/export meters is a boundary for a part of ESB’s commitment in the package of supports for micro-generation, with a view to getting a Microgeneration Tariff Scheme up and running, and is not a target number for customer uptake.

There are technical constraints that also limit the category of customers that can connect to the network as micro-generators. This is regularly reviewed and, from August 2010, ESB Networks has extended the micro-generation support initiative to domestic generators that limit [520]their maximum export capacity (MEC) to 6kW single phase and 11kW three phase. This means that a single phase domestic customer with a 15kW turbine installation can now qualify for the support initiative, provided they limit their export to 6kW.

The Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland is currently running an 18-month microgeneration pilot scheme and is monitoring the installations in the programme. The findings from the pilot will provide valuable data with regard to microgeneration and will help inform policy and improvements for the sector going forward. My intention is that there would be a wider microgeneration support scheme introduced and options for this are currently under consideration.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 34.

  55.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the current level of high speed broadband availability in each county; the areas still having a reduced level or no service; the number of service providers currently engaged in provision of such services; the total cost to date paid to each service provider by way of direct grant or other means; the extent to which services here are now available in terms of quality and standard in comparison with other EU or non-EU jurisdictions; if he will set out his expenditure proposals in this regard in the short and medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44973/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is a matter for private sector service providers operating in a liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). Broadband services are provided by private service providers over various platforms including DSL (i.e. over telephone lines), fixed wireless, mobile, cable, fibre and satellite. ComReg’s website www.callcosts.ie provides detailed information on the various private sector telecommunications products and services available on a county by county basis.

In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) represents such an intervention. The provision of broadband services under the NBS has advanced incrementally and services are now available throughout the entire NBS area. Since the completion of the roll out of the NBS network last month, every part of Ireland now has a broadband service available from at least one service provider. Additionally, satellite broadband services are available throughout Ireland. However, despite Government and private investment in broadband, I am aware that there continues to be isolated cases of premises throughout the country that are not capable of receiving the broadband services available. This is primarily due to technical and other reasons (e.g., suitability of a telephone line, distance from an enabled exchange, or no ‘line of sight’ from the premises to the wireless base station).

The European Commission has set aside a portion of the European Economic Recovery Programme (EERP) funding for rural broadband initiatives. Using this funding, which will be augmented by an Exchequer contribution, I intend, subject to Government approval, to launch a Rural Broadband Scheme before the end of the year. This scheme will aim to provide a basic broadband service to individual un-served rural premises outside of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) areas. I expect that the service offered under this scheme will be fully rolled out by the end of 2012.

[521]ComReg is responsible for the authorisation of broadband service providers. ComReg’s most recent Quarterly Report shows that, at the end of June 2010, there were 468 organisations authorised to provide electronic communications services. The Quarterly Report highlights that the total number includes all general authorisations granted by ComReg under the European Framework for Authorisations, and does not necessarily reflect the total number of commercially active organisations or entities currently operating in the market. The total includes a number of undertakings who are authorised to use licence-exempt spectrum for the provision of wireless services.

In terms of international comparison, Ireland ranks 15th of the EU 27 for fixed broadband penetration and 6th for mobile only penetration. Additionally, a recent study of broadband services in 72 countries by the University of Oxford and the University of Oviedo, Spain, concluded that the broadband services currently available in Ireland are capable of meeting the requirements of today’s broadband applications and overall, in terms of broadband quality and penetration, Ireland ranks 13th of the 72 countries studied. As regards future investment, this will be primarily funded by the private sector with the State stepping in, within available resources, at targeted areas.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 15.

  57.  Deputy Róisín Shortall    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will provide an update on the distribution of the carbon revenue levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44985/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Carbon Revenue Levy) Act 2010, which came into effect on 1st July 2010, provides for the recovery of carbon windfall gains from electricity generators until the end of 2012. The legislation provides for the establishment of a fund administered by the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), to whom the levy is paid. The first levy period ran from 1 July to 30 September and CER has recently advised that revenues in the region of €20 million in respect of this period have been paid into this fund.

The Act also provides that this fund is to be used for the benefit of the Exchequer as directed by the Minister for Finance and myself. The Government has decided that the proceeds of the levy are to be used for the continuation of the Large Energy Users (LEU) rebate until 2012. The CER is therefore distributing the funds received from electricity generators to Large Energy Users (LEUs) in accordance with the direction given to the CER by me in August of this year and as stated in their information note, CER/10/155, published on September 1st 2010.

There are two elements to these rebates. A fixed element is applied as a credit to each LEU’s contracted electricity capacity each month. A variable element, also known as the kWh element, is calculated and applied based on customer consumption. Both credits will benefit all Large Energy Users connected at Distribution Group Seven and above and all Transmission connected customers, irrespective of supplier. The rebates will apply from 1st October 2010 to 30th September 2011. It is anticipated that in the region of €80 million will be distributed to large energy users over this period.

  58.  Deputy Eamon Gilmore    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on claims that just €130 million from the €250 million revenue gained from the carbon levy has been going to earmarked schemes; the energy efficiency measures to benefit [522]from the carbon tax; the percentage of revenue gained from the carbon tax that will be spent on energy efficiency measures in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44980/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Budget 2010 allocated €40 million for Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s energy efficiency programmes in the domestic, business and public sectors, with an additional €50 million, from carbon tax revenues, for the creation of the National Retrofit Programme. In advance of the launch of the National Retrofit Programme this funding has been utilised for existing energy efficiency schemes, notably, the Home Energy Savings Scheme and the Warmer Homes Scheme. Under the 2010 Social Housing Retrofitting Programme, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was allocated €40 million to support local authorities across the country in improving their stock of vacant social houses and occupied apartment complexes. The utilisation of revenue from taxation receipts, including the carbon tax, is a matter for the Minister for Finance.

  59.  Deputy Michael P. Kitt    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the progress made on biomass as an energy resource; the potential envisaged in achieving Ireland’s renewable energy target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44790/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Under the Renewable Energy Directive 2009/28/EC, Ireland’s target is for 16% of all energy (to include electricity, heating and transport) to be from renewable sources by 2020. The Government’s targets of 40% of electricity, 12% of heating/cooling and 10% of transport to be sourced from renewable sources by 2020 are commensurate with Ireland’s EU target. Biomass has major potential to contribute to delivery on Ireland’s targets.

Reflecting the need to support the development of biomass, in May of this year, I announced a new Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff (REFIT) Scheme for biomass ranging from 8.5 cent per kilowatt hour to 15c per kilowatt hour depending on the type of technology deployed. The scheme is subject to State Aid clearance by the EU Commission. Both Coillte and Bord na Móna have important roles to play in the development of Ireland’s biomass resource given their respective land holding and interests in biomass supply.

My colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has recently announced that the Bioenergy Scheme, which offers supports for the growing of energy crops such as willow and miscanthus, will be continued into 2011 and expanded to provide the potential to support the planting of up to an additional 1,800 hectares. This will critically underpin the development of sustainable biomass supply.

Question No. 60 answered with Question No. 30.

Question No. 61 answered with Question No. 53.

  62.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his views on whether persons receiving broadband through the national broadband scheme are experiencing minimum speeds; the way these minimum speeds are monitored; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44990/10]

[523]Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department entered into a contract with “3”, a Hutchison Whampoa company, for the delivery of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) in late December 2008. Since then, 3 has progressed its network roll out and NBS broadband services are now available in all of the 1,028 designated Electoral Divisions (ED) to be covered under the Scheme.

Under the contract, the NBS mobile wireless broadband service was upgraded to higher specifications (speeds, contention and data caps) in July 2010, without any increase in the monthly recurring charge. Currently, NBS subscribers can experience speeds ranging from a minimum download speed of 1.6Mbps to a maximum download speed of 6.8Mbps, a minimum upload speed of 1.2Mbps to a maximum upload speed of 4Mbps, with a maximum contention ratio of 22:1. The data cap has increased to 25GB. The satellite product, deployed in a very limited number of cases, has contracted minimum speeds of 1Mbps download and 128kbps upload, with a maximum contention ratio of 48:1 and with a data cap of 11GB.

My Department has put in place robust monitoring arrangements to ensure that the NBS network delivers the minimum specified service or better to all users. Performance delivery data, which is submitted to my Department on a monthly basis or as required, is critically analysed by independent technical consultants, Analysys Mason Ltd.

The monitoring arrangements provide information on a wide range of key indicators including the broadband excess availability in each cell of the network, the number of customers resident in that cell and actual contention and latency values. Utilisation thresholds are set for each element of the network and upgrades of the network and its capacity are automatically triggered at contractually agreed levels of traffic to ensure that the quality of the broadband service is maintained. In addition, a sample selection of customers is monitored for quality on a monthly basis. Download and upload speeds are sampled at a number of locations monthly to ensure that minimum speeds are met or exceeded.

The NBS contract guarantees service levels and imposes a service credit regime on “3” with significant financial consequences in the event that minimum specification service levels are not met. The contract also provides for independent monitoring and audit at any stage during the contract with a view to verifying that the services are being provided in accordance with the contract. I can confirm that 3’s I-HSPA network which is used to deliver the NBS is designed and dimensioned to ensure that the network delivers the minimum contracted service, or better to all NBS users. Performance monitoring reports, including customer experience data, confirms this to be the case.

Based on the analysis of monitoring reports for I-HSPA and satellite, I can confirm that the average user has been able to receive download and upload speeds in excess of the minimum requirements. This level of service delivery is supported by the sampling of customer experience and the speed sampling. On the basis of the information provided to my Department, I am satisfied that the specified service levels required under the NBS contract are being met.

  63.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Taoiseach    the number of full-time farmers in Waterford in each of the years from 2000 to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44693/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy John Curran):  The exact information requested by the Deputy is not available. The Farm Structure Survey provides regional estimates and the following table shows the latest figures for the South-East region in June 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007 (the latest year currently available).

[524]Number of farms in the South-East region — June 2000, 2003, 2005 and 2007

Year Farmwork is sole occupation of farm owner Farmwork is not sole occupation of farm owner Total
2000* 10,500 6,400 16,900
2003 10,200 6,100 16,300
2005 9,600 6,300 16,000
2007 8,800 6,300 15,100

The South-East region comprises counties Carlow, Kilkenny, South Tipperary, Waterford and Wexford. Figures at county level are only available from the 2000 Census of Agriculture. There were 2,800 farms in County Waterford on 1 June 2000; on 1,700 of these, farmwork was the owner’s sole occupation. The 2010 Census of Agriculture took place on June 1st 2010. Results from the Census will be compiled and published in mid-late 2012.

  64.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Taoiseach    the extent of any over or under expenditure, capital or current, by Vote, heading or sub-heading to date in 2010 in tabular form; the reason for any surplus or shortfall; if expenditure to date in each case is in line with budgetary projections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44773/10]

The Taoiseach:  The following table details my Department’s 2010 Estimate Provision and expenditure from 1st January to 29th November 2010.

Department Estimate Provision for 2010 & Outturn as at 29th November 2010

Subheads Estimate Provision 2010 Expenditure to 29th Nov, 2010
€,000 €,000
A1 Salaries, Wages & Allowances 12,781 11,239
A2 Travel & Subsistence 700 266
A3 Incidental Expenses 1,560 588
A4 Postal & Telecommunications Services 501 345
A5 Office Machinery and Other Office Supplies 1,836 560
A6 Office Premises Expenses 732 239
A7 Consultancy Services 70 0
A8 Organisational Review Programme 576 500
Total Administration 18,756 13,737
Subhead B NESDO 3,332 2,330
Subhead C Commemoration Initiatives 100 71
Subhead D Tribunal II (Haughey & Lowry) 7,480 2,913
Gross Total 29,668 19,051

[525]Subheads A1 to A8

My Department will achieve significant savings in a number of subheads in 2010 as a result of efficiencies in procurement practices, the use of central framework agreements and close monitoring of expenditure. The use of e-procurement initiatives such as on-line ordering and tendering has led to improved procurement practices, a reduction in ad-hoc purchasing and the achievement of better value for money across a range of routine purchasing activities have contributed to these savings.

Savings in Subhead A2 Travel and Subsistence are as a result of the reduced travel and subsistence rates issued by the Department of Finance in 2009 and close monitoring and implementation of the Department’s travel policy.

My Department entered into a contract for a mobile provider with the mobile telecommunications framework in 2009 which has achieved significant savings in mobile phone expenditure in 2010.

The ongoing focus on achieving more efficiencies in IT spend continues with all contracts coming up for renewal being thoroughly reviewed with a view to consolidation wherever possible. Significant reductions have been made in the Departments printing costs by using in-house printing services and on-line publishing as an alternative to printed reports.

Programme Subheads

The budget allocation for NESDO in 2010 was reduced from €5.059m to €3.332m as a result of the dissolution of the NCPP and NESF on 1 April, 2010. Further savings arose during the year from the rationalisation of NESDO in the following areas: accommodation, consultancy, printing and publications, conference costs and IT.

The budget for the Commemorations Initiative Fund for 2010 is €100,000. The Fund was established to make resources available to groups and organisations for the study and commemoration of historic events of national importance. Payments made up to 29th November amount to approximately €71,000. It is anticipated that most of the budget will be spent by the end of December.

In respect of the Moriarty Tribunal the Estimate for 2010 is €7.480m. This includes provision for the Tribunal’s administrative costs for 2010, as well as provision for the cost of the report publication and some element of third party costs should the Tribunal complete its work in the current year.

  65.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Taoiseach    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years, 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44944/10]

The Taoiseach:  The energy costs for my Department in the period requested are set out in the following table.

Year Cost
2008 242,832
2009 251,869
2010 (to date) 226,036

[526]My Department’s energy needs are met as part of the system for the Government Buildings complex which includes the Department of Finance, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Office of the Attorney General, the Houses of the Oireachtas, the National Museum and the National Library.

Gas costs for the individual tenants of the complex are determined on the basis of the amount of square footage of the complex occupied rather than the cost of the amount of gas actually consumed. My Department’s proportion of the gas costs on this basis is 7.51% of the total cost of gas consumption for the complex. Electricity costs for my Department are also determined notionally based on the total consumption for the Government Buildings complex as a whole. For these reasons it is not possible to calculate the exact amount of energy consumed by my Department.

  66.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Taoiseach    if those sleeping rough and homeless will be included in the census count; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45212/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy John Curran):  The aim of Census 2011 is to count every person in the State on Census Night — 10 April 2011. This includes homeless persons and those sleeping rough. Following a number of submissions to the Central Statistics Office on how to cover homeless persons the office set up a consultative group to advise it on the best means of achieving this goal. The consultative group consisted of officials from the CSO, the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Fingal County Council, the Health Service Executive and representatives from the National Homeless Consultative Committee, the Homeless Agency, Threshold, Focus Ireland and the Simon Community.

Following a meeting of the group a list of establishments containing homeless persons was drawn up. Enumerators in the field will also be instructed to identify other accommodation containing homeless persons. The enumeration of persons in these establishments on Census Night will enable a profile of homeless persons to be compiled. In Dublin, the Homeless Agency will carry out a count of rough sleepers on Census night. For areas outside Dublin, CSO will collaborate with local authorities and voluntary organisations to identify rough sleepers and enumerate them in the census. The objective of the work undertaken is to be able to separately distinguish homeless persons in CSO’s output programme.

  67.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the total sums committed by each of the religious congregations and by the State to the overall fund established in the wake of the revelations of residential institutional abuse of children over several decades; the cash sum committed in each case; the value, then and now, of properties transferred or committed for transfer; the actual sums and properties handed over to date; the properties that have had their cash value realised; the properties that have not yet been disposed of and the plans to address same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44963/10]

  68.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the now expected total sum required to address the issues arising from the residential institutional abuse of children over several decades; the total sum to be transferred by the religious congregations and the total sum to be provided by the State; the actual sum to be paid out to [527]survivors and to their survivors; and the amount that has been paid out to survivors and their survivors to date and if she will provide a detailed explanation of her intended use of the balance, understood to be the lion’s share of the total sum involved. [44964/10]

  93.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 88 of 11 November 2010, the amount of money paid by the religious orders to the State towards compensation for victims of institutional abuse; if negotiations are ongoing with these religious organisations with a view to increasing their contribution towards the cost of redress; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45077/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 67, 68 and 93 together.

The final cost of the response to residential institutional abuse is estimated to reach €1.36 billion and includes:

an estimated expenditure of €1.1 billion on the Redress Scheme operated by the Residential Institutions Redress Board and associated litigation;

an estimated €126m for the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse;

€110m for the proposed Statutory Fund (including administration); and

€10m provided towards the cost of the Faoiseamh Counselling service and €12.7m towards educational programmes for former residents now funded by the Education Finance Board.

In this context, the cost of the Redress Scheme from inception to date is some €1.04 billion, which includes €832 million paid in awards to applicants under the scheme and €157 million in third party legal costs associated with these awards and associated High Court actions.

Under the terms of the 2002 Indemnity Agreement, eighteen Congregations agreed to make a contribution of €128 million, comprising cash, property and the provision of counselling services. Whilst this figure has not altered, the form in which it has or is to be transferred to the State has altered somewhat in terms of the property and cash contributions. The alterations to the agreed amounts have occurred where the State agreed to accept and has since received cash in lieu of properties. Hence, the breakdown of the practical implications of the Indemnity Agreement is:

Property Transfers —€63.5m;

Cash Contributions —€54.5m;

Provision of Counselling Services —€10m.

All cash contributions have been received as well as Counselling services to the value of €10 million. It was agreed in principle that 64 properties would be accepted subject to good and marketable title and agreed valuations. This number has reduced to 61 as the Department has since accepted and received a cash sum in lieu of three properties where good and marketable title could not be established. Good and marketable title has been established on 35 properties which have been fully transferred. The remaining 26 properties have not been fully and finally accepted by the Department under the terms of the Indemnity Agreement. While physical transfers of these properties have taken place, with the properties being in use or available for use by the intended recipients, the Chief State Solicitor’s Office continues to pursue the legal requirements issue under the Indemnity Agreement.

[528]Following publication of the Ryan Report, the Government and subsequently Dáil Éireann called on the Congregations to commit to making further substantial contributions by way of reparation. In response, the Congregations are offering significant additional contributions, which they have valued at €348.51m. These contributions comprise some €111m cash to be provided over a number of years; €2m by way of a waiver of rent and €235.51m in proposed property transfers to various State bodies and voluntary organisations. As was acknowledged at the time, the offers involved complex property proposals which would require detailed discussions with the Congregations to enable the State to adopt a definitive position in relation to them.

Deputies will be aware that having considered the report of the independent Panel appointed to assess statements of their affairs submitted by the Congregations and the responses of the Congregations, the Government outlined its view that the overall costs of the response to residential institutional abuse, should be shared on a 50:50 basis between the taxpayer and those responsible for the residential institutions. Assuming that the Congregations’ offers of contributions are fully realised, the collective contribution of the Congregations would be €476.51m (including contributions made under the 2002 Indemnity Agreement), leaving a target of over €200m to reach the 50% share of some €680m. The Government has requested that additional contributions be provided to the greatest degree possible in cash as a contribution to the planned National Children’s Hospital.

Copies of all of the responses from the Congregations together with the report of the independent Panel are available on the “Reports and Publications” section of my Department’s website. My Department, as lead Department handling these matters, has been liaising with the Congregations and the various State bodies to determine the potential use of the various property offers and their acceptability to the State. Meetings have taken place with all the Congregations at which the potential for them to augment their offers has been discussed. My Department will be reporting to Government shortly in relation to this matter.

The Government is proposing to use €110m of the offers of contributions to be made by the religious Congregations over the next few years to establish a Statutory Fund. This proposal is in keeping with the all party Motion passed by Dáil Éireann, supporting the proposal for a Trust to be set up and managed by the State for the support of victims and for other education and welfare purposes. My Department has undertaken a wide ranging consultation process, meeting with groups representing survivors of institutional abuse, the religious Congregations and other interested parties. Press advertisements also invited views and submissions as to the exact nature of the fund, how it will operate and the uses to which it will be put. The views expressed in the responses together with the views from my Department’s engagement with groups and other interested parties have been considered.

My Department expects to report to Government shortly on the matter and will be submitting a Scheme of a Bill to provide for the Statutory Fund. To date €20.6m has been received in contributions towards the proposed Statutory Fund. These contributions have been deposited in an interest bearing account in the Central Bank of Ireland pending the establishment of the Statutory Fund.

  69.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is entitled to free fees in view of the fact that they are on the back to education allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44761/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  In relation to the course referred to by the Deputy, Fáilte Ireland and the Institutes of Technology (IOTs) have [529]put in place an agreed new system in relation to the provision of Hospitality and Tourism Programmes in the IoT sector. While Fáilte Ireland no longer provides attendance-based monthly allowances for these programmes, I understand that it is continuing to provide financial support through the payment of tuition and capitation fees for the students concerned.

  70.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the reason for the refusal of a grant for third level education in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44768/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant grant awarding authority i.e. the applicant’s local authority or VEC. Where a grant application is refused, the reason for the refusal is given by the grant awarding authority. An applicant may appeal the decision to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where the grant awarding authority decides to reject the appeal, the applicant may appeal this decision to my Department by submitting an appeal form outlining clearly the grounds for the appeal. No appeal has been received by my Department to date from the candidate referred to by the Deputy.

  71.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding an application by a school (details supplied) in County Cork to construct additional classrooms. [44783/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The school to which the Deputy refers has recently applied to my Department for additional accommodation due to an increase in enrolments. The school’s application is currently under consideration and a decision on the matter will issue to the school authority in due course.

  72.  Deputy Noel Grealish    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills in view of    the fact that a company (details supplied) has gone into receivership with a number of projects still under construction, in particular the project at National University of Ireland, Galway and given that these projects are funded by the State and the taxpayer, her plans to complete the construction project and ensure that subcontractors are paid for work already done; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44792/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I understand that the University is working closely with the Receiver in the matter to which the Deputy refers to achieve the optimal outcome for all parties directly affected by the receivership in this instance.

  73.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if her attention has been drawn to a situation in a college (details supplied); the action she will take regarding this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44890/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The college referred to by the Deputy provides a one year full-time Community and Health Services course at FETAC Level 5. The college charges a €200 registration fee and €240 for exam fees and other materials to participants on this course. Participants on this course are offered additional, optional training courses — Emergency First Responder (EFR) and Emergency [530]Medical Technician (EMT). These courses are certified by the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council (PHECC) and the college charges a fee of €2,400 to cover course costs. These courses are offered separate to the Community and Health Services course and participation is optional.

  74.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the number of training and work experience activation places funded by her in 2010, broken down by type of course or work experience programme; the funding allocated to each type of course or programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44899/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  This year my Department will fund the provision of over 160,000 training and work experience places for the unemployed through FÁS, Skillnets and the Labour Market Activation Fund. This compares to the 66,000 equivalent places that were delivered in 2008. The following table details the budget and target beneficiaries for each programme in 2010.

DES training and work experience activation programmes Budget Jan-Dec 2010 Target 2010 Beneficiaries
€m
Bridging Foundation Training 14.974 5,300
Return to Work Programme 1.374 700
Specific Skills Training* 76.180 22,300
Traineeship 33.313 5,100
Community Training Centres 49.720 4,500
Local Training Initiatives 40.948 5,000
Specialist Training Providers 55.598 3,800
Evening Courses 6.274 25,000
Online Learning 4.955 20,800
Short Time Working Training Programme .115 300
Technical Employment Support Grant (TESG) 6.083 10,000
Skillnets Training for the unemployed and short-time workers 2.5 4,800
Labour Market Activation Fund 32.000 12,000
Sub-Total for Training Programmes 324.034 119.600
Redundant Apprenticeship Rotation / Placement scheme 3.874 750
Work Placement Programme 0 2,000
Community Employment*** 367.000 32,300
Job Initiative 34.307 1,400
Wage Subsidy Scheme 11.609 900
Job Clubs 5.945 7,800
Supported Employment Progs 8.982 4,500
Sub Total for Employment Programmes 431.717 49.650
Total all programmes 755.751 169.250

  75.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the total funding allocated to FÁS for training of persons seeking employment, broken down according to pay and non-pay funding; the funding allocated to FÁS for training of persons in employment, broken down according to type of programme; the number of training facilities owned [531]by FÁS; the number of persons who have been directly trained by FÁS in 2009 and to date in 2010 respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44900/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The information requested by the Deputy is being researched. I will reply substantively to him as soon as possible.

  76.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will provide a breakdown of successful applicants to the activation fund according to the funding granted; the number who will be trained; the type of education or training that will be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44901/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  As part of Budget 2010, the Government announced the creation of a €20 million Labour Market Activation Fund, intended to deliver 3,500 places on training and education programmes for the unemployed. Its objective was to stimulate innovation in the provision of training and activation measures for jobseekers seeking to up-skill and get back into work. The Fund is being targeted to specific priority groups among the unemployed: the low skilled, and those formerly employed in declining sectors — construction, retail and manufacturing sectors, with particular emphasis on the under 35’s and the long-term unemployed. Offers of funding were initially made to 26 organisations (Phase 1 projects).

On 5th August, an additional allocation of €12 million, financed in part by savings in proposed European Globalisation Fund expenditure, was made available by the Department of Education and Skills, enabling funding to be offered to 33 additional projects (Phase 2). This brought total funding to €32 million for 59 projects proposing to provide up to 12,000 education and training places for the unemployed. The successful tenderers were spread among public bodies, private training and education providers and not-for-profit organisations. Places offered to unemployed people included courses that range from upskilling courses to higher education programmes with accreditation up to level 8 available to participants.

In the main, Phase 1 projects are meeting their interim targets. As of mid-October some 3,441 or 52% of Phase 1 places were already filled, with further courses coming on stream between November 2010 and January 2011. On the basis of current information, it appears that the targets for places to be provided as set out in tenders by projects can be largely met. Thirty-three projects providing for some 5,400 places in all geographic regions benefited from the second tranche of funding allocated in August. Many projects are still in the process of recruiting participants, and some have yet to sign contracts with the Department of Education and Skills. It is therefore not possible yet to state the total number of beneficiaries from the Fund. A breakdown of the successful programme providers, including the amounts allocated is set out in the following document.

Tender Name Amount allocated
Focus Ireland 213,390
Institute of Technology, Tralee 340,592
Career Decisions Ireland 191,107
University of Limerick, Kemmy Business School 350,000
Co. Meath VEC 345,000
National Adult Literacy Agency 603,839
Digital Skills Academy 887,350
National Council for Exercise and Fitness (University of Limerick) 107,720
City of Dublin VEC 364,940
Co Galway & Mayo VECs 332,112
Innovo Training & Development 278,760
Co. Dublin VEC 3,150,000
Shannon Consortium, Ennis 95,228
Shannon Consortium, Limerick 95,228
JMD Consulting 179,360
First Step Microfinance 968,000
Innopharma Labs 718,000
Meath Partnership 131,975
Letterkenny Institute of Technology 50,000
Tipperary Institute 208,200
Career Decisions Ireland 624,235
ICBE — Irish Centre for Business Excellence 1,404,145
Limerick Institute of Technology 224,941
Meath Partnership 128,575
TBG Learning 7,038,624
Alaymont Ltd., Dun Laoghaire 522,375
An Tochar Adult Education Centre, Co. Kerry 63,367
City of Galway VEC 199,287
Co Clare VEC 369,740
Co Offaly VEC 544,214
Co. Donegal VEC 30,057
Co. Meath VEC 1,236,000
Cultivate/ /NICER Training, Dublin 1,615,600
Digi Media, Dublin 610,150
Dublin City University and DCU Ryan Academy 582,404
Dublin Institute of Technology 3,012,118
Dundalk Institute of Technology, Louth 76,336
Financial Services Ireland/IBEC, Dublin 410,200
Fledglings Education & Training, Jobstown, Dublin 24 109,270
Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown 17,829
Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown 88,249
Institute of Technology, Blanchardstown 57,598
Letterkenny Institute of Technology 63,532
Meath Partnership 128,575
Network Solutions 226,280
TBSP, Rostrevor, Co. Down 314,500
Tolka Area Partnership, Finglas, Dublin 89,041
Waterford Area Partnership Ltd 212,687
Waterford City VEC 32,400
National College of Ireland, Dublin 134,600

  77.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will provide a list of the membership of the upskilling co-ordination group; the date on which it [533]was established; the number of times it has met to date in 2010; the reports it has made; the detail of those reports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44902/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The Upskilling Co-ordination Group was established in 2007. The purpose of the Group is to provide a forum for providers of training and vocational education to exchange information and to discuss common issues. It also assists the Department in overseeing the effective co-ordination of different education and training provision funded by the Department of Education and Skills and delivered by FÁS, Skillnets, the VECs and the IOTs. The Group has met once in 2010.

The Upskilling Co-ordination Group has not been tasked with publishing specific reports. However, the Group updates the Senior Officials Group on the implementation of the National Skills Strategy on progress on improving co-ordination of the State’s Education and Training provision. Membership of the Group comprises of representatives from the following organisations:

Department of Education and Skills;

Higher Education Authority;

Further Education Authority;

FÁS;

FORFAS;

Enterprise Ireland;

County Enterprise Boards;

County Development Boards;

Institute of Technologies;

National Adult Literacy Agency;

Irish Vocational Education Association;

Skillnets.

  78.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the recommendations the senior officials working group has made to the interdepartmental committee on the national skills strategy in relation to the potential for prioritisation across overall education and training budgets to achieve greater efficiencies and quality of output in relation to a review of the apprenticeship scheme; the principles that should apply to State-funded education and training provision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44903/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  Earlier this year, the OECD published a review of Ireland’s vocational education and training system under the title ‘Learning for Jobs’. This is one of seventeen such country studies that the OECD completed. A composite report comprising findings common to all seventeen countries has also been published. The OECD study found that our apprenticeship system is well structured by reference to the on and off-the-job modules that characterise it. The study also recognised that [534]apprenticeships in this country, in contrast to others, are limited to a narrow set of occupations. It elaborated on the implications and consequences of this fact.

Informed by this important body of OECD research, it is the intention to initiate a fundamental review of our apprenticeship system next year. Its purpose will be to identify adaptations that are necessary to take account of our contemporary circumstances, how change in prospect over the next decade is likely to impact on labour market needs, how those needs should be effectively met and the respective contributions that both the private and public sectors will have to make in meeting them.

The principles for the state funding of education and training provision are set out in the report of the Expert Group for Future Skills Needs entitled ‘Towards a National Skills Strategy’.

  79.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a matter (details supplied). [44917/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department is not aware of any particular recognition issue related to the course referred to by the Deputy. If further details are provided as to the nature of the recognition issue, officials from my Department will examine the matter further.

  80.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will respond to correspondence from a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44922/10]

  88.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will support a matter regarding a school (details supplied) in Dublin. [45030/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 88 together.

The Deputies will be aware that the 2007 Programme for Government committed to the long-term funding for the centres in the ABA pilot scheme subject to agreement with my Department on standards that will enable them to be supported as primary schools for children with autism. Agreement on transitional arrangements for the pilot centres was reached following a long process of discussions and engagement with the representative body of the pilot centres. I am pleased to advise you that I have been able to respond positively to applications for recognition as special schools from all of the centres in the pilot scheme and all the centres have now been granted recognition as special schools for children with autism.

Managers have been appointed by the Patrons to manage the transitional process from centre to special school. The schools have now advertised for the posts of Principal Teacher. As part of the transition process, my Department is arranging for training in a range of autism-specific interventions for the new Principals and Teachers once they have been appointed. In addition, training has been provided for the Managers and the new Boards of Management. It is my intention to continue to support the transitional process.

In relation to the issues raised by this question it is important to clarify for the Deputies that although reference is made in the correspondence supplied to two centres only one of them is participating in the pilot scheme and therefore currently transitioning to special school status. [535] The key issue raised follows from an arrangement bilaterally agreed between both Centres. My Department was not party to the arrangement. On request officials from my Department facilitated a meeting of the Boards recently to discuss the position. However I must emphasise that the resolution of funding and enrolment issues are a matter for the Boards locally. It is also important to clarify for the Deputies that in the meantime placements are available for the children concerned. Furthermore I wish to advise the Deputies that the request for the retraction or release of the HSE report on the centre in question is a matter for the HSE.

  81.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the estimated energy use of her Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44936/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The information requested is provided in the following table. For the Deputy’s information, the data includes the estimated use and the cost of energy in my Department’s three main locations, Dublin, Athlone, Tullamore and the network of local offices which are located around the country. The estimated energy use by my Department for the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010 and the cost of that energy is as follows:

Est. Energy Use 2008 2009 2010
Est. Electricity usage 5,371,389 kw/h 4,978,740 kw/h 3,539,071 kw/h
Est. Gas usage 3,560,737 kw/h 3,741,684 kw/h 2,989,658 kw/h

Energy Cost 2008 2009 2010
Gas 135,308 142,184 113,607
Electricity 827,194 766,726 545,017

  82.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 65 of 18 November 2010, if her attention has been drawn to the fact that an amount issued in the sum of €3,997.86 for the period September 2010 to December 2010 is not the correct amount in terms of rate due to the person (details supplied) providing the service for that period; if her further attention has been drawn to the fact that the person providing the service has not received any payment for July 2010 period and if same can now be attended to immediately and rectified; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44948/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I wish to advise the Deputy that officials in my Department will make direct contact with the tutor in question regarding the rate of payment for the period September 2010 to December 2010. I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the claim for payment for July 2010 is currently being processed and will issue shortly.

  83.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the numbers of persons in permanent employment with FÁS; the number directly employed in the position of training instructor directs; the number employed in administration indirects; the number employed in management roles indirects; and the number of additional part-time and or temporary staff employed in management and administration on 1 October 2008, 1 October 2009 and 1 October 2010 in tabular form. [44952/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the table.

Category At December 2008 At December 2009 As at November 2010
Permanent Employment in FÁS 2,182.04 2,044.9 1,985.84
Permanent training instructors within Training Services Division (direct) 436.66 368.45 325.45
Training Services staff in non-instructing administrative roles (direct) 283.17 277.15 304.42
Administrative staff in other FÁS Divisions (human resources, IT, finance etc) (indirect) 409.92 379.74 362.10
Staff in Management Roles across FÁS Divisions (indirect) 290.62 257.84 243.36
Temporary staff in a Management or Administration role 40.90 7.50 1.00
Other staff in dedicated roles within Employment Services, Community Services and Services to Business Divisions respectively (direct) 761.67 761.73 750.51

  84.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 133 of 2 November 2010, and the subsequent correspondence arising (details supplied), if she will explain what the full-time special needs assistants support on a shared basis, means in practice; if it is the decision of the special educational needs officer or the school principal to determine the number of hours special needs assistants spend supporting a particular child when they are assigned to more than one child; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44966/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  As the Deputy will be aware, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is an independent agency with responsibility for determining the appropriate staffing levels in relation to the support of pupils with special educational needs in all mainstream and special schools. This includes determining the level of Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support in schools. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

Officials at my Department have been in contact with the NCSE who have advised that the pupil referred to by the Deputy is in receipt of SNA support on a shared basis. The NCSE has also confirmed that it considers this allocation of SNA support to be sufficient to cater for the care needs of this pupil in the school setting. Where SNA support is provided on a shared basis this means that SNA support is available to the student as required, to cater for the pupils’ care needs each day. In such instances there is no set number of hours allocated in respect of each pupil. Rather, it is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

[537]The recruitment and deployment of SNAs within schools are matters for the individual Principal/Board of Management. The Board is the SNA’s employer and the terms of employment are subject to the conditions of the contract of employment. All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child’s special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie. I can also advise that the NCSE has introduced an appeals process whereby schools and parents, where appropriate, may seek to appeal the decision of a SENO in relation to the allocation of resources. Information regarding the appeals process is available on the NCSE’s website at www.ncse.ie.

  85.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a matter (details supplied). [45008/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The course referred to by the Deputy is a Diploma in Social Practice, accredited by the UK awarding body EDEXCEL/BTEC and delivered in the college referred to by the Deputy under my Department’s Post Leaving Certificate (PLC) programme. Participants who successfully complete this course may seek employment as Support Workers in the Health Service Executive (HSE).

  86.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will support a matter (details supplied). [45009/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant grant awarding authority i.e. the applicant’s local authority or VEC. Where a grant application is refused, the reason for the refusal is given by the grant awarding authority. An applicant may appeal the decision to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where the grant awarding authority decides to reject the appeal, the applicant may appeal this decision to my Department by submitting an appeal form outlining clearly the grounds for the appeal. No appeal has been received by my Department to date from the candidate referred to by the Deputy.

  87.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    her views on the incidental inspections 2010 report; the way the draft national plan to improve literacy and numeracy in schools will address the concerns raised in the report; when the full plan will be approved; her plans for implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45025/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The Incidental Inspection Report on the Teaching and Learning of English and Mathematics in Primary Schools found that pupils in the majority of classrooms have access to appropriate learning experiences and achieve good standards, and that the majority of teachers approach their work in a professional and effective way. But the inspectors have also identified weaknesses in some lessons in areas such as teachers’ preparation for teaching, the teaching methods they use, and the ways in which schools and teachers assess and monitor pupils’ progress in learning.

[538]These issues are addressed in the programme set out in the Draft National Plan to Improve Literacy and Numeracy through actions on initial teacher education, continuing professional development, school leadership and target setting, and assessment. The Plan also sets out a series of initiatives on the curriculum, targeted supports for schools serving disadvantaged communities and measures to foster wider parental and community involvement in literacy and numeracy development.

I have published the plan as a consultative document and I want the consultation to be as broad and effective as possible. I want to have the views of all of those who have an interest and a stake in this issue. The period for the making of submissions runs until 31 January 2011 and will be followed by the holding of stakeholder consultation meetings. It is hoped to publish the final Plan in Spring 2011.

The draft Plan contains actions for implementation by a wide range of stakeholders. Some of the measures are already underway, some are intended for implementation from the next school year and some require a longer lead-in period. I will appoint a group to co-ordinate and support the implementation of the actions in the plan.

This National Literacy and Numeracy Implementation Group will be chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Skills and will include national and international experts on literacy and numeracy acquisition and assessment from research, teaching and teacher educator backgrounds, and senior officials from the Department of Education and Skills, the Office of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs and relevant statutory bodies. The group will also obtain input from representatives of national associations of students, parents, teachers, teacher educators and school management, higher education bodies, business and civil society organisations, and community and family education initiatives through a regular forum.

Question No. 88 answered with Question No. 80.

  89.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a new school building (details supplied); her views on the inspection report carried out by the school in January 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45036/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I can confirm that the school to which the Deputy refers initially applied to my Department for large scale capital funding for an extension. In accordance with the published criteria for large scale building projects, the application was assessed and the project was assigned a Band 2 rating. More recently, the school has applied for capital funding for a new school building. This application will be assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale projects and assigned an appropriate Band rating which will be published on my Department’s website at www.education.ie and notified to the school authority.

  90.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the availability of funding for three schools (details supplied) and the timescale envisaged for building work on these projects; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45037/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I wish to advise the Deputy that in relation to the area to which he refers a site has been acquired by County Cork Vocational Education Committee with funding from my Department. It is envisaged that [539]the site will provide for an educational campus facility to cater for future demand at Post-Primary and to facilitate the proposed re-location of two existing schools, a Gaelscoil and a Special School.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  91.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the reason for the continued delay in publishing the FÁS annual report; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45069/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  Further to my reply to the Deputy given in question number 94 on 4 November, the FÁS 2009 Annual Report has been published and was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 24 November.

  92.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 100 of 23 November 2010, when a reply will issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45076/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The information requested by the Deputy is being collated. I will write to him substantively in the matter as soon as possible.

Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 67.

  94.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if FETAC has received any communication from FÁS in respect of specific problems with course results and the manipulation of such results; if so, the dates when such contact took place and the level of same; the nature of the correspondence; the action taken by FETAC as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45079/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  In late 2009 FÁS informed FETAC that their internal verification processes identified assessment related issues on a range of courses delivered by private providers in the North East. FÁS commenced an investigation and informed FETAC that they would not request certificates for the courses in question until all issues were addressed and the appropriate corrective action was taken. In recent weeks FÁS informed FETAC of a separate administration and procedural issue relating to certificate requests. This issue is being examined by FÁS at present and FETAC are also undertaking an examination of the issue at a number of sample FÁS sites.

  95.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will respond to correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45084/10]

[540]Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Office has received a copy of the correspondence referred to by the Deputy and will respond directly. The matters raised relates to a fundraising initiative for schools which is a matter for individual schools to consider.

  96.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45098/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  I can confirm that the school to which the Deputy refers has made an application to my Department for large scale capital funding for a new school building. In accordance with the published criteria for large scale building projects, the application was assessed and the project was assigned a Band 2.2 rating. Information in respect of the current school building programme, along with all assessed applications for major capital works, including this project, is available on my Department’s website at www.education.ie.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

  97.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the number of face-to-face interviews carried out by FÁS in 2009 and to date in 2010; the number of applicants who were interviewed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45113/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the table.

Year Total number of face-to-face interviews carried out by the National Employment Service (NES)* Total Number of ‘Applicants’ interviewed face-to-face**
2009 301,661 205,835
2010 (As at October) 362,299 208,017

  98.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will provide an outline of each service provided by FÁS which falls within the remit of her Department; the projected expenditure of FÁS in the current year for each area; the number of persons employed by FÁS in the delivery of these services; the number of persons assisted under each area in 2009 and to date in 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45114/10]

[541]Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  As the National Employment and Training authority, the services provided by FÁS can be outlined as follows:

Training services including the delivery of courses tailored to the needs of jobseekers looking for employment and for those who are in employment including specially designed training interventions to allow Apprentices to qualify as craftspeople.

Employment services including the delivery of Community-based employment and training programmes to allow for accessible learning in local areas, as well as jobsearch facilities including guidance and resources for jobseekers with access to job vacancies, online CV profiling for employers and effective CV-to-job matching.

The FÁS 2010 budget for direct service delivery in each of these areas is set out in table 1. Table 2 sets out the number of beneficiaries of FÁS training and employment programmes in 2009 and in 2010 as at the end of September. Table 3 sets out the number of persons interviewed by the National Employment Service (NES) in 2009 and 2010 as at the end of October 2010. Finally, table 4 sets out the number of persons employed by FÁS in the delivery of training, employment and community services as well as providing a total complement of the Agency including all support services.

Table 1

€ million
Training Services 381.4
Employment Services 54.2
Community Services 421.9
Integration support services funded by FÁS for the delivery of training and employment initiatives 14.0
Total 871.5

Table 2: Number of persons assisted* in FÁS Training and Employment Programmes

Year Training Programmes Employment Programmes
2009 129,988** 49,012
2010 (end of September) 115,915*** 45,118

Table 3: Total Number of persons interviewed by the National Employment Service*

Year Number
2009 205,835
2010 (end of October) 208,017

[542]Table 4

FÁS Staffing Number of persons employed
Overall (including support services) 1,985.84
Training Services 898.98
Employment Services 478.12
Community Services 224.18
Policy Support Unit for Employment and Community Services 70.82

  99.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills to clarify    her decision on the higher education grant appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 14; the grounds upon which this decision was made; if the guideline will be reviewed considering the criteria of independent mature candidate and candidate dependent on parents appear to conflict with one another in certain circumstances; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45119/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department received an appeal from the candidate referred to by the Deputy. The candidate appealed the decision of the assessing authority not to award a grant on the basis that the candidate did not satisfy the break in studies requirement of the scheme. My Department examined the appeal and the decision of the assessing authority was upheld. The candidate was notified of the decision on the 19 November 2010.

The student grant schemes for 2010 were published in May of this year. Changes to the 2010 schemes were announced in advance by the then Minister when last year’s grant schemes were published in July 2009. Advance notice of a number of changes was provided by way of press release on 29 July 2009, so that students and their families would be aware of them in good time. The specific issue to which the Deputy refers relates to how students re-entering higher education after a break in studies are classified for the purposes of assessing them for a student grant. This issue is governed by the break in studies clause in the student grant schemes. The break in studies clause generally applies to students that take a year or more out after completing an undergraduate course, returning subsequently to take up further third level studies. This clause provides for the re-classification of these students allowing them to be means tested on their own income and that of their spouse, where appropriate, rather than being means tested on the basis of their parents’ income.

My Department increased the duration of the studies break requirement in the 2010 schemes from one year to three years. This was done because, in some cases, students who would not otherwise have qualified for a grant on the basis of parental income were simply taking a “year out” in order to avail of the break in studies provision. The break in studies clause as it stood allowed these students to be re-classified as independent mature students and to qualify for grants and fees based on their own, rather than their parents’, income. This was not the intention of the provision. The intention of the clause was to focus resources on genuine second chance and mature students. The increase to three years will ensure that the emphasis is, as intended, on facilitating these students to return to education.

The new measures will not impact unfairly on any grant applicant but will ensure better equity and equality in calculating eligibility for student maintenance grants so that public resources can continue to be targeted at those who need them most. I want to be clear that [543]this change will not prevent continuing students from re-entering college for three years. On the contrary, students that already qualified for a grant based on a means test of their parents’ income in previous years are likely to continue to qualify for a grant on the same basis, unless circumstances have changed in the intervening period.

  100.  Deputy Fergus O’Dowd    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if she will respond to correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45126/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Seán Haughey):  Under the terms of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Needs a child is eligible for transport if s/he is attending the nearest recognised special school, that is or can be resourced, to meet the child’s special educational needs under Department of Education and Skills criteria. The purpose of the School Transport Scheme for Children with Special Needs is to provide a reasonable level of transport service for children with a diagnosed disability and/or special educational need, who because of the nature of their disability, may not be in a position to avail of a school bus service.

The pupil referred to by the Deputy, in the details supplied, is eligible for school transport to her nearest recognised special school which is resourced to meet her special educational needs. The pupil is not eligible, however, for transport to the school in question as this school is not the nearest recognised special school that is or can be resourced to meet the child’s special educational needs. My Department is revising the existing policy on school transport to allow concessionary transport for children with special needs through the special school transport scheme in certain circumstances. It is envisaged that the revised school transport scheme for children with special needs incorporating concessionary transport for pupils with special educational needs will be in place at the commencement of the 2011/2012 school year.

  101.  Deputy Simon Coveney    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a site for a school (details supplied) in County Cork; when this site will become available to the school; when building work will commence on the school; the overall timescale for this project; the total funding she has committed to this project; and the funding that has been spent to date on this project. [45131/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  My Department has reached agreement, in principle, subject to contract with Cork County Council and contracts are awaited. My Department is in ongoing liaison with the local authority on this matter. Due to the commercial sensitivities relating to site acquisitions, I am not in a position to comment further on the matter at this time.

  102.  Deputy John Cregan    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    if grant assistance is available for a person (details supplied) in County Limerick taking an honours degree with Open University. [45166/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter, in the first instance, for the relevant grant awarding authority i.e. the applicant’s local authority or VEC. Where a grant application is refused, the [544]reason for the refusal is given by the grant awarding authority. An applicant may appeal the decision to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where the grant awarding authority decides to reject the appeal, the applicant may appeal this decision to my Department by submitting an appeal form outlining clearly the grounds for the appeal. No appeal has been received by my Department to date from the candidate referred to by the Deputy.

The statutory framework for the student grants scheme, as set out in the Local Authorities (Higher education Grants) Acts, 1969 to 1992, provides for means-tested higher education grants in order to assist students to attend full-time third level education. An approved course, for the purposes of the Higher Education Grants Scheme is a full-time undergraduate course of not less than two years duration or a full-time postgraduate course of not less than one-year duration pursued in an approved third-level institution. The institutions approved under the Scheme are publicly funded third level colleges offering full-time courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Similarly under the terms of the Free Fees Initiative, whereby the State meets the tuition costs of eligible students, an approved course is defined as a full-time undergraduate course of a minimum duration of two years in an approved third level institution. Courses provided by the Open University are not approved courses under the terms of the student grant schemes or the Free Fees Initiative.

  103.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills    when funding will be approved for the provision of a new school building (details supplied) in County Mayo. [45219/10]

Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Mary Coughlan):  The project to which the Deputy refers is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department’s multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of my Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project at this time.

  104.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Finance    the amount of money that has been collected in the EuroMillions lottery after prize money has been paid out in each of the past five years; if he will name the owners of the lottery, the projects and countries that benefit from the proceeds of the lottery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44753/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  EuroMillions is owned by nine participating European lotteries. They are:

Belgium: La Loterie Nationale;

France: Francaise De Jeux;

Ireland: An Post National Lottery Company;

Luxembourg: Loterie Nationale;

Portugal: Jogos Santa Casa;

[545]Spain: Loterias y Apuestaa del Estado;

Switzerland : La Loterie Romande;

Switzerland: Swisslos;

UK: Camelot.

Proceeds of the sales of the EuroMillions game generated in the jurisdictions of each of the participating lotteries go to that lottery. Therefore, the proceeds of the sale in Ireland of the EuroMillions game go to the National Lottery Company and the associated surplus generated forms part of the surplus of the National Lottery.

Section 5 of the National Lottery Act 1986 provides that the surplus from the National Lottery may be used for the following purposes: sport and other recreation; national culture, including the Irish Language; the arts, within the meaning of the Arts Act 1951; the health of the community; and for such other purposes as the Government may determine. The following additional categories have been so determined: youth, welfare, national heritage and amenities.

In order to give effect to this statutory provision, the surplus from the National Lottery is transferred to the Exchequer on a regular basis and is applied each year to part-fund the Exchequer allocations to a specified range of expenditure subheads across various Votes. Each year, the amount transferred to the Exchequer from the National Lottery surplus, together with details of the total Exchequer allocations to the relevant subheads are set out in Appendix 1 of the annual “Revised Estimates for Public Services”.

The table sets out information in relation to the sales in Ireland by the National Lottery Company of the Euromillions game.

Year 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 Total
€m €m €m €m €m €m
Sales 59.1 145.3 118.7 109 105.7 537.8
Prizes 29.6 72.7 59.4 54.5 52.8 269.0
Associated Expenses* 8.5 21.2 17.1 15.3 14.7 76.8
Surplus 21.0 51.4 42.2 39.2 38.2 192.0

  105.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Finance in    the context of the possible abolition of the air travel tax, his plans to meet with Irish airlines to discuss alternatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44961/10]

  115.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans to abolish the air travel tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44962/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 115 together.

As in the case for all taxes, the options surrounding the Air Travel Tax will be considered in the context of the forthcoming Budget. I have, however, no plans to abolish the air travel tax. In that context I would draw to the Deputy’s attention that Ireland is not unique in regard [546]to applying a tax on air travel. A number of countries within the EU apply similar taxes including the UK and France. Going further afield such taxes are applied by Australia and New Zealand. The U.S., in 2009, introduced a tourist tax on tourists travelling to the U.S. by air. In addition, Germany and Austria are currently in the process of introducing an air travel tax with effect from 1 January 2011.

  106.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the targets he has set for flood prevention measures following flooding in November 2009; the progress he has made on these targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45320/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  In the aftermath of the November 2009 floods which hit the country, the Government allocated €50 million for flood risk management activities for 2010, which is administered by the Office of Public Works. This allocation, which was an increase of 16% over the 2009 allocation, will, in the long term, allow OPW to extend the number of Capital Works schemes already targeted and underway throughout the country. Major flood relief schemes have continued to be implemented in Mallow and Fermoy, Co Cork, Clonmel Co Tipperary, Ennis Co Clare, Mornington Co Meath, Waterford City, Carlow Town, Johnstown Co Kildare, and in Dublin along the River Dodder.

In addition to schemes at construction, OPW has continued the development of flood relief schemes in Arklow and Bray Co Wicklow, Templemore Co Tipperary, and Clontarf in Dublin, some of these having been advanced in association with the relevant local authorities. As a direct result of last November’s floods OPW has commenced studies in Bandon and the Lower Lee area in Co Cork, and Claregalway Co Galway, as well as funding a study for Skibbereen being undertaken by Cork County Council and funding of the detailed design for a scheme on the Dunkellin Co Galway by Galway County Council. OPW will also commence design work in areas including Carrigaline, Midleton and Ballymakeera in the next two months.

The increased allocation has allowed OPW to increase the funding to Local Authorities under the Minor Works Programme. This Programme, which I first introduced in 2009, targets minor or small-scale flood defence works undertaken directly by Local Authorities. Under the programme, a total of €16 million has so far been approved for local authorities for works and studies this year (including minor works executed by the OPW), and further applications for funding are being received and assessed on an ongoing and rolling basis. In total, approximately 170 small-scale projects in 23 counties have been approved for funding. In allocating the funds, my Office continues to concentrate on areas, where there is a substantial risk to human life, property and infrastructure.

In addition to the Capital and Minor Works OPW is committed to the programme for the production and completion of Catchment Flood Risk Management Plans (CFRAMS) and associated flood mapping for all national catchments. The Lee CFRAM has already been published, followed by a major consultation process. This established approach is being extended to all major catchments in Ireland. This process will mean additional targets for OPW which will be included in multi-annual budgets as the various recommendations arise in the coming years.

  107.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding a property (details supplied). [44723/10]

[547]Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  As stated in my reply to Deputy McGrath’s Parliamentary Question No. 121 of 23 November 2010, this matter is currently the subject of litigation between the Commissioners of Public Works and the occupant. Any discussions regarding the matter can be arranged between the occupant’s legal advisors and the State Property Division of the Chief State Solicitor’s Office.

  108.  Deputy Brian Hayes    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will confirm that there is no conflict of interest in the chairman of the review group on State assets, whose remit it is to consider the potential for asset disposal in the public sector and to review the investment and financing plans, commercial practices and regulatory requirements of Horse Racing Ireland and the National Stud Company, simultaneously undertaking economic advisory work for Coolmore Stud, a beneficiary of Horse Racing Ireland and a direct competitor of the National Stud Company; if the chairman of the review group on State assets brought this matter to his attention at the time he was selected to carry out this work for the Government; if he believes that a conflict of interest arises in this case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44737/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Chairman of the Review Group on State Assets and Liabilities made my Department aware of the position in July 2010 before the work of the Group commenced. The Deputy can be assured that internal arrangements will be made by the group to obviate any potential conflict of interest.

  109.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Finance    when flood plain plans and designations in the Dundalk area will be reviewed; what the review process will entail; the timeframes for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44740/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Finance (Deputy Martin Mansergh):  A comprehensive management programme for all national river catchments is being addressed through the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme under the direction of the Office of Public Works. The CFRAM Programme is being delivered through the CFRAM Studies.

The process of procuring consultants to undertake the CFRAM studies for the national river catchments commenced in summer 2010 and it is expected that contracts for studies on all catchments will be in place by end 2011. This includes catchments within the Neagh-Bann river basin district covering the Dundalk area. A constituent part of the mapping data to be provided for the CFRAM study in the Dundalk area will be the coastal flood hazard and potential risk maps. A draft version of these maps issued to Louth Co. Council in October 2010 and a final set will be issued to the Council before year end.

The CFRAM Programme is being undertaken in partnership with local authorities and in consultation with stakeholders and the public. The CFRAM Studies are comprehensive catchment-based studies focused on areas of potentially significant risk, for which detailed flood maps are produced and flood risk management measures are assessed and taken to outline design. These measures will be prioritised and set out in a Flood Risk Management Plan (FRMP). All national catchment flood risk management plans are due for completion and publication by 22 December 2015 according to the timetable set down in the EU Floods Directive.

  110.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 25 May 2011 is International Missing Children’s Day; his plans to promote the EU missing children’s hotline telephone number 116000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44757/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am aware of International Missing Children’s Day on the 25 May 2011. Issues in relation to this are a matter for the Minister of State with responsibility for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Barry Andrews.

  111.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if there has been a change in repayment arrangements for excise duty on fuel used in a vehicle for the transport of a disabled person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44776/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (S.I. No. 353 of 1994) provide for the repayment of excise duty paid on fuel used in vehicles qualifying for tax relief under those Regulations, subject to specified limits.

Following a review of the arrangements for the repayment of the excise duty paid on fuel, some changes in the administrative arrangements have been gradually introduced to achieve efficiencies and to simplify the process for disabled claimants, so that claiming is easier and more customer-friendly. The changes included dispensing with the submission of receipts with every fuel repayment claim and, more recently, moving to one claim per annum rather than up to 3 claims a year as had been the practice previously. Where particular difficulty is being experienced by a disabled claimant, Revenue will give favourable consideration to making an interim repayment.

  112.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will clarify a matter (details supplied). [44904/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Retail (consumer) deposits are guaranteed under the statutory €100,000 Deposit Guarantee Scheme (DGS) which covers 100% of retail deposits with all credit institutions authorised in Ireland (including credit unions) up to a maximum of €100,000 per qualifying depositor per institution. The DGS guarantee does not have an end date.

As the Deputy may be aware, the Eligible Liabilities Guarantee (ELG) Scheme was extended in national law by the Oireachtas on 17 November last until 31 December 2011, subject to six-monthly State aid approval by the European Commission. The ELG Scheme guarantees the balance of retail deposits in the participating institutions (which include the two institutions specified by the Deputy) over the €100,000 limit of the DGS, and 100% of the balance of corporate deposits, as set out below.

The balance in on-demand accounts or current accounts in an ELG Scheme participating institution in excess of any amount covered by the DGS will be guaranteed until 30 June 2011 (which is the maximum period under EU State aid rules for which approval can be received) regardless of the date the account was opened. The balance on fixed term deposits (in excess [549]of €100,000 covered by DGS where applicable) opened with a participating institution during a period from the date the participating institution joined the ELG Scheme up to 30 June 2011 will be guaranteed for the full term of the deposit, up to a maximum deposit term of five years. A list of the dates when participating institutions joined the ELG Scheme can be found at www.ntma.ie.

  113.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Finance    the estimated energy use of his Department in 2008 and 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44939/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The estimated energy usage for the years 2008, 2009 and 2010 for my Department are listed in the table below. Also listed in the following table are the actual spend on energy costs for the years 2008 and 2009 and the total spend to date in 2010.

Year Estimated Units Cost
2008 * 510,000
2009 1,415,671 units (ESB) 477,643
92,490 units (gas)
18,653 units (oil)
2010 1,092,477 units (ESB) 310,073 (paid to date)
87,753 units (gas)
6,001 units (oil)

  114.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Finance,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 134 of 5 October 2010, if he will report on the revenue collected from the air travel tax as of 30 October 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44960/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that up to the end of October 2010 the yield from the air travel tax is €88.2 million in respect of 2010.

Question No. 115 answered with Question No. 105.

  116.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [45013/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  An Post acts as agent for the National Treasury Management Agency in accepting money for State savings products. All State savings are paid directly to the Exchequer. The repayment of State savings is a direct, unconditional obligation on the Government and the Government will honour this obligation in full.

  117.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of officials in his Department dedicated to working with officials from the International Monetary Fund, the European financial stabilisation mechanism and the European financial stability facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45023/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  In the relatively short timeframe involved, officials from all Divisions of my Department together with other relevant Departments, the Central Bank, the NTMA and the Office of the Attorney General have been involved in the discussions with the EU, ECB and IMF authorities which culminated in the agreement of Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers on 28 November 2010 to grant financial assistance to Ireland. In view of the nature of the discussions, officials from my Department have been involved both directly and indirectly as required and for this reason I do not have a precise number.

  118.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of bilateral loans to the State he expects to be negotiated by EU member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45024/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers agreed on 28 November 2010 on a package of financial assistance to Ireland in the context of a joint EU-IMF Programme and against the background of safeguarding financial stability in the EU and the euro area as a whole. As set out in the statement issued by the Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers on 28 November 2010, the financial assistance includes provision for bilateral loans from the UK (€3.8 billion), Sweden (€0.6 billion) and Denmark (€0.4 billion). No other bilateral loans are anticipated at present.

These loans are part of an overall provision of €85 billion of which the State will contribute €17.5 billion from the National Pensions Reserve Fund and from cash reserves and of which €67.5 billion may be provided in external assistance. This is composed of €22.5 billion from the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism (EFSM), €22.5 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and €22.5 billion from the European Financial Stability Fund (EFSF) including the above mentioned bilateral loans. Financial assistance will in all cases be subject to the policy conditionality set out in the EU-IMF Programme for Ireland.

  119.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide estimates for the nominal number of individuals in employment at the end of 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. [45086/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Department of Finance does not produce an end of year forecast for employment numbers. The forecast is for an average of the full year, which is in line with the approach of the majority of others who produce forecasts. The forecasts for the average nominal number of individuals in employment for 2010 to 2014 are provided in the table.

Year Employment (000s)
2010 1,851
2011 1,848
2012 1,872
2013 1,898
2014 1,930

  120.  Deputy John O’Donoghue    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide an estimate of the amount of tax retained by airline companies on foot of cancelled plane tickets and or unfilled seats and if he will have the matter investigated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45111/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that airline companies are liable to air travel tax only in respect of passengers who depart on their flights from relevant Irish airports. If an airline company charges an intending passenger an amount corresponding to the air travel tax that would be payable by the airline company in respect of that person’s departure and that person does not make the proposed journey, the question of a refund in respect of the amount involved is a matter between the airline company and that person.

The Revenue Commissioners have no information on the amount of money retained by airline companies in relation to cancelled journeys or unfilled seats. However, the Minister considers that where an airline has passed the cost of the air travel tax on to its customers it should refund this charge, without charging a handling fee, if the person does not travel.

  121.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide a breakdown by organisation of the employment levels for each year in the non-commercial State agencies section; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45112/10]

  130.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the reason he has not chosen to rationalise State agencies in the Government’s four year plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45319/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 130 together.

The following table A provides a breakdown of Non-commercial State Agency (NCSA) staffing for the end of 2008, 2009 and the end of the third quarter this year by Ministerial Vote Group. Table A also sets out the indicative NCSA ceilings by Ministerial Vote Group, consistent with the National Recovery Plan. I am not in a position to provide a breakdown of each Ministerial NCSA staffing ceiling by organisation for future years because that is a matter for each Minister to decide on an ongoing basis in light of their and the Government’s policy priorities.

With regard to agency rationalisation, I should point out that the comprehensive programme of rationalisation that I announced in Budget 2009 (October 2008) is still being implemented. To date, implementation has resulted in a net reduction of 22 bodies and has secured estimated full year savings of over €10 million. In addition to the 2009 Budget measures, the Government has taken further rationalisation decisions such as the recent decision to rationalise the number [552]of VECs from 33 down to 16 and the absorption of the National Economic and Social forum by the National Economic Council. The implementation of these further decisions has resulted in a further net reduction of 4 bodies; bringing the total net reduction to 26.

I would also draw the Deputy’s attention to Page 69 of the National Recovery Plan where it is stated that the programme of State Agency rationalisation that commenced in 2008 will continue with a particular emphasis on:

reducing the number and range of agencies;

redeploying staff to areas of greatest need;

improving governance and performance arrangements; and

sharing services

This reduction in allocations in conjunction with revised employment ceilings will, accordingly, involve the continued rationalisation of Agencies.

Table A 2008 2009 2010 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014
Qtr 4 Qtr 4 Qtr 3 Qtr 4 Qtr 4 Qtr 4 Qtr 4 Qtr 4
TOTAL NCSA CEILING 12,474 11,801 12,151 12,195 11,205 10,700 10,199 9,998
TAOISEACH GROUP 46 46 40 40 37 35 33 33
Law Reform Commission 27 23 19
National Economic and Social Development Office 19 24 21
FINANCE GROUP 62 64 62 64 63 57 55 52
Special EU Programmes Body 62 64 62 64 63 57 55 52
JUSTICE GROUP 61 51 0
— Human Rights Commission (2010 Transfer to CEGA) 20 14 0
— National Disability Authority (2010 Transfer to CEGA) 41 37 0
ENVIRONMENT 889 859 869 881 821 793 757 741
Affordable Homes Partnership 11 10 15
An Bord Pleanála 167 169 162
An Comhairle Leabharlanna 0 0 16
Dublin Docklands Authority 47 34 27
Environmental Protection Agency 358 344 329
Heritage Council 16 15 15
Housing Finance Agency 12 11 11
Irish Water Safety Association 6 6 5
Limerick Northside Regeneration Agency 7 2 7
Limerick Southside Regeneration Agency 9 4 9
Local Government Computer Services Board 94 86 85
Local Government Management Services Board 30 28 27
National Building Agency 61 49 47
Private Residential Tenancies Board 23 55 69
Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland 48 47 47
EDUCATION GROUP 529 536 2,522 2,474 2,272 2,143 2,039 2,002
Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies 65 79 78
Foras Áiseanna Saothair 0 0 1,989
Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC) 53 42 37
Grangegorman Development Agency 6 3 4
Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC) 30 31 31
Higher Education Authority 59 50 52
Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology 6 5 5
Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Science 7 5 5
National Education Welfare Board 103 102 101
National Qualifications Authority of Ireland 24 25 25
NCTE 0 0 18
Royal Irish Academy 67 85 77
Royal Irish Academy of Music 70 69 64
The Teaching Council 41 41 37
COMMUNITY, EQUALITY & GAELTACHT AFFAIRS 537 541 635 672 634 614 586 574
Boord o Ulster-Scotch (An Foras Teanga) 16 19 21
Family Support Agency 0 0 38
Foras na Gaeilge (An Foras Teanga) 50 49 53
Human Rights Commission 0 0 12
National Disability Authority 0 0 35
Údarás na Gaeltachta 113 103 96
Waterways Ireland 343 355 367
Western Development Commission 17 15 14
COMMUNICATIONS ENERGY & NAT. RESOURCES 780 770 1,070 1,075 996 944 899 882
— Eastern Regional Fisheries Board 53 45 0
— Northern Regional Fisheries Board 43 51 0
— North-Western Regional Fisheries Board 50 47 0
— Shannon Regional Fisheries Board 53 57 0
— Southern Regional Fisheries Board 40 39 0
— South-Western Regional Fisheries Board 39 40 0
— Western Regional Fisheries Board 61 57 0
Broadcasting Authority of Ireland 38 34 33
Commission for Communication Regulation 120 119 121
Commission for Energy Regulation 68 65 63
Digital Hub Development Authority 15 15 16
Foyle, Carlingford and Irish Lights Commission 53 57 57
Inland Fisheries Ireland 85 78 418
National Oil Reserves Agency 5 5 5
Ordnance Survey Ireland 0 0 296
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland 59 63 61
AGRICULTURE 2,115 1,864 1,840 1,888 1,627 1,569 1,497 1,466
Bord Bia 96 103 104
Bord Iascaigh Mhara 143 128 129
Marine Institute 196 190 195
National Milk Agency 6 7 0
Sea Fisheries Protection Authority 101 100 100
Teagasc 1,574 1,336 1,312
TRANSPORT 560 558 564 586 540 521 498 487
Commission for Aviation Regulation 19 16 18
Commission for Taxi Regulation 37 35 35
Medical Bureau of Road Safety 34 33 35
National Roads Authority 144 137 133
National Transport Authority 0 24 32
Railway Safety Commission 8 13 13
Road Safety Authority 319 301 299
HEALTH GROUP 1,090 1,138 1,153 1,170 1,089 1,044 996 976
— Children’s Act Advisory Board (2010 — Retired) 14 14 0
— Crisis Pregnancy Agency (2010 — Retired) 15 14 0
— National Council on Ageing and Older People (Retired 2009) 8 0 0
— Postgraduate Medical and Dental Board (Retired 2009) 16 0 0
— Women’s Health Council (Retired 2009) 5 0 0
An Bord Altranais — The Nursing Board 1985 49 44 42
Blood Transfusion Service 0 0 568
Dental Council 2001 5 4 5
Food Safety Authority of Ireland 90 84 79
Food Safety Promotion Board 26 31 32
Health & Social Care Professionals Council 2007 1 4 5
Health Information and Quality Authority 74 138 149
Health Insurance Authority 9 9 9
Health Research Board 84 77 73
Irish Medicines Board 245 253 252
Medical Council 0 0 51

  122.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a company (details supplied) is reported to have paid only 2.5% corporation tax here; if he will explain how that is possible; the number of foreign direct investment companies which have avoided paying the full standard 12.5% corporation tax; the loss of tax to the Exchequer as a result; his plans to deal with the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45123/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Recent media reports have suggested that some multinational companies pay Irish corporation tax at rates that are significantly lower [555]than 12.5%. The reports concerned appear to have incorrectly attributed to Ireland profits that represent the return due to assets owned in other jurisdictions by associated companies resident in those foreign jurisdictions. Companies resident in Ireland pay 10% or 12.5% corporation tax on their profits arising here (the 10% rate for manufacturing profits expires for eligible companies at the end of this year). By relating this corporation tax to the profits of the Irish-resident companies and the profits of foreign-resident associated companies (which are not profits chargeable to Irish corporation tax), these reports can produce an average tax rate for the companies concerned that is lower than 12.5%.

While multinational groups, with subsidiaries in other countries as well as in Ireland, can achieve lower average rates of tax for the total profits of those Irish and foreign-resident subsidiaries taken together, nevertheless, the rate of tax actually paid on the profits of the Irish-resident subsidiaries will always be 12.5% (or, until the end of this year, 10%).

  123.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the preparations made by him to merge Irish Nationwide Building Society into the recovery arm of Anglo Irish Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45308/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  As indicated in my Statement on 30 September last, Irish Nationwide Building Society does not have a future as a stand alone entity and will have to be sold or amalgamated. One option being explored is whether there is merit in using the Anglo Irish Asset Recovery institution to work out the assets of the Society. This issue will be finalised in the context of submitting a revised Restructuring Plan for the institution to the European Commission for approval.

  124.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the consultation he has had with the EU or International Monetary Fund on the Government’s national recovery plan prior to publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45309/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The Government’s National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 was drafted by my Department, with input from various other Government Departments. The Plan was approved by Government. Following approval by Government, the Plan was shared with representatives from the EU Commission, the ECB and the IMF. I would like to remind the House that the programme of external assistance that we have just agreed with our partners has the policy inputs of the Government’s Four-Year Plan embedded within the terms of the Programme.

  125.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the way growth figures projected in the Government’s national recovery plan were calculated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45310/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The forecasts underpinning the National Recovery Plan were compiled in the normal manner that is employed on an annual basis for the Budget and Stability Programme Update. In order to complete the forecasts, the external environment is firstly assessed to compile the export forecasts. The outlook for domestic demand is then assessed taking into account the various budgetary measures. Historical [556]relationships between output, unemployment, prices, etc. are also employed to ensure internal consistency.

  126.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the discussions he has had with his European colleagues regarding the future of the euro; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45313/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I attend meetings of the Eurogroup and Ecofin, which comprise the Finance Ministers of the Euro area and the EU respectively, together with the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB). It is a priority of the Eurogroup, ECOFIN and the European Council (EC) to ensure the financial stability of the Euro area and the EU as a whole. I can assure the Deputy that the supportive actions taken by the members of the Eurogroup, ECOFIN and the European Council are directed towards achieving this aim.

The Eurogroup and ECOFIN agenda have focused on the impacts of the financial and economic crises for the economies of Euro area members, with the objective of ensuring the long-term stability of the euro. The Eurogroup and Ecofin have at all times acted decisively in response to changing global economic and financial market developments to support members experiencing financial difficulties.

In May of this year EU Finance Ministers unanimously agreed to activate stability support to Greece following a request for support from the Greek Government. The Eurogroup decided that a more comprehensive package of financial support measures was needed and established two assistance programmes, the European Financial Stabilisation Mechanism and the European Financial Stability Facility to financially support Member States in difficulties caused by exceptional circumstances beyond Member States’ control.

In parallel with the above measures, and following agreement at European Council level, Eurogroup and ECOFIN have worked closely with the Van Rompuy Taskforce to reinforce economic policy coordination, initially through strengthening the Stability and Growth Pact and on developing a framework for identifying and correcting macroeconomic imbalances. On 28-29 October the European Council agreed on the need to set up a permanent mechanism to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole. At their meeting on Sunday 28th November Eurogroup Ministers agreed that this European Stability Mechanism (ESM) will be based on the European Financial Stability Facility and be capable of providing financial assistance packages to euro area Member States under strict conditionality and functioning according to the rules of the current EFSF.

The economic and fiscal situations of member states experiencing concerted pressure in the financial markets are discussed on the basis of assessments by the European Commission and contributions from the individual Ministers. This is a constructive discussion setting out the risks and challenges facing each euro area member and the necessary policy responses which are being considered by Ministers to counteract the severe pressures they are experiencing. The European Commission has endorsed Ireland’s 4-year National Recovery plan for the period 2011-2014. I believe that the targets set out in the plan are achievable and provide a strong basis for enabling us to meet our commitments with regard to compliance with the terms of the Stability & Growth Pact.

[557]You will be aware that following an application by Ireland for external assistance, a joint programme of financial assistance by Europe and the IMF has been agreed for Ireland and was unanimously approved by Eurogroup and ECOFIN Ministers last weekend. The drawdown of this financial support is conditional upon our continuing to meet the expenditure and revenue targets set out in the plan. At last weekend’s meetings Eurogroup and ECOFIN also decided upon a one year extension of our excessive deficit procedure to 2015, an immediate strengthening and comprehensive overhaul of the banking system and growth enhancing reforms, in particular in the labour market, to allow a return to robust and sustainable growth.

In conclusion I believe it is clear that throughout the current crisis, euro area Member States have demonstrated their determination to take decisive and coordinated action to safeguard financial stability in the euro area as a whole, and I am confident that this will continue to be the case.

  127.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the British Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. George Osborne, told the British House of Commons on Monday that he had engaged in talks with the Irish Government regarding financial assistance for several weeks; the date on which he first communicated with the British Treasury regarding financial assistance; the talks that have taken place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45315/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  Since Chancellor Osborne has taken up his duties, I have met him at various EU and other international meetings. Specifically, I met with him at the ECOFIN Council in Brussels on 17th November 2010. On that occasion and in subsequent telephone contact, he expressed his willingness to be supportive of Ireland. In his statement to the House of Commons on 22nd November 2010, he also made it clear that he was involved in discussions about Ireland’s economic situation at other international fora such as the G20 in Seoul. Following this we spoke on the telephone again and there has also been telephone contact between officials on this matter.

Other than contacts on the margins of European meetings, there have not been direct, face to face discussions between Ireland and the United Kingdom with regard to the provision of financial assistance. However, it is entirely natural that in committing to significant funding the United Kingdom authorities will want to discuss matters directly with my officials and through the European fora. As you are aware, funding of the Support Programme for Ireland agreed at the weekend includes a bilateral loan from the United Kingdom. This is being provided on the same terms and conditions for the overall programme. The arrangements for this bilateral loan involved discussion between my Department and the UK Treasury.

  128.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    the way he plans to reduce public service numbers by 27,000; the costs associated with the reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45317/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The National Recovery Plan states that there will be a cumulative reduction in public service numbers by the end of 2014 of 24,750 since the end of 2008, bringing the total number of public servants to 294,700, a level first exceeded [558]during 2006. The Plan further states, on Page 63, that the end-September 2010 public service numbers are 307,500 on a whole-time equivalent basis.

The end-2014 ceiling of 294,700, therefore, requires a further reduction of 12,800 to be delivered, a substantial portion of which will be secured through the implementation of the HSE voluntary early retirement and voluntary redundancy scheme by 30 December 2010. As the processing of applications is still underway, no final figure is yet available in whole-time equivalent terms but it is projected that it will be in excess of 2,250.

Retirements from a working public service cohort of around 300,000 can be expected to be in the region of 6,000 per annum, so a prudent expectation would be that there will be at least 20,000 retirements over the period of the Plan. On this basis, the numbers reductions set out in the Plan should be capable of being delivered, while still leaving sufficient capacity to replace frontline posts in areas such as the Education and Health Sectors.

For the period 2012-2014, the Plan does not require any assumptions regarding additional incentivised payments, and the costs relating to staff exits are costs relating to pension payments and lump sums which would have arisen in any case in the aggregate, although the precise incidence of these costs from year to year cannot be predicted with certainty. Gross pension allocations are projected to increase from €2.77 billion in 2010 to €3.11 billion in 2014. The costs associated with the HSE early retirement and voluntary redundancy scheme are estimated at approximately €250 million in 2010.

  129.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Finance    his plans to develop a White Paper on financial services as outlined in the global Irish forum report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45318/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  I understand that the Report of the Global Irish Economic Forum was published by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on 13 October 2009 and that an Inter-Departmental Committee of senior officials, chaired by the Secretary General to the Government, are considering how to take forward the recommendations contained in the Report. The Department of Foreign Affairs published a first progress report in October 2010, and is available at: http://www.dfa.ie/uploads/documents/IAU/farmleighoneyearon.pdf.

A number of important steps have been outlined to support the financial services sector including:

new financial regulatory structures and legislation are being put in place by the Government to strengthen Ireland’s position as a leading centre for the industry;

specific market opportunities for developing the scope and range of financial services located in Ireland are being developed; and

the appointment of former Taoiseach John Bruton as Chairman of the industry-sponsored IFSC Ireland, with responsibility for promoting Ireland’s international financial services industry.

While the Government has no plans to develop a White Paper on Financial Services, the Deputy may wish to note that the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, published on Wednesday 24 November, identifies financial services as one of a number of key areas of economic activity [559]which will provide growth and employment as Ireland’s economy recovers. The National Recovery Plan outlines a number of steps that the Government has taken and will take to support the sector, including:

measures in the Finance Act 2010 to improve the competitiveness of the international funds industry including developing Islamic finance products;

options for the international financial services sector are being identified through a Strategy Review by the IFSC Clearing House Group, which is serviced by the Department of the Taoiseach; and

continued modernisation of the financial regulatory framework within the State.

Question No. 130 answered with Question No. 121.

  131.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Finance    the discussions he has had with the Financial Regulator regarding the opening of the Northern Ireland business market for Quinn Insurance; the reason the Quinn Group itself cannot be covered by Quinn Insurance for its own companies north of the Border as there has been an exemption granted for the credit unions; his views that this ongoing failure to open up the market is creating increased costs and putting jobs at risk; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45324/10]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Brian Lenihan):  The decision regarding the recommencement of commercial insurance in the UK and Northern Ireland by Quinn Insurance Ltd (QIL) is a matter for the Central Bank of Ireland in respect of which it is independent in the performance of its functions.

I have been informed by the Central Bank that it gave serious consideration to this issue including a detailed review of proposals by the administrators of QIL to recommence writing commercial insurance in the UK and Northern Ireland. However, it determined that QIL would require additional capital in order to recommence writing such business which is currently unavailable to the company. The Central Bank has indicated that should the company obtain sufficient capital and return to required solvency levels in the future, this decision will be reviewed. The Deputy should note that this decision does not affect QIL’s settlement of claims on extant UK and Northern Ireland commercial business.

  132.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total cost to implement Reach Out, the national strategy for suicide prevention; the timeframe for implementation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44694/10]

  133.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the financial allocation to Reach Out on an annual basis since its publication; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44695/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 132 and 133 together.

As this is a service matter the questions have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  134.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her target waiting time for colonoscopy screening; when this target was introduced; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44696/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I am pleased to confirm that the national colorectal cancer screening programme will commence in early 2012. A two-year preparatory period to develop the programme started in January 2010. The HSE’s National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) has responsibility for the implementation of the screening programme. Colorectal screening works on two fronts: it provides early detection and therefore earlier and more effective treatment, and it helps to prevent cancer in the first place by detecting pre-cancerous growths such as polyps.

Colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer among both men and women in Ireland. Approximately 2,200 new cases are diagnosed and around 1,000 people die from the disease each year. A successful national colorectal cancer screening programme has the potential to significantly reduce mortality from this cancer. The screening programme will initially be offered to men and women aged between 60 and 69 years. There are estimated to be just over 400,000 people in this age group. The programme will be extended to all those in the 55-74 year age group as logistics and resources allow.

A key factor in the success of the programme will be the ability of the NCSS to provide adequate colonoscopy screening capacity so that this service is provided in a timely manner to people who have a positive FIT test. The programme will generate a need for roughly 6,000 additional colonoscopies per year and it cannot adversely affect waiting times for urgent colonoscopies in the symptomatic system.

The NCSS has established a Quality Assurance Committee to develop Quality Assurance Guidelines for the colorectal screening programme which should be finalised by the middle of next year. The authors of existing European Union guidelines on colorectal screening have agreed to carry out a peer review of the QA guidelines when they are finalised during 2011. These Guidelines will include strict criteria for waiting times and return of test results.

To assist in achieving adequate colonoscopy capacity it has been agreed that Advanced Nurse Practitioners (ANPs) will ultimately be able to perform colonoscopies as part of the national screening programme. The NCSS is currently setting out the job description, training and educational requirements for candidate ANPs who will deliver the service. I am pleased that work on this important initiative is continuing.

In relation to urgent colonoscopies I instructed the HSE in its 2010 Service Plan to monitor that urgent colonoscopies were provided within four weeks. In the case of non-urgent colonoscopies, the HSE has instructed hospitals to refer patients waiting for longer than three months to the National Treatment Purchase Fund. 98.6% of patients referred for urgent colonoscopy were within 28 days of referral on the reporting date (September 2010). One hospital did not report.

  135.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of patients waiting up to one month for a colonoscopy; the number waiting between one month and three months for a colonoscopy; the number of patients waiting between three months and six months; the number waiting between six months and 12 months; the number of patients [561]waiting more than 12 months; if she will provide this information as at the end of October 2010 or for which there is most recent information in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44697/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The matter raised by the Deputy relates to the provision of healthcare services and accordingly, I have asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy on the matter.

  136.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of hospital beds closed nationally as at end October 2010 due to cost containment measures, refurbishment, infection control and any other matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44698/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  137.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of primary care teams in place as at the end October 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44699/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  At the heart of the Primary Care Strategy is the aim of developing services in the community to give people direct access to integrated multi-disciplinary teams of general practitioners, nurses, home helps, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other health care professionals. The Strategy is also about the reorientation of existing resources to develop new ways for health and social care professionals to work together for the benefit of people accessing primary care services in their own communities.

The HSE has identified 527 Primary Care Teams (PCTs) for development by 2011. At the end of October 2010, 313 teams were operating (holding clinical team meetings on individual client cases and involving GPs and HSE staff) and providing services for over 2.5 million people. The HSE has indicated that it expects a further 81 teams to be operating by the end of 2010 and plans to have the remaining 133 operating by the end of 2011.

  138.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if building work has commenced on any of the co-location sites; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44700/10]

  139.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the names of the proposed sites for co-location hospitals; the progress to date in each location; if the tendering process has been completed; the names of those awarded each tender; the cost of the facility in each case; the number of beds in each case; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44701/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 138 and 139 together.

Preferred bidders have been selected for six co-located hospital projects at Beaumont, Cork University, Limerick Regional, St. James’s, Sligo and Waterford Regional Hospitals. Project [562]agreements have been signed and planning permission has been granted for the first four of these projects. The Connolly and Tallaght Hospital projects are at earlier stages of the procurement process.

The co-location programme is a complex public procurement process. A core principle underlying the co-location initiative is that the private sector should bear all normal business risks. It is a matter for each successful bidder to arrange its finance under the terms of the relevant Project Agreement. The co-location initiative, like other major projects, has to deal with the changed funding environment. The HSE is continuing to work with the successful bidders to provide whatever assistance it can to help them advance the projects. My Department has asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy on the detailed operational information that he has sought.

  140.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of cancelled operations on a national basis within the first six months of 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44702/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  141.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of patients on outpatient waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44703/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The management of out-patient waiting lists is a matter for the HSE and the individual hospitals concerned. I have, therefore, referred the Deputy’s question to the Executive for direct reply.

  142.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of bed days lost per hospital in the first six months of 2010 in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44704/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  143.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total cost to implement A Vision for Change; the total amount of money spent implementing A Vision for Change to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44705/10]

  147.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the actual funding made available to mental health on a per annum basis since 1997; the percentage of this that was of overall health funding in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44709/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 147 together.

[563]The estimated additional cost of the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ the Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy is €150m over 7-10 years. Development funding totalling €54 million has been allocated to the HSE since the launch of the Report in 2006. The following table provides details of non-capital expenditure on mental health as a percentage of total health expenditure 1997-2010.

Year Total non-capital Health expenditure Mental Health non-capital expenditure Mental Health Expenditure as % of total health expenditure
€m €m
1997 3.648 0.327 9.0
1998 4.040 0.347 8.6
1999 4.807 0.395 8.2
2000 5.610 0.434 7.7
2001 7.006 0.497 7.1
2002 8.167 0.564 6.9
2003 9.087 0.619 6.8
2004 9.767 0.717 7.3
2005 11.029 0.775 7.0
2006 11.888 0.984 8.3
2007 13.432 1.042 7.8
2008 14.928 1.043 7.0
2009 14.698 1.007 6.9
2010* 14.583 0.977 6.7

Approximately 90% of public mental health services are provided at primary care level. Expenditure on these services is not captured in the above table. The question in relation to expenditure on the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  144.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of hospital beds per hospital including inpatient beds, day beds, psychiatric beds, maternity beds as at the end of June 2010 in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44706/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is an operational matter, my Department has asked the HSE to respond directly to the Deputy in relation to the detailed information that he has sought.

  145.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of hospital beds public, private and non-designated as at the end of June 2010 in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44707/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  Acute bed numbers in public hospitals are counted as an average of beds available over each year, given that the number of beds available in each hospital can vary over any year for operational reasons. 2008 is the latest year in respect of which validated national data on average available acute hospital beds has [564]been compiled by the HSE. The national total for 2008 broken down into public, private and non designated categories is set out as follows:

Year Public Private Non Designated Total
2008 9,991 2,472 1,120 13,583

The data comprehends in-patient beds and day places. My Department has requested the HSE to provide the national average number of acute hospital beds broken down by public, private and non designated in respect of 2009 to the Deputy as soon as this becomes available.

  146.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the total number of inpatient psychiatric beds on a per facility basis; the total number of inpatient psychiatric beds recommended in A Vision for Change in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44708/10]

  173.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of child and adolescent inpatient beds recommended by A Vision for Change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45017/10]

  176.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of psychiatric adult inpatient beds recommended in A Vision for Change; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45020/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 146, 173 and 176 together.

The recommendations in ‘A Vision for Change’ in relation to Adult In-Patient and Residential Services for Children and Adults are set out in the following table:

Service Accommodation Number of Beds
Acute In-Patient Child and Adolescent 80
Child and Adolescent High Secure 10
Total 90

Service Accommodation Number of Beds/Places
Acute In-Patient Adult 650
Intellectual Disability High Secure 10
Neuropsychiatry 8
Continuing Care Beds for Older People (Challenging Behaviour ) 360
Intensive Care Rehabilitation Units 120
Crisis Houses (14 × 10 Beds) 140
Staffed Community Residences (65 × 10 places) 650
Total 1,938

[565]Since ‘A Vision for Change’ was published the number of beds required for the new Central Mental Hospital has been identified as 120. The question in relation to the total number of in-patient psychiatric beds on a per facility basis has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 143.

  148.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a response has not issued following this Deputy’s representations on two different dates to the Health Service Executive west (details supplied). [44711/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  149.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a response has not issued following this Deputy’s representations on three different dates to the Health Service Executive west regarding home help provision in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [44713/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  150.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if the reduction in procedures in dental treatment for medical card holders covers those suffering from long-term illness or are they excluded; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44721/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  151.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of staff (details supplied) on sick leave on a county basis on 1 November 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44726/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  152.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the estimated cost of regulating and inspecting residential centres for persons with disabilities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44730/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy will be aware, National Quality Standards: Residential Settings for People with Disabilities were published by HIQA in May 2009 and are under consideration by the Minister for Health and Children. These standards will provide a national framework for quality, safe services for adults with disabilities in residential settings. Given current fiscal constraints, a move to full statutory implementation of the standards for residential care settings for people with disabilities, including regulation and inspection, presents significant challenges. In 2009, [566]the cost of such a move was estimated to be in the region of €7 million to €9 million. In this context, the Department, the HSE and HIQA agreed that progressive implementation of the standards should commence on an administrative basis and become the benchmark against which the HSE assesses both its own directly operated facilities and other facilities that it funds.

Residential care services for older people have been subject to mandatory registration and inspection by HIQA since 1 July 2009. Earlier this year the Department of Health and Children engaged in useful preliminary discussions with HIQA in relation to the possible extension of this model of registration and inspection to designated centres for people with disabilities and the resource implications of same. Given the complex nature of residential service provision for people with disabilities — ranging from congregated settings to dispersed housing in the community — further consideration is being given by my Department to the most appropriate models of registration and inspection for these centres and this work is ongoing.

Currently every provider of disability services is required, as part of its service arrangement with the HSE, to have systems in place to assess quality and standards and to specify the actions it is taking to maintain and monitor quality and service. Examples of such monitoring actions could include audit tools appropriate to the service, service user evaluations and satisfaction surveys, and carer and service evaluations.

  153.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person appointed by the Circuit Court as the care representative has the legal authority to sell the home of their parent while their parent is still alive; after the death of that parent is it the care representative or the executor of the will who will sell the home to repay the required fair deal loan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44743/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  Under the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, the care representative may act on behalf of a person of diminished mental capacity (a “relevant person”) in relation to the application process for the scheme. The care representative is also specifically empowered to act on behalf of the relevant person in relation to making an application for the Nursing Home Loan and consenting to the creation of the charging order which secures the loan. The Court Order appointing the care representative does not legally authorise him or her to sell the property of the relevant person.

With regard to repayment of the Nursing Home Loan after the death of a relevant person, it is the personal representative (i.e. the Executor of the Will or the administrator) who is primarily responsible for ensuring repayment of the debt. However, a person who inherits the property or any part of it can also be held accountable.

  154.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Dublin will be awarded a medical card; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44749/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  155.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if her attention has been drawn to the fact that 25 May 2011 is International Children’s Day; her plans to promote [567]the EU missing children’s hotline number 116000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44758/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  International Children’s Days are celebrated at various times by various bodies. The UN for example, generally designates the 20th of November as that day so it coincides with the annual anniversary of the UNCRC. I am not aware of any initiative at UN level to name the 25th of May next year as International Children’s Day.

The issue of children who go missing is primarily a matter for the Garda Síochána. A hotline for missing children is in operation in some EU Member States. My Office is currently involved in discussions with other relevant Government Departments in relation to the establishment of this service. I will keep the Deputy informed of developments in this regard.

  156.  Deputy Joe Costello    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason a person (details supplied) who needs an urgent operation must wait until March 2011 at the earliest. [44760/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  157.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Dublin will be given a date sooner than advised for an appointment for a final operation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44767/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  158.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding renewal of a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44777/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  159.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans to close a preschool (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44795/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters, I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  160.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application under the treatment abroad scheme in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [44799/10]

[568]Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  161.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44804/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  162.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a matter (details supplied). [44806/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  163.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a matter (details supplied). [44905/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  164.  Deputy Thomas Byrne    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an appeal (details supplied) of a decision in respect of the fair deal. [44916/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  165.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the estimated energy use of her Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years. [44941/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  The information requested by the Deputy regarding the cost of energy to the Department of Health and Children is set out in a tabular statement.

Year Electricity Gas Oil
2008 204,830.00 89,408.00 3,278.00
(GRO transferred to Department of Social Protection)
2009 166,650.00 57,651.00 Nil
2010 to date 127,295.00 65,500.00 Nil

[569]My Department has requested the details of the estimated energy use from Bector Workplace and Facility Management and will forward this information to the Deputy directly upon receipt.

  166.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a breakdown of spending on the national child care investment programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44951/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have responsibility for the implementation of the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), which is provided for in Vote 41. The NCIP had an initial total allocation of €575m for the period 2006-2010 of which €358m was in respect of capital funding and €218m was in respect of current funding. The NCIP current funding in this period now stands at approximately €240m.

NCIP capital expenditure amounted to €3m in 2006, €15m in 2007, €80m in 2008, €52m in 2009 and it is estimated that €25m will be spent in 2010. A further €11m is expected to be spent in 2011 to complete the drawdown of NCIP capital commitments, bringing the total capital expenditure under the programme to €186m. This is expected to result in the creation of up to 25,000 new childcare places.

NCIP current expenditure amounted to approximately €2m in 2006 and €9m in 2007. With the cessation of the European Opportunities Childcare Programme (EOCP) at the end of 2007, the NCIP current allocation increased to €73.5m in 2008 of which €51m was spent on the Community Childcare Subvention Scheme (CCSS) which was introduced in January of that year. In 2009, the NCIP current allocation amounted to €79.5m of which over €58m was spent on the CCSS. In 2010, the NCIP current allocation was just over €75m of which €52m is being spent on the CCSS and its successor scheme, the broadly similar Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) scheme.

Approximately €7m of NCIP current funding will be spent in 2010 on the new Childcare Training and Employment Support (CETS) scheme which was introduced in September. The CETS scheme provides free childcare places to qualifying trainees attending certain FÁS and Vocational Education Committee (VEC) courses, and replaces the previous childcare support schemes operated by FÁS and the VECs which provided for a contributory payment towards childcare costs of €63.50 per week. Funding amounting to €3.5m, which was held by FÁS and the VECs to provide for the previous support schemes in September to December 2010, has transferred to my Office and is included in the €7m expenditure referred to.

In addition, NCIP current funding continues to support the work of the 33 City and County Childcare Committees (CCCs) and 8 Voluntary Childcare Organisations (VCOs). In 2010, €12.9m was allocated to the CCCs and €3m was allocated to the VCOs.

  167.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in calculating the superannuation entitlements of nurses who retired after 1 April 2004 in accordance with circular 08/2008; if she will ensure that staff are assigned to calculate the amounts concerned and that money owed to these retired nurses is granted to them without further delay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44953/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  168.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the average daily cost of public hospital care during 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44954/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  169.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the amount spent on non-core pay such as premium, overtime and on-call pay during 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44955/10]

  170.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the estimated amount spent on non-core pay such as premium, overtime and on-call pay during 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44956/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 169 and 170 together.

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  171.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the progress that has been made in providing funding for an organisation (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44957/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  This year I approved a grant of almost €172,000 from my Department’s 2010 allocation of National Lottery funds to the organisation referred to by the Deputy.

It is very important to ensure that appropriate counselling is available to all those that the organisation supports. Both I and the HSE are anxious that all former patients of the consultant are made aware of the free counselling support that is available. The HSE has made arrangements for counselling support, using the National Counselling Service, which provides individual, couple, family, group and psychosexual counselling. Persons affected by these issues, but who do not wish to avail of counselling can also speak with a psychologist or counsellor in confidence. The need for additional support will be continuously monitored by the HSE.

The HSE has assigned co-ordinating responsibility for these matters to the Area Manager for Consumer Affairs in the North East who will continue to liaise as required with former patients and support groups.

  172.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will support a matter (details supplied). [45011/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters, I have referred this question to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Question No. 173 answered with Question No. 146.

  174.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a list of child adolescent psychiatric inpatient units that are currently open and operational as at the end of October 2010 in tabular form; the location of same; the number of beds in each unit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45018/10]

  175.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will provide a list of child adolescent psychiatric inpatient units that are currently open and operational in tabular form; the location of same; the number of beds in each unit; the new units that will be opened in 2011; the location of same; the number of beds in each unit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45019/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 174 and 175 together.

As this is a service matter the questions have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Question No. 176 answered with Question No. 146.

  177.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the number of psychiatric adult inpatient beds operational in the State as at June 2010; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45021/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  178.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a national director for infection prevention was appointed by her and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45022/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  179.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her plans regarding the reducing of the level of child care subvention available to parents on social welfare after a set defined period has expired; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45071/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy Barry Andrews):  I have responsibility for implementing the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP) under which the Community Childcare Subvention (CCS) scheme is funded. Under the CCS, funding is provided to participating community childcare services to enable them to charge reduced childcare fees to disadvantaged parents and low income parents. Parents in receipt of a social welfare payment will qualify for subvention funding for all of the period that he or she is in receipt of that payment and there are no plans at present to limit this payment by reference to a defined period of time.

Where a parent in receipt of a social welfare payment obtains employment, the level of subvention funding is maintained until the end of the reference period, normally an annual period from September to August. In addition, such a parent would be expected to qualify for a reduced rate of subvention funding in the following year.

  180.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 150 of 23 November 2010, the position regarding the remaining 20% of a person’s assets (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45078/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  For clients resident at HSE Care Centres for whom the HSE acts as agent in the collection of Department of Social Protection allowances, any funds remaining after the deduction of a statutory charge are retained in the client’s Patients’ Private Property account (PPP). Clients have access to these funds at all times through their local Care Centre. The HSE takes instruction from the client as to how such funds are to be used, as per the requirements of the Health (Repayment Scheme) Act 2006 and the HSE Patients’ Private Property Guidelines.

In situations where the client does not have the capacity to manage their own finances, the HSE administers their funds for the client’s benefit, again as per legislation & Guidelines. The HSE have expressed their willingness to provide full briefing on PPP related issues to the Deputy, or to meet with him to answer his queries, if he so wishes.

  181.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if a person (details supplied) in County Longford will be facilitated with the retirement package offered by the Health Service Executive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45083/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for attention and direct reply to the Deputy.

  182.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she has quantified the number of auxiliary dental workers operating here as referred to in the Dentists Act 1985; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45099/10]

  183.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the efforts made by the Dental Council since 1985 to provide courses for auxiliary dental workers in order to facilitate their recognition within the profession; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45100/10]

  184.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she considers recent efforts by a college (details supplied) at the behest of the Dental Council to provide for a part-time course for auxiliary dental workers as fair and adequate given the fact that most of these auxiliary dental workers are self-employed and cannot attend a course for three days a week over 18 months; the discussions she has had with the Dental Council on this matter; if she will insist on regional courses provided at weekends or by night to facilitate maximum participation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45101/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 182 to 184, inclusive, together.

At present there are 401 dental hygienists, 596 dental nurses and 16 Clinical Dental Technicians registered with the Dental Council. The Dental Council’s role with regard to education and training of auxiliary dental workers is in determining the standards necessary for registration rather than providing courses. The Dental Council has approved courses for Dental Hygienists, Dental Nurses and Clinical Dental Technicians. I welcome the proposed introduc[573]tion of the Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Dental Technology by the Dublin Dental School and Hospital (DDSH). While my Department has had discussions with the Dental Council regarding this course, the timing and location of the course is a matter for the DDSH.

  185.  Deputy Darragh O’Brien    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45164/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  186.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children in    the context of special type consultation fees if she will supply information (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45167/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As the information sought by the Deputy is not provided by the Health Service Executive to my Department as a matter of routine, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

  187.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will consider the points raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45168/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  I would like to assure the Deputy that the contribution made by voluntary service providers to the provision of services to people with disabilities throughout the country is recognised and valued. I am also very much aware of the challenges service providers are experiencing in meeting the needs of service users and the particular difficulties facing all health services. In light of the unprecedented fiscal and expenditure challenges facing the country however, all health service providers will be challenged to deliver greater efficiency for resources allocated to them, in a way that has minimum impact on the provision of frontline services to persons with a disability. As the Deputy will appreciate, detailed deliberation on all aspects of expenditure in the health service is underway in preparation for Budget 2011. In the current financial circumstances, no guarantee can be given towards the maintenance of current levels of expenditure going forward and it would not be appropriate to comment on particular elements of the Budget at this time.

  188.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will request the Health Service Executive to continue to fund treatment for a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45169/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  189.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) will be provided with orthopaedic shoes. [45214/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  190.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason for the delay in the issuing of post mortem results and a death certificate in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; when the results will be issued to the family of the deceased; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45215/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  191.  Deputy James Reilly    asked the Minister for Health and Children    her views on whether smoking cessation services are front-line health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45223/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Health and Children (Deputy Áine Brady):  Smoking Cessation Services within the Health Service Executive offer a wide variety of services in different areas. Specialist Smoking Cessation Counsellors are trained to deliver these services on full time, part time and sessional basis nationally. Health Promotion Departments within the HSE also offer an extensive programme of training that includes developing skills for health care practitioners to support people wishing to stop smoking. Smoking Cessation Services, therefore, can and do provide direct patient delivered services and, as such, are an important cost-effective health service. The Department is currently reviewing tobacco policy in order to develop proposals on what further measures might be taken to reduce initiation and prevalence of smoking in Ireland.

  192.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 85 of 5 October 2010, the number of persons awaiting a PET scan in each county of the Health Service Executive south area; if she will provide a breakdown of the waiting times for PET scans by county; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45322/10]

  193.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Health and Children,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 85 of 5 October 2010, the number of staff required to ensure the successful operation of the PET scanner in Cork University Hospital; the date on which CUH applied to the Health Service Executive for the radiologist post for the PET scanner; when the post will be approved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45323/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 192 and 193 together.

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  194.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Health and Children    if she will establish a supplementary redress scheme for those women who, by virtue of their date of birth, were excluded from access to the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital redress scheme, and whose cases are well established, medically verifiable and acknowledged by Patient Focus; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45325/10]

  195.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Health and Children    the reason that some 35 women were not included under the terms of the Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital redress scheme; her plans to acknowledge their pain and suffering and the steps she will take to provide appropriate and deserved compensation to each of the women concerned or their survivors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45326/10]

Minister for Health and Children (Deputy Mary Harney):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 194 and 195 together.

The Lourdes Hospital Redress Scheme was established following an Inquiry into peripartum hysterectomy at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. The Inquiry was chaired by Judge Maureen Harding Clark S.C. Judge Clark was requested by the Government to advise on an appropriate scheme of redress arising from the findings of the Report. Having received Judge Clark’s advice, the Government approved the establishment of a non-statutory ex gratia scheme of redress in 2007, and appointed Judge Clark as its chairperson.

The Lourdes Hospital Inquiry did not extend to a wider examination of Mr. Neary’s general practice or the clinical practice of his colleagues. However, Judge Clark became aware during the course of the inquiry that some patients of Mr. Neary had undergone bilateral oophorectomies — that is, the removal of both ovaries or a single remaining ovary — that may not have been clinically warranted. The inquiry also received medical reports from women who had undergone bilateral oophorectomy with relatively little evidence that the procedures were warranted.

Judge Clark took advice on a selection of oophorectomy cases involving younger women treated by Mr. Neary. She was advised that while it is sometimes necessary to remove both ovaries in the presence of serious disease, the occasion of such a radical procedure is not common. This led her to conclude that unwarranted oophorectomies performed by Mr. Neary on women aged under 40 be included within the scope of the Redress Scheme. The Scheme was advertised on 14th June 2007. The Lourdes Hospital Redress Board has now concluded its work and all awards determined have been notified to successful applicants.

I was asked to consider an extension of the scope of the Scheme to include additional former patients of Mr. Neary outside of the terms of the Scheme. I gave due consideration to the request and consulted with Judge Clark in the matter, who advised against an extension. Acting on this advice, I decided against an extension of the Scheme and this was publicly communicated in November 2008. The Government believes that the Lourdes Hospital Redress Scheme addressed the matter in as sensitive and timely a manner as possible. It was always the Government’s intention that the women who qualified for the Scheme would receive adequate recompense and I believe that has been achieved in a fair and reasonable manner.

  196.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Health and Children    when a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be seen by a speech and language therapist at Maynooth health centre. [45327/10]

[576]Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Deputy John Moloney):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters, I have referred this question to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  197.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Transport    the steps he is taking to regulate the use by commuter coaches of parking stands in residential and historic areas in Dublin city; his views on whether alternative measures are required to facilitate coach parking particularly from commuter coaches; his further views on whether such coaches should pay for the privilege of parking in the city centre or alternatively if they should be obliged to fund parking slots outside of the town centres in between collection and drop off; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44731/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  Under the Road Traffic Act, 1994 responsibility for parking matters is vested in local authorities in respect of public roads in their charge. Section 36 provides road authorities with extensive bye-law making powers, with discretion afforded to authorities regarding the location and specification of parking places, as well as level of fees and specification of maximum parking periods within their functional area. Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations made under Section 35 of the 1994 Act also contain enabling discretionary powers for local authorities to restrict parking of specified vehicles in specified areas or places within a nationally applying framework. The matters referred to by the Deputy are therefore matters for the local authorities, who have sufficient powers under current legislation and regulations to address them.

  198.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Transport    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44946/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The Department of Transport costs of energy used for 2008, 2009 and 2010 to date are set out in the following table.

2008 2009 2010 to date
€519,000 €536,000 €484,000

Energy use by the Department is monitored using the services of consultants engaged by the Office of Public Works and every effort is made to achieve economies. The National Recovery Plan (2011/2014) also contains among its objectives procurement of common goods and services, including energy (gas and electricity) by the National Procurement Service (NPS). It is envisaged that future savings in energy costs will be made with the support of the buying power of the NPS.

  199.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Transport    the amount of money that was granted to each local authority in County Clare in response to the exceptional road related costs associated with repairing the damage sustained in late 2009, early 2010; the amount of this money that remains to be drawn down by each local authority in County Clare as at the end of November 2010 in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44950/10]

[577]Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each local authority, in accordance with the provisions of Section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities own resources and are supplemented by State road grants paid by my Department. Local authorities provided details of exceptional road related costs, which fell outside the normal financial provision for winter maintenance as a direct result of the damage sustained in late 2009/early 2010. I took account of this information received when deciding on the allocations to local authorities of €411million for 2010.

I decided to defer the planned rehabilitation works on regional and local roads in 2010, in order to provide greater flexibility to local authorities to address the damage sustained and I requested that they carefully target resources to address, on a priority basis, the most urgently required repairs. It is not, therefore, possible to isolate specific amounts of money from the funds allocated to each local authority in County Clare in the manner sought by the Deputy, but I understand that all of the funding allocated to these local authorities for regional and local roads in 2010 will be drawn down by year-end.

The table shows for information the amount allocated to each local authority in County Clare, the amount paid to date and the balance remaining to be paid at end November 2010.

Local Authority Allocation Payment to end November 2010 Allocation Remaining
Clare County Council 15,586,498 11,008,203 4,578,295
Ennis Town Council 410,000 127,716 282,284
Kilrush Town Council 139,000 111,250 27,750

  200.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Transport in view of    the commitment in the recently published four year plan to develop Ireland as an international construction services centre, if he will introduce legislation immediately to facilitate the National Roads Authority to compete and tender for international road building projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45224/10]

Minister for Transport (Deputy Noel Dempsey):  There is no proposal at present to amend the legislation governing the NRA to enable the Authority to tender for the construction of international road building projects. The primary role of the National Roads Authority (NRA) is to oversee the planning, construction and maintenance of the national road infrastructure in conjunction with the local authorities. Any constructive proposal that may emerge in relation to amending the functions of the NRA can be considered in the context of the planned legislation to provide for the amalgamation of the NRA and the Railway Procurement Agency.

  201.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the reason for the delays of upwards of four years in the processing of applications for asylum in the cases of a small number of members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community from Pakistan and other countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh; if his attention has been drawn to the persecution of Ahmadi Muslims in these countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44771/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner that the average processing time for the type of [578]applications referred to in the question, is 9 -10 weeks from the date of application. The Refugee Appeals Tribunal has informed my Department that such applications are processed in the normal way and that the Tribunal is not aware of any delays arising in relation to the processing of such cases. The Deputy might wish to note that Officials from my Department and from the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner have previously met with community representatives of the group referred to who are already residing in Ireland.

  202.  Deputy Deirdre Clune    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    when an application for Garda vetting will be processed in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44797/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that a vetting application was received by the Garda Central Vetting Unit in respect of the person to whom the Deputy refers. A response to the application was returned to the registered organisation involved on 8 October 2010.

  203.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    when a decision will issue on an application for naturalisation in respect of a person (details supplied). [44928/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  A valid application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in June 2009. The application is currently being processed in the normal way with a view to establishing whether the applicant meets the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation and will be submitted to me for decision in due course.

I shouldremind the Deputy that queries in relation to the status of individual Immigration cases may be made direct to INIS by Email using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. The service enables up-to-date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek this information through the more administratively expensive Parliamentary Questions process.

  204.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44942/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I wish to inform the Deputy that detailed information on energy use by my Department is not maintained in a manner that can be extracted without a disproportionate and unwarranted use of resources. It also is not possible to accurately quantify energy costs for all buildings occupied by my Department and its agencies as energy costs cannot always be differentiated from other maintenance costs for these buildings.

I can inform the Deputy that my Department adopts a range of practical common sense measures to reduce energy use and encourages staff to avail of all opportunities to reduce wastage within its offices. Staff are encouraged to switch off all electrical office equipment at [579]close of business. Thermostatic valves have also been installed on radiators where possible and the Department follows engineering advice in respect of heating and electrical installation generally, as well as technical advice from the Office of Public Works in this field.

I can also inform the Deputy that my Department is participating in the Office of Public Works (OPW) programme entitled ‘Optimising Power @ Work, Staff Energy Awareness Campaign’, where this project aims to conserve energy, particularly in the larger State Buildings. Phase 2 of this programme has recently been launched and has as its objective a 20% average saving in Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions in all of the targeted State Buildings. Additionally my Department has over the past year and more availed of the support of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to encourage energy saving measures throughout the wider Justice system.

  205.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if he will respond to correspondence (details supplied) regarding student visas. [44958/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can confirm to the Deputy that my Department will respond directly to the correspondent regarding the matters raised. A copy of the response will be provided to the Deputy.

  206.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the position regarding the Legal Costs Bill; when he expects to be in a position to publish the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45091/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  My proposals for a Legal Costs Bill are being developed with a view to publication of a Bill as soon as possible in 2011.

  207.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    the measures he is taking to shorten the period of time it takes for decisions to be made in the asylum seeking process; his plans to speed up the process in particular for persons who have spent years in direct provision hostels and whose health and well-being is negatively affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45094/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC) and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT) which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

At 31 October 2010, there were 530 persons awaiting a first instance asylum decision in the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner (ORAC), while 1,055 persons were awaiting an asylum appeal decision in the Refugee Appeals Tribunal (RAT). For the avoidance of any misunderstanding, I should say that the majority of these cases are relatively recent applications i.e. in the system less than 12 months. Every effort is made to ensure applications in the asylum process are processed as promptly and as efficiently as possible within the resources available. Delays in the processing of applications can arise for many reasons such as postponements, adjournments, availability of interpreters, judicial reviews, medical reasons etc. I might add that the ORAC and the RAT keep their processing arrangements under ongoing review.

  208.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    if all sections of the Children Act 2001 have now been commenced. [45118/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  I can inform the Deputy that all provisions of the Children Act 2001, including amendments made on foot of the Criminal Justice Act 2006, the Criminal Justice Act 2007 and the Child Care (Amendment Act) 2007, were fully commenced on or before the 10th September, 2007.

  209.  Deputy Jan O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice and Law Reform    his plans to expand the recently announced mobile road safety camera project to include issues such as use of mobile telephones and non-wearing of seat belts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45128/10]

Minister for Justice and Law Reform (Deputy Dermot Ahern):  The objective of the outsourced Garda mobile safety cameras is to reduce the number of speed related collisions and so save lives, as excessive or inappropriate speeding is a major factor in road traffic collisions. A contract for this purpose was accordingly concluded with the service provider. There are currently no plans to extend the use of the cameras to detect non-wearing of seat belts or the use of mobile phones while driving.

All members of An Garda Síochána are tasked with the enforcement of road traffic legislation as part of road traffic law enforcement activity or general policing. Members of An Garda Síochána carry out planned and unplanned checkpoints to detect breaches across the whole range of road traffic and transport legislation, including the non-wearing of seatbelts and the use of mobile phones while driving.

  210.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will establish the veracity of some press reports that a Christian woman has been sentenced to death by hanging in Pakistan; if he can ascertain the reason for this appalling action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44689/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  I am gravely concerned about the case of Mrs. Aasia Bibi. On 9 November, Mrs. Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in a Punjab court for blasphemy. I understand that this is the first time a woman has been sentenced to death in Pakistan under its blasphemy law. When reports of the case came to the attention of my Department, a senior official contacted the Embassy of Pakistan to express our grave concern at the conviction and sentence. He also expressed our disquiet at the nature of Pakistan’s blasphemy law.

The Embassy of Pakistan was aware of Mrs. Bibi’s case but pointed out that no one had been executed under the blasphemy legislation to date and that such sentences are overturned in the higher courts. As the Deputy may be aware, the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, issued a statement on Mrs. Bibi’s case, which I fully endorse. In that statement, she expressed the hope that Mrs. Bibi’s sentence would be struck down as soon as possible. She also re-affirmed the European Union’s position on the death penalty as a cruel and inhuman punishment.

I would add that Ireland has been at the forefront of efforts to promote the total and universal abolition of the death penalty. In addition, we are particularly concerned about the use of [581]capital punishment in cases which do not involve the most serious of crimes such as in Mrs Bibi’s case. It has been almost ten years since the Irish people voted in a referendum to abolish fully and formally the use of the death penalty. In so doing, Ireland stands out as one of the few countries in the world where the electorate has voted to insert an article into our Constitution explicitly forbidding use of the death penalty.

Respect for human rights is a cornerstone of foreign policy for both Ireland and the European Union as whole. Human rights and minority issues are regularly discussed with Pakistan, including this year at our bilateral political consultations in February and at the EU-Pakistan Summit in June. For its part, the Pakistani Government has given clear commitments to protect religious minorities and to promote religious tolerance. The establishment of a Ministry for Human Rights, a Ministry for Minorities and the proposed establishment of an independent national Human Rights Commission are welcome initiatives in this regard.

I would take this opportunity to urge the Pakistani Government to resolve Mrs. Bibi’s case as soon as possible and to initiate a thorough review of its blasphemy law, in particular, the use of the death penalty. I will continue to follow Mrs. Bibi’s case closely and officials will remain in contact with the Embassy of Pakistan in relation to this matter.

  211.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44940/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  The cost of energy usage by my Department in the State in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010 was as follows:

Year
2008 594,850
2009 676,023
2010 600,656

In addition to building-related energy usage, these costs also include Topaz charge card payments in respect of the purchase of fuel for official delivery vehicles, in accordance with a multi-departmental arrangement put in place by the Office of Public Works. My Department is currently participating in the National Procurement Service tender for the procurement of energy supplies on a centralised basis to Government Departments, which will come into force on 1 January 2011.

  212.  Deputy Seán Barrett    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    when the next of kin of a person (details supplied) will be provided with post mortem results and with a copy of the police report referring to the incident; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44947/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  On the 6th of June my Department became aware of the death of the person mentioned by him in Morocco and consular assistance was provided to his family through our Embassy in Lisbon, our Honorary Consul in Casablanca and the Consular Assistance Section. At the time of his death our Embassy and the Honorary Consul made every effort to facilitate the work of the respective undertakers, whom the family had appointed to handle the process, and to expedite the repatriation of the remains to Ireland.

[582]Subsequently, at the request of the family, my Department sought the international death certificate, the results of any post mortem and the police investigation from the Moroccan authorities. Following our intervention, the international death certificate was released to the Consulate by the Moroccan Foreign Ministry on 29 September and forwarded to the next of kin. Our Embassy and Consulate continues to press the Moroccan authorities to release the results of the post mortem and police report and I can assure the Deputy that as soon as we receive them we will contact the family directly.

  213.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he will confirm that retailers are not only free to label goods from the West Bank accurately but that, under an EU Directive, they are obliged to label goods from the West Bank accurately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45102/10]

  214.  Deputy Michael D. Higgins    asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs    if he recognises that there are goods on the Irish market from companies (details supplied) that are misleadingly labelled particularly in light of Case C386/08 of the European Court of Justice which clearly stated that produce from illegal Israeli settlements can neither be considered Israeli or Palestinian. [45103/10]

Minister for Foreign Affairs (Deputy Micheál Martin):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 and 214 together.

Goods from settlements in the West Bank are not entitled to avail of the reduced tariff which applies to Israeli goods entering the EU. I have stated in response to previous questions on this topic that I believe it would be helpful to consumers to be able to distinguish between goods from Israel, goods produced by the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank, and goods produced in the illegal settlements. It is my understanding that there is nothing to prevent retailers in Ireland from identifying goods in this way if they so choose.

The questions of place of origin labelling, misleading labelling, and implementation of relevant EU Directives or case law, are not the responsibility of my Department, but fall under the responsibility of a number of home Departments, including the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Health and Children, and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. I would also refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No 299 on this topic on 9 November 2010.

  215.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when he will announce his decision on an application for Pobal funding (details supplied) in order to allow the organisation to plan for its important 2011 programmes; to acknowledge the central role that will be played in progressing the organisation’s programme by the service that would be funded by this Pobal application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44796/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The contracts with all 445 service providers funded by the Community Services Programme will expire at the end of December 2010. Subject to satisfactory performance, provision of resources and continued eligibility of activities, revised contracts for up to three years from the 1st January 2011 are being offered to the service providers as the Department completes the contract renewal process. This organ[583]isation is included in that process. I hope to be in a position to inform the organisation of the outcome of this process in the coming weeks.

  216.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if he will support a matter (details supplied). [45010/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The Health Service Executive (HSE) has advised that the person concerned has been awarded rent supplement of €893.00 per month which is the maximum amount payable based on her household circumstances.

  217.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not been approved jobseeker’s allowance in view of the fact that the total income to the house is €240 a week for a couple. [44716/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  A Deciding Officer disallowed the jobseeker’s allowance claim of the person concerned on the grounds that her total weekly means of €544, derived from the benefit of spouse’s income, capital and property, exceed the maximum amount payable to a person in her circumstances. A letter informing her of this decision was issued on 1 November 2010.

  218.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is entitled to a grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44717/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The medical appliance benefit scheme currently offers assistance towards the cost of purchasing hearing aids. The Department will pay up to half the cost of a hearing aid or repairs to a hearing aid, subject to a fixed maximum contribution of €760 per aid. To qualify for this benefit a person must satisfy certain PRSI conditions. A person aged 66 or over must have a total of 260 paid PRSI contributions since first starting work and either 39 paid or credited PRSI contributions in either of the two relevant tax years on which the claim is based or 26 paid PRSI contributions in both the relevant tax year and the tax year immediately before the relevant tax year.

A person can also qualify for benefit on his/her spouse’s or partner’s PRSI record provided they satisfy the qualifying contribution conditions and is deemed to be dependent on the spouse partner. The person in question does not satisfy the PRSI requirements to qualify for benefit in her own right nor does she qualify as a dependant on her spouse’s record. As a result she is not entitled to a hearing aid grant from this Department.

  219.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will issue on an appeal against the decision to refuse their application for carer’s benefit in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44720/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an Appeals Officer, having fully considered all the evidence, disallowed the appeal of the person concerned by way of summary decision on 18 November 2010. The person concerned has been notified of the decision. The Social Welfare Appeals Office func[584]tions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

  220.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reason jobseeker’s allowance was refused in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; if he will provide the full details of this application and confirm if an appeal can be opened on this person’s behalf. [44728/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  This person’s claim for jobseeker’s allowance was disallowed on the grounds that her weekly means of €302 from 18 September 2010, derived from her insurable employment and the benefit of parent’s income, exceed the maximum amount payable to a person in her circumstances.

  221.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the funding made available to the recently announced advocacy service for persons with a disability; the number of persons who will benefit from the advocacy service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44729/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The National Advocacy Service for people with disabilities will be set up under the Citizens Information Board (CIB). The new Service will provide independent, representative advocacy services for people with disabilities and will be in place from January 2011. The service will be regionally structured; with five regional teams replacing the existing pilot projects which have provided assistance to more than 5,000 people with disabilities. The five regional teams will be managed by Citizens Information Services in Dublin, Westmeath, Offaly, Waterford and Leitrim.

Advocacy Support Workers will also be recruited to support the provision of an enhanced mainstream service so that more people with disabilities can access and use the general Citizens Information Service while the National Advocacy Service will seek out and respond to more vulnerable people with disabilities. The new service will be undertaken within current resources, providing a more integrated service and achieving better value for money. Funding to the National Advocacy Service in 2011 will be in the order of some €3.2 million and will be included in the overall CIB allocation.

I am satisfied that the National Advocacy Service will give a voice to people with disabilities who are isolated in the community or who are living in residential institutions and who cannot represent themselves. In addition, it will protect their rights, help them gain their entitlements, obtain a fair hearing and make positive changes in their quality of life.

  222.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be awarded fuel allowance. [44748/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  Entitlement to the fuel allowance is based on a household income test. If, in addition to their pension from the Department, the applicant or members of their household have a combined income of more than €100.00 per week, or savings/investments of more than €58,000, a fuel allowance is not payable. According to the information available to the Department, the person concerned is in receipt of income [585]from employment in excess of €100.00 per week. Consequently, he is not entitled to a fuel allowance. His claim for fuel allowance was disallowed on 16th November 2010.

  223.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the position regarding an application for domiciliary care allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44754/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received on the 13th August 2010 from the person concerned. This application was referred to one of the Department’s deciding officers who found that the person concerned did not satisfy the requirement to be considered habitually resident in the State.

A letter issued on the 5th November advising of the decision to refuse DCA. The person concerned submitted further information to the Social Welfare Appeals Office and an appeal was registered on the 22nd November 2010. As part of the appeal process, the new information will be reviewed by a deciding officer in advance of the appeal being heard. If, on review, the customer is considered to be habitually resident, the claim will be put into payment immediately; if not, the file will be submitted to the Appeals Office for its decision.

  224.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if the assessment of rental income for the purpose of family income supplement is based on the gross rental income or on the net income after tax, income levy and PRSI have been deducted, and if he will identify the specific Act or statutory instrument establishing same. [44800/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The legislative provisions for the assessment of rental income for family income supplement, FIS, are contained in the Social Welfare (Consolidated Payments Provisions) Regulations, 2007 Section 172 to 177 as amended by Article 5 of S.I. No. 148/07. Article 5 of S.I. No. 148/07 provides for the assessment of rental income for family income supplement purposes by specifically excluding it from income that can be disregarded when determining weekly family income for FIS purposes. This Article does not provide for any deductions from gross rental income when assessing this income. Accordingly gross rental income is assessable in full for determining weekly family income for FIS purposes.

  225.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will issue on a carer’s allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon. [44896/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 31 August 2010. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received back in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 29 September 2010 and the appeal will be referred in due course to an Appeals Officer who will decide whether the case can be decided on a summary basis or whether to list it for oral hearing.

  226.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will issue on applications for domiciliary care allowance and carer’s benefit in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry. [44908/10]

[586]Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received on 19th November 2010. This application together with medical reports has been forwarded to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors for a medical opinion on the case. Upon receipt of this opinion a decision will issue to the customer. Currently it takes DCA section eight weeks to process an application. An application from the person in question was received in carer’s benefit section on the 22nd November. The application has been approved and carer’s benefit has been awarded from the 18th November 2010.

  227.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will issue on an application for disability allowance in respect of a person (details supplied). [44924/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 13 October 2010. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. These papers were received back in the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 24 November 2010 and the appeal will be referred in due course to an Appeals Officer who will decide whether the case can be decided on a summary basis or whether to list it for oral hearing. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

  228.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44943/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The cost of energy use by my Department in 2008, 2009 and 2010 to date is as follows:

2008 2009 2010 to date
Electricity 2,666,440 2,636,900 2,327,770
Oil 260,576 162,778 213,673
Gas 384,430 348,695 298,104
Total 3,311,446 3,148,373 2,839,547

The information requested by the Deputy concerning the estimated quantity of energy use involved above is being compiled and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

  229.  Deputy Ruairí Quinn    asked the Minister for Social Protection    his plans to assume responsibility for community welfare officers who are currently treated as employees of the Health Service Executive; if he will identify the relevant legislation governing this change; the policy reasons justifying this change; his plans to assume ownership of the buildings and centres belonging to the HSE from which community welfare officers currently operate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45026/10]

[587]Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The Government decided in February 2006 to transfer the Community Welfare Service of the HSE, which currently administers the Supplementary Welfare Allowance on behalf of the Department. This initiative had been mooted several times in the past including the Report of the Commission on Social Welfare in 1986, The Report on the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities 1996 and The Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service 2003.

Since 2006, the HSE has been in negotiations with unions representing the Community Welfare Officers (CWOs) on the detailed implications of the transfer including terms and conditions of employment. Recently, during talks under the auspices of the Labour Relations Commission, the Unions agreed to put a management offer to their members. This offer provides for the transfer of the full cohort of staff of the Community Welfare Service to the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January 2011 on a secondment basis initially, for a period of 9 months until September 2011. During this period of secondment staff will remain employees of the HSE and as such, will retain their existing terms and conditions, and will be represented by SIPTU and IMPACT. The Unions and management side are committed to working together to resolve the outstanding industrial relations issues and ensure these dates are met, using the existing process under the auspices of the LRC.

Legislation to enable the Department to administer the Supplementary Welfare Allowance scheme directly was introduced in the Social Welfare and Pensions Acts 2007 and 2008. This legislation is subject to a Commencement Order. Legislation will be required also to provide for the transfer of Community Welfare Service staff, as civil servants, to the Department and, where relevant, of buildings to the Commissioners of Public Works. The necessary legislation to give effect to this is being expedited.

The policy reason for the transfer is to enhance the quality of services provided to the public. The Department of Social Protection is committed to developing and implementing a case management approach with a focus on the individual, and the development of a tailored plan for each person. Such an approach produces better outcomes than the traditional transaction focused delivery of scheme services.

The Department of Social Protection vision is one in which skilled and knowledgeable case managers will work with individuals in need, to ensure that they not only receive the appropriate income supports but are also helped to find a way in which they can participate to the fullest extent possible in the community, economy and workforce. The transfer of the Community Welfare Service to the Department of Social Protection will strengthen the Department’s capacity in that regard and facilitate the achievement of that vision.

  230.  Deputy James Bannon    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reason for the delay in the appeal hearing on full-time carer’s allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford and also in relation to a respite grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45082/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that, the appeal from the person concerned has been referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral hearing on 29 November 2010. The person concerned has been notified of the arrangements. The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

  231.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when jobseeker’s allowance will be granted to a person (details supplied). [45216/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  The person concerned applied for jobseeker’s allowance on 12 November 2010. The application is currently with a social welfare inspector for investigation and he will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible.

  232.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the progress he has made on the work to welfare scheme; when he expects the scheme to be in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45314/10]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív):  Activation and support for those who are unemployed is a key priority for Government. Earlier this year, the Taoiseach announced a number of changes to improve the delivery of employment, training and community services to the public by bringing together related responsibilities in these areas. These changes included the restructuring of Departmental responsibilities with the objective of providing a stream-lined response to the income support and job search needs of people who are unemployed.

In this context, my Department is devising proposals for the development of new initiatives which will offer social employment opportunities. This new initiative will be an important element in the development and delivery of employment and community services and will aim to provide quality work opportunities to the unemployed and beneficial outcomes to the community. A key feature of the new scheme will be to provide a new activation route that will support unemployed people in remaining job-ready for re-entry to employment as the economic environment improves. Referrals under these new initiatives will operate in tandem with the improved processes being developed under the national employment action plan.

Considerable work is required on these proposals before they come on stream and take their place within the suite of activation measures aimed at supporting unemployed people. Details of the roll out of this initiative will be made available as soon as possible.

  233.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport    the estimated energy use of her Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44945/10]

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Mary Hanafin):  The total expenditure in respect of energy use within my Department since 2008 is broken down by each of the current three Departmental sites and is as follows:

1. Departmental HQ, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Year Electricity Heating Gas Total
2008 0 0 0 0
2009 49,864 12,954 0 62,818
2010 (Q1-Q3) 27,606 8,192 0 35,798

[589]2. Departmental HQ, Kildare St. Dublin 2

Year Electricity Heating Gas Total
2008 57,788 0 24,092 81,880
2009 41,376 4,126 23,377 68,879
2010 (Q1-Q3) 75,318 0 15,575 90,893

3. National Archives of Ireland, Bishop St, Dublin 2

Year Electricity Heating Gas Total
2008 106,737 0 45,836 152,573
2009 93,250 0 42,981 136,231
2010 (to date) 63,739 0 33,398 97,137

It should be noted that the energy expenditure in respect of the Kildare St. office is that proportion assigned to my Department by agreement with the building management in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation. The electricity expenditure for 2010 includes a large component cost (€46,612) in respect of electricity usage in 2006 and 2007, which has been reconciled in the current year. In 2008, the Department also incurred electricity costs amounting to €11,974 in respect of its occupation of Department of Foreign Affairs office space in Frederick Buildings, Dublin 2.

The new Departmental HQ offices in Killarney were occupied in early December 2008. Such costs as were incurred at the end of 2008 are included in the 2009 data. Since then, the office has been proactive in achieving the lowest possible costs in respect of electricity and has recently procured a new service provision in that regard. My Department has also utilised new technology to help reduce energy consumption particularly in the area of IT and is taking further steps in this regard.

Regarding the National Archives, I am pleased to mention that at the “Optimising Power @ Work” awards ceremony hosted by the Office of Public Works recently, the National Archives Energy Team was one of six teams that were selected as winners of the ‘Best Energy Team’ awards. Since beginning its particular energy efficiency project in 2008, the Archives have achieved a 27.8% saving in CO2 Emissions. In monetary terms, this represents a saving of just under €42,000 between January 2009 and May 2010 with further savings anticipated in 2011.

  234.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will initiate discussions with the Office of Public Works and Dublin City Council to ensure that Mountjoy Square Park, in light of its importance to the cultural heritage of Dublin city, is taken in charge by the Office of Public Works to ensure its sensitive renovation and remediation, particularly as the square has a central part in the history of Dublin and deserves to be a resource for all the persons of Dublin and Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44732/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Mountjoy Square Park is a fine example of an 18th century Georgian urban park and is of [590]significant architectural importance not least because it is the focal point of the only surviving Dublin square that is actually square being an equal length on each of its four sides. The square lies at the northern end of the eighteenth-century core of the city and was one of the great set-pieces in the development of north Dublin by the Gardiner Estate.

The park is an integral part of the square and I understand that it is included in an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA) currently in preparation by Dublin City Council . Survey work has been completed and historical research and mapping are being undertaken at present. Consultations between the Council and stakeholders are due to commence shortly, and will be followed by a statutory public consultation process before the ACA can be adopted by the Council. The park is owned by Dublin City Council, and is maintained by locally based staff of the Councils’ Parks Department. As currently laid out, it serves as an excellent amenity resource, in particular for local residents and those working in the vicinity. Accordingly, the issue of Mountjoy Square Park being taken in charge by the Office of Public Works does not arise.

  235.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the number of employees in Dublin City Council in receipt of salaries exceeding €100,000 and the amount that would be saved by reducing all of these employees to salaries of €100,000. [44770/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  There are currently thirty seven employees in Dublin City Council in receipt of salaries in excess of €100,000. Information regarding potential cost savings which could arise if these salaries were reduced is not available in my Department.

  236.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if there is a gratuity scheme in place for councillors who lost their seats in the 2004-09 local elections. [44894/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  Under Regulations made by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, a gratuity is, subject to certain conditions, payable by a local authority to a councillor in the event of retirement (whether voluntarily or due to not being successful in an election), death or ill-health. The amount of gratuity payable is four-twentieths the amount of a councillor’s Representational Payment for each year of service, subject to a maximum of four times the amount of Representational Payment (i.e. twenty year’s service). The minimum service required to quality for a gratuity is two years. It is payable when a councillor retires at or after the age of fifty, or where a serving councillor dies.

  237.  Deputy Willie O’Dea    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he has received an application from Limerick County Council for funding to revamp and restore housing stock in a location (details supplied) and when a decision will issue in relation to its application. [44929/10]

[591]Minister of State at the Department of the Environment; Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  Cosgrave Park, Moyross, is one of the estates included under the Limerick Regeneration Programme. Limerick City Council, in partnership with the Limerick Regeneration Agencies, is currently preparing a comprehensive plan for upgrading this estate. This will include a wide ranging upgrade of existing local authority stock, improvements to the public spaces and some strategic demolitions and new build. My Department continues to liaise closely with the City Council and the Agencies regarding the technical aspects of the proposal and I understand that a formal submission is expected shortly for approval.

In the interim, the City Council has been actively upgrading and refurbishing vacant stock in the estate. The City Council, with the support of the Agencies, is also beginning a targeted programme of improvement works to houses, which will include the installation of central heating in a number of units this year and the completion of remaining energy efficiency improvement works early next year.

  238.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44938/10]

Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy John Gormley):  A number of my Department’s main offices are participating in the Optimising Power @ Work campaign. This campaign, run by the Office of Public Works (OPW), aims to reduce the level of carbon emissions in approximately 250 large buildings owner or leased by the OPW for use by Government Departments. In addition to a staff energy awareness campaign, it also monitors the energy usage in these buildings.

Energy consumption figures (expressed in kilowatt hours) in the table below relate to my Department’s proportion of office accommodation in the Custom House and Ely Place, Dublin, and Ballina, Co. Mayo which are part of the OPW campaign. The energy consumption figures for the Custom House represent 96.29% of the energy usage in the building and 53.68% of the Ballina office to reflect my Department’s occupation of the respective buildings which are shared with other Government Departments.

2008 2009 2010 (to 26 November)
Custom House 2,396,759 2,483,177 1,983,055
Ely Place 617,681 533,915 450,967
Ballina 369,271 363,627 322,426

An energy management system is being commissioned in my Department’s new decentralised offices in Wexford to measure the heat output from the woodchip and gas boilers and to monitor electricity consumption, and pending this, the information sought on energy use in this office is not readily available. In addition, solar heating systems, integrated into the design of the Wexford offices and installed in the Custom House earlier in 2010, help reduce the overall energy costs and associated carbon emissions in both buildings. The table below sets out the heating and electricity costs for all premises in my Department’s occupancy.

2008 2009 2010 to date (to 26 November)
Heat & Electricity Costs €877,928 €935,368 €903,097

The extraction of the information sought regarding energy use and cost in respect of transport fuel would require a disproportionate effort.

  239.  Deputy Edward O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will clarify a specific issue (details supplied) in relation to local authority works. [44967/10]

  240.  Deputy Edward O’Keeffe    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if he will clarify a specific issue (details supplied) in relation to local authority works. [44968/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Ciarán Cuffe):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 239 and 240 together.

Article 80(1)(k) of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 states that any development other than those specified in paragraphs (a) to (j), the estimated cost of which exceeds €126,000 and which development does not consist of the laying underground of sewers, mains, pipes or other apparatus, is deemed to be prescribed as proposed development for the purposes of section 179 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) which relates to local authority own development. Therefore, any development other than those specified in paragraphs (a) to (j), whose estimated cost is less than €126,000 is deemed not to fall within the requirements of section 179 and planning authorities do not have to undertake a Part 8 process.

In relation to road works, article 80(1)(b) of the 2001 Regulations states that the construction of a new road or the widening or realignment of an existing road, where the length of the new road or of the widened or realigned portion of the road, as the case may be, would be 100 metres or more in the case of a road in an urban area or 1 kilometre or more in the cases of a road in any other area, is deemed to be prescribed as proposed development for the purposes of section 179 of the Planning and Development Act. Therefore, road works that fall below the above thresholds are deemed not to fall within the requirements of section 179 and planning authorities are not required to undertake a Part 8 process in such circumstances.

Notwithstanding the above, guidance for planning authorities on Appropriate Assessment of Plans and Projects in Ireland, published by my Department in December 2009, clearly states that planning authorities must consider the possible nature conservation implications of any plan or project, including developments that may fall outside the parameters of Part 8 development, on the Natura 2000 site network before any decision can be made to allow that plan or project to proceed, having due regard to the requirements of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives and their transposing regulations.

  241.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if it is a requirement for local authorities to include Part 8 and Part 10 on a planning register, to be retained for inspection by the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45015/10]

[593]Minister of State at the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Ciarán Cuffe):  Under section 7(2)(tt) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 as amended by section 7 of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006, a local authority is required to enter in the register particulars of any development referred to in section 179(4)(b) which relates to the decision whether to carry out development under Part 8, either as recommended in the manager’s report or as subject to such modification or variation as may be decided by resolution of the local authority.

Furthermore, in respect of the requirement for an environmental impact assessment under Part 10 of the Planning Act, section 7(2)(b) states that a local authority is also required to enter in the register the fact that an environmental impact statement has been submitted in respect of an application for permission for development.

  242.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government    if his target of eliminating long-term homelessness by 2010 has been reached; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45316/10]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment; Heritage and Local Government (Deputy Michael Finneran):  My Department’s role in relation to homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level. Action to address homelessness is a matter for the housing authorities and the HSE, which, respectively, have statutory responsibility for providing accommodation and health care services for homeless persons.

I have put in place a comprehensive range of measures to underpin the role of housing authorities and approved housing bodies towards achieving the ambitious objective of eliminating long term homelessness and the need to sleep rough, including an enhanced programme for procurement of accommodation. A new tenancy support system to help such persons live independently has also been put in place. I recently approved €60 million for the purchase of accommodation to meet the needs of persons with specific categories of housing need, including persons moving out of temporary homeless accommodation. Over 100 of these units will provide long-term accommodation for such persons, and approved housing bodies have been asked to develop proposals for the further delivery of leased units in addition to accommodation approved under this initiative .

Delivery on these initiatives and the achievement of the target of eliminating long-term homelessness will be determined primarily by action on the part of housing authorities and approved housing bodies and the response of market interests, including property owners and financial institutions. My Department is continuing to engage closely with the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency and with the housing authorities, in particular the Dublin local authorities where the homelessness issue is most pronounced, to ensure that delivery of accommodation is maximised and the drive to eliminate long-term homelessness is advanced as rapidly as possible.

  243.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the action he will take to ensure that EirGrid is held to account for the mistakes made in the planning process for the Meath-Tyrone powerline project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45067/10]

[594]Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  EirGrid applied for planning consent for the Meath Tyrone 400kV Interconnection Development Project in December 2009, under the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act. An Bord Pleanála convened an oral hearing on the matter on the 10th of May 2010. On Wednesday 23rd June, it was drawn to EirGrid’s and the inspector’s attention that there was an error in the newspaper public notice and site notice relating to pylon height ranges for a section of the project. It is the case that full details of the correct heights of pylon heights in question were fully and accurately described in the Environmental Impact Statement and in the accompanying planning drawings, which were submitted to An Bord Pleanála.

EirGrid has undertaken a review of the circumstances which led to the error in the public notice. I have been furnished by EirGrid with a copy of this review, which also is publicly available on EirGrid’s website. I have already made clear my strong disappointment that as a result of an error EirGrid had to withdraw its planning consent application for this important strategic development.

Following the review, I have asked the Board and Management of EirGrid to ensure that all appropriate control procedures are reviewed and enhanced to safeguard against errors in any part of the planning consent application, both for this project and any future projects. I accept EirGrid’s assurances that it is reviewing its own internal processes and its arrangements with consultants to ensure against such errors.

The Meath-Tyrone 400 kV interconnection project is of significant strategic importance both North and South, particularly from the perspective of security of supply, competitiveness, economic growth and renewable electricity integration. I have therefore also stressed to EirGrid the importance of submitting a new planning application for this key piece of infrastructure as soon as possible, bearing in mind the very considerable complexity of the application work. EirGrid advises that most of the work and associated cost from the original planning consent application remains valid and applicable to the new planning consent application, which is assisting in expediting the process. EirGrid is working to complete the new planning application at the earliest possible date.

  244.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years. [44933/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  My Department has been working with OPW since 2008 on an energy efficiency programme in my Departments two main buildings at Adelaide Road and Tom Johnson House on Haddington Road. Among other things this has involved the installation of a new Building Management System which offers greater control over consumption of energy. As part of the project, energy awareness presentations were rolled out to staff, an Energy Team /Working Group was established from among staff to promote the energy awareness and conservation imperative. My Department is very conscious of the use of energy and encourages the efficient use of electricity and power through its staff Energy Team and Energy Officer.

Heating is provided by natural gas in two buildings — 29/31 Adelaide Road and Tom Johnston House, Beggars Bush. In the two other buildings, Elm House in Cavan, which is a building that my Department shares with a number of other tenants and the Core Store at Sandyford, both heat and light are provided by electricity. Details of energy usage in kilowatts for all buildings are set out in the following table:

Building Year Usage
Adelaide Road 2008 1,482,714
2009 1,402,493
2010 (To end October) 1,057,739
Tom Johnston House, Beggars Bush 2008 1,724,497
2009 1,703,133
2010 (To end October) 1,303,547
Elm House, Cavan 2008 111,836
2009 126,601
2010 (To end October) 98,366
Carman Hall Road, Sandyford 2008 7,789
2009 10,099
2010 (To end October) 4,524

The details of total cost is set out in the table below:

Year Gas Electricity
2008 115,190.73 306,279.05
2009 63,051.75 259,665.77
2010 (To end October) 47,155.93 192,106.91

  245.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will respond to matters in correspondence relating to plans for a national postcode system (details supplied). [45016/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Ireland is the only country in the EU and OECD which does not have a national postcode system. The Department has not received the correspondence mentioned in the Parliamentary Question. The correspondence will be considered by the Department and its consultants in the context of the consultation process on postcodes. The procurement process to be undertaken will take account of this and other views received from interested parties.

  246.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to launch a rural broadband scheme as part of the European economic recovery package and if so when such a launch will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45029/10]

  250.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the extent to which he expects broadband to become 100% available in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45329/10]

[596]

  252.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the extent to which high speed broadband cover is now satisfactorily and reliably available throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45331/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 246, 250 and 252 together.

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is a matter for private sector service providers operating in a liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). Broadband services are provided by private service providers over various platforms including DSL (i.e. over telephone lines), fixed wireless, mobile, cable, fibre and satellite. ComReg’s website www.callcosts.ie provides detailed information on the various private sector telecommunications products and services available on a county by county basis.

In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) represents such an intervention. The provision of broadband services under the NBS has advanced incrementally and services are now available throughout the entire NBS area with a current minimum download speed of 1.6Mbps. Under the NBS contract, this minimum download speed will be increased to 2.3Mbps in 2012.

Since the completion of the roll out of the NBS network last month, every part of Ireland now has a broadband service available from at least one service provider. Additionally, satellite broadband services are available throughout Ireland. However, despite Government and private investment in broadband, I am aware that there continues to be isolated cases of premises throughout the country that are not be capable of receiving the broadband services available. This is primarily due to technical and other reasons (e.g., suitability of a telephone line, distance from an enabled exchange, or no ‘line of sight’ from the premises to the wireless base station).

The European Commission has set aside a portion of the European Economic Recovery Programme (EERP) funding for rural broadband initiatives. Using this funding, which will be augmented by an Exchequer contribution, I intend, subject to Government approval, to launch a Rural Broadband Scheme before the end of the year. This scheme will aim to provide a basic broadband service to individual un-served rural premises outside of the National Broadband Scheme (NBS) areas. There will be a competitive process to engage a service provider who will offer a broadband service to qualified applicants under the scheme. While the exact details have yet to be finalised, I expect that the service offered under this scheme would at least match the service offered under the NBS and that the scheme will be fully rolled out by the end of 2012.

  247.  Deputy Seán Sherlock    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the position regarding the renewable energy feed in tariff proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40638/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The application for State Aid Clearance in relation to REFIT for energy from biomass was submitted by my Department to the European Commission earlier this month. My Department estimates that it will take some months for the State Aid Clearance to be finalised and approved by the European Commission. I expect that I will be in a position to announce implementation of the tariffs early in the New Year.

[597]Question No. 248 answered with Question No. 15.

  249.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the progress to date on the provision of digital television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45328/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  The Broadcasting Act, 2009 requires RTÉ to develop digital terrestrial television (DTT) as a replacement for the analogue network. Earlier this year, I signed a statutory instrument (SI 85 of 2010), which requires RTÉ to have free to air DTT available to 90% of the population by the end of October 2010.

On the 29th October 2010, RTÉ launched its DTT service called Saorview on a trial basis to 90% of the population from 24 sites around the country. This service is available to the public and currently broadcasts RTÉ1, RTÉ2, TV3, TG4, 3e, the RTÉ News Now service as well as RTÉ radio channels. The launch of the RTÉ service on an initial trial basis is essential as it provides time for the DTT network to be completed, services to be fully developed and for additional content and receivers to be made available before analogue switch off in Q4 2012. It also means that TV viewers can choose to adopt the new service at the earliest opportunity.

RTÉ has developed a new website to provide information to the public about their DTT service, www.saorview.ie. This website includes Saorview coverage and reception information. It also provides details on receivers in the market which carry the Saorview logo. This means the receivers meet the Irish digital specification and are approved for use in Ireland. The DTT service will launch nationally in mid 2011. The Deputy may also be interested to note that I have launched a public consultation on the public value of new TV services being proposed by RTÉ. If approved, RTÉ proposes to offer these as part of the Saorview channel line up in 2011. Information on this consultation is available from my Department on www.dcenr.gov.ie/Broadcasting. The closing date for responses is 10th December 2010.

Question No. 250 answered with Question No. 246.

  251.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number of applications for connection to the grid in respect of wind energy generators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45330/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  There are approximately 110 wind farms connected to the electricity grid and this represents a generation capacity of about 1500MW. In addition to this there are approximately 120 wind farms that are currently contracted to connect to the system (i.e. they have received and signed a connection offer from the relevant system operator) and this equates to around 1400MW. There are 150 wind farms that have received or are due to receive a connection offer before June 2011 as part of the Gate 3 process, which contains 3900MW, approximately 90% of which is wind. This level of renewable generation is sufficient to meet our 2020 renewable generation target of 40%, which EirGrid and the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) estimate could require between 4632MW and 5800MW of renewable generation, depending on demand growth assumptions.

Beyond Gate 3 there is approx 11,850MW of renewable generation in the queue (mainly wind) and this represents over 300 applicants. The CER, which has the requisite statutory [598]responsibility, has not come to a decision in relation to applications outside the GATE 3 process.

Question No. 252 answered with Question No. 246.

  253.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the way he proposes to influence, by way of policy, the broadcasting industry, public and private in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45332/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Under the provisions of the Broadcasting Act, 2009 the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is charged with, inter alia, providing a regulatory environment that is stable and predictable and that will facilitate the development of a broadcasting sector in Ireland that is responsive to audience needs. The BAI is also charged with stimulating the provision of high quality, diverse and innovative programming by commercial, community and public service broadcasters and independent producers.

I am satisfied that the provisions of the Broadcasting Act provide the correct policy framework for the development of the Broadcasting sector. I will continue to work with the BAI and other stakeholders, private and public, to progress the objectives in the Broadcasting Act for the sector.

  254.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number, location and progress of the various alternative energy projects both at research, development and operational level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45333/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  There are 1776 megawatts (MW) of installed generating plant harnessing alternative energy technologies connected to the Irish national grid. The total number of wind farms connected is approximately 122 and this represents a generation capacity of about 1500 MW. Hydropower consists of 66 projects and contributes about 238 MW of installed capacity. There are 14 biomass projects, mainly landfill gas, which contribute 38 MW of installed capacity. This information, including a full list of connected and contracted generators and their locations, is available on the EirGrid website at www.eirgrid.com.

There are 150 wind farms that have received or are due to receive a connection offer before June 2011 as part of the Commission for Energy Regulation’s Gate 3 grid connection programme for renewable energy, equating to around 90% of the 3900MW in Gate 3. The CER designed Gate 3 specifically to meet Ireland’s national renewable target of 40% of electricity supplied from renewable sources by 2020. A full list of Gate 3 projects and locations is available in the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) Direction to System Operators (CER/08/260) available at www.cer.ie.

On January 29th EirGrid published the Gate 3 Firm Access Quantities. This document details the potential levels of firm network access available in the electricity grid for each Gate 3 project for each year up to 2023. This information is provided as part of the Gate 3 Connection Offer Process and is available on the EirGrid website. Beyond Gate 3 there is 11,850MW seeking a grid connection. The CER, which has the statutory responsibility in this area, has not [599]issued any direction in relation to the processing of these applications to date. Since 2002, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has administered a renewable energy Research, Development and Demonstration Programme. The programme is primarily focused on stimulating the deployment of renewable energy technologies that are close to market, and on assessing the development of technologies that have prospects for the future.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) are currently also running a microgeneration pilot programme involving various renewable energy technologies in locations around the country. The Ocean Energy Development Unit in SEAI is administering a Prototype Development Fund to industry in the ocean energy sphere. It is also involved with the Hydraulics and Maritime Research Centre on the National Wave Tank Facility in Cork, with the Marine Institute in the Galway Bay ocean energy test site and SmartBay project and are taking forward development of a grid connected full scale wave test site off County Mayo.

The development of the biomass sector has seen strong progress in recent months, building on the early foundations laid by the Greener Homes and Reheat schemes. Bord na Móna continue to co-fire large volumes of biomass — up to 100,000 tonnes in 2010, and there has recently been several announcements from industry related to planned large scale private sector biomass projects. In Transport, the Biofuels Obligation has been in place since July, and reached the 4% penetration rate for the first 3 months of operation. A significant proportion of these biofuels were produced in Ireland.

  255.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the total electricity production available to the national grid from the alternative energy sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45334/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  There are 1776 megawatts (MW) of installed generating plant harnessing alternative energy technologies connected to the Irish national grid. The total number of wind farms connected is approximately 122 and this represents a generation capacity of about 1500 MW. This is divided almost evenly between the DSO (Distribution System Operator — ESB Networks) and the TSO (Transmission System Operator — EirGrid). Hydropower contributes about 238 MW of installed capacity and there is 38 MW of biomass, mainly landfill gas.

In addition to the above, there are approximately 120 wind farms that are currently contracted to connect to the transmission system (i.e. they have received and signed a Connection Offer from the relevant system operator) and this equates to approximately 1400 MW. There are 150 wind farms that have received or are due to receive a connection offer before June 2011 as part of the Gate 3 project equating to approximately 90% of the 3900MW in Gate 3.

  256.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the cost per unit of electricity for each of the various generation methods including conventional and alternatives. [45335/10]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Eamon Ryan):  Generation costs are set on the All-island Single Electricity Market (SEM). The SEM consists of a gross pool market into which all electricity generated or imported onto the island of Ireland must be sold, and from which all wholesale electricity for consumption or export from the island of Ireland must be purchased. In general, conventional generators bid their short run marginal costs into the SEM on a half hourly basis in accordance with the SEM Bidding Code of Practice.

[600]These costs include operating, fuel and carbon costs. These costs may vary on a half hourly basis for each generator and will vary between generators, even those using the same generating method and/or fuel. Fluctuations in the internationally traded price of fossil fuels have a particular impact on costs for fossil fuel generators. All generators, regardless of generation method or fuel type, also receive capacity payments which are designed to cover generators’ long run costs as well as to encourage new investment in capacity for security of supply. For all these reasons, there is therefore no single unit cost for a particular generating method.

In relation to alternative generation, there are two main support schemes in place for electricity from renewable sources, both of which are supported via the Public Service Obligations (PSO). AER (the Alternative Energy Requirement scheme) which currently supports around 500MW of renewable generation is a tender scheme that is now being phased out. The new scheme is a feed-in tariff scheme called REFIT which ensures that a minimum price is paid to renewable generators irrespective of the SEM price. There is between 800MW and 1000MW of renewable generation currently in receipt of REFIT payments. There are different reference prices for the various renewable generation technologies supported under REFIT. Essentially the reference prices interact with the market payments and act as floor prices for renewable generation.

REFIT tariffs are currently as follows:

Large Wind: €66.353 per Mega Watt hour;

Small Wind: €68.681 per Mega Watt hour;

Hydro: €83.814 per Mega Watt hour;

Landfill Gas: €81.486 per Mega Watt hour;

Biomass: €83.814 per Mega Watt hour.

These reference prices are subject to annual increases, if any, in the consumer price index.

In 2009, the terms and conditions were announced for REFIT for additional categories, subject to state aid clearance as follows:

Ocean (wave and tidal): €220 per Mega Watt hour;

Offshore wind €140 per Mega Watt hour.

These reference prices are not subject to annual increases in the consumer price index.

In May 2010 a revised set of tariffs for the biomass combustion, Anaerobic Digestion (AD) and biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP) were announced. These reference prices are subject to annual increases, if any, in the consumer price index. These REFIT Tariffs are as follows:

AD CHP >500 kW €150 per Mega Watt hour;

AD CHP >500 kW €130 per Mega Watt hour;

AD (non CHP) =500kW €110 per Mega Watt hour;

AD (non CHP) >500kW €100 per Mega Watt hour;

Biomass CHP =1500kW €140 per Mega Watt hour;

[601]Biomass CHP >1500kW €120 per Mega Watt hour;

Biomass Combustion (including co-firing in existing plant and subject to a change in the Refit terms and conditions to permit this):

For using energy crops €95 per Mega Watt hour;

For all other biomass €85 per Mega Watt hour.

Question No. 257 answered with Question No. 15.

  258.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the progress to date in developing and marketing natural resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45337/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Conor Lenihan):  I would draw the Deputy’s attention to the high-level goal specified in the Strategy Statement of the Department, which is to manage our river, mineral, hydrocarbon and other geological resources in a sustainable and productive manner. To this end the Department is committed to encouraging exploration for and extraction of Ireland’s mineral and hydrocarbon resources to maximise their contribution to the national economy, with due regard to social and environmental impact.

In the case of non-hydrocarbon minerals, exploration and development is undertaken by private enterprise and regulated under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999, and the Department is undertaking a major consolidation and modernisation of this code which I expect to bring before the House next year. I would point out that the minerals and hydrocarbon industries are global and as a consequence, the level of exploration activity in Ireland reflects worldwide market trends, in particular metal, oil and gas prices.

Against that background, the Department actively promotes Ireland as an attractive location for mineral, oil and gas exploration and development, through the active promotion of Ireland’s mineral and petroleum potential and the holding of regular competition and licensing rounds. With regard to minerals, the Department, jointly with its Northern Ireland counterparts, is represented at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) Convention, Trade Show and Investors Exchange in Toronto, Canada, which is the largest annual international meeting of its type in the world. It has also initiated a number of exploration support measures such as an ongoing data release programme under which all non-confidential exploration data is released into the public domain via an industry-focused website (www.mineralsireland.ie). There are 500 currently active prospecting licences in Ireland with over 30 companies involved in minerals exploration.

In the case of petroleum, the proactive approach in relation to promotion is reflected in the 2011 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round, which closes at the end of May next year. The 2011 Round represents a new and innovative initiative to boost the level of exploration activity in the Irish offshore. The Round, which is Ireland’s largest to date, covers an area of approximately 250,000 square kilometres and includes all of Ireland’s major Atlantic sedimentary basins with proven petroleum systems.

There have been a number of discoveries of oil and gas in the Irish Offshore in recent years, however none of these has been declared commercial to date. The only petroleum discovery that has been declared commercial but has yet to be developed is the Corrib Gas Field. Con[602]struction of the Corrib Gas Terminal at Bellanaboy is almost completed as are the subsea facilities and the offshore section of the Corrib gas pipeline. The developers are engaged in the process of securing a number of statutory consents required for the construction of the onshore section of the gas pipeline.

In the case of inland fisheries, in July 2010, I restructured the fisheries service management and established Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI), a single national authority to replace the existing Central and 7 regional fisheries boards. The new legislation provides that the functions of IFI include conservation, protection, management, marketing, development and improvement of the inland fisheries resource. I have every expectation that the new organisation is best equipped to meet the challenges of facilitating exploitation of the inland fisheries resource on an equitable and sustainable basis.

  259.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the national average level of farm income each year from 2005 to 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44690/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Teagasc’s National Farm Survey provides estimates of average farm income in Ireland every year. The following table shows these figures for the years in question, 2005 to 2009.

Average Family Farm Income by System of Farming

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
All Farms 22,459 16,680 19,687 16,993 11,968
Full-time farms 40,483 34,486 43,938 37,950 24,214
Part-time farms 11,372 7,899 7,993 7,580 6,611

  260.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the average level of farm income in Waterford each year from 2005 to 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44691/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Teagasc’s National Farm Survey provides estimates of average farm income in Ireland every year and, while it does not provide data on a county basis, they are available per region. The following table shows the figures for what is classified as Region 6 — Carlow, Kilkenny, Wexford, Tipperary South, Waterford — for the years in question, 2005 to 2009. Figures for the whole of Ireland are provided for comparative purposes.

Average Family Farm Income

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
All Farms 22,459 16,680 19,687 16,993 11,968
Region 6 Farms 34,385 n/a 33,513 27,876 19,022

  261.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason for the delay in paying a REPS 4 payment in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44746/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The application submitted by the person named is currently being reviewed by my officials. This review is due to be finalised within the next 10 days and my officials will be in contact with the applicant notifying him of the outcome.

  262.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will receive the disadvantaged aid payment and single farm payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44762/10]

  263.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) will receive the disadvantaged aid and single farm payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44763/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 262 and 263 together.

Given that the matters involved are quite complex, in that it concerns a Trust under the Will of the deceased, I have made arrangements for an official of my Department to make direct contact with the persons named with a view to the early resolution of the queries raised.

  264.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) will receive their farm payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44764/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 13 May 2010. A number of parcels listed on the application of the person named required digitisation; immediately this process is complete, provided no errors are identified, the payments due will issue to the person named.

  265.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a transfer of entitlements will be fully processed in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [44766/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Two applications were received on 17 May 2010 requesting the transfer of a total of 28.32 Single Payment entitlements to the person named from the person previously registered as owner of the herd-number. Since the person named did not become the registered owner of the herd-number until 5 October 2010 the requested transfer of entitlements will take place for the 2011 scheme year. The parties concerned have been informed accordingly in writing.

  266.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    if he will expedite the single farm payment and disadvantaged area payments in respect of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44772/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person [604]named on 5 May 2010. The 75% advance payment on the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme, which issued on 21 September 2010 and the 50% advance on the Single Payment Scheme, which issued on 18 October 2010, were both on the basis of the land cleared at that stage, as a number of parcels declared required digitising. While balancing payments are scheduled to commence issuing as and from 1 December, such payments would, in normal circumstances, be confined to those whose applications are fully processed, specifically, where all digitising is finalised.

However, following recent consultation with the EU Commission, agreement was reached whereby, in addition to issuing balancing payments to those farmers whose applications are fully processed and whose maps are fully digitised, payments will also issue to those farmers where some or all of their maps are still to be digitised, with the payment being calculated on the basis of the digitised land confirmed eligible. I am pleased to say that, because of this change, many farmers, including the person named, whose balancing payments would otherwise have been delayed until their digitising is complete, will now receive an interim balancing payment. The position regarding the balancing payments is, therefore, as follows:

From 1 December all applicants will be paid their full balancing payments, where the case is fully processed and clear;

Applicants, whose applications are fully clear, where the only outstanding issue is a non-digitised map(s), will be paid their balancing payment on the clear, digitised area (excluding their non-digitised land), subject to a maximum of 80% of the value of their total Single Payment; these farmers will receive the final instalment of their balancing payment when their maps are re-digitised and their applications are fully clear.

Payments due under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme will also issue on completion of the outstanding digitising.

  267.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason there are delays in processing an application for area aid in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44778/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 24 April 2010. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligibility and Animal Identification Inspection. The inspection process is completed and the application has now been fully processed. Payment under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme issued on 16 November 2010. The 50% advance payment under the Single Payment Scheme issued on 1 November with balancing payment due on the 1 December.

  268.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Galway has not received their area aid payment [44803/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 11 May 2010. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligibility and Full Cross Compliance Inspection. The inspection process is completed and the application has now been fully processed. Payment under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme issued on 23 November 2010. The 50% advance payment under the Single Payment Scheme issued on 24 November with balancing payment due on the 1 December.

[605]

  269.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when single farm payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44909/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application was received on 11 May 2010 requesting the transfer of 10.18 Single Payment entitlements by way of lease from the person named to another farmer. The requested transfer was completed on 25 November 2010 after which the person named holds 4.57 entitlements. Full payment will issue shortly to the person named for 2.18 entitlements based on his declaration of that number of hectares of land.

  270.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan will receive their single farm premium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44912/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 14 May 2010. During the validation of the application, an over-claim was identified in respect of one land parcel, while a number of other parcels required re-digitising. As the matter regarding the over-claim was resolved following correspondence between the person named and my Department and the necessary re-digitising is now complete, the application is being further processed with a view to payments issuing shortly.

  271.  Deputy Ulick Burke    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Galway will receive their single farm payment and area aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44931/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 6 May 2010. The advance payments under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Farm Payment issued to the person named on 22 September and 18 October respectively on the clear eligible area, as some of the land parcels declared required re-digitisation. This process is now complete and balancing payments due in respect of the Disadvantaged Area Scheme and the Single Payment Scheme will issue to the applicant very shortly.

  272.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44932/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The cost of energy in my Department for 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010 is as follows:

€3.8m;

€3.1m;

€2.4m (to date).

  273.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a [606]person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive disadvantaged area scheme and single payment scheme. [44969/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 22 April 2010. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligibility Inspection. The inspection process is complete and the results are now being processed.

Under EU regulations governing the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Payment Scheme all Ground Eligibility Inspections must be completed before any payment can issue to any applicant under either scheme, including those not selected for a Ground Eligibility Inspection. In the vast majority of cases that were inspected amendments have had to be made to the maps in order that the Land Parcel Identification System that is used for making payments to farmers is kept up-to-date. Processing of these changes is continuing with priority being given to applications that were the subject of a Ground Eligibility Inspection.

  274.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) did not receive their full headage payments; if he will now ensure that they do so urgently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45027/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 14 May 2010. The 75% advance payment under the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, which issued on 21 September, was on the basis of those parcels cleared for payment at that stage, as a parcel listed on the application of the person named required re-digitisation. This process is now completed and the application has been processed for payment of the balance of the Disadvantaged Area Scheme, which issued on 9 November.

  275.  Deputy Tom Sheahan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kerry has not received full payment in respect of single farm payment and the disadvantaged area scheme payment. [45031/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 14 May 2010. An advance of the Single Farm Payment issued to the person named on 18 October on the clear eligible area. A number of the land parcels listed on the application required digitisation. The advance payments under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Farm Payment issued to the person named on 22 September and 18 October respectively on the clear eligible area, as some of the land parcels declared required re-digitisation. This process is now complete and balancing payment due in respect of the Disadvantaged Area Scheme issued on 26 November and the Single Payment Scheme balancing payment will issue to the applicant very shortly.

  276.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Donegal will receive their area aid and single farm premium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45032/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 17 May 2010. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligi[607]bility and Full Cross Compliance Inspection. The inspection process is complete and the results are now being processed.

Under EU regulations governing the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Payment Scheme all Ground Eligibility Inspections must be completed before any payment can issue to any applicant under either scheme, including those not selected for a Ground Eligibility Inspection. In the vast majority of cases that were inspected amendments have had to be made to the maps in order that the Land Parcel Identification System that is used for making payments to farmers is kept up-to-date. Processing of these changes is continuing with priority being given to applications that were the subject of a Ground Eligibility Inspection.

  277.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan will receive their area aid and single farm premium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45033/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  Two applications were received on 17 May 2010 requesting the transfer of 44.37 Single Payment entitlements by way of gift and 9.82 Single Payment entitlements by way of lease respectively to the person named from other farmers. The transfer by way of gift was completed on 9 July 2010. Entitlements being transferred by lease must be accompanied by an equal or greater number of hectares of eligible land. This application to transfer by lease requested the transfer of 9.82 entitlements but the transaction involved only 8.02 hectares of land. A letter issued to both parties on 9 November requesting clarification.

An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 17 May 2010. During the validation of the application, a dual-claim was identified in respect of one land parcel as well as over-claims in respect of a number of land parcels . These matters have now been resolved following correspondence between the person named and my Department. A number of parcels listed on the application of the person named required re-digitising. This process is now complete and the application is being further processed with a view to any payments due issuing shortly.

  278.  Deputy Seymour Crawford    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan will receive their area aid and single farm premium; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45034/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 17 May 2010. Initial processing of this application revealed a dual-claim of one land parcel, as well as over-claims in respect of two other land parcels. These matters have now been resolved following correspondence between the person named and my Department. A number of parcels listed on the application of the person named required re-digitising. This process is now complete and the application is being further processed with a view to any payments due issuing shortly.

  279.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has not received their single farm payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45075/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under 2010 Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 26 April 2010. The 75% advance payment on the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme [608]which issued on 21 September 2010 and the 50% advance on the Single Payment Scheme, which issued on 18 October 2010, both on the basis of the land cleared at that stage, as a number of parcels declared required digitising. While balancing payments are scheduled to commence issuing as and from 1 December, such payments would, in normal circumstances, be confined to those whose applications are fully processed, specifically, where all digitising is finalised.

However, following recent consultation with the EU Commission, agreement was reached whereby, in addition to issuing balancing payments to those farmers whose applications are fully processed and whose maps are fully digitised, payments will also issue to those farmers where some or all of their maps are still to be digitised, with the payment being calculated on the basis of the digitised land confirmed eligible. I am pleased to say that, because of this change, many farmers, including the person named, whose balancing payments would otherwise have been delayed until their digitising is complete, will now receive an interim balancing payment. The position regarding the balancing payments is, therefore, as follows:

From 1 December all applicants will be paid their full balancing payments, where the case is fully processed and clear; Applicants, whose applications are fully clear, where the only outstanding issue is a non-digitised map(s), will be paid their balancing payment on the clear, digitised area (excluding their non-digitised land), subject to a maximum of 80% of the value of their total Single Payment; these farmers will receive the final instalment of their balancing payment when their maps are re-digitised and their applications are fully clear.

Digitising is now complete on this application, however, an error has arisen on one of the parcels declared. An official from my Department will make direct contact with the person named with a view to an early resolution.

  280.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a single farm payment will issue to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45080/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the 2010 Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on 27 April 2010. The advance payment which issued on 18 October, was on the basis of land confirmed eligible at that stage, as a number of other parcels listed by the person named required re-digitisation; this process is now complete and the payment due will issue to the person named shortly.

  281.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a decision will issue on a forestry grant appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45085/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I understand that the appeal on behalf of the person has been disallowed. Following a further field inspection of the site it has been found that the northern, low lying section of wetland is almost at sea level and was waterlogged at the time of the inspection. As the conditions required to ensure wind-firmness of the crop over the silvicultural rotation are absent, this section of the site isnot eligible for grant aid because of the risk that is presented by these factors as the crop matures.

  282.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the steps he will take to support the sheep industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45104/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  I am strongly committed to securing a future for the sheep industry in Ireland, which is a valuable part of the overall agri-food sector. In the past two years I have provided a number of key supports to this sector, most notably: €7 million from the 2009 Single Farm Payment National Reserve under the Uplands Sheep Payment Scheme; €54 million for the three year grassland sheep scheme commencing this year and €8 million for the sheep fencing/mobile handling equipment scheme, also commencing this year.

I am confident that these supports will provide a much-needed boost to sheep farmers’ incomes, which should encourage them to stay in the sector. As the grassland scheme focuses on flocks with breeding ewes, it should also provide a significant incentive to farmers to maintain their production levels, which is vital for the future of a viable sheep industry in Ireland. In addition, Bord Bia will also spend up to €1 million this year on the promotion of sheep and lamb at home and abroad and Teagasc has allocated almost €1.5 million for sheep research for 2010.

It is well recognised that the future of the sheep industry depends on its ability to meet the needs of the market. In order to do this effectively, the sector must focus on competitiveness, innovation and the demands of the consumer. Specific recommendations for the sheep industry are set out in Food Harvest 2020, which provides a vision for Irish Agri-food and Fisheries for the next 10 years. It envisages that over the coming years, demand for sheepmeat on the European market will outstrip production levels, which could provide opportunities for exporting countries such as Ireland. This should provide the potential for better returns, provided the industry can continue the market and product diversification which has been evident in recent years.

At producer level there is likely to be improved price prospects, provided an increased focus on production, efficiency and product quality is evident. With a renewed commercial focus by the sheep sector, building consumption on the domestic market and through the implementation of the recommendations of Food Harvest 2020, a target of output value growth of 20% has been identified for the sheep sector by 2020.

The recommendations of the report focus on farm competitiveness and the processing sector. On the farm side, they emphasise the importance of the continuance of the application of on-farm labour efficiencies and new technologies, breed improvement and the production of a quality product. On the processing side, the focus is on efficiencies, innovation and improved product range. These recommendations build on the Malone report, which was published in 2006 and provided a clear framework for the sheep sector. Indeed the Malone report is still very relevent and Food Harvest 2020 endorses its findings and recommendations and calls for their full implementation by the relevant stakeholders.

While the responsibility for implementing most of the recommendations of the Malone report fall on the industry itself, a number are within the remit of my Department and the state agencies under its aegis, who have made significant progress in implementing them. Among the initiatives taken were:

The establishment of ‘Sheep Ireland’ to take over the Department’s current breed improvement programme and develop a new one. An interim Sheep Board, comprising [610]representatives of farming organisations and breeders will oversee this process, with the Irish Cattle Breeders Federation (ICBF) providing the technical and professional service required.

The establishment of the Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme in 2007. This Scheme is operated by Bord Bia and now has over 8,400 participants.

Bord Bia has also intensified its efforts to promote lamb on the home and export markets. Together with its UK and French counterparts, it is part of a generic promotion campaign on the important French market.

Teagasc has developed a comprehensive plan to restructure its sheep support services, including a Better Farm Programme for sheep, which aims to establish focal points for the on-farm implementation, development and evaluation of technology that is relevant to the sheep sector. This approach provides an opportunity to engage with sheep farmers on the use of the latest management practices and to identify research and development needs.

In addition, the support being provided for processing facilities under the beef and sheepmeat capital investment fund underlines the Government’s commitment to the sector. I am confident that all of the actions I have outlined above will be of significant benefit to the sector.

  283.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the steps he will take to enhance the live cattle trade to Britain; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45105/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The live export trade complements the processed beef trade by providing alternative market outlets thereby playing an important role in the meat and livestock industry generally.

Up to the end of week 45 of 2010, live exports were 23% ahead of the levels achieved during the same period in 2009. While exports to Great Britain are 9% below those for the same period in 2009, those to Northern Ireland are up by 18% and those to all other destinations by 27%. The live trade with the UK in any particular period is greatly influenced by the prevailing sterling exchange rate and the supply of finished cattle in Northern Ireland.

Bord Bia continues to works closely with the industry in monitoring and developing emerging opportunities for Irish livestock in the United Kingdom, the Continent and international markets. Its activities include ongoing contact with leading retailers in Britain to establish their interest in cattle born in Ireland and finished in Britain.

  284.  Deputy Jimmy Deenihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the percentage breakdown of the R category now divided into three sections, namely R-, R=, and R+, in the mechanical grading system in meat factories for 2009 and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45120/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  The breakdown including sub-classes is available for all plants from 1st April 2010 to date. Prior to that the conformation and fat grades were reported to my Department in accordance with EU Regulations using main classes only. The percentage breakdown for steers from the 1st April 2010 to date is as follows:

[611]R + (plus) = 10.2%;

R = (middle) = 15.8%; and

R - (minus) = 17.0%.

  285.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    the reason for the delay in making a full payment of the single farm payment and REP scheme payment to a person (details supplied) in County Waterford and if he will expedite payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45132/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under 2010 Single Payment Scheme was received from the person named on 12 May 2010. The 50% advance payment, which issued on 18 October 2010, on the basis of the land cleared at that stage, as a number of parcels declared required digitising. While balancing payments are scheduled to commence issuing as and from 1 December, such payments would, in normal circumstances, be confined to those whose applications are fully processed, specifically, where all digitising is finalised.

However, following recent consultation with the EU Commission, agreement was reached whereby, in addition to issuing balancing payments to those farmers whose applications are fully processed and whose maps are fully digitised, payments will also issue to those farmers where some or all of their maps are still to be digitised, with the payment being calculated on the basis of the digitised land confirmed eligible. I am pleased to say that, because of this change, many farmers, including the person named, whose balancing payments would otherwise have been delayed until their digitising is complete, will now receive an interim balancing payment. The position regarding the balancing payments is, therefore, as follows:

From 1 December all applicants will be paid their full balancing payments, where the case is fully processed and clear; Applicants, whose applications are fully clear, where the only outstanding issue is a non-digitised map(s), will be their balancing payment on the clear, digitised area (excluding their non-digitised land), subject to a maximum of 80% of the value of their total Single Payment; these farmers will receive the final instalment of their balancing payment when their maps are re-digitised and their applications are fullyclear.

The EU Regulations governing REPS 4 and other area-based schemes provide that payments issue in two instalments. The first instalment of 75% may be paid once all administrative checks on all applications, as well as cross-checks against areas declared on Single Payment Scheme applications, have been completed. The SPS application concerned has not yet been finalised and when this is done the REPS Cross Check will be carried out and the REPS application can then be fully processed.

  286.  Deputy John Cregan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a single farm payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [45165/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application under the Single Payment Scheme/Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on the 22 April 2010. This application was selected for and was the subject of a Ground Eligi[612]bility and Animal Identification Inspection. The inspection process is complete and the results are now being processed.

Under EU regulations governing the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme and the Single Payment Scheme all Ground Eligibility Inspections must be completed before any payment can issue to any applicant under either scheme, including those not selected for a Ground Eligibility Inspection. In the vast majority of cases that were inspected amendments have had to be made to the maps in order that the Land Parcel Identification System that is used for making payments to farmers is kept up-to-date. Processing of these changes is continuing with priority being given to applications that were the subject of a Ground Eligibility Inspection.

  287.  Deputy Michael Ring    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food    when a transfer of entitlements application will be processed in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [45220/10]

Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Deputy Brendan Smith):  An application was submitted on 18 November 2010 requesting the transfer of 17.44 Single Payment entitlements by way of gift from the person named first to the person named second. As this application was received several months after the closing date for such applications, the requested transfer has been rejected. Letters have issued to both parties informing them of this decision and outlining the normal appeal process.

  288.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if he will deal with a matter (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44715/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise; Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  In my earlier reply to the Deputy on this matter on 9 November, 2010, I indicated that it is not my Department’s policy and practice to disclose details of redundancy rebate payments relating to specific companies for reasons of data confidentiality. Given the size of the companies referred to, it would be normal for my Department to have, at any given time, claims on hand for processing.

Deputies will be aware from media coverage that the Department has on hand a number of claims from Aer Lingus dating from 2009 and it is the case that these claims are still being processed. No decision on their eligibility under the Redundancy Payments legislation has yet been taken but a decision on this matter is expected in coming weeks, subject to final clarification of certain issues.

  289.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the position regarding the claim for redundancy in respect of a person (details supplied); when payment will issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44722/10]

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 Protection. There are two types of payment made from the SIF — rebates to those employers who have paid statutory redundancy to eligible employees, and statutory lump sums to employees whose employers are insolvent and/or in receivership/liquidation. I can confirm that my Department received a statutory [613]redundancy lump sum claim in respect of the individual concerned on 9 June, 2010. This claim awaits processing.

In respect of lump sum payments paid directly to employees in instances where employers are unable to pay the statutory redundancy entitlements, in general, claims dating from May 2010 are currently being processed. Of course in some instances, where the necessary supporting documentation for lump sum claims is not provided to my Department, or where queries arise, processing of claims can be further delayed until the required documentation is provided and/or outstanding queries are resolved.

My Department continues to make every effort to reduce processing times. Measures already taken in the Department to alleviate the pressures on the Payments area include:

Almost doubling the number of staff working solely on redundancy payment claims through reassignment to a current level of 52 full time equivalents;

Prioritisation of the Department’s overtime budget towards staff in the Section to tackle the backlog outside normal hours;

Establishment of a special call handling facility in NERA to deal with the huge volume of telephone calls from people and businesses concerned about their payments;

Better quality information relating to current processing times on the Department’s website;

Engagement with the Revenue Commissioners to facilitate the offset of redundancy rebate payments by employers against existing outstanding tax liabilities which those employers owe to the Revenue Commissioners.

Whilst the backlog and waiting times remain at unacceptable levels, improvements are evident. In 2009, my Department processed 50,664 claims, up 70% on the previous year. Furthermore, the level of new claims processed in the first ten months of 2010 was 63,484 — up over 66% on the corresponding 10-month period in 2009 (38,149) and surpassing the total amount of claims processed for the full year 2009. The backlog of claims is decreasing — reducing from its highest level in November 2009 of 43,608 to a current level of 28,300. I expect that the claims backlog will reduce to somewhere between 25,000 and 26,000 by year end.

Responsibility for the payment functions arising under the Redundancy and Insolvency payment schemes is due to be transferred to the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January 2011. In transferring the functions between Departments, it is the intention that this will operate seamlessly and without any adverse impact on the service levels being experienced by individuals or the business community awaiting payment of redundancy claims.

  290.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    if the employment permit application in respect of a person (details supplied) will be reviewed. [44802/10]

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 am pleased to inform the Deputy that a Work Permit issued in this case on the 30th September, 2010.

  291.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008 and 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44937/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The estimated energy use of my Department and the Offices of my Department (with the exception of the National Employment Rights Authority, the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission for whom figures are not available) for the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010 and the total cost of that energy use in each of those years is contained in the table below.

2008 2009 2010 to date
Energy use in kWh 4,631,000 3,950,000 3,322,000
Cost €438,000 €350,000 €303,000

The energy usage by my Department and the Offices of my Department is kept under regular review to ensure the cost of same is kept to the minimum.

  292.  Deputy John Deasy    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of job losses in Waterford city and county in the past four years and to date in 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44965/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  The agency employment figures are compiled in the Forfás Annual Employment Survey, the most up to date of which details figures for jobs lost up until end 2009. The only figures available to my Department are those in respect of firms assisted by the Enterprise Development agencies — IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, which come under the aegis of my Department. As the information is compiled on an annualised basis, the figures in respect of 2010 will not be available until 2011. Details of the agency figures are set out in the following tabular statement.

My Department does not collect or retain information on the number of jobs lost in County and City Enterprise Board assisted companies.

Jobs lost in Agency Supported Companies in Waterford City & County 2006 2007 2008 2009
Enterprise Ireland Client Companies 230 515 902 1,400
IDA Ireland Client Companies 350 183 483 569
Total 580 698 1,385 1,969

  293.  Deputy John Perry    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the position regarding an Employment Appeals Tribunal issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45014/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise; Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  While the Employment Appeals Tribunal operates under the aegis of my Depart[615]ment, it is independent in the discharge of its quasi-judicial function — I have no role in the scheduling of individual cases for Hearing. The Tribunal Secretariat will be in contact with the claimant about the scheduled date of his hearing.

  294.  Deputy Leo Varadkar    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation noting    the commitments within chapter two of the National Recovery Plan 2011-2014, the reason he has waited until now to launch a review to eliminate anomalies within the framework registered employment agreements and employment regulation orders when concerns have been well flagged for more than two years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45087/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise; Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  I have consistently held that we need to ensure that these wage fixing mechanisms work effectively and efficiently and that they do not have a negative impact on economic performance and employment levels. As the Deputy will also be aware, I have proposed to introduce an inability to pay mechanism for both Registered Employment Agreements and Employment Regulation Orders in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009.

The National Recovery Plan 2011-2014 sets out in detail the measures that will be taken to put our public finances in order and provides a blueprint for a return to sustainable growth in our economy. The Plan identifies the areas of economic activity which will provide growth and employment in the next phase of our economic development. It specifies the reforms the Government will implement to accelerate growth in those key sectors. It is within this context that the Government has decided that a formal review of our statutory wage setting mechanisms, Employment Regulations Orders and Registered Employment Agreements, should be undertaken within a short timeframe.

  295.  Deputy Paul Kehoe    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation with regard to    the Industrial Relations Act 1990 the stage of development of the amendment to the Act regarding the definition of worker; when this amendment will be enacted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45130/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise; Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  Access to the employment dispute settling bodies under the Industrial Relations Acts is governed by the definition of “worker” in Section 23 of the Industrial Relations Act 1990. Workers not included within this definition are normally covered by separate schemes of Conciliation and Arbitration.

Section 23(1)(e) of the 1990 Act excludes, inter alia, “an officer of a vocational education committee” from this definition of “worker”. Arising from an agreement between management and union sides to abolish the existing Conciliation and Arbitration machinery for vocational educational committee officers and to bring them within the scope of the Industrial Relations Acts, it is proposed to amend the definition of “worker” to include such officers, with the exception of teachers, within the definition of “worker” in the 1990 Act. An amendment to this effect is included in the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Bill 2009, which is currently awaiting Committee Stage in the Dáil.

  296.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    when [616]a redundancy payment will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; if same can be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45307/10]

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 Protection. There are two types of payment made from the SIF — rebates to those employers who have paid statutory redundancy to eligible employees, and statutory lump sums to employees whose employers are insolvent and/or in receivership/liquidation. I can confirm that my Department received a statutory redundancy lump sum claim in respect of the individual concerned on 15 June, 2010. This claim awaits processing.

In respect of lump sum payments paid directly to employees in instances where employers are unable to pay the statutory redundancy entitlements, in general, claims dating from May 2010 are currently being processed. Of course in some instances, where the necessary supporting documentation for lump sum claims is not provided to my Department, or where queries arise, processing of claims can be further delayed until the required documentation is provided and/or outstanding queries are resolved.

My Department continues to make every effort to reduce processing times. Measures already taken in the Department to alleviate the pressures on the Payments area include:

Almost doubling the number of staff working solely on redundancy payment claims through reassignment to a current level of 52 full time equivalents;

Prioritisation of the Department’s overtime budget towards staff in the Section to tackle the backlog outside normal hours;

Establishment of a special call handling facility in NERA to deal with the huge volume of telephone calls from people and businesses concerned about their payments;

Better quality information relating to current processing times on the Department’s website;

Engagement with the Revenue Commissioners to facilitate the offset of redundancy rebate payments by employers against existing outstanding tax liabilities which those employers owe to the Revenue Commissioners.

Whilst the backlog and waiting times remain at unacceptable levels, improvements are evident. In 2009, my Department processed 50,664 claims, up 70% on the previous year. Furthermore, the level of new claims processed in the first ten months of 2010 was 63,484 — up over 66% on the corresponding 10-month period in 2009 (38,149) and surpassing the total amount of claims processed for the full year 2009. The backlog of claims is decreasing — reducing from its highest level in November 2009 of 43,608 to a level of 28,300 at the end of October 2010. I expect that the claims backlog will reduce to somewhere between 25,000 and 26,000 by year end.

Responsibility for the payment functions arising under the Redundancy and Insolvency payment schemes is due to be transferred to the Department of Social Protection with effect from 1 January 2011. In transferring the functions between Departments, it is the intention that this will operate seamlessly and without any adverse impact on the service levels being experienced by individuals or the business community awaiting payment of redundancy claims.

  297.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the way the Government’s four year plan will affect trading and investing in a smart economy; if the projected funding allocated to the strategy will be affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45311/10]

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation (Deputy Batt O’Keeffe):  One of the key messages in the Government’s National Recovery Plan is that export led growth will fuel domestic recovery. It recognizes that the implementation of the strategy and action plan set out in Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy will ensure that our trade, tourism and investment sectors are well positioned to respond effectively to emerging opportunities as the global economy recovers.

The National Recovery Plan through its underpinning of the work of the relevant State agencies by providing the funding that will allow them to meet their targets, fully supports the implementation of the new trade strategy. Likewise the capital provision of €2.2 billion investment for the Enterprise agencies will allow us to continue to win foreign direct investments, grow indigenous exports, support research, development and innovation.

Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy identifies cost competitiveness as one of the key challenges effecting the ability of the trade, tourism, and investment sectors to grow. The National Recovery Plan has set out specific actions to spur further improvements in competitiveness across all sectors of the economy including measures to cut costs in energy, waste and transport, broadband infrastructure, professional fees, property and labour. The Recovery Plan also commits to maintaining the 12.5% corporation tax rate which the new trade strategy identifies as a key component of our industrial policy.

The overall objective of the Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy is to marshal and coordinate the resources of the State in a way that best supports firms, of all sizes, in all parts of the country, which are trying to trade and grow their business overseas. Its implementation will result in the sustained, concentrated and coordinated efforts of all the key Government Departments and agencies, including our embassies and consulates abroad in support for Irish companies in overseas markets. Departments and agencies will implement the strategy and action plan from within their current budgets. I am confident that the Four Year Recovery Plan fully supports the achievement of the ambitious targets in relation to trade, tourism and investment as set out in Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy .

  298.  Deputy Lucinda Creighton    asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Innovation    the number of workers on the national minimum wage here; the percentage of the workforce on the national minimum wage; the number and percentage of workers covered by employment regulation orders and joint labour committees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45312/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise; Trade and Innovation (Deputy Dara Calleary):  Estimates from the Earnings, Hours and Employment Costs Survey, as undertaken by the Central Statistics Office, indicate that there were approximately 52,000 employees paid at or below the national minimum wage of €8.65 per hour as of the second quarter of 2010. This represented 3.4% of all employees. Reliable data on the number of workers who come within the scope of Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreements are not available.

  299.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44934/10]

Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Pat Carey):  My Department has offices in Dublin, Tubbercurry, Na Forbacha, Donegal, and Tralee. The estimated energy in terms of Watts used and oil use and the costs of same are outlined in the table below. All costs are VAT inclusive.

2008 2009 2010 to date
Energy Cost Energy Cost Energy Cost
Electricity 870,882 kWh €142,882 767,760 kWh €141,400 674,887 €99,138
Gas 251,612 kWh €15,651 366,111 kWh €29,334 159,862 €21,562
Oil/Kerosene 20,563 ltrs €14,720 27,173 ltrs €13,536 30,730 €15,597

  300.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    his view on the proposals currently before the European Parliament to extend maternity leave to 20 weeks and introduce paternity leave of two weeks both at full pay; his views on whether these proposals are affordable in the Irish context; the position he is taking in the conduct of these negotiations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45072/10]

  301.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs    the approach being adopted by him in respect of proposals currently being considered in the European Parliament to introduce maternity leave of 20 weeks and paternity leave of two weeks, both at full pay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45073/10]

Minister of State at the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Mary Alexandra White):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 300 and 301 together.

In relation to the Deputy’s questions on maternity leave, I will draw his attention to my response to Question No. 359 of 23 November 2010. The European Parliament also initiated the proposal to amend the European Commission’s draft Directive further by introducing paid paternity leave in the course of its consideration of the Maternity Leave Directive. Accordingly, this proposed amendment to the Directive is also under examination in conjunction with the review of the amendments which the European Parliament proposed for maternity leave.

  302.  Deputy Arthur Morgan    asked the Minister for Defence    if changes have been made to the gratuity payment made to enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces; if he will clarify that the gratuity is still made in a lump sum after 21 years of service, rather than spread over a number of years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44918/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I presume the Deputy is referring to the recent increase in the level of pay-related retirement gratuity applicable to certain enlisted personnel who joined the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) before 1 April 2004. This change was formally agreed with PDFORRA in November 2008 under the Conciliation and Arbitration Scheme for [619]members of the PDF. Under the agreed arrangements, the increased retirement gratuity applies to qualified enlisted personnel who were serving on 1 September 2005 and who are discharged on or after that date with 22 or more years’ service.

Previously, the retirement gratuity for pre-April 2004 enlisted personnel was 25 weeks’ pensionable pay after 21 years’ service, rising by increments of two weeks’ pay for each subsequent year, up to a maximum of 45 weeks’ pay after 31 years’ service. Under the recent agreement, the gratuity of 25 weeks’ pay after 21 years stands, but it now increases by 4 weeks’ pay per year for each subsequent year, to a maximum of 65 weeks’ pensionable pay after 31 years’ service. I can confirm that the gratuity is paid in a single lump sum following the person’s discharge from the PDF. Different superannuation arrangements apply to military personnel recruited to the PDF since April 2004.

  303.  Deputy Phil Hogan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of serving members of the Defence Forces who suffer from the medical condition of diabetes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44769/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I am advised by the Military authorities that the current medical module of the Defence Forces Personnel Management System does not facilitate the capture of specific data on the number of patients suffering from individual conditions. Consequently, it is not possible to identify the number of serving members of the Defence Forces who suffer from diabetes at this time. The recent review of the medical services by PA Consulting proposed a model for future delivery of those services. The review, inter alia, recommended the establishment of a number of Working Groups to progress the various projects identified. One such Group is the Future Medical Information System Working Group and I am advised by the Military authorities that this Group’s final report to the Steering Group will be completed shortly.

  304.  Deputy Mary Upton    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will support the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44801/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  I am advised by the Military authorities that all selections, including Air Corps selections, for overseas service for positions advertised by the Enlisted Personnel Management Office (EPMO) are conducted in accordance with the Defence Forces policy on Selection for Overseas Service dated 31 July 2006. Over the course of his career, the individual in question has been selected to serve overseas on seven different occasions.

The individual is at present a volunteer for overseas service and has been recommended by his Unit Commander for six vacancies which will arise overseas in early 2011. Subject to receiving a nomination from GOC Air Corps his application will be considered fairly and equitably along with the nominations from the other five Formations in accordance with the aforementioned policy on Selection for Overseas Service.

Under Paragraph 7 of the policy on Selection for Overseas Service, the individual is entitled to appeal any of the applications for which he was not recommended or selected. Furthermore, under Section 114 of the Defence Act 1954, a member of the Defence Forces who believe they have been wronged in any matter, has recourse to a Redress of Wrongs Process. I am advised by the Military authorities that the individual has not availed of this process.

  305.  Deputy Richard Bruton    asked the Minister for Defence    the estimated energy use of his Department in the years 2008, 2009 and to date in 2010; the total cost of that energy use in each of those years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44935/10]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Tony Killeen):  The information requested by the Deputy is currently being collated by the Department and will be provided to the Deputy as soon as possible.