Dáil Éireann

12/Jan/2012

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions

Order of Business

Advance Healthcare Decisions Bill 2012: First Stage

Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad]: Allocation of Time Motion for Select Sub-Committee

Private Members’ Business

Special Educational Needs: Motion (Resumed)

Patents (Amendment) Bill 2011: Order for Report Stage

Patents (Amendment) Bill 2011: Report and Final Stages

Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011: Second Stage (Resumed)

Topical Issue Matters

Topical Issue Debate

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

Job Losses

Rural Transport Services

Ballymun Regeneration Programme

Priority Questions

State Airports

Taxi Regulation

Road Network

Public Transport

Tourism Industry

Other Questions

Dublin Airport Authority

Jobs Initiative

Taxi Regulations

National Sports Campus

Departmental Bodies

Rail Services

State Airports

Written Answers.

Cycle Facilities

Public Transport

Tourism Industry

Road Safety

Tourism Promotion

Olympic Games

Tourism Promotion

Road Safety

Tourism Industry

Public Transport

Sports Capital Programme

Public Transport

Sports Capital Programme

Sport and Recreational Development

Road Network

Capital Expenditure

Road Network

Tourism Revenue

Sports Capital Programme

Aviation Sector

Official Engagements

Telecommunications Services

Sports Funding

Tourism Promotion

Public Transport

Tourism Industry

Olympic Games

Road Network

Tourism Industry

Public Transport

Industrial Disputes

Parking Regulations

Cycle Facilities

Departmental Strategy Statements

Road Network

Tourism Promotion

Air Services

Tourism Promotion

Public Transport

Taxi Regulations

Tourism Promotion

Road Network

Diplomatic Representation

Disabled Drivers

State Property

Tax Collection

Tax Clearance Certificates

Tax Code

Bond Markets

Banks Recapitalisation

Tax Code

Tax Collection

Tax Code

Tax Audits

Tax Code

Tax Yield

Employment Support Services

Languages Programme

Special Educational Needs

Home Tuition Scheme

Schools Amalgamation

Schools Building Projects

Special Educational Needs

School Accommodation

Schools Building Projects

Site Acquisitions

Higher Education Grants

School Staffing

Schools Building Projects

School Staffing

National Lottery Funding

Pension Provisions

Grocery Industry

Job Creation

Employment Rights

Redundancy Payments

Employment Support Services

Jobs Initiative

Social Welfare Benefits

National Internship Scheme

Employment Support Services

Social Welfare Code

Pension Provisions

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Code

Social Welfare Appeals

Redundancy Payments

Employment Support Services

Redundancy Payments

Tax and Social Welfare Codes

Social Welfare Appeals

Broadcasting Services

Household Energy Schemes

Private Rented Accommodation

Departmental Bodies

Private Rented Accommodation

Planning Issues

Local Authority Charges

Local Government Reform

Building Regulations

Appointments to State Boards

Dormant Accounts Fund

Local Authority Charges

Housing Management Companies

Social and Affordable Housing

Local Authority Charges

Local Authority Services

Local Authority Housing

Local Authority Charges

Proposed Legislation

Residential Institutions

Departmental Offices

Garda Stations

Garda Recruitment

Garda Transport

Legal Judgments

Prison Medical Service

Residency Permits

Asylum Applications

Residency Permits

Citizenship Applications

Pension Provisions

Defence Forces Personnel

Grant Payments

Departmental Agencies

Child Abuse

Children in Care

Child Care Services

Children in Care

Hospital Waiting Lists

Services for People with Disabilities

Hospital Services

Hospital Staff

Hospital Services

Health Services

Mental Health Services

Health Insurance

Medical Cards

Health Services

Medical Cards

Hospital Services

Medicinal Products

Health Services

Parking Regulations

Disabled Drivers

Road Safety

Park Regulations

Tourism Promotion

Rail Services

Air Services

Road Network

Tourism Promotion

Public Private Partnerships

Tourism Industry

Road Traffic Accidents

Sport and Recreational Development

Rail Services

National Car Test

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  It was announced on the 10 a.m. news that 650 jobs would be lost at Ulster Bank in this jurisdiction. This is a nervous time for the employees and a very serious issue. I appreciate that Ulster Bank is not covered by the State, but has it entered into discussions with the relevant Ministers on the redundancies announced? The Irish Bank Officials Association, IBOA, is predicting significant job losses across the sector, with a figure of 5,000 being mentioned. That only relates to the banking sector; there is also the wider insurance market and so on. What is the Government doing to protect jobs, as far as possible, in the relevant sectors? What are the plans to assist workers who will be made redundant in order that they can be retrained and secure alternative employment? It is important that the Government give information on the jobs that will be affected. Are we talking about back or front office or retail staff? What grades will be involved? Have discussions on job losses taken place with the covered institutions such as Bank of Ireland and AIB? What information does the Government have in this regard? There could be a cumulative effect, as if more workers are let go, it will become more difficult to absorb them into expanding financial services.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  We all extend our sympathy to those directly affected by this morning’s announcement. On this island Ulster Bank employs approximately 6,000 people, 900 of whom are affected by this announcement. Of those affected, we understand 650 are in the Republic of Ireland. The announcement has come at the end of much speculation and there is now a degree of certainty, although none of us might like this.

Regarding skill sets, the Deputy has noted that Ulster Bank is not a covered institution; it is owned by a British parent company. We do not know the profile of those likely to lose their jobs, but there are vacancies in the information technology sector. Members may have heard the chief executive of IDA Ireland, Mr. Barry O’Leary, say on radio recently that there were approximately 1,000 jobs that could be filled if the right skill sets were available. If persons employed in the banking sector work in the area of information technology, they already have high skill levels. We are putting in place a series of measures to upgrade these skills and reorient such persons to areas in which there are job opportunities.

The Deputy has asked if there have been discussions involving the Minister. I am not entirely sure about that and will revert to the Deputy with the necessary information. I know management in Ulster Bank has, in the first instance and as is right and proper, spoken to representatives of the workers affected, including the IBOA. We await the outcome of the discussions.

[526]Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Skill sets are crucial and the Minister has indicated that persons with high skill levels are much more likely to find alternative employment. It could easily be the case that individuals working at the retail end as cashiers could be affected and retraining and upskilling would be crucial to their job prospects. May I take it that on completion of the profiling of the staff to be laid off, discussions will take place immediately with training agencies to ensure those affected will be assisted? It would be better to deal with these issues quickly.

Have discussions with representatives of the covered institutions taken place on potential redundancies? The Government has direct involvement, as it is either the guarantor or main shareholder in these institutions. Does the Minister have any information on the discussions which have taken place between the covered institutions and the Government on potential redundancies in the wider financial sector?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Government will soon announce a comprehensive programme called, Pathways to Work, which will address many of the issues to which the Deputy referred. Taking Ulster Bank as an example, somebody from that institution will have his or her skill sets assessed and options will be offered as to how he or she might upgrade his or her skills or divert sideways to improve his or her skills and enhance his or her suitability in terms of job opportunities. What he or she wants to do will be taken into account is assessing whether upskilling is required to enhance his or her employability in those sectors of the labour market in which employers are actively seeking workers.

I do not know what the position is on covered institutions, but I will get that information for the Deputy. As there have been no other redundancies announced, it might be premature to raise the issue. The same approach would apply, irrespective of how staff were made redundant or the status of the institution. We will try to upgrade skill sets and reorient those affected to enhance their chances of getting back into the active labour market.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I am sure the workers concerned will appreciate the expressions of sympathy from this Chamber, but they, like the almost 500,000 others out of work, take the view that sympathy is not enough. When did the Government first receive notice of these job losses which are significant in number? It would be astonishing if the story just fell from the sky. At this juncture is the Government satisfied that the terms and conditions of the redundancy packages are secure?

We should return to the issue of retraining and upskilling. The Minister has indicated that the priority for the Administration is job creation, but all the evidence speaks against this. There are stubbornly high numbers out of work and there has been minimal investment by the Government in job creation and protection measures. We have been told that we will see not a jobs initiative this month but some other type of jobs plan from the Government. Where will these workers and workers from the banking sector feature in that scheme of things? If the experience of the construction sector is anything to go by, where vast numbers of workers find their sector a job-free zone, I imagine people in the banking sector are looking on in despair. What confidence can the Minister give to those workers today? What contact has there been with Government and what does the Minister propose to do in the first instance for this set of workers and then more broadly for the 500,000 people who are without work?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I thank the Deputy for her question but, unfortunately, I must remind her that this country has lost its economic sovereignty. We are not in business as usual and when it was business as usual it was mad business. The construction sector to which she referred represented 25% of economic activity in the Republic. That was twice the normal requirement in a growing economy. As an adjunct to that the banking sector grew exponentially in a manner of which all Members are aware. It must be scaled down and it is scaling down but that comes [527]at a cost such as the kind of unemployment and redundancies to which Deputy McDonald referred and to which I referred in my replies to Deputy Ó Cuív.

In this instance, for those people who have skill sets we hope to be able to enhance them and reorientate them towards areas where there are jobs. Sadly, from my point of view as Minister for Education and Skills, many of the young men or young boys — because they were 16, 17 and 18 — who were lured out of the education system into highly paid and lucrative jobs at the height of the boom now find themselves at 19 and 20 years of age with poor sets of skills which will require re-entry into the education sector and the vocational education sector to acquire a new set of skills which, sadly, they did not have the opportunity to achieve while they were in school.

We must work to a programme of recovery. We are 14 months into the programme of recovery that was negotiated initially by the previous Administration which in its entirety will take 36 months. We have 20 months left of having to negotiate with and obtain money from the troika, who are in town at the moment. We will do everything we can to stave off the increases in unemployment. The good news — although it is not good news — is that the level of unemployment seems to have plateaued, yet within those figures of 400,000, more than 120,000 people got jobs in the past year. There is a churn within the labour market. People are getting jobs and losing jobs but the scale of unemployment and the rapid increase in unemployment has now, fortunately, tailed off. Some of it — in anticipation of the Deputy’s reply — is due to emigration, which we deeply regret. The Government is intent on recovering the economic sovereignty of this Republic which was shattered by the previous Administration. One of the things that shattered it was the bank guarantee to which Deputy McDonald’s party signed up with some enthusiasm.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  It was 7 December.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Now, now.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  That was a nice try by the Minister but he did not answer the question. Perhaps he does not have the information on when the Government was aware of those job losses. He said it is not business as usual. Of course it is not business as usual; it is certainly not business as usual for those workers or for any other worker who is seeking employment at the moment and who hears on the one hand from the Government the rhetoric of job creation but who sees the evidence of inertia. I do not believe that job creation is the priority for the Government. The Minister correctly said that the banking sector, in common with the construction sector, was used and abused by the great and the good — the speculators and the wealthy——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should please ask a question.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  ——and now they get bailed out and the workers in those sectors suffer. The challenge for the Government is to give comfort, certainty and opportunities to those workers. What about their redundancy packages? Are they secure? The Minister should be in a position to tell the House and to offer more than vague rhetoric about skill sets. This is a specific sector. It is most unlikely that people in the banking sector who are now going to lose their jobs will be re-employed in that sector. What will the Government, which is all about jobs, re-skilling and retraining — that is also about cutbacks — do to ensure those workers get back to work and to some kind of business as usual?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I do not know if Deputy McDonald was listening to the reply I offered to Deputy Ó Cuív——

[528]Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I was.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Then I have already answered the Deputy’s question. The workers will not get new jobs in the banking sector. Those who have IT skills that can be refocused into other areas in which there are opportunities, as Barry O’Leary from the IDA has said, will hopefully find opportunities.

I wish to respond to a comment made by Deputy McDonald about the madness of the building speculation affecting the rich and the powerful. If that had happened it would not have been too bad. Unfortunately, we had the madness where people on CE schemes were offered mortgages and they are the people who have been crucified. Right across the country and in particular in parts of the north west, between Dublin and Sligo, the four counties that are most affected by ghost estates, many of the people who were conned into taking out mortgages were conned into it by the financial sector. They were not necessarily the great and the good. They were, sadly, people who had an aspiration to own property and who were conned into taking a soft loan which in rational banking terms they could never possibly have repaid given the level of their income. That is where the real damage has been done.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  For clarity, I said the sectors were abused by the great and the good.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  To answer the Deputy’s specific question — I am responding to the point she made — the labour movement, both the Labour Party and the trade union movement, believe it is the responsibility of trade unions in the first instance to represent the rights of workers and to do so directly with their employers. To the best of my knowledge, the Ulster Bank has conducted its negotiations rightly and properly with the direct representatives of the banking workers in the Ulster Bank. We will await to hear from the negotiators, the IBOA, if they so choose, whether they want the assistance and help of the Government to negotiate the necessary redundancy packages. The Government has every confidence in the ability of the IBOA to negotiate the entitlements and packages to which their members are entitled and for which they are eligible. If there are difficulties which are beyond the capacity of the social partners to sort out themselves then the Government will assist but it is not the business of the Government to interfere in that process. They are well able to do it themselves. If they run into difficulties the machinery of the State is there to assist them but there have been no requests for such assistance.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I wish to raise the important issue of education. I am pleased the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, is present in the Chamber. In particular, I wish to refer to the proposed cuts to DEIS schools, the most disadvantaged schools in the State. I do not know whether the Minister is aware that parents, teachers and entire communities are upset about the proposed cuts and about the damage to education.

I wish to focus my questions on DEIS schools. Does the Minister accept as a core principle that one of the most important ways out of poverty in any country is education? Why then is he taking 428 DEIS teaching posts from 270 primary schools and 163 post-primary schools? Does the Minister understand the damage that will do to those pupils and families? Does he understand the work done in DEIS schools with children at risk and dysfunctional pupils with major problems in their lives? Four year olds come to school every day with huge problems. Does the Minister really understand educational disadvantage? Why is he trying to dismantle a service that has been proven to work in the past ten years for the most needy pupils in the State? On the broader issue of education and the economy, many consider that the Minister is [529]penalising those poor pupils for the actions of bankers, developers and politicians. They feel they are taking the rap for the actions of others. There is a gross injustice in that.

The Minister should be careful with his reply to my final question. Does he accept that the Government could be in breach of Article 28.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Education Act 1998 by removing those posts from the education service? I accept that a review is being carried out. Many of the Minister’s colleagues on the backbenches have major concerns on the matter. Deputy John Lyons made an excellent speech last night. As people have major concerns about this, I urge the Minister to rescind the decision to cut these services to disadvantaged pupils.

Deputy Barry Cowen:  Another U-turn. I thank Deputy John Lyons.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  If I may remind the Deputy, like himself, I, too, represent a constituency with an inner-city core with a high level of disadvantage. Over my time in Dublin South-East I have seen intergenerational poverty when dealing with the grandchildren of people I first dealt with many decades ago. I agree education is the great liberator. I would not be in this Chamber if it were not for the chance that I had the good fortune and opportunity to be educated to the level I have been, and I want that same chance to be applied to every other child of this republic.

There are no DEIS-designated teachers being taken out of any DEIS-band school. I refer to teachers who are identified as being in a school previous to the introduction of DEIS. We are now looking at the impact of operation of those teachers in combination with the other teachers in those schools. We are looking at the effectiveness of the total programme now that we have a Department of Children and Youth Affairs. As a teacher, Deputy McGrath will readily appreciate that education begins in the home and this can mean literacy or even feeding children with a decent breakfast so that they can go to school to learn on a full stomach and not on an empty one, as is the case, sadly, with many children in disadvantaged schools. We will examine the impact of the proposals suggested to see how they can be operated, ameliorated or changed in order that we do not have any consequence that is not intended.

I remind the Deputy and other Members that 60% of disadvantaged children go to normal, non-DEIS schools. There is no monopoly of misery nor of disadvantage in the DEIS schools per se. I acknowledge there is a significant level of disadvantage in those schools but 60% of disadvantaged children are not in those schools and we have to address the entirety of the education population. Even if the totality of the proposed changes were to be implemented, the impact would amount to 0.3% on the entire teaching cohort in the system. Both the Government and I want to liberate children from poverty by means of education in order that they can walk tall themselves. This is the intention and that is what we are trying to do by means of the review and report to be undertaken in the next four weeks.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I thank the Minister for his response. I urge him to ensure the review digs deep in the next four weeks and ask him to examine the return of these teachers to these particular schools. I agree there is no monopoly of disadvantage. However, I worked for many years in a disadvantaged school and know there are different levels of disadvantage. For instance, there is crisis disadvantage in many seriously disadvantaged schools and this is different from a school where there are low-income families or those just above the poverty line.

I urge the Minister to use the review to examine the most needy schools and the most needy pupils. He says the consequences are not intended but I warn him if he removes teachers from [530]these poor schools, there will be serious consequences and it will cost him more in the future and it will also cost the State more in the future. It might be a figure of 0.3% but as far as I am concerned and as far as many people in this House and members of the Technical Group are concerned, damaging schools — poor schools — and discriminating against children living in poverty should never be an option for trying to solve the economic crisis in the country.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Deputy Finian McGrath is a teacher and I will respond to him by saying that the logic of applying additional resources to any endeavour, particularly in the area of education, is that in order to justify the application of those additional resources, one must measure the consequences of those inputs to see the benefit. The three reports being published today, one by the Educational Research Centre in St. Patrick’s College and two by the inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills, show there are measurable outcomes in the DEIS schools proper and these are positive outcomes in the main. In the areas where schools are not able to implement an agreed programme or plan — as I am not a professional educationist, I do not wish to sound like one — where the burden on such schools is such that it is not possible, for whatever reason — these reasons are multi-factorial — to follow a plan of improvement over a period of time, then the results are not that great.

I refer to one of the difficulties with some of the earlier schemes such as Breaking the Cycle and Giving Children an Even Break. There was not the same rigorous level of measurement of outcomes as with DEIS and this will need to be examined. There is no point in putting in additional resources if 60% of disadvantaged children are in mainstream regular schools. In my view, as Minister for Education and Skills, there is no point putting in additional resources if there is no mechanism for measuring the outcome of those additional resources.

I refer to the rhetoric used by Deputy McGrath although I do not suspect he intended it. However, heightened rhetoric such as, “I warn you there will be serious consequences”, which was used on 12 January about events that will not take effect until next September, this is not the tone of debate we wish to hear when discussing the future of five, six and seven year olds or their parents——

Deputy Finian McGrath:  It is not rhetoric; it is a genuine concern.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Deputy should listen to what he said: “I warn you there will be serious consequences.”

Deputy Finian McGrath:  What I mean is it is dangerous for the children of the State.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I have examined this matter very closely, having drilled down deep, so to speak, and into all sectors of the education system——

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I object; it is not rhetoric.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Perhaps it was the tone of the remarks. We want a debate that is passionate but also compassionate as regards what we are trying to achieve collectively in this House.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  It is proposed to take No. 8a, Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad] — allocation of time motion for select sub-committee; No. 12, Patents (Amendment) Bill 2011 — Order for Report, Report and Final [531]Stages; and No. 4, Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011 — Second Stage (resumed).

It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders and notwithstanding the Order of the Dáil of 11 January 2012, Private Members’ business, which shall be brought to a conclusion after 90 minutes, shall take place immediately after No. 8a, which shall take place immediately on the conclusion of the Order of Business; No. 8a shall be decided without debate; and Second Stage of the Local Authority Public Administration Bill 2011 shall be considered tomorrow and the following arrangements shall apply: the opening speech of the main spokespersons for Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Technical Group and of a Minister or Minister of State, who shall be called upon in that order, shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, the speech of each other Member called upon shall not exceed 15 minutes in each case, Members may share time, a Minister or Minister of State, who may speak twice, shall be called upon not later than 1 p.m. to make a speech which shall not exceed 15 minutes, and the main spokesperson for Fianna Fáil shall be called upon to make a speech in reply which shall not exceed 15 minutes.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members’ business agreed to?

Deputy Joe Higgins:  It is not agreed. This is a proposal for a variation of the Order of the Dáil yesterday and I oppose it on the basis that a further variation is required. It is unthinkable that there would not be a substantial feature in the House today of the disaster in Ulster Bank, notwithstanding the short exchanges by the Leaders this morning. We need the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, to make a statement to the House on the loss of 900 jobs, 600 of which are in this State and the bulk of which are low and middle income workers——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I must interrupt the Deputy. I do not like interrupting speakers but this is a technical issue. If the Deputy wishes to seek time later in the debate, I will certainly facilitate him.

Deputy Joe Higgins:  With respect, a Cheann Comhairle, this matter relates to the ordering of Dáil business today and the proposal is a variation of yesterday.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is purely a technical issue in relation to when Private Members’ business will be taken. It is not additional business.

It is a technical issue, to which I will come back.

Deputy Joe Higgins:  Fine.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the proposal for dealing with Private Members’ business agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 8a, allocation of time motion for select sub-committee, without debate, agreed to?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  No, it is not agreed. This involves the use of the guillotine on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill. We oppose this because there are a significant number of outstanding issues still to be resolved with regard to this Bill, the most fundamental of which concerns what standards will apply when the inspectors come out to the houses. We have suggested at the committee, in order to try and get more information on this, that we should invite in the EPA to address the committee and inform us of the standards. When we know [532]the standards, we will then know the likely cost implications for householders and what assistance they will need to get for the costs associated with the required upgrades. There is significant debate to take place.

The Minister could expedite the Bill by dealing with the serious issue we have raised. We ask him to agree that the Environmental Protection Agency, which under the proposed Bill must advise the Minister on the standard, be asked to come before the committee as the next step to advise on what standards will apply. Then we can move forward with the Bill in a logical process.

  11 o’clock

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I object to the use of the guillotine. This legislation is highly contentious and it has caused grave concern across rural Ireland. Time is required to examine it in great detail and to take the amendments. At least time must be given to consider the proposition and perhaps for the Government to reconsider it. The practice of using guillotines in important debates should not be tolerated in this Chamber or on Committee Stage. If we are to have our rightful say and to fulfil our representative duty, the Government cannot guillotine debate in an arbitrary and routine manner. It has become reminiscent of its Fianna Fáil colleagues with its increasing penchant for guillotines. We object to this proposal.

Deputy Joe Higgins:  The Deputies representing rural constituencies are well aware of this issue, but any Deputies from urban areas who ventured into rural Ireland over the Christmas period or who went back to their ancestral homelands will also be aware that this is a major issue which is causing huge concern to ordinary people in rural Ireland who have not had the benefit of the investment that went into the urban drainage schemes over past decades, at taxpayers' expense.

We want clean water and want our underground water resources protected absolutely. However, the level of cost that may be imposed on individuals and families is causing concern. Therefore, I agree that we need certainty. At a minimum, the EPA must outline the standards in advance in order that there is clarity. Then the Government needs to think further about how to ensure equivalence and justice for rural people through the type of public investment equivalent to what was done in the cities in past decades.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Deputies are familiar with the background to this issue. It has nothing to do with the troika or the bailout, but has everything to do with our treaty and legal obligations regarding clean water and ensuring our neighbour’s water, whether in urban or rural Ireland is clean. It also has everything to do with the fact that this Republic was cited as being in breach of the obligations and undertakings we gave. Deputy Higgins, as a former Member of the European Parliament, will be more aware of this than anybody else and knows the strength of the European Court of Justice.

I need not remind the Deputy of how the City of Galway was closed down some summers ago because of the poisoning of the water. That is what this is about. It is because we have failed to implement a clean water requirement in rural Ireland——

Deputy Ciarán Lynch:  Under Deputy Ó Cuív’s watch.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  ——and because we have been in breach of undertakings that were given by representatives of this Chamber in the European Commission that if we do not have this legislation enacted by 3 February, we will be subject to a fine of €26,000 a day.

[533]I share and understand the concerns being expressed.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please allow the Minister reply to the points made.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  There are three issues involved. There is the necessity to deal with this or otherwise we will be fined substantial amounts. We are agreed on that point. Is the Deputy agreed that we must have the legislation in place by 3 February? It seems he is not in agreement.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Let me——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume his seat. He should not put any question, but let the Minister reply.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I am new to this role.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Minister is all right. He is doing fine, just keep going.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I am bound by the Chair. This is a matter on which there has been extensive discussion at committee. I listened to Deputy McGrath over Christmas also. We can deal with concerns about how this will function after the legislation is enacted. We no longer have the time to deal with it now, because on 3 February we will face a fine of €26,000 a day.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will put the question.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I object——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume his seat. There is no debate on this issue. I warn the Deputy that he will be taking a walk.

Question put: “That the proposals for dealing with No. 8a, without debate, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 35.

 Bannon, James.  Barry, Tom.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Butler, Ray.
 Buttimer, Jerry.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Byrne, Eric.  Carey, Joe.
 Coffey, Paudie.  Conaghan, Michael.
 Connaughton, Paul J.  Conway, Ciara.
 Coonan, Noel.  Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
 Coveney, Simon.  Creed, Michael.
 Daly, Jim.  Deasy, John.
 Deering, Pat.  Doherty, Regina.
 Donohoe, Paschal.  Dowds, Robert.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Farrell, Alan.
 Ferris, Anne.  Fitzpatrick, Peter.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Heydon, Martin.  Humphreys, Heather.
 Humphreys, Kevin.  Keating, Derek.
 Keaveney, Colm.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kelly, Alan.  Kyne, Seán.
 Lawlor, Anthony.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  Lyons, John.
 McCarthy, Michael.  McEntee, Shane.
 McFadden, Nicky.  McHugh, Joe.
 McLoughlin, Tony.  McNamara, Michael.
 Maloney, Eamonn.  Mathews, Peter.
 Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.  Mulherin, Michelle.
 Murphy, Dara.  Nash, Gerald.
 Naughten, Denis.  Neville, Dan.
 Nolan, Derek.  Nulty, Patrick.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Sullivan, Jan.  Penrose, Willie.
 Phelan, Ann.  Quinn, Ruairí.
 Reilly, James.  Ryan, Brendan.
 Shatter, Alan.  Spring, Arthur.
 Stagg, Emmet  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Twomey, Liam.  Wall, Jack.
 Walsh, Brian.  


Níl
 Boyd Barrett, Richard.  Browne, John.
 Calleary, Dara.  Collins, Joan.
 Colreavy, Michael.  Cowen, Barry.
 Crowe, Seán.  Daly, Clare.
 Doherty, Pearse.  Donnelly, Stephen S.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Ellis, Dessie.
 Fleming, Tom.  Halligan, John.
 Healy-Rae, Michael.  Higgins, Joe.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
 McDonald, Mary Lou.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McLellan, Sandra.
 Murphy, Catherine.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Brien, Jonathan.
 O’Dea, Willie.  Ross, Shane.
 Smith, Brendan.  Stanley, Brian.
 Tóibín, Peadar.  Troy, Robert.
 Wallace, Mick.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Question declared carried.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  On a point of order, is a precedent being set by the manner in which the Government intends to guillotine the debate on the Bill on Committee Stage?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a point of order.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  It is a point of order.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should resume his seat.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Is this the promised Dáil reform?

Deputies:  Sit down, Mattie.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  It is shameful.

(Interruptions).

[535]An Ceann Comhairle:  All Members should show some respect for the House. I am moving to the next proposal. Are the proposals for dealing with the Local Authority Public Administration Bill 2011 agreed to? Agreed.

We are over time, but Deputy Joe Higgins has indicated. Is he requesting time for a debate?

Deputy Joe Higgins:  Yes. Will the Minister ensure the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation will come to the Dáil this afternoon to make a statement and answer questions on the disastrous loss of jobs proposed at Ulster Bank? I ask him to forget the corrosive fatalism and institutionalised pessimism which states nothing can be done. If the banks were lending to small enterprises and individuals as they should be in order to recreate the domestic economy, none of these jobs would be lost. That is the road we should be going down.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The House shares the Deputy’s concern on this matter. However, we do not yet have all the information necessary for an informed debate. We must let the facts emerge in the discussions that are ongoing between Ulster Bank and the IBOA. I suggest Deputy Catherine Murphy who is sitting beside the Deputy is well equipped to request that this matter be raised at the next Whips’ meeting and that time be made available in due course to debate it. As the Minister for Finance is out of the country, I cannot give an undertaking that he will be here this afternoon. This matter should be raised with the Whips and I am sure a satisfactory outcome can be achieved.

Deputy Liam Twomey:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the making of medical treatment decisions in advance by competent persons with the intention of those decisions subsequently providing for the withholding of care at a time when the person loses competence to make treatment decisions; to amend the Powers of Attorney Act 1996 to allow for attorneys under that act to take healthcare treatment decisions; and to provide for connected matters.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe):  No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

Deputy Liam Twomey:  I move: “That the Bill be taken in Private Members’ time.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach (Deputy Paul Kehoe):  I move:

That, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders or the order of the Dáil of 30th November, 2011, the proceedings in the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Com[536]munity and Local Government on the Water Services (Amendment) Bill 2011 [Seanad] shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, 18th January, 2012, by one question which shall be put from the Chair and which shall, in relation to amendments, include only those set down or accepted by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government or a Minister of State, nominated as a substitute on his behalf.

Question put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 78; Níl, 35.

 Bannon, James.  Barry, Tom.
 Broughan, Thomas P.  Butler, Ray.
 Buttimer, Jerry.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Byrne, Eric.  Carey, Joe.
 Coffey, Paudie.  Conaghan, Michael.
 Connaughton, Paul J.  Conway, Ciara.
 Coonan, Noel.  Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.
 Coveney, Simon.  Creed, Michael.
 Daly, Jim.  Deasy, John.
 Deering, Pat.  Doherty, Regina.
 Donohoe, Paschal.  Dowds, Robert.
 Doyle, Andrew.  Durkan, Bernard J.
 English, Damien.  Farrell, Alan.
 Feighan, Frank.  Ferris, Anne.
 Fitzpatrick, Peter.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Griffin, Brendan.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Tom.  Heydon, Martin.
 Humphreys, Heather.  Humphreys, Kevin.
 Keating, Derek.  Keaveney, Colm.
 Kehoe, Paul.  Kelly, Alan.
 Kyne, Seán.  Lawlor, Anthony.
 Lynch, Ciarán.  Lyons, John.
 McCarthy, Michael.  McEntee, Shane.
 McFadden, Nicky.  McHugh, Joe.
 McLoughlin, Tony.  McNamara, Michael.
 Maloney, Eamonn.  Mathews, Peter.
 Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.  Mulherin, Michelle.
 Murphy, Dara.  Nash, Gerald.
 Neville, Dan.  Nolan, Derek.
 Nulty, Patrick.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Penrose, Willie.  Phelan, Ann.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Reilly, James.
 Ryan, Brendan.  Shatter, Alan.
 Spring, Arthur.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Twomey, Liam.
 Wall, Jack.  Walsh, Brian.



Níl
 Browne, John.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Joan.  Colreavy, Michael.
 Cowen, Barry.  Crowe, Seán.
 Daly, Clare.  Doherty, Pearse.
 Donnelly, Stephen S.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Ellis, Dessie.  Fleming, Tom.
 Halligan, John.  Healy-Rae, Michael.
 Higgins, Joe.  Kelleher, Billy.
 Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  McDonald, Mary Lou.
 McGrath, Finian.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McLellan, Sandra.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Naughten, Denis.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Brien, Jonathan.
 O’Dea, Willie.  Ross, Shane.
 Smith, Brendan.  Stanley, Brian.
 Tóibín, Peadar.  Troy, Robert.
 Wallace, Mick.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Question declared carried.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Seán Crowe on Wednesday, 11 January 2012:

That Dáil Éireann:

recognises the right of every child to equal opportunity through education as enshrined in Article 28.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the Education Act 1998 makes specific reference to provision for the education of persons with disabilities or special educational needs, and that a stated objective of the Act is “to give practical effect to the constitutional rights of children, including children who have a disability or other special educational needs”;

notes that the Education for Persons with Special Needs Act 2004 promotes inclusive education for children with special educational needs and confers on parents a series of rights in relation to their child with special educational needs;

notes that Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) band one and DEIS band two schools provide essential support for children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with special educational needs, so that they are able to leave school with the skills necessary to fully participate in the social and economic activities of society and to live independent and fulfilled lives;

notes that in total there are 199 DEIS band one schools, 32 of which were in the former Breaking the Cycle, BTC, programme that predated DEIS; DEIS band one BTC junior schools will operate a staffing schedule of 18:1; DEIS band one BTC senior schools will operate a staffing schedule of 24:1; vertical (junior and senior pupils) band one BTC schools will operate separate staffing schedules of 18:1 at junior and 24:1 at senior level;

notes that other DEIS band one schools (167 schools that are not in BTC) will function as follows: DEIS band one junior schools will operate a staffing schedule of 20:1; DEIS band one senior schools will operate a staffing schedule of 24:1; DEIS [538]band one vertical (junior and senior pupils) schools will operate a staffing schedule of 22:1;

notes that junior DEIS schools are to be treated on a pupil-teacher ratio of an “alleviated” level: 18:1 from 15:1 and that DEIS band two schools will increase from a 24:1 ratio to 28:1;

notes that a number of administrative principals are to be lost; the support teacher scheme is ending; the learning support system allocation changed and an estimated 250 teachers in DEIS disadvantaged primary schools are to be transferred to mainstream schools;

notes that more than 428 DEIS teaching posts from 270 primary schools and 163 post-primary schools will be lost and that schools with classrooms designed to cater for a 15:1 pupil-teacher ratio will be unable to accommodate larger classroom sizes;

commends the dedication and work of teaching staff in DEIS schools and recognises the incremental improvements that have resulted from dedicated programmes designed to help children who struggle to reach their educational potential;

notes that the decision to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio from 22:1, as originally set out in Budget 2012, to 18:1, will still result in the significant loss of teachers to disadvantaged schools covered by DEIS band one and DEIS band two;

acknowledges that cuts to DEIS schools will result in the dismantling of essential educational supports for pupils with a high level of need in school and that this is a continuation of past Government budgetary polices that have resulted in cuts in education services designed to assist children from marginalised and disadvantaged backgrounds;

notes that many DEIS band one and DEIS band two schools have already lost a range of services including special needs assistants, Traveller allocation teachers and language support teachers and the withdrawal of visiting support teachers for Travellers, the phasing out by 2012 of senior Traveller training centres, all of which have contributed to improving numeracy and literacy standards;

acknowledges that the loss of an estimated 700 plus career guidance counsellors in second level schools, as a result of the decision in Budget 2012 not to provide these posts on an ex-quota basis, will seriously reduce the level of support for children experiencing a range of emotional and learning difficulties;

notes that it contradicts OECD recommendations to prioritise educational resources for socio-economically marginalised urban and rural areas and will undermine the Government’s EU commitment to reaching the EU 2020 target of 10% early school leavers nationally;

notes that the national literacy and numeracy strategy that has been prioritised by the Government and seen as essential to improving standards in schools will be undermined and will result in the loss of much of the progress that has been made in [539]assisting children who have benefited greatly from the establishment of DEIS schools in 2005 and the Breaking the Cycle scheme which was initiated in 1996;

acknowledges that the targeting of DEIS schools will have serious implications for society in the medium to long term, and will contribute to greater social exclusion of many young people who are unable to avail of a fair and equitable education;

notes that this is yet another attack on some of the most vulnerable children and undermines the Government’s commitment to protect the educational rights of children and those marginalised by poverty;

notes that cuts in DEIS schools contrasts with the Government’s prolonged review into State funding for private schools and its decision to implement a two-point increase in the staffing schedule in second level fee-paying schools, with one teacher for almost every 22 pupils;

notes that phased staffing adjustments in small schools with fewer than five teachers will leave an estimated 1,500 small schools struggling with higher pupil-teacher ratios and will lead to the closure of many rural schools;

calls upon the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to rescind these cuts as a matter of urgency and protect the rights of children to obtain their education entitlement by ensuring DEIS schools are adequately funded and retain their current pupil-teacher ratio;

calls upon the Government to retain the current scheme of giving DEIS band schools a “top up” allocation on the existing standard staffing schedule to enable them to implement reduced class sizes of 20:1 in junior classes and 24:1 in senior classes;

calls upon the Government to reverse its decision to withdraw, from 2012, supports in some schools from disadvantage schemes predating DEIS;

calls upon the Government to rescind its decision to cut teaching posts from DEIS band one and DEIS band two schools;

calls upon the Government to reverse these indefensible cuts to essential education services which will impact on the life chances of young people and have broader ramifications for Irish society and its economy; and

calls upon the Government to ring-fence funding and supports for DEIS band one and DEIS band two schools in order to break the cycle of deprivation, marginalisation and disadvantage and to promote fairness and equality.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:

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

acknowledges that the plans set out by the Government in budget 2012 form an important step in returning Ireland’s economy to a sound footing and regaining our economic sovereignty;

[540]

recalls the pioneering measures first taken in 1996 by the then Fine Gael-Labour Party Government by the introduction of dedicated supports for tackling educational disadvantage, with the purpose and objective of ensuring that educational attainment is not confined by the circumstances or place of a child’s birth, and that each child has the opportunity to attain their full educational and social potential;

notes the further development since that time of a series of initiatives, including the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme;

commends the commitment, dedication and unstinting work since that time of teachers, principals, school staff, parents and others in the school communities concerned who have worked to ensure the success of DEIS and related schemes in the face of multiple challenges and difficulties;

notes the successes that have been achieved to date in improving educational opportunities and the life chances of the children who have benefited from these measures;

notes the resources that have been committed to these schools under a range of headings, including over €158 million that is being provided in 2012 in additional resources and supports for primary and second level schools included in DEIS, in the form of:

teaching posts to implement more favourable class sizes;

additional capitation funding;

additional funding for school books;

access to the school meals programme;

access to numeracy and literacy supports and measures at primary level such as Reading Recovery, Maths Recovery and First Steps;

access to home-school-community liaison services;

access to the school completion programme;

access to planning supports;

access to a range of professional development supports; and

provision for school library and librarian support for DEIS Second Level schools, access to the junior certificate school programme and leaving certificate applied;

notes the priority that has already been afforded by the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, to the core issue of improving literacy standards and literacy strategy that is currently being implemented; and

welcomes:

[541]

the firm commitment of the Government to the principle of equality of educational opportunity;

the determination of the Government to further the attainment of this goal through the design and implementation of coherent and evidence-based strategies which build on these achievements;

the engagement by the Minister for Education and Skills with school principals, teachers, parents and communities in recent weeks, to hear their concerns and clarify the position in relation to changes announced under budget 2012 to posts allocated to schools under previous schemes to tackle educational disadvantage; and

the fact that, following this engagement, the Minister for Education and Skills has asked his Department for a report within the next four weeks on the position of DEIS band one and band two schools which currently have posts under older schemes, in the context of the staffing allocations due to issue to all schools in the coming weeks.

—(Minister for Education and Skills).

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Finian McGrath who I understand is sharing time.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  Yes.

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important and urgent debate on educational disadvantage. I commend Sinn Féin for bringing forth this excellent motion which highlights the gross hypocrisy of the Government, in particular the Labour Party, in terms of cuts which will affect the most disadvantaged pupils in society, including those with special needs. Shame on the Government parties after all their talk and false promises prior to the general election.

As I stated earlier, the Government is in breach of Article 28.1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Education Act 1988 which makes specific reference to the education of children with disabilities. The Government is in this regard and the broader debate on the economy and banking crisis making the most disadvantaged pay for the sins of others, namely, the greedy mé féiners who have destroyed the country.

As the only Deputy in Dublin North Central to stand up and fight for DEIS schools, I will be voting against these cuts. The silence of the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, and Deputy Ó Ríordáin is deafening. The other two Deputies representing Dublin North Central are standing over the damage being done to DEIS schools and the removal of 438 DEIS teaching posts from 270 primary schools.

I urge all Members to support this valuable motion which I commend to the House.

Deputy Catherine Murphy:  The Minister’s stock reply when issues of resources for education arise is that the country is in receivership. He uses the word “receivership” rather than “bankrupt”. If the country is only in “receivership”, it can become healthy again. We all believe that can happen, although much depends on the choices we now make. Taking the long view, we need to look at the outcomes for children starting school. We need to ensure that when we emerge from this awful crisis, we did not do anything to compound the problem. Otherwise, a particular cohort, owing to educational neglect, will be dependent rather than independent and their life chances will be severely curtailed.

[542]DEIS schools are located in areas of economic disadvantage. This came about as a consequence of a policy decision on housing, namely, the grouping of people financially disadvantaged in one area. We need to ensure they can break out of that cycle. The Minister has stated many pupils are educated in non-DEIS schools in disadvantaged areas. However, these schools are also affected by a reduction in the number of resource teachers despite having a high pupil-teacher ratio. This issue needs to be addressed in our review of outcomes. It is not the case that non-DEIS schools will be unaffected, as they, too, are subject to reductions in funding. I, therefore, urge the Minister to give serious consideration to this matter, as we do not want to look back in 20 years time and ask why we allowed this to happen.

Deputy Shane Ross:  I support the motion. I am astonished that the Government has taken the decision to attack under-privileged people. There are all sorts of ways to cut public expenditure and, to me, this is a foolish and heartless option. I cannot understand how the Government can justify the extravagance in which it indulges in terms of payments to Ministers, Deputies, advisers and Senators and at the same time attack those such as the under-privileged identified in the motion. There is no justification for doing so when waste in the public service continues. The Government must, if forced to achieve savings, look again at other areas which are sensitive or deemed to be sacred cows. I am surprised at the support for the cuts from the Labour Party which traditionally has been sensitive to the needs of those who are under-privileged, poor, under-educated, handicapped and disabled.

It is welcome that the Minister is prepared to review this decision, admittedly under pressure from the House, including Deputy Finian McGrath and Members on the Government side. It is imperative that he does so. This could be a lesson for the Government. I do not welcome, in political terms, that the Government has to be humiliated in this fashion. What astonishes me, however, is that it took this decision in the first instance. I find that surprising and do not understand it, as it is a crude decision and the wrong one. There are other areas in which there could be cuts. There are other sacred cows which could be looked at. I have continuously called on the Government to look at the waste in the areas which are so protected. I, therefore, plead with the Minister to reverse the cuts which will adversely affect Holy Cross school, Dundrum.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  There were many cruel and senseless measures announced in the December budget, almost all of which were directed at or disproportionately hit the disadvantaged. However, the threat of swingeing cuts to DEIS schemes which provide a life-line for some of our most vulnerable young people is surely one of the cruelest and most senseless measures considered by the Government.

The Minister is aware — if he is not, he should be — that most of the people in the prisons suffered disadvantage or had special needs and literacy or numeracy problems which were not identified during previous darker times in the country. They were lost to society and their futures wasted. To cut teacher numbers and support to DEIS schemes which have given a life-life and an opportunity to young vulnerable and disadvantaged people to flourish, develop and contribute to society is obscene. It is a step back into a darker age, from which most people thought we had escaped. The Government is stealing the future of a huge number of our young, most vulnerable people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Thank you, Deputy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  If the cuts proceed, more people will end up in prison and on the streets and immense damage will be done to the social fabric of the country. I do not understand how the Minister does not choke on phrases such as “liberate through education”[543]and “children first” when robbing the resources that are necessary to put children first. The Labour Party should be ashamed of itself. Those affected in DEIS schools should come out onto the streets on the 19th of this month and protest outside Leinster House to show their anger at the cuts.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is taking some of Deputy Wallace’s time.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  It is welcome that the Minister will review this decision. A person who cannot change his or her mind would not know how to change anything. I spoke with some of the parents involved in yesterday’s protest. It is mindboggling how the Government allowed matters to get to this point and it is to be hoped the Minister’s review will not be a token one. I spoke yesterday with the parents of some of the children attending Scoil Aonghusa, Tallaght which has 195 pupils and will as a result of the cuts lose five teachers. As a result, it will not be in a position to enrol the same number of students next year as it did this year. This will probably result in the school entering a downward spiral.

During Leaders’ Questions the Minister stated 60% of disadvantaged children attended non-DEIS schools, which is a good point. This brings home to me a matter about which many parents of pupils of Gorey community school have contacted me in recent days, namely, it is losing three guidance counsellors. While I acknowledge the Minister has stated the school has the option to keep them or lose other subject experts——

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  They are not being lost but are going into the mainstream teacher cohort. Deployment is at the discretion of the principal.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  Fine. Three non-contracted teachers are being laid off and the guidance teachers are going back into the mainstream system to replace them. It is the biggest school in Ireland with 1,500 kids and because of the various strands of children entering it, the school cannot afford to cut the subjects and it considers its only option to be to lose three guidance teachers. This is a school that has experienced three suicides in the past two years. The guidance counsellors were highly valuable to the school and they are really upset about it.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The next slot is a Government slot, in which ten Members will share 30 minutes. It is important that each Member respects his or her allocation of three minutes. If one goes over time, one will knock out someone at the bottom. Consequently, I ask them to limit themselves to three minutes.

Deputy Michael McCarthy:  In the context of expenditure on education, the budget for the Department last year was €8 billion, 80% of which went on pay and pensions. This leaves the Minister with little room to manoeuvre when trying to achieve savings without the axe falling somewhere. While this undoubtedly will cause difficulty, what matters most is how one administers this difficulty in the decision-making process. I will make a number of points in the brief time available. First, it is important that those schools which are not in the DEIS scheme but which had legacy posts because they were considered to be disadvantaged by the Department also should be included in the review announced by the Minister and which I welcome. Second, when trying to achieve savings, an important role exists for the teacher organisations such as, for example in primary schools, the INTO and the Irish Primary Principals Network, IPPN. It will be important to engage, consult and communicate with such people. Deputy Jim Daly and I visited a DEIS school in our constituency last Monday and this point emerged from that visit. Direct communication is needed between principals and the Department to achieve these savings and the former are best equipped to do this because they are on the ground.

[544]As for what has been said in this Chamber about cutbacks, I will make two points. First, I served in Seanad Éireann with Deputy Ross and remember him cheerleading Mr. Seanie FitzPatrick and the business model of Anglo Irish Bank, which is part of the reason for the economic mess in which the country finds itself. Another reason the Government must make these difficult decisions was the provision of the blanket guarantee, which was ably supported by Sinn Féin. Moreover, I note the Sinn Féin Minister of Education in the North last week announced the closure of two rural schools there. It is rank hypocrisy for any member of that party to criticise and complain in this Chamber while it is guilty of closing rural schools in the North of Ireland. It also is convenient for any Member suffering from amnesia to forget he or she cheer-led the Anglo Irish Bank business model, which brought Ireland into the difficulty it now faces. It has been left to the new Government to clean up the mess that was left behind by the outgoing Administration. The country is being run on money borrowed from the troika. That is where the money is coming from and the Government must be wise and provident in respect of how it spends that money and must ensure it protects the most disadvantaged.

Deputy Simon Harris:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important topic. The Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, was correct to point out in his speech last night the increasing demands facing the school system, most particularly the additional 70,000 pupils who will enroll in Irish schools in the next six years. Obviously, as the Minister will acknowledge, it also is a time in which education is of critical importance in the rebuilding and reformation of the country. As one increasingly looks to attracting highly skilled jobs to Ireland, it is vitally important that young people are given the educational support they need to fulfil their potential, whatever that might be. The Minister is correct to prioritise a reform agenda and many elements thereof, particularly pertaining to the junior certificate reform, are exciting and everyone looks forward to developing them. However, in seeking to raise the standards of the education system and to accommodate the growing number of pupils, Members also must seek to protect the parts that already are delivering. It is in this context that I welcome the review announced by the Minister and for Deputy Ross to call it a humiliation is to miss the point entirely. This is not the Vatican and no political leader in the Government or this House is infallible. The decision announced by the Minister to conduct a review and to engage with schools to consider matters on a case-by-case basis is courageous and sensible and ensures the resources are targeted. There is no point in having a blanket scheme until one can ascertains that it will deliver. Equally, the Government must learn lessons in this regard and recognise that blanket cuts across the board also do not work for the same reason.

In addition, I acknowledge the recognition given by the Government to the wider issues affecting children enrolled in DEIS schools and its intention to address these in a targeted and co-ordinated manner. I commend the decision to preserve the €30 million in enhanced funding for DEIS schools, the €2 million school books scheme and the €26 million investment in the home-school-community liaison service. Moreover, the €27 million that will be provided next year for the school completion programme from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs highlights the cross-departmental approach, which is important if Members are serious about tackling educational disadvantage.

The resources invested in DEIS schools are vital in securing the opportunities of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have seen at first hand in St. Philomena’s school, Bray, which is in my constituency, how a DEIS school is delivering for children with educational disadvantage. The Minister should take the opportunity to ensure the review for this year and the coming year will mean those schools that need the resources, and more importantly, those children who need the resources, will receive them. I ask that the Minister take a similar [545]approach to all areas of reform within the school system, including the likes of rural schools and small minority-faith schools.

Deputy Jim Daly:  Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis seo chun labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo. I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to this debate and will make a couple of brief points. I commend the Minister for the steps he has taken thus far and to his credit, he has been a proactive Minister in the Department of Education and Skills. I preface my remarks by welcoming the protection that has been afforded to students with special needs because they are the most vulnerable of children. This was a difficult and challenging budget but to be fair to the Minister, his staff and officials, there was no reduction in the number of SNAs or resource teaching hours, which is critical for any teaching infrastructure for any student body, as any teacher will attest. Moreover, the pupil-teacher ratio also will remain the same. This was a difficult challenge because, as has been alluded to several times in this debate, 80% of the budget is tied up in staffing costs. Consequently, it is obvious that the only way in which money can be saved is through a reduction of staffing.

Moreover, there is waste in the education process. I come from the education system and am proud of my involvement therein. I refer to those who trot out all this emotive nonsensical bland rubbish, using cheap expressions such as “vulnerable children” and similar razzmatazz. It sounds great in the politics of protest but is useless. Listening to this debate, I have not heard any constructive suggestion from any protesting politician on the other side of the House on where the money is to be saved. Anyone who thinks a country that, irrespective of any banking bailout or banking crisis, is running a deficit of €20 billion does not need to reform its education system and make savings is living in cloud cuckoo land and quite simply is not of any assistance to Members in the job they are doing.

  12 o’clock

I was delighted to be elected to this House last March with a view to being in government and to be part of a Government of reform. The education system needs reform and needs a great deal of input from all the stakeholders and all the players. While not everything has been got right thus far, many steps have been got right under these challenging and difficult circumstances. Consequently, I support the Minister in what he is doing. I appreciate the difficulties and there are some minor tweaks to be made because one cap will never fit all, which is the difficulty being experienced on the ground in individual schools. However, there are savings to be made and there is reform to be had. I support that and welcome this input from the Minister and his Department to date.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor:  Education is a key that unlocks a child’s potential and it is incumbent on the Government, the Department of Education and Skills, teachers, teachers’ unions and parents to ensure this is done in the best possible way. Education is about the child, the child is central to the debate and what is best for the child must be the focus at all times. The education debate should not be about jobs or the retention and creation of posts. Rather, it should be about the quality of education delivered in the classroom, in the resource teacher’s room, in lecture halls, in small rural two-teacher schools, in large urban 32-teacher schools and in DEIS band one and DEIS band two schools. The Government has pledged itself to prioritise the rights of the child and budget 2012 ensures this commitment to children is upheld in respect of educational resources.

I welcome the Minister’s pledge to review the DEIS band one and band two schools and to establish the facts around staffing and the pupil-teacher ratio. We need to have certainty about what resources we deliver in terms of attainment and outputs.

Today the education inspectorate will publish two reports and the ERC in Drumcondra will publish one report, which will give us more insight and shine a light on what exactly is hap[546]pening in our classrooms. The initiatives being proffered by DEIS band one and band two schools will be examined. We need these data to make decisions.

I pay tribute to the wonderful work being done by class teachers and resource teachers in the power hour initiative, the reading recovery initiative and many more initiatives. However, we have a problem in education and specific areas need to be addressed. The one that stands out is the national numeracy and literacy results from the PISA report. Those results show that the levels of numeracy and literacy have significantly decreased and that issue needs to be addressed.

I ask the Minister to ensure he introduces reform of the implementation of the literacy and numeracy strategy. We need to put that focus back into our classrooms. I commend him on introducing an extra year of training in our teacher training colleges. I ask him to ensure that in that year teachers are trained specifically in how to teach reading and mathematics in our schools to ensure our children can compete with the best in the world. I understand everyone’s difficulties in terms of DEIS band one and band two schools, rural schools and all of that but what is important is what is going on in the classroom. It is not about teachers’ jobs, teachers’ unions or anything else.

Deputy Seán Kyne:  Níl ach trí nóiméad agam le labhairt ar an ábhar tábhachtach seo, na scoileanna beaga i gConamara, go mórmhór iadsan sa Ghaeltacht. Tá feachtas tosaithe anois ag na scoileanna sin chun an ordú faoin PTR a athrú. Aontaím leis an bhfeachtas sin.

This campaign relates to one-teacher, two-teacher, three-teacher and four-teacher schools. In his contribution yesterday on behalf of the Government, the Minister for Education and Skills stated: “The Government will continue to prioritise targeted supports for schools with the most concentrated levels of educational disadvantage through DEIS over and above other schools.” The schools that have contacted me in the Connemara area such as Leitir Caladh, Tuairín, Leitir Mealláin, Tír an Fhia, Leitir Mucú are all DEIS schools. Furthermore, they are all Gaeltacht schools.

Our programme for Government states: “We will support the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 and will deliver on the achievable goals and targets proposed.” The proposed increase in the pupil-teacher ratio for small schools runs contrary to the 20 year strategy and to the Minister’s commitment for DEIS. The impact that such a loss on teacher numbers would have on class sizes will be huge in two-teacher schools such as the schools in Leitir Caladh or Leitir Mucú. The loss of one teacher would put the viability of such schools at risk. One teacher teaching up to 18 or 19 children of all A classes will put at risk the standard of education in this disadvantaged area. The loss of a teacher in larger schools such as Tuairín will increase class sizes and put a larger number of children in what are already physically small classrooms. Furthermore, backdating the enrolment date to September 2011 means that in the case of the school in Tuairín, which has 78 pupils, it only needed an additional three pupils to retain its four teachers. It would have been able to retain those teachers but because the enrolment date has been backdated, it will not be able to do that and it will lose a teacher.

While the negative effects of too large a class size is widely recognised and understood nationally, what is not as widely understood is the significant challenge of teaching a group comprising different age and year levels. This is an issue which predominantly affects rural schools and requires a teacher to devote more time to the preparation of lessons to ensure that all age groups within his or her class receive equal attention. If schools with such a system — which are necessitated in the first place to ensure adequate distribution of resources nationally — lose teaching posts, the task of teaching will be further complicated and the educational outcomes and opportunities for children will be placed at risk.

[547]When these issues were raised last year we spoke of the value for money report, which has not yet been published.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  I am told it is due in the coming weeks.

Deputy Seán Kyne:  That is good and I look forward to reading it. Notwithstanding the vote that will take place on this Private Members’ motion, on which I will support the Government, I ask the Minister to initiate a review of these changes for rural schools and to liaise with teachers to find alternative ways of maximising the constrained resources within the education budget. Flexibility is required regarding these changes. As Deputy Daly said, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work.

In the case of the school in Leenane which is geographically isolated we must examine the viability of the school there if one teacher is removed. As matters stand, it will lose a teacher not this year but perhaps the year after due to these changes. We must examine these matters. I respectfully ask for a policy review and change where possible.

Deputy Michael McNamara:  I greatly welcome the Minister’s initiative to review the impact the proposed loss of posts in DEIS schools would have, although it would result in relatively few posts being lost in County Clare with at least one post, which was proposed to be lost, being reviewed. A post in the Convent of Mercy school in Kilrush was under threat and I greatly welcome that it will be reviewed.

I reiterate what Deputy Lyons said yesterday. This party, as it prepares for its centenary year, takes very seriously a pledge made by our political predecessors in 1916 to cherish all the children of the nation equally. Our party, unlike the party which proposed the motion, does not differentiate between children of this nation in Northern Ireland in respect of whom it sees fit to cuts posts, and children south of the Border in this State, who are to be used merely as a political football.

I bring to the attention of the Dáil the fact that Sinn Féin rightly points out that the budget which is allocated in Northern Ireland is determined by a Tory government. What Sinn Féin failed to point out is that the Tory government just like the troika has very little interest in how that budget is spent and it is up to its Ministers in Northern Ireland to determine how the budget is spent just as it is up to Ministers here to determine how our budget is spent. In Northern Ireland its Minister sees fit to cut education posts whereas here we are doing everything possible to avoid cuts, especially cuts in DEIS schools and disadvantaged areas because we recognise that to cherish all the children of the nation equally, it is necessary to provide extra teaching posts for children from disadvantaged areas to break the cycle of disadvantage.

I recall for the information of the Dáil that it was a Labour Party Minister for education who first introduced preferential rates of teachers for children in disadvantaged areas. That is a policy this party in government intends to continue.

Deputy Dan Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I raise the issue of disadvantaged children or children in difficulties. We often fail to understand the opportunities there are to deal with children in difficulties. I especially refer to children and young people who have emotional, psychiatric and personal difficulties. Teachers have a captive audience and are able to assess people at an early age. With proper intervention at that stage many problems that are seen in the classroom can be catered for and we can prevent future difficulties.

There was a very low death rate among young people but that has changed during the years. That is true in the case of the incidence of suicide, an issue I wish to raise. In the past few decades the rate of suicide has increased dramatically among young people and, according to [548]one expert, the incidence of it is approaching epidemic proportions, although I do not like to use that term and such terms should be advisedly used.

Suicide among young people is different in nature from suicide generally. The impulsiveness that is one of youth’s greatest attributes can often lead to a sudden rash attempt at suicide when in the case of an older person the same emotions and response may not manifest themselves. Suicidal behaviour in adolescents is more often related to acute interpersonal problems. I thank the Minister for his forbearance when I raised this issue in the case of guidancecounsellors and the pastoral role they played in schools and I asked him to ensure that role continues.

I understand changes are necessary as a result of the position in which we find ourselves but guidance counsellors are often the first point of contact for students suffering from emotional difficulties or mental health issues arising from suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, sexual abuse, drug or alcohol abuse, bullying or problems relating to their sexuality. They are also the first point of contact with the HSE and the Garda Síochána in times of tragedy and they have an important role to play in supporting teachers. As I address my remarks to the Minister, I know I am speaking to the converted in respect of this issue. He indicated that he will ensure school authorities are fully aware of his commitment to retaining the guidance counselling role in schools, even in the aftermath of the recent changes.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I welcome the fact that the Minister has given a commitment to review the position of DEIS band one and band one schools in the context of the recent budget changes. He has taken a proactive approach to this matter and just prior to Christmas he indicated that he would be prepared to consider the position of schools on a case-by-case basis. I welcome that development. Schools have engaged in a proactive response to his call and I have already been contacted by the principal of Scoil Colmcille, Glengad, who, during the Christmas period, carried out a statistical analysis of the benefits of the DEIS programme. I congratulate her on doing so and encourage other school principals to follow her lead.

The principal in question informed me that she never thought she would be in a position to carry out such an analysis but that it had proven to be a good exercise. She indicated that the number of children under the 16th percentile in maths has dropped from 30% to 10% in the period since 1999. In the context of literacy, the figure has decreased from 31% to 8.9%. The principal also pointed out that an indicator of the success of the supports that were put in place is the number of children completing secondary school and proceeding to third level. In 1998 some 24% of children were leaving school without sitting the leaving certificate whereas this had dropped to 6% by 2011. In 1998, only 9% of children from the Glengad area were going on to third level whereas in 2011 the figure was 73%. Statistics of this nature are important.

I know the Minister is going to work with school authorities, boards of management, parents and fellow politicians in the context of considering educational reform in its entirety. I am also aware that he is going to be a reforming Minister. I am confident in his ability to listen to people. He met the patrons of smaller religious schools before Christmas. In that context, I welcome the fact that he is already engaged in dealing with this matter. Unlike his counterpart in Northern Ireland, he is not going to close down schools. In the past week the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland announced the closure of Aghavilly and Keady primary schools. The Minister for Education and Skills is not in the business of closing schools. He is, rather, in the business of achieving reform with fewer resources. He is going to be proactive and intends to take a bottom-up approach.

We must use this Chamber in a proactive way and we must display a degree of maturity. Let us, therefore, put forward constructive proposals. As Deputy Daly pointed out, the biggest temptation in politics — we were open to it when in opposition but we showed a degree of [549]maturity — is to grandstand, jump up and down and play to the gallery. That is not the way to do business. If we show a sense of maturity, we will achieve results in respect of the reform of the education system overall.

Deputy James Bannon:  I stress my belief that removing any part of initiatives such as the DEIS programme, which promotes educational equality, represents a false economy. Children are the future. It is our responsibility to preserve their right to achieve that future for both their personal development and the national good. As a concerned public representative and as a member of one of the parties in government, I am calling for a new examination of the proposed cutbacks. It is essential that Members of this House, as spokespersons for the most vulnerable in society, should make their voices heard, even if our doing so is perceived as going against the party line.

I welcome the Minister’s statement to the effect that he intends to review the impact of the relevant budgetary measures on individual schools on a case-by-case basis. However, this must result in positive and well-considered child-centred outcomes. While there is no disputing the fact that budgetary cutbacks are necessary, it is essential to take a long, hard look at the profiles of the schools which will be affected and also at the repercussions for the pupils who attend them. Small rural schools will be placed at a particular disadvantage in the context of the increased number of pupils required to maintain staff numbers. While this will be sufficiently problematic for many national schools, it will be extremely difficult for those in the DEIS programme. In light of the devastating effects of the economic downturn and of Government cutbacks in respect of rural communities, the provision of equity in education is an essential ingredient for long-term recovery. What makes the cutbacks relating to the DEIS programme especially harsh is the fact that the goalposts for DEIS schools which had met the criteria outlined by the Department of Education and Skills on 1 September last were moved on 31 October. While the figures provided by the Department may put a gloss on the position regarding the maintenance of pupil-teacher ratios, the reality is very different. The hard facts are that some rural schools may be forced to close. The disadvantaged pupils for whom these schools cater will be the ones to suffer most.

The removal of what are termed “legacy posts” from schools which require every assistance possible is both morally wrong and lacking in foresight. What may be considered a quick-fix saving now will become a massive liability in the future. How can we reconcile the fact that many mainstream schools will remain unaffected while disadvantaged schools will face drastic changes and major losses in the future? Regardless of how one considers this matter, it is obvious that DEIS band one and band two schools are set to lose teachers and children are going to lose their right to equality of education provision. That runs contrary to international best practice. I am extremely concerned with regard to the position in my constituency, Longford-Westmeath, in this regard and I have met a number of principals in order to discuss the adverse impact of the most recent cutbacks on the schools there. I will be meeting more of them in the coming days.

I welcome the fact that the Minister has been present for the entire debate on this very important matter. He is taking a proactive approach to his portfolio and I welcome the fact that he intends to consider the position of individual schools on a case-by-case basis. That is what school principals and the chairpersons of boards of management desire.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  I welcome this debate. I also welcome the commitment given by the Minister to the effect that he will reconsider the proposed changes.

Gone are the days when there were in excess of 50 students in each class and we all welcome that development. Most children love to attend school because they find themselves in a happy [550]environment in which there is a greater focus not just on education but also on extracurricular activities. Children have a greater opportunity to remain in school longer because they are facilitated not only by their teachers but also by everyone working in their schools. In addition, they are looked on more favourably in the context of their abilities.

It is important that no child should ever leave school without being in possession of proper reading or writing skills. I live and work in a RAPID programme area in which many DEIS schools are located and I pay tribute to the teachers who are committed to these schools. A large number of these teachers have worked in the same school for up to 35 years. They are in it for the long haul, therefore, and it is clear they believe in the children they teach and in the communities in which they work. Ultimately, their only interest is the welfare of their pupils.

There is a major challenge we must face up to. I hope the Minister will take on board some of what I have to say in this regard. How can we support schools in areas in which children have greater social and educational needs without applying labels? We must be mindful not to stigmatise children and communities by attaching to them the label of being disadvantaged. Many outsiders tend to take a particular view of communities to which labels are applied. However, the parents, children and others who live in these communities take a very different view. That aspect must be taken into account in the context of whatever decision is taken. I was surprised to discover that fewer than 50% of children who live in DEIS programme areas attend their local schools. This shows that there is something wrong and that action is required. All my children went to school in my parish in a DEIS school and I have the greatest of praise for the schools in my area and for the education that was given to my children. However, something is wrong when children choose to go outside their parish and when parents choose to send their children outside their areas.

I listened to some of the Opposition views expressed yesterday. We could all add our voice to them. Many Deputies live and work in areas with social needs. I call on the Opposition, especially Sinn Féin, not to bring this debate to a vote this evening. The Opposition should consider the circumstances of bringing this to a vote. It is time we realised that we can go forward on this matter given the opportunity that the Minister has said he will give and given his commitment to review the whole plan for DEIS schools. We should give his Department the opportunity to review the proposed changes. I call on those in Sinn Féin and the other Opposition Deputies to consider not voting on this matter this evening and to put it aside and then, perhaps in four or six weeks time when the Minister comes back, if they wish to do so then they should go ahead with their vote. Deputies on all sides of the House have spoken of the great commitment and the work that is done in schools especially in DEIS areas and I call on the Opposition to consider this.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  I call Deputy Peadar Tóibín. I understand the Deputy is sharing time.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  That is correct. I will take five minutes.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Deputies O’Brien, Colreavy, Stanley, Ellis and Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin will share time with the Deputy. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  One good thing coming from our education system is that when children get to junior certificate age they know the difference between the constitutional affairs of the South and the North. It is unfortunate to some extent that some Labour Party Deputies do not know that difference yet. There is a book in Easons titled Comparative Politics for [551]Dummies. It might be of use to buy such a book given the expenses Deputies can avail of and it would help them to understand the differences between the two states.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Did the Deputy feel the need to read it himself such that he could talk about it?

Deputy Sean Sherlock:  I never thought Deputy Tóibín would patronise in that way.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  There is no silver bullet for solving all the problems of any state. However, there is one remarkably powerful tool, that is, education. Education can allow every individual in the State to achieve his or her full potential. It is also the great leveller. It can allow for equal opportunity throughout the State. Education can break the cycle of poverty and can free people from disadvantaged areas not only those of this generation but the generations that come after them as well. Education can save this State billions of euro by creating a healthy, functional and productive society free from the social ills that have cost the State greatly on a human and financial level. Education is the way forward to a robust economy. How many times in the Chamber have we heard people refer to the smart economy and the knowledge economy? Given these facts one would imagine that education would be at the top of the Government’s agenda and that Ireland would be at the top of the class when it comes to education. Unfortunately, the facts are at a polar opposite from the mountain of words mouthed by the Government on this issue.

Between this and the previous Government there has been a large number of cuts. Two years ago Ireland was well below average with regard to education and the average OECD spend. There have since been cuts to Traveller support teachers and English-as-an-acquired-language teachers, special needs assistants have been removed, home-school liaison officers have been removed and we have seen these attacks on DEIS schools. We have seen small schools come under major pressure in rural areas, go mórmhór na scoileanna sna ceantair Ghaeltachta.

I refer to guidance teachers and their posts. Guidance teachers are pivotal within the lives of young students. They provide IQ testing and they carry out aptitude, psychometric and interest testing. They help students pick the correct subjects for first year and by the time students get to their final year, guidance teachers help them to pick subjects for college or if they go further. They help students to fill out the CAO forms and, in some cases along the Border, UCAS forms. They help students to complete forms relating to post-leaving certificate courses and they help them to choose apprenticeships as well. These individuals also help people with disabilities in a significant way within schools. Guidance teachers help people to fill out forms such as disability access route education forms and forms relating to higher education access route schemes. Under section 9 of the 1998 Education Act all children in second level schools have a right to access guidance service within schools. If these teachers are cut there is a chance such schools would be operating outside legislation.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  It is the responsibility of the principal to ensure this does not happen.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Please allow the Deputy to continue.

Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  They would be in breach of the legislation and it is the responsibility of the Government to prevent that from taking place also.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  No. It is the responsibility of the principal.

[552]Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  Up to 700 teachers will lose their jobs because guidance teachers will move into teaching roles and then teachers within such schools who are not on full-time contracts will fall out of the system. Many of these young, new teachers will be forced to emigrate.

Most important, guidance teachers look after the mental health of their students. In many ways they are the first port of call for students who have suffered abuse or who have suicidal or self-harm tendencies. They are pivotal in holding many young students’ lives together. A career guidance teacher spoke to me yesterday of having had a phone call from a parent on Christmas day. He went and spoke to the individual concerned and helped him to step away from the choices he was about to make. This is replicated throughout the State. I urge the Minister to examine this issue seriously and to see the effects that career guidance teachers have and to do his utmost to save these spaces.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  Deputies McHugh and Daly suggested we should leave the emotions of this debate aside. As a parent with two young children going to DEIS band one schools I make no apology for bringing emotions into this debate. I strongly believe my children should have the same access to life opportunities as those of any other child whether from a DEIS school or a non-DEIS school.

This is a bizarre debate in many ways and unlike other private members’ business matters where there are differences of opinion. I have listened to all the contributions from the Opposition Deputies, including Deputies from Fianna Fáil and the technical group. Not one Deputy in the House has spoken of a DEIS programme having a negative impact on children’s educations needs. Everyone has said that the DEIS programme has brought additional educational supports to children. Everyone has spoken of the benefits of it and everyone has welcomed and applauded it, yet we are here today because the Minister proposes cuts to DEIS schools. The Minister may refer to legacy posts but we are discussing cuts to DEIS band one and band two schools.

I have a copy of the Minister’s speech from last night. He referred to a review that will take place in the coming four weeks to determine the impact the proposals will have on DEIS schools. I would have thought such a report would have been done before the announcements were made. That would have been the logical step. However, so much pressure has been brought on the Minister’s Department that he is trying to row back on them, which is welcome. I want the Minister to row back and to reverse the announcements made last December. Referring to the DEIS programme last night, the Minister stated, “I have recently received three evaluation reports on DEIS which indicate that it is making a measurable contribution to improving outcomes for children in schools which benefit from it.” He further stated that the initial findings of the evaluation show that when comparing the overall average reading score in 2007 with its equivalent in 2010 in urban schools, it revealed an overall improvement in average reading and mathematics achievement.

There is no need for a report. Every Deputy here could testify to the benefits of the DEIS programme. The Minister stated last night that he spoke to school principals. Had he listened to them he would know that any proposal to cut staffing numbers in DEIS schools will have a negative impact. The reports will only inform the Minister what every Deputy in the House has stated during the debate. It will inform him of the conclusion reached in the evaluation reports, which the Minister has, and that cutting supports to DEIS schools will have a negative impact. The Minister does not need another report. Let us be honest — the report is no more than a fudge. In my constituency we always think the word “report” is used as a smokescreen. The last time a Minister spoke about a review in my constituency a hospital was closed on the north side of Cork city. The last review the Government promised the people of Cork North Central was in respect of the feasibility of maintaining orthopaedic services on the north side [553]of the city and the hospital was closed. I fear this latest review is no more than a cover for Labour Party backbench Deputies who have spoken privately to the Minister and publicly against the cuts in the DEIS programme. This is an opportunity for them to roll in to the Chamber today to support the Government’s amendment.

Nobody in the House believes the Minister’s proposals will not have a negative impact on children’s education. As a parent of children attending DEIS schools and on behalf of other children attending such schools, I plead with the Minister not to proceed with this measure. He talks about leaving a legacy. If he proceeds with what he is proposing, his legacy will be denying my children and others equal access to life’s opportunities.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I apologise in advance because after making this speech I must return to a committee meeting.

I confess I am not a great wizard at maths, but the planned removal of 428 teachers at a time when the student population is rising does not add up. During the Christmas period I had extensive meetings with educationists and parents who, frankly, are in despair over the cutbacks. My old alma mater in Sligo is a DEIS band two primary school that has delivered programmes which have significantly improved the educational and social achievements of children for several years. Three teachers will be lost from the school under the general allocation model, one teacher will be lost from a disadvantaged concessionary post and two from Giving Children an Even Break posts. Possibly one or two English teacher posts, as well as an additional language teacher post, will be lost, even though the school is located just across the road from an immigration centre containing 250 people, including a large number of children. This represents a loss of seven or eight posts and a staff cut of 27% which rises to 33% if we include the three resource teachers for Travellers who lost their posts last September. Can the Minister imagine what would happen if his Department’s staff numbers had been cut by33%? Would it be able to function? The answer is no.

I hear the same tale of worry about cutbacks the length and breadth of the Sligo-North Leitrim constituency. Those involved in rural schools, in particular, are terrified about what the future holds for them.

Where is the national literacy strategy?

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  It is being implemented.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  What about our commitment to reach the EU target of 10% of early school leavers annually? What about the promise made by the founding fathers to cherish the children of the nation equally? These education cutbacks mark a continuation of the Government’s policy of ensuring those who benefited least during the so-called Celtic tiger years will be disproportionately targeted to pay for the sins of others. Low income families and children from disadvantaged areas are being forced to shoulder an unfair proportion of the financial burden resulting from the mismanagement of the economy by a negligent Government and a greedy wealthy elite. This is wrong.

I listened very carefully last night to Deputy John Lyons who gave an insightful and thoughtful response to Sinn Féin’s motion. The Minister could have placed Sinn Féin in an invidious position. If he had committed to ring-fencing funds for DEIS schools, looking after the educational needs of disadvantaged children and doing the the right thing by education financially, we would have had to consider seriously supporting the Government’s amendment. However, he only promised a review, which means nothing. The review should have been carried out before he made the decision to make the cuts.

[554]The Minister of State, Deputy Perry, made a very public solemn commitment that no schools would be closed in Sligo and north Leitrim under his watch. I am a fair-minded person. I commended the Minister of State in this House for his commitment and still do. However, under the current proposals, the closure of smaller rural schools will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are cutting off a leg and wondering if the person will live. I will hold the Minister of State to his commitment to the electorate of Sligo-North Leitrim. If one rural school is closed owing to the decisions made by the Minister, I will make sure that both he and the Minister of State, with the rest of their colleagues, are publicly held to account.

Deputy Brian Stanley:  We all agree that education is one of the key elements in ensuring citizens have successful, healthy and fruitful lives. This was underlined a few years ago by the then Minister for Education, Niamh Breathnach, who introduced the Breaking the Cycle programme. The irony is that her successor from the same party is attempting to undo much of the good work done by her. The attempt to dismantle what remains of the Breaking the Cycle programme and undermine the DEIS programme further is clearly driven by the need to balance the books owing to the disastrous economic position in which the State finds itself. However, the question the Minister has failed to answer is why is he choosing to punish children?

There are 15 DEIS primary schools in the constitutency of Laois-Offaly that will be affected by the cuts. Scoil Bhríde Knockmay which my own children attended is a 51-teacher school in which 50% of the children are from non-Irish backgrounds and do not have English as a home language. This presents huge challenges. The school is set to lose four teachers under the proposals made. Its capitation grant will be cut by 6%, even though it is already stretched, in spite of a very good management performance, and having difficulty in balancing the books. Why are the Minister and his colleagues in the Government choosing to punish children who were not even born when the crisis was created? It could be because the Minister believes the DEIS and Breaking the Cycle programmes do not work, or is it because he is determined to balance the books for the troika and has decided to pick on the schools offering least resistance? I look forward to hearing his response because the evidence I have seen shows that the DEIS programme and its predecessor, the Breaking the Cycle programme, have been very successful. It was an investment worth making as it resulted in a lower pupil-teacher ratio and the provision of extra resources, including language support teachers. Granted, it takes time for all of this to come through. Much of it is long-term and many of its benefits to society are yet to be seen, but even in the short term we have seen the children excel. We have seen children who may not have English as their first language fully participate in school activities and children receiving the extra learning supports they require. These resources, far from being seen as a drain on the Exchequer should be seen as a solid investment. There is a cost if children from disadvantaged areas fall out of the education system early and end up in prison. This is to look at it just from an economic point of view, which we should not do, but I wish to highlight this to the Minister.

Yesterday, the Minister and Deputy John Lyons acknowledged the benefits of the DEIS scheme and the results of putting in place those extra resources. They highlighted the fact that it is working well and we agree with them. However, to attempt now to remove these resources is short-sighted and vindictive and has been met with huge anger, resistance and protest. In choosing to pick on DEIS schools to save money the Minister has under-estimated the level of resistance in the schools and the wider communities. The Government parties, in particular Labour Party backbenchers, have felt much pressure on this issue and have been subject to many protests. Their first response was to attempt to spin their way out of it. When this did [555]not work the Minister announced a review. This has become part of a pattern, and the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, used it with regard to communidty employment schemes.

Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Quinn, announced a review of DEIS band one and band two. With all due respect, this is a cop-out. Reports on these schools have been done; they are called “whole school evaluations” and the Minister will know about them because they are on the Department’s website. I know for a fact that one of the DEIS schools in Dublin recently completed one such report. Every evaluation has highlighted the positive role that DEIS has played in our children’s education.

The public wants to hear what the Minister will do to reverse these cuts in DEIS schools and not about another review or glossy report. What people want to hear from the Minister and from the Government benches is when these cuts will be reversed and how soon it will be done.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  Tá díomá agus fearg orm go mbeidh daoine ag fulaingt de thairbhe ar na ciorruithe sa chóras oideachais, go háirithe sna scoileanna DEIS ar fud na tíre, cuid acu i mo cheantar féin, Baile Átha Cliath Thiar Thuaidh. Ta sé soiléir go bhfuil na ciorruithe dírithe ar na daoine is boichte sa sochaí seo.

The programme for Government mentions “new initiatives to deliver better outcomes for students in disadvantaged areas” and that the Government “will examine how to make existing expenditure on educational disadvantage more effective”. It also states that the Government will “improve co-ordination and integration to delivery of services to the Traveller community across all Government departments, using available resources more effectively to deliver on principles of social inclusion, particularly in area of Traveller education through the DEIS programme”.

It would be fair to state these are not overly ambitious aims for the development of education in disadvantaged areas and in disadvantaged communities. However, they read like the aims of another Government entirely. There have not been initiatives, better outcomes, improved co-ordination or delivery of anything save perhaps ruthless cuts. In the past nine months and particularly in the budget, the Government has only reinforced what we all know, which is that despite espoused good intentions and kind words it prioritises bailing out Anglo Irish Bank and paying off unsecured bondholders over the education of children from our most disadvantaged communities who have been failed by the State again and again. This month we will pay €1.25 billion to Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. This is one 19th of the overall €78 million in cuts planned in education. We will pay a further €3.51 billion prior to the end of the year. This is one 35th of that amount.

DEIS schools are working. Despite massive difficulties they help children who previously did not have a chance in life. They improve literacy and numeracy levels and by doing so they ensure children will go on to be more successful at second level and even third level. Continuing to third level remains the exception in areas experiencing social exclusion and economic disadvantage with Ballymun and Finglas having some of the lowest numbers of people availing of third level education. The constituency of Dublin North-West has approximately 34 DEIS schools and a large number of Traveller families, probably a higher number than the national average. The Government has a responsibility to help these children and to safeguard them and their education because it is the policy of the Government parties, continued from previous Governments, to maintain a system which increases inequality and punishes the poor rather than taking from those who can afford it. It denies them their rights to education, health care, housing and work among others.

[556]The Minister has accepted that DEIS schools work and he stated three recent reports support this. However, his party, which has the largest number of teachers in the Dáil among its Deputies, is making these cuts. Even the thought of an attack on DEIS by a party with so many teachers is very difficult to understand. In 2012, some DEIS schools must ask children to bring in their own toilet rolls and it is getting worse.

The Minister stated that we need a review. The Government is becoming a Government of reviews, as we have had review after review particularly when a measure is unpopular. What we need is support for DEIS schools and the children who depend on them. The teachers and other staff worked tirelessly to educate in very difficult circumstances. We cannot afford to abandon these children or to fob them off with a review, as the Government did with disabled people and those on CE schemes. It is attempting to fool us by stating that cuts will be reviewed when what is proposed is breathing room in the hope that we might all forget and then not fully rowing back. This is probably the plan.

The Government and its backbenchers have a choice between putting children first or putting its recent policies first. They will not get away with this. I hope people will remember. We should remember what the founder of the Labour Party espoused 100 years ago this week, that every child should be cherished equally. If the Government Deputies will not listen to this they should remember the words of his comrade, “Beware the risen people who shall take what ye would not give”.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  As my party’s spokesperson on children and as a Deputy who represents disadvantaged communities, I am appalled at the cuts being imposed on children with special educational needs and on disadvantaged children. The cuts, as highlighted in this comprehensive motion tabled by Sinn Féin, are reprehensible. The education cuts totally contradict the claims of the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government that it is protecting the vulnerable and that it recognises education as a key to economic recovery.

Think for a moment about the messages being received. The messages I hear being received on the basis of the Minister’s signalled intent is that education may well be part of a future recovery but people feel they will have no part of it. These people are being excluded. The message to young people is that employment may grow but they are condemned to unemployment or low-paid employment for life.

I have no doubt that if these cuts are allowed to go ahead and to be continued, in ten or 15 years time people will look at the social problems in our country and they will say: “Remember the cuts to disadvantaged schools and pupils in 2012? That is when so many of these kids fell through the cracks.”

How many children losing out through these cuts will in years to come turn to crime and anti-social behaviour or drug addiction? We know that children from economically disadvantaged families and areas are more likely to fall into these traps. Many more of these children, of course, will not experience these problems directly but will suffer low incomes, poor employment prospects and low quality of life. Make no mistake, these type of cuts affecting children in their vital early learning years have lifelong consequences for them and long-term consequences for our society.

Increasing the pupil-teacher ratio in DEIS band one and band two schools is a serious blow to disadvantaged communities. Schools will lose teachers and class sizes will increase. Let nobody try to underestimate the impact on disadvantaged children of a change in class size; that is dramatic and many of last evening’s contributions emphasised this, including a voice from the Minister’s party. One school principal in a DEIS school in Darndale in Dublin this [557]week said that her pupils had excelled since the 15:1 ratio was introduced. She indicated that her “pupils were meeting the national literacy average and the ability to structure the classes to cater for the needs of individuals and groups of students had an obvious positive effect on their education.” Even more telling is the comment of a former pupil, now with siblings at the school. That person stated:

I attended this school when I was younger and there were bigger class sizes. The class sizes reduced when I left and when my younger siblings attended the school. The difference is that I and my older siblings, who had bigger class sizes, dropped out of secondary school, whereas my younger siblings completed secondary school and even went on to college.

That is a generational experience in the family and a tribute to what has been achieved and which must be protected and secured in future. These and thousands of other parents, teachers and pupils are appealing to the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Quinn, and the Government not to proceed with these cuts but to reverse them.

Céad bliain ó shin, bhí Pádraig Mac Piarais chun tosaigh ag forbairt oideachais sa tír seo le Scoil Éanna. Sa bhliain céanna, thug sé a léacht cháiliúil The Murder Machine inar cháin sé córas oideachais na Breataine sa tír seo. Anois nílimid faoi chos na Breataine ach táimid faoi chos ag an Aontas Eorpach agus an IMF. Is mór an trua é sin.

There is a context for all of this. This has come about in order to repay bank bondholders and international financial markets for gambling losses. The Minister can shake his head but his Government is working to a diktat outside of its control. There is an opportunity to redirect the Government in dealing with the crisis and aping the previous position of Fianna Fáil and the Green Party, continuing their genuflection and obedience to every diktat coming from Europe, is not the way to go. We must put the children and people of Ireland first. They are having their education rights attacked, with lifelong and generational consequences. It is shameful and this must stop. I appeal to the backbenchers of the Labour Party in particular, many for whom I have great respect, not to support the Government amendment today. They should vote with their conscience and own sense of justice. If our motion is not passed, I appeal to the Minister directly as he must feel significant discomfort at what is happening here. He should act on this at the earliest opportunity.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Sean Sherlock):  Achieving savings in the Department’s budget has required difficult decisions. Despite pressures on spending, the Government has shielded to the greatest extent possible front line services in schools. The Government has and will continue to prioritise targeted supports for schools, with the most concentrated levels of educational disadvantage through the DEIS programme and action plan. More than €158 million is currently being provided by way of additional resources and supports for primary and post-primary schools, including DEIS. This is only part of an overall amount of some €700 million, which continues to be provided to tackle educational disadvantage across the full education spectrum, from pre-school to further and higher education. This includes schemes such as the school completion programme and disadvantaged youth, which now come under the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the school meals programme, which comes under the Department of Social Protection.

It is important to note that a key aspect of the EU-IMF programme of support and Ireland’s overall budgetary strategy is a requirement to reduce the public sector payroll. This is a particular challenge for the education sector, considering that a third of all public sector employees work there. Furthermore, unlike in other countries, our school-going population is rising rapidly and places must be provided for the extra 70,000 pupils arriving in our schools in the next six [558]years. Providing for increased enrolments is a key priority but making some adjustment to teacher numbers is unavoidable, given budgetary constraints.

The net impact on overall teacher numbers in our schools has been minimised to the greatest extent possible. We are conscious of the concerns of some schools which will be adversely affected by the withdrawal of posts under previous disadvantaged schemes, and with these concerns in mind we have made clear since the budget announcement that this matter would be managed as sensitively as possible. To this end the Minister, Deputy Quinn, has met school principals, teachers, parents and community representatives in recent weeks to hear their concerns and clarify the position of announced changes in the 2012 budget to posts allocated to schools under previous schemes to tackle educational disadvantage.

The Minister has held many meetings with members of my parliamentary party and all Government colleagues, who have performed an invaluable service in assisting him in developing an understanding of the impact of the proposed measures in these schools. It is in this context that the Department of Education and Skills has been directed to report to the Minister within the next four weeks on the position of DEIS band one and band two schools which currently have posts under schemes predating DEIS. That will done in the context of staff allocations due to issue to all schools in the coming weeks. We look forward to receiving that report and continuing the process of engagement with schools on the impact of the measures announced in the 2012 budget.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  Deputy Ó Snodaigh is to share time with Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  Cuireadh inár leith inné agus arís inniu gur ar bhonn peil pholaitiúil a chuir Sinn Féin an rún seo os comhair na Dála. Níl aon rud níos faide ón fhírinne. Is ar bhonn buairt ó chroí do na glúnta atá romhainn atá muid ag cur an rúin seo chun tosaigh. Táimid ag impí ar an Rialtas tarraingt siar ón gcinneadh a ghlacadh roimh an Nollaig. Mura dtugann muid tús áite do pháistí atá ar scoil faoi láthair agus do na páistí a bheidh ar scoil sar i bhfad agus mura dhéanann muid an infheistiú cuí san oideachas dóibh agus do na glúinte atá le teacht, cad a bheidh in ndán dóibh nó do gheilleagar nó eacnamaíocht na tire seo?

Má tá an tír seo chun infheistiú idirnáisiúnta a mhealladh go hÉirinn, má tá muid chun dul san iomaíocht le geilleagair eile timpeall an domhain, caithfidh muid a dhéanamh cinnte de go mbeidh ár n-óige chun tosaigh ó thaobh scileanna, eolas agus cur chuige de.

An t-aon bhealach le seo a dhéanamh ná trí déanamh cinnte de go bhfuil scolaíocht den scoth ar fáil ag chuile páiste agus go mbeidh gach páiste in ann dul chun tosaigh ag gach leibhéal den scolaíocht agus den chóras oideachais.

  1 o’clock

I did not hear all of the debate yesterday, although I sat through most of it. We were probably challenged yesterday and twice today in the House to explain from where would the funding come if the cuts were to be reversed. Sinn Féin published a pre-budget submission, but I will not ask the Minister to go back over it. The Government rejected it because it produced a budget which ignored most of the points outlined in it. I have considered the challenge to the Opposition to come up with sources of funding to reverse the cuts proposed. I challenge the Minister to examine the money given in tax rebates to companies which invest in research and development because each year the State pays out €30 million to corporations for this purpose over and above the amount paid in tax by them. We give them €30 million they have not, in fact, paid to the Exchequer. This €30 million would help to reverse many of the cuts proposed in the budget. The challenge to the Minister is to examine the rebate and divert the money paid out.

[559]Deputy Sean Sherlock:  It is for job creation.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I am not against a tax rebate on moneys spent on research and development. I do not have a problem with this, but the money is over and above the amount paid in tax by companies. It represents a grant of €30 million. I received this information in reply to a question to the Minister. The challenge now for him is to take the opportunity to reverse the cuts proposed.

I had a meeting on Tuesday morning with school principals from the Inchicore and Bluebell area. They estimate that 14 teachers will be lost in five schools which have already lost 11 teachers since 2009, as well as 15 posts of responsibility. When we met teachers from the Dublin 8 area prior to Christmas, they had an horrendous figure for the number of teachers to be lost, some of whom are in the Minister’s constituency. The cuts are not made in isolation; they are on top of cuts made by the previous Government.

Time and again those most affected are the disadvantaged. That is why the focus of the motion is on the DEIS programme which the Minister admitted in the House was working and delivering. It was beginning to have an effect and move children up to a level at which they could compete with others who were advantaged who could attend fee-paying schools. The proposals made by the Minister are an attack on front-line services, yet the Government has made great play of the fact that no cuts have been made to such services. The Minister should ask the children who will be affected next year and in the future whether these cuts are an attack on front line services. I urge him to think again. In some ways the review he proposes is too late. He should have thought of this beforehand and understood the effects of the cuts before he even put pen to paper.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I am sure we all remember when the budget was announced in the House. We were told that one of its greatest achievements was that the pupil-teacher ratio had not been affected. That was the stuff of smoke and mirrors because in significant ways the pupil-teacher ratio in schools had been adversely affected in respect of the provision of guidance counsellors, proposed staffing schedules for rural schools and some of the most disadvantaged schools across the State. The two Ministers present know we should not be having this debate. No one on either side of the House should be present to debate this matter because at this time there should be no question of dismantling the guidance teacher provision. There should be no question of undermining rural schools, but, above all, there should be no question of damaging or disrupting the DEIS system.

In the Minister’s comments last night and the amendment tabled by the Government I notice that those responsible are quick enough to give themselves a pat on the back for their achievements in government in the 1990s with the Breaking the Cycle and other programmes to which the amendment refers. I have no difficulty with this.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  That is because we ran the economy smartly. We planned the service and delivered it.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  The Government deserves credit for what it did during that time under the stewardship, in particular, of Niamh Breathnach when she was Minister, but it must be said the Minister is prepared to undermine these very achievements. He said there were no cutbacks in the DEIS programme. He is dancing on the head of pin.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Deputy and her party would know all about that.

[560]Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  The Minister tells us that he wants to address the issue of posts pre the DEIS programme. He also told us last night that the retention of pre-DEIS programme posts was a concessionary measure. His language in the course of the debate in recent weeks has been extremely revealing in the sense that there are legacy issues at play. The Minister knows them well — the legacies of deprivation, drug abuse in many inner city communities and inequality — and that if we are worth our salt on either side of this House, we will address them without being in fear of the troika or anyone else.

The term “concessionary” is most illuminating. I say to the Minister and his colleagues: we seek no concessions for children. The Minister is offering them no concessions. The motion and our fight to protect DEIS programme posts are based on a simple recognition of the rights of child citizens who are bright, able and live in communities with challenges that leave them vulnerable. It may bore the Minister’s colleague, Deputy Jim Daly, that the terms “vulnerable” and “disadvantaged” are used. He objected to them. I am sorry if it upsets or bores him, but that is the reality for many of the people I am proud to represent in this House.

The Minister has informed the House that 60% of disadvantaged children are not in DEIS schools. That is fine. He has also informed us that “there is no monopoly of disadvantage”. He should not attempt to use such perverse logic to justify the cut of 482 DEIS programme posts. I find it appalling that he would even come to the Chamber and suggest when we are considering children’s life opportunities and education that we try to consider or articulate a hierarchy in respect of there being a monopoly of disadvantage. No child thinks in that way.

The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, commended his Labour Party colleagues on the backbenches for educating him on the realities of the cutbacks proposed in DEIS schools. I do not know how one should take this, but it seems strange.

Deputy Sean Sherlock:  The Deputy is talking about the use of language, but she has played around with it herself.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  When we tabled the motion, we actively encouraged parents and teachers to lobby Government backbenchers but, in particular, Labour Party Deputies. I am pleased to see that teachers, parents and communities have mobilised strongly on the issue. At the time of the general election the line was that one should put the Labour Party in government to remove the sharp edges off Fine Gael. It now turns out that in reality, parents and teachers in disadvantaged areas are called upon to put the fire under the Labour Party backbenchers to rein in their own Minister. This is a very strange turn of events. The Minister promised a review and his colleagues seem to be delighted with this. We do not want a review; we want the Minister to reverse these cuts. I take it from listening to his colleagues on the Labour Party and, indeed, the Fine Gael benches, that they are assuming a review will result in a reversal of the cuts. The Minister has not made that commitment. He has told the House he will look at each school individually, that he will examine each school in depth. That is what he has told the House. My colleagues have already made the very reasonable point that this level of analysis and investigation ought to have been carried out before the Minister announced he would axe these teaching posts. However, in announcing his review, he has not even set out the parameters of it. What precisely will be measured? When he says he will look at each school individually, what exactly does that mean? How does he address the real concern among very many communities and teachers that favour might be given to one school or one community and withheld from another? I think the Minister’s review is an admission that he has got this wrong and I do not think he needs me to tell him. The review may, I hope, be his [561]political way of getting out of this situation and reversing his decision. I hope this is the case. However, I cannot stand here confidently today and say that this is so.

When the vote on this motion is called, I appeal to Members on all sides and in particular, to Labour Party Deputies, who have stated clearly their commitment to quality education and equality of opportunity and outcome for our children. I appeal to them, those who see the good sense, the logic and the decency of the Sinn Féin motion, to support our position. I ask them to examine and consider very carefully whether the Minister’s review will deliver. They seem to think so. I do not know whether the Minister has said privately to his own backbenchers that this is a manoeuvre or a staging post for a reversal. I do not know if that is the case. What I do know is that what the Minister needs to do is to tell this House that he will not go ahead with these cuts. It is as simple as that. I daresay that those Labour Party Deputies, in particular, and, indeed, Fine Gael Deputies, who are now applauding the Minister for his review, will look at him rather differently if his review comes back and the decision is that it has been examined and that they are going ahead to axe these hundreds of teaching posts. I urge Deputies to err on the side of caution, support the motion that supports children, that supports schools and which, with no apology, asserts that each of our children deserves and will be given equality of opportunity, particularly our kids in disadvantaged areas.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 85; Níl, 42.

 Bannon, James.  Barry, Tom.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Butler, Ray.  Buttimer, Jerry.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Byrne, Eric.
 Carey, Joe.  Coffey, Paudie.
 Conaghan, Michael.  Connaughton, Paul J.
 Conway, Ciara.  Coonan, Noel.
 Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.  Creed, Michael.
 Daly, Jim.  Deasy, John.
 Deenihan, Jimmy.  Deering, Pat.
 Doherty, Regina.  Donohoe, Paschal.
 Dowds, Robert.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Farrell, Alan.  Ferris, Anne.
 Fitzpatrick, Peter.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Griffin, Brendan.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Heydon, Martin.  Humphreys, Heather.
 Humphreys, Kevin.  Keating, Derek.
 Keaveney, Colm.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kelly, Alan.  Kyne, Seán.
 Lawlor, Anthony.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lyons, John.  McCarthy, Michael.
 McEntee, Shane.  McFadden, Nicky.
 McHugh, Joe.  McLoughlin, Tony.
 McNamara, Michael.  Maloney, Eamonn.
 Mathews, Peter.  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
 Mulherin, Michelle.  Murphy, Dara.
 Murphy, Eoghan.  Nash, Gerald.
 Neville, Dan.  Nolan, Derek.
 Noonan, Michael.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Donovan, Patrick.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Perry, John.  Phelan, Ann.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ryan, Brendan.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sherlock, Sean.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Spring, Arthur.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Twomey, Liam.
 Wall, Jack.  Walsh, Brian.
 White, Alex.  


Níl
 Adams, Gerry.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Browne, John.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Joan.  Colreavy, Michael.
 Cowen, Barry.  Crowe, Seán.
 Daly, Clare.  Doherty, Pearse.
 Donnelly, Stephen S.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Ellis, Dessie.  Fleming, Sean.
 Fleming, Tom.  Halligan, John.
 Healy-Rae, Michael.  Higgins, Joe.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Lowry, Michael.
 Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  McConalogue, Charlie.
 McDonald, Mary Lou.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McLellan, Sandra.
 Murphy, Catherine.  Naughten, Denis.
 Nulty, Patrick.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Brien, Jonathan.
 O’Dea, Willie.  Pringle, Thomas.
 Ross, Shane.  Smith, Brendan.
 Stanley, Brian.  Tóibín, Peadar.
 Troy, Robert.  Wallace, Mick.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Amendment declared carried.

Amendment No. 1 not moved.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided by electronic means.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  As a teller, I need to give the Labour Party Deputies, in particular, time to educate themselves further on the effects of the cuts they are implementing. I call for a vote other than by electronic means.

Question again put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 85; Níl, 42.

 Bannon, James.  Barry, Tom.
 Bruton, Richard.  Burton, Joan.
 Butler, Ray.  Buttimer, Jerry.
 Byrne, Catherine.  Byrne, Eric.
 Carey, Joe.  Coffey, Paudie.
 Conaghan, Michael.  Connaughton, Paul J.
 Conway, Ciara.  Coonan, Noel.
 Corcoran Kennedy, Marcella.  Coveney, Simon.
 Creed, Michael.  Daly, Jim.
 Deasy, John.  Deenihan, Jimmy.
 Deering, Pat.  Doherty, Regina.
 Donohoe, Paschal.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Farrell, Alan.  Ferris, Anne.
 Fitzpatrick, Peter.  Flanagan, Charles.
 Flanagan, Terence.  Griffin, Brendan.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Heydon, Martin.  Humphreys, Heather.
 Humphreys, Kevin.  Keating, Derek.
 Keaveney, Colm.  Kehoe, Paul.
 Kelly, Alan.  Kyne, Seán.
 Lawlor, Anthony.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lyons, John.  McCarthy, Michael.
 McEntee, Shane.  McFadden, Nicky.
 McHugh, Joe.  McLoughlin, Tony.
 McNamara, Michael.  Maloney, Eamonn.
 Mathews, Peter.  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
 Mulherin, Michelle.  Murphy, Dara.
 Murphy, Eoghan.  Nash, Gerald.
 Neville, Dan.  Nolan, Derek.
 Noonan, Michael.  O’Donnell, Kieran.
 O’Donovan, Patrick.  O’Dowd, Fergus.
 O’Mahony, John.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Perry, John.  Phelan, Ann.
 Quinn, Ruairí.  Rabbitte, Pat.
 Ryan, Brendan.  Shatter, Alan.
 Sherlock, Sean.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Spring, Arthur.  Stagg, Emmet.
 Stanton, David.  Timmins, Billy.
 Tuffy, Joanna.  Twomey, Liam.
 Wall, Jack.  Walsh, Brian.
 White, Alex.  


Níl
 Adams, Gerry.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Browne, John.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Joan.  Colreavy, Michael.
 Cowen, Barry.  Crowe, Seán.
 Daly, Clare.  Doherty, Pearse.
 Donnelly, Stephen S.  Dooley, Timmy.
 Ellis, Dessie.  Fleming, Sean.
 Fleming, Tom.  Halligan, John.
 Healy-Rae, Michael.  Higgins, Joe.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Lowry, Michael.
 Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  McConalogue, Charlie.
 McDonald, Mary Lou.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McLellan, Sandra.
 Martin, Micheál.  Murphy, Catherine.
 Nulty, Patrick.  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
 Ó Cuív, Éamon.  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
 Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.  O’Brien, Jonathan.
 O’Dea, Willie.  Pringle, Thomas.
 Ross, Shane.  Smith, Brendan.
 Stanley, Brian.  Tóibín, Peadar.
 Troy, Robert.  Wallace, Mick.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Question again declared carried.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Sean Sherlock):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No amendments have been submitted for Report Stage.

Bill reported without amendment.

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

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I tabled an amendment on Committee Stage, which I decided not to resubmit today. The effect of the amendment would have been to ensure that the legislation would come into effect within 12 months. While the Minister of State informed me why he preferred not to include that in the legislation, nevertheless he expressed confidence that its provisions would be in force within 12 months and I urge the Government to ensure that is the case.

I thank the Minister of State and his officials for how they have dealt with this legislation. The only downside is that because an English translation of a patent need not necessarily now be available, it will mean there is a greater challenge for Irish companies and individuals who wish to challenge a patent. Nevertheless that disadvantage is outweighed by the tremendous advantage of being able to ratify the London Agreement. It would mean less bureaucracy and less cost, and therefore a big incentive to foreign innovation in this country. From that point of view it is positive legislation and I wish it a speedy passage to enactment.

Minister of State at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Sean Sherlock):  I thank Deputy O’Dea for his remarks and accept in good faith the manner in which he proposed his amendment. It is our intention to commence the Act and the new patents amendment rules 2011 by way of an order as soon after the enactment of the Patents Amendment Act 2011 as possible. I am very conscious of the points the Deputy has made in that sense.

I welcome the opportunity to bring this Bill through Report Stage in this House. The purpose of the Bill is to make the necessary changes to the Patents Act 1992 to provide for the ratification by Ireland of the London Agreement, which aims to reduce the cost to applicants of the European patent process by reducing the requirements to file translations of the granted patents under the European Patent Convention. It is a technical Bill that deletes references in the existing Act to the requirement for translations to validate a European patent in Ireland. The short Bill makes changes to the Patents Act 1992 that relate exclusively to the European Patent Convention.

In this instance it is necessary for the corresponding patent rules to be amended to bring them in line with the London Agreement. The proposed amendments to the patent rules 1992 are being drafted. It is my intention to commence the Act and the new patents amendment rules 2012 by way of an order as near to the enactment of the Patents (Amendment) Bill 2011 as possible. I thank the Deputies opposite and in particular Deputy O’Dea for their assistance in allowing us to introduce this legislation which strengthens the intellectual property infrastructure of Ireland, making Ireland a more competitive place to locate and manage intellectual property rights.

Question put and agreed to.

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

Deputy Dara Calleary:  When we adjourned yesterday evening I had expressed my concerns over the lack of a derogation and particularly the impact that would have on our cost basis by comparison with the Northern part of the island and other locations in the UK with which we compete for industry. The consequences of that will be felt throughout IDA Ireland’s work in coming years as it seeks to sell Ireland as a location for investment. It will be immediately obvious that we have this difficulty and I reiterate what I said last night. There is an onus on ICTU and IBEC in the few remaining days to try to reach agreement on this. They should knock their heads together in the interests of what everybody in the country and in this House seeks, which is job creation. We need to remove another competitive anomaly, which in this case is in our own hands.

Existing domestic legislation gives very substantial protection for temporary workers, which this directive reinforces. To make a point, as some have, that temporary workers are treated in some sort of third-class way is wrong and ignores the legislation already in place. Temporary agency workers work in many spheres. Last night, we spoke about the health area and there is also the service industry. However, there are also very high level agency workers in IT, agriculture, banking and finance — areas that are already under significant pressure. This legislation has been in gestation for some time — the negotiations began ahead of the crisis we are experiencing. Unfortunately, its imposition comes at the worst possible time. What was good in 2007 and 2008 in terms of worker protection may now be another negative for our cost base management in 2012.

The responses of the various organisations are starkly different. The American Chamber of Commerce Ireland submission in 2010 stated: “Transposing legislation needs to strike the appropriate balance between the need to maintain temporary agency work as an instrument of business competitiveness and labour market flexibility, and fairness in the protection to be afforded to agency workers.” I do not believe we have that balance. While we have given the protection, by not getting a derogation we have struck the balance on the other side in terms of competitiveness. That is the biggest danger of its operation. Given that the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland represents organisations employing nearly 300,000 people here, we should sit up and take notice.

This needs to be placed along with the other decisions taken in recent weeks affecting our competitiveness and thereby impacting on the Government’s aim for job creation, which everybody shares given our current unemployment crisis. Increasing the rate of VAT by 2 percentage points adds directly to companies’ bottom line in terms of fuel and inputs. The decision on the redundancy rebate will hit many companies this year and force them to make decisions they otherwise might not have had to make. There have been various decisions from Departments, including the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government waste management costs coming down the tracks in 2012. A large number of companies have received invoices this year for waste costs for the first six months of the year and not beyond that because waste management companies claim they cannot predict what the cost of waste disposal will be in 2012. All of those changes are eroding our competitiveness and sending the signal to businesses that while employment creation is an aim and aspiration, the reality is that we are introducing many terms and conditions that are blocking employment creation and will ultimately cost jobs.

Some 340 employment agencies will be affected by this. I welcome that an RIA for the Bill has been published — a number of Ministers could learn from the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, in publishing RIAs with legislation. Approximately 35,000 [566]people are directly affected by this directive. The National Recruitment Federation claims the figure is approximately 42,000. While as a proportion of our labour force it is relatively small, it is sending the wrong message and is anti-competitive.

It is a message that will be used by competitors seeking investment around the country as a means with which to beat Ireland and run down its reputation as a place to do business.

I have no doubt that the Minister and his officials put every effort into sorting out the qualifying period issue. If we are serious as a society about job creation — I address this directly to IBEC and ICTU, in particular, ICTU as it is an all-Ireland organisation — then the social partners, rather than walking up and down O’Connell Bridge and putting banners on Liberty Hall, must explain why, in terms of this directive, workers on the Northern part of this island have one level of protection while workers on this part of the island have another. It is the lack of agreement between the social partners, in this case between IBEC and ICTU, that is forcing this uncompetitive situation on us.

  2 o’clock

As politicians, including Members of this House and the Seanad, we are blamed for everything. However, the organisations blocking agreement on this, and who because of the construct of this directive in terms of the European understanding of social partnership, have that veto, have a bigger responsibility in this case. They have a responsibility to knock their heads together, to on this occasion leave outside the door whatever grievances they have with each other and to, for a change, act in the interests of job creation. This is a test for them. Implementation of this directive is a test for the organisations who hang on to what used to be social partnership. So far, they have failed that test and they have failed it abysmally. They now have a chance to step up to the mark and to get agreement before this legislation progresses to Committee Stage, thus sending to the people in 2012 the signal that they as organisations are real about job creation and are willing to do what needs to be done to facilitate it. If they did that in 2012, they would do the State some service.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  I wish to share my time with Deputy Barry.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Terence Flanagan:  Ireland’s failure to implement the Temporary Agency Work Directive by 5 December has been widely reported in the media. Enactment of this Bill will implement that directive. The purpose of the directive is to ensure that employees and agency workers are treated equally in terms of pay and basic working conditions, as if recruited by the hirer to do the same job. In essence, all agency workers are entitled to the basic working and employment conditions as those to which a comparable employee is entitled, or, if there is no comparable employee, to those to which a comparable employee would be entitled were one employed. There are 35,000 temporary agency workers in this country, representing 2% of our workforce. They are employed in the private sector, principally in the security industry, manufacturing and ICT and, in the public sector, in the health service, mainly as nurses.

The Bill is stated to come into effect from 5 December 2011. Consequently, it is likely that employers will be obliged to backdate pay once the legislation comes into force. However, the retrospective provisions will not apply to the offences created by the Bill. The Bill’s provisions apply to those who work under the supervision and direction of hirers. Consequently, self-employed persons, contractors and those working on managed service contracts are likely to be excluded. To determine if someone is genuinely self-employed, the courts apply a number of tests which examine all angles of a relationship, including contractual documentation and the conduct of the parties. If the courts conclude that an individual is not self-employed but [567]works under the direction and supervision of a hirer or that the arrangement is an avoidance tactic, the individual will likely fall within the scope of the Bill.

Managed service contracts are based on a contract for services which sets out certain service level arrangements. The managed service contractor has responsibility for managing and delivering the service and employs, rather than supplies, the workers. The managed service contractor must be genuinely engaged in supervising and directing its workers on site on a day-to-day basis and must determine how and when work is done to avoid the scope of the Bill. Basic working and employment conditions are protected by the Bill which expressly excludes sick pay, payments under a pension scheme or occupational social security schemes. However, a collective agreement may be entered into to provide for conditions of employment that deviate from the basic conditions envisaged by the Act, provided they are balanced to ensure the overall protection of agency workers and this can be approved by the Labour Court.

All agency workers are entitled to the basic working and employment conditions as those to which a comparable employee is entitled. Basic working conditions include working time, rest periods, night work, annual leave, public holidays and access to collective facilities such as a canteen and child care. A comparable employee is one who works for the same employer, does the same work and is interchangeable with another. The definition of “pay” in the Bill is exhaustive and, therefore, anything not included in that definition falls outside the remit of the Bill.

The part of the Bill which refers to access to collective facilities such as canteens is the only element of the Bill where there can be “objective justification” for treating the agency worker less favourably. In this regard, there can be a reason for treating the agency worker differently but it must be a good reason. Issues such as cost or practical and organisational considerations could be put forward as such reason. It is worth noting that access to facilities does not mean that agency workers will have an entitlement to enhanced rights. For example, if there is a waiting list for child care facilities there is an entitlement only to join the list. It is worth noting also that the list of collective facilities in the Bill is not exhaustive. Perhaps the Minister will examine this. Along with the list of facilities specifically outlined, this entitlement may extend to additional items such as car parking spaces or shower facilities.

As stated by Deputy Calleary, an important element of the Bill is that there is no qualifying period of service for equal treatment. We know that in the UK and Northern Ireland a qualifying period of 12 weeks applies. This Bill ensures that agency workers will receive equal treatment from day one. While this is positive news for agency workers, it is less positive for employers. Employers and employment agencies are naturally concerned about the additional costs and red tape which this legislation will impose in order to ensure equal parity with direct employees. I agree with Deputy Calleary that this is a difficult time for businesses. They are already facing many challenges and the introduction of this legislation will make their situation more difficult. It is a shame and a pity that the social partners, IBEC and ICTU, could not reach agreement on a qualifying period. That is unfortunate. However, they have up until the eleventh hour to do so. It is hoped that will happen.

As regards liability, the agency is liable for failure to provide equal treatment in respect of pay or basic working conditions and the hirer is liable for failure to provide access to collective facilities or information on vacancies. Hirers must inform agency workers of any vacant positions about which they are also providing information to a comparable employee. Agency workers who allege contravention of their rights under the Bill must furnish their complaint to the Rights Commissioner of the Labour Relations Commission within six months of the date of the alleged breach. Maximum liability under the Bill is two years’ remuneration.

[568]This Bill is welcome. Elements of the Bill allow scope for differing interpretations. This flexibility is necessary on a case-by-case basis. Agencies will be required to review their contract documentation with hirers and will have to seek information from hirers in regard to how much the hirer is paying or would be paying a comparable employee. Agencies will also be required to furnish information to hirers about how individual employees are retained by them. Hirers will need this information to determine who in their organisations will come under the remit of this legislation. Clearly, hirers have a significant amount of work ahead of them. They will be obliged to group together workers and to determine which groups come within the remit of the legislation. They also will be obliged to determine what a comparable employee would be paid and this information, where applicable, must be furnished to the agency. Obviously, much work will be entailed in ensuring that agencies and hirers are compliant with this Bill’s provisions. However, from the perspective of workers, it will lead to a fairer and more transparent working environment for many agency workers. One disadvantage of the Bill is that employers are likely to use existing employees, rather than recruiting new agency workers, because of the additional cost involved in this regard. Consequently, they are likely to squeeze more out of the existing employees. In conclusion, I welcome the Bill and express my hope that some kind of eleventh hour decision can be made on introducing a qualifying period into the legislation.

Deputy Tom Barry:  The objective of this Bill is to transpose into national legislation Directive 2008/104/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008. While I welcome this opportunity to speak on this legislation, at the outset I wish everyone present a happy new year in 2012. Hopefully, it will be another year of emergence from the economic crisis in which we find ourselves and I assure everyone who may be looking in on proceedings in the Chamber that all Members will work towards a better outcome for the country.

The transposition has the aim of providing protection to temporary agency workers on the basis of the principle of equal treatment in respect of their basic working and employment conditions. This means the same conditions will be applied to the agency workers as if they had been recruited directly by the undertaker, that is, the hirer, notwithstanding the nature of temporary workers’ contractual relationships with the employment agency, which remains as the employer. The employment relationship of an agency worker is of a triangular nature between the agency worker, the employment agency and the hirer that undertakes where the agency worker ultimately will be assigned. The directive points out the objective to be pursued in respect of agency workers, that is, the employees, who are to be assigned by an employment agency, that is, the employers, to work under the direction and control of a third party, the hirer, and it is estimated that 35,000 people are in this position in Ireland.

As other Members have noted, I am disappointed the discussions between the social partners did not reach a satisfactory conclusion on the issue of derogation that would have allowed for a qualifying period, as is the position in the United Kingdom, where a 12-week period obtains. The administrative burden this measure will add to companies may be significant and is not welcome in that regard. Similarly, there is much trade between this jurisdiction, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. We also compete with them and this may put us at a slight disadvantage in this regard. I note the social partners were mad about social partnership during the good times when in essence, reaching an agreement simply meant paying more money. They now are being asked to reach agreements using methods other than more money and this requires leadership. However, the social partners have failed in their duty and have failed to recognise that for the country to emerge from this crisis, flexibility is required. One must sell what sometimes is a difficult story but they have baulked on this occasion.

[569]I hope the issue of short-term contracts in particular industries can be re-examined at a later time in order that this necessary and broadly legislative development does not lead to job losses or unsustainable financial pressures on small enterprises that are already struggling. A review is scheduled for 2013 but hopefully it will not take that long because this may cause trouble in the short term. There is a strong argument in particular circumstances relating to some industries for a modest lead-in period before equal employment conditions should apply, particularly for businesses that only need employees for a short term. The Bill transposes the 2008 directive into national law and provides protection for temporary workers, which is positive. I am an employer and to achieve productivity, one’s employees must be happy. They must go to work in the knowledge that their employer is being fair to them. One works on the basis of partnership with one’s employees and one desires to have them treated properly. I have yet to see, particularly in smaller businesses, instances in which people would treat their employees differently. It would lead to dissatisfaction right across one’s business, which ultimately leads to a lack of productivity. However, there are many issues in this regard. Perhaps during the good times too much pay was being given for working unsociable hours. As for Sunday working, I have never really agreed with it. I considered it unfair to push workers to work on a Sunday, which essentially is a family day. Certain tasks of course must be done and coming from a farming background, I am aware that one sometimes must work on Sundays. Cows must be milked on a Sunday and some jobs must be done. However, other jobs are not necessarily important on a Sunday.

This Bill also provides equal access to collective facilities and amenities in respect of employment opportunities. However, one must consider the ratios of workers in temporary employment. According to a report in the Irish Medical Times, the amount paid in 2010 by the Health Service Executive to external employment agencies was €151 million. This was almost double the €77 million paid in 2009 and in 2008, the outlay was just €15 million. Consequently, there has been an absolute surge in temporary employment and perhaps this should not have been encouraged. It was a quick fix, which in some respects has led to this legislation. Why is so much State money being spent on temporary workers and on subsidising recruitment agencies? They have done very well and Members may recall that recruitment agencies were being bought for multi-million amounts. The only reason this was the case is they were making fabulous profits. One could say this was achieved on the backs of workers, which in essence is another cost that employment cannot bear.

This issue should be considered in the context of hiring people. It is very important in business — I see it myself — to hire the right people. Instead of handing out this important job to a third party, which may not necessarily have the best interests of one’s company at heart because they have a lot of other business to do, perhaps recruitment should be carried out in-house. One should hire people on the basis of their ability, reputation and drive because, ultimately, it is about ensuring the business remains in business. The idea of external recruitment never really washed well with me. Any time I employed someone, I sat down with and spoke to him or her and secured a reference for that person, thereby getting a good idea of the individual with whom I was dealing. This is important and I believe employees also would be glad to go in this direction because they would have more contact with the companies for which they were working. In addition, Members must examine the recruitment practices and embargoes within the health service because value for money is important in this regard. Perhaps by tweaking things in this respect, better value for money could be achieved for everyone.

Across the workforce, there are 35,000 temporary workers in Ireland, which comprises 2% of the active workforce. This is a large number, which represents many families who will enjoy more secure employment conditions. I always have been an advocate of fair play for workers. A sign of a good company is one in which the employees have worked for a long time. When [570]I walk into a company and talk to the staff and hear one member has been with the company for 15 years and another for 20 years, that is a great sign that they are happy and contented. While they might not always be happy as there are days when things go wrong, on the whole everything is working out right for them and that is a great sign.

We need to focus on trying to move from having temporary workers to having full-time permanent positions. Such a move will be beneficial for the State in that people will have a secure position and may consider purchasing a house or a car, and that settles things down. When one is in a state of flux and employed on a temporary basis, one is fearful that things may change, especially in the current environment. It is important for us to be cognisant of that fact.

Coming from a business background, I am keen to point out that employers are anxious to protect the interests of their employees — I certainly am. In small businesses, employees are not only work colleagues but become personal friends. I have always used the term working with someone rather than for somebody. My business grew from a very small basis to being a reasonably large one and it was built on the abilities of the fabulous people who worked with me. That is the guideline we must have, namely, to respect people who work with us. Everybody has different abilities. Some people are good at organising others while others are good at getting the work done.

We have been good at subcontracting work. We left the manufacturing industries behind us in the good times and such industries moved to India and China. We have to get our hands dirty once more and get back to work. I have no doubt this legislation will ensure that matters will be better in the long run. As an employer, I can anticipate issues that will arise, but ensuring there is fairer treatment of workers and getting more people into permanent employment is what we are about.

The Government is tidying up many of our affairs. I am involved with the Minister, Deputy Bruton, in the policy committee and we are lining up all our ducks in a row. We are trying to get this country into a position where it will be ready for business. The jobs initiative was a bit like Food Harvest 2020 in agricultural sector — it has set a benchmark. We will have bank guarantee, micro-finance and credit guarantee schemes, and all these initiatives will assist and encourage business. I welcome the Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  I note Deputies Tom Fleming, Catherine Murphy and Finian McGrath will share time in the next speaking slot. I call Deputy Fleming.

Deputy Tom Fleming:  This Bill will be beneficial for employees, employers and society in the long term. The transposition of the EU directive into Irish law is long overdue, as there has been a great increase in the number of agency workers here, particularly in recent years. There was a sudden dip in the number of agency staff a few years ago due to the dramatic decline in the construction industry, but during the past 12 months there has been a steady increase in the number of people on the agencies’ books. That is mainly due to people who were previously unemployed having completed upskilling courses and highly qualified people in various disciplines seeking work with employment agencies. By and large, agency workers are of the highest quality, have excellent qualifications and are a vital component in the efforts to revitalise our economy.

The process of consultation with the various stakeholders was commenced by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, as it was then titled, as far back as October 2010 and subsequently pursued by the current Minister, Deputy Bruton, since he took office but, unfortunately, with the non-agreement of some aspects of the directive, there has been undue [571]delay in the introduction of the Bill. I must give credit to the Minister for making the Bill retrospective with effect from 5 December 2011. I welcome that initiative. I hope it will ensure the agency workers will have the same pay as the workers they replace with effect from that date. Up to now, they have not enjoyed the same terms and conditions of employment as workers they have replaced. The company paid the agency and the agency paid the agency worker, but the agency took a cut of the worker’s pay and made huge profits on the back of the agency workers. The agencies took a disproportionate rate and that should not have been the practice, but at last they are being brought into line.

One aspect of the Bill about which I am unhappy is that pension provision is not properly covered. Also, bonus payments, sick pay schemes and benefits-in-kind do not come within the scope of the Bill. I strongly believe the Bill should be amended to address these issues. The fewer agency employees who are covered by occupational pensions, the more of these people who will be dependent on the State at a later date for the old age pension. In terms of a defined contribution scheme, at a minimum, 5% of the salary of an agency worker should be paid into a fund to ensure that when that worker retires, he or she will not be completely dependent on the State.

Another aspect that is relevant in terms of employment is that the level of unionisation in the private sector has greatly decreased. I ask that the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, to convey to the Minister for Finance my request that he reinstate an earlier scheme that was removed in the 2010 budget. Under that scheme, union subscriptions were allowable as a tax deduction. As in the private sector, the level of professional representation by unions for workers has fallen to 23%. This is an alarming figure, given that such workers should be entitled to professional representation. The measure that was introduced in the 2010 budget was a deterrent. The significance of the decease in union representation in the private sector is highlighted by the fact that there is 100% union representation in the public service. I ask that this request be conveyed to the Minister for Finance.

Deputy Catherine Murphy:  While people have major questions about the European Union, one of its achievements is its vindication of the rights of employees. This Bill primarily stems from the Charter of Fundamental Rights. It is the only reason I could find to talk myself into voting “Yes” to the Lisbon treaty. I have felt that up to now the charter has been torn up and thrown away. It is good that this legislation and other positive initiatives from Europe in the area of workers’ rights have stemmed from that charter.

I know what it is like to sit in an office and work beside somebody who is paid more for doing the same work. I was one of those workers who in 1975 opened my pay packet to find that I had got equal pay with male workers, and I remember that morning. That arose under the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974 and women received equal pay in 1975. I think I got a 20% increase in my wages as a consequence of that and that is not something one easily forgets. Neither does one easily forget what it is like to do the same work as somebody else and feel a sense of injustice when that person is paid more. I received complaints from people last year who were working with people who were being paid less. They felt a sense of social solidarity that prompted them to contact me about the position of those agency workers. I had hoped we were nearing the day where that position would be redressed. It was women who were discriminated against in 1974. While this is not a gender-based discrimination that has taken place up to now, it is predominantly women who have been affected by it because it mainly involves people who work in child care, heath care, canteens and such jobs. Women will predominantly be affected by this measure.

There has been something of a casualisation of labour which has driven down standards and affected people’s rights. It is only right and proper that the position in this regard should be [572]addressed. However, the Bill does not address the issue of equal conditions. Deputy Tom Fleming drew attention to the fact that matters such as pensions, maternity rights, sick pay, and so on, are not dealt with in the Bill.

I have previously been very critical that in the context of the legislation we enact, we do not consider how, from a practical point of view, the rights we intend to confer on people will be vindicated. I have serious concerns about the capacity of the Labour Court and the Labour Relations Commission — which it is proposed to amalgamate — to vindicate the rights to which I refer. I am also concerned with regard to how long the process will take in this regard. These organs of the State are already overworked and we now propose to confer yet another responsibility upon them. Consideration must be given to this matter.

As a previous speaker indicated, temporary or casual work do not always lead to savings. For example, the agency workers used by our hospitals are often placed several points higher on the incremental pay scale than nurses who are on temporary contracts. Whereas nurses on temporary contracts might come into employment at point 1, agency nurses are often taken on at points 5 or 6. The agencies will receive a cut in this regard and will make a profit. As a result, we do not obtain the kind of continuity that would result from someone who is aware of the routine in a particular hospital and who is familiar with the wards, and so on, being in situ. As a result, good value for money is not obtained and the outcomes achieved are poor.

There are ways in which — even in light of the current economic climate — we might deal with this matter. One of these would be to put in place a floor below which hospitals should not fall in the context of bed-to-nurse ratios. Some hospitals have been seeking a solution of this nature. Everyone is aware that we are in an extremely serious economic situation and that there is limited money to spend. If a floor such as that to which I refer were put in place and if hospitals could employ people, even on a temporary basis, we could achieve more satisfactory outcomes for everyone, with the exception of the agencies which are operating at a profit. There is a need to consider options such as that to which I refer. Predominantly, the type of scenario to which I refer obtains in the public sector. I ask the Minister of State to draw the attention of the Minister for Health to this issue. Having someone in place on an almost permanent basis is very different to taking on a person who does not know where things are to be found, who is not familiar with the culture that obtains in a particular hospital. There are some aspects of this which are intangible in nature but which are worthy of consideration.

I have several concerns with regard to the exact nature of section 7, which deals with the social partners. The position here must be teased out in much greater detail on Committee Stage. I am glad the Bill refers to the Charter of Fundamental Rights. I thought that it had been torn up and thrown away. I am no longer so much of the opinion that my vote in respect of the charter was wasted.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011. In the context of the debate, we have been presented with the chance to address the issue of the protection of workers’ rights, nationally and across the European Union. This matter is clearly back on the political agenda in view of the levels of mass unemployment and issues such as the announcement earlier today that Ulster Bank is to lay off staff and the fact that the Vita Cortex workers are protesting outside the gates of Leinster House. Earlier, I met the Vita Cortex workers and expressed my complete solidarity with them. The situation regarding these workers is disgraceful, particularly in the context of employee rights and matters relating to treatment and equality. The individuals to whom I refer have been engaged in a sit-in at the Vita Cortex plant since before Christmas as a result of the disgraceful way in which they have been treated by the company. [573] They were informed that they would not receive any redundancy payments but were offered €1,500 each by the company just prior to Christmas in an attempt to buy them off.

I raise this matter because it is relevant to the debate on the Bill. It is important that all Members should express their support for the 32 Vita Cortex workers in the context of the terrible way in which they have been treated. When discussing the protection of employees, it is important to note that three shareholders in Vita Cortex received €2.5 million while the 32 workers to whom I refer, who have 846 years of service between them, received nothing at all. This is an example of the kind of injustice that exists in Ireland at present. Such injustice is not acceptable. Neither is it acceptable that people are being obliged to engage in a sit-in to obtain justice and achieve equality. All the workers in question are seeking is 2.9 weeks’ pay per year of service, which is in line with the redundancy deals previously given to former workers at the plant. The Minister of State should do his best in respect of this matter and he should ensure that the organs of State work for the rights of the Vita Cortex employees. It appears that a Pontius Pilate-type approach is being taken to these individuals, for whom there is massive public support. Sitting on the fence in respect of this issue is not an option.

The Bill is required to give effect to Directive 2008/104/EC of 19 November 2008 on temporary agency work to give equal treatment in terms of basic working and employment conditions for temporary agency workers as if they were recruited directly by the hirer to do the same job. This is the key element in the context of the legislation and the debate on it.

Section 1 gives the Short Title of the Bill and enables the legislation to come into effect from 5 December 2011. The retrospective provisions will not apply to the provisions of the Bill that create offences. While I welcome the broad thrust of the legislation, I am obliged to note that the trade union movement has a number of concerns in respect of it. The Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, must be brave. He must listen to those concerns and take the necessary steps to ensure that they are addressed in the legislation.

I am in complete agreement with Deputies Tom Fleming and Catherine Murphy with regard to the concerns they expressed in respect of issues relating to pensions, sick pay, professional representation and maternity rights. These are fundamental rights and issues which must be contemplated within the legislation. The Deputies also expressed reservations regarding whether the organs of the State would be able to deal with the issues in question. That is an extremely important matter.

Another matter upon which several speakers touched is the concept of stability and continuity of service in the context of agency workers. This is an issue to which consideration must be given. We must ensure that when staff are employed, there is some degree of stability and continuity of service in place. I have direct experience in this regard in the context of disability services, and so on, and I am aware that it is necessary to ensure that the right people occupy the right positions on a regular or continual basis. We know from direct experience that chopping and changing staff can sometimes cause major difficulties for people with intellectual disabilities. This is particularly the case with regard to respite services. We should examine this matter in the context of the concerns relating to the legislation.

We need to engage in a detailed consideration of section 7 on Committee Stage. Section 10 provides that an agency worker is entitled to be provided with information on job vacancies within the hirer that would be available to a comparable employee. This section is an important, relevant and progressive section. We can talk all we want about agency workers and legislation to protect the rights of workers. However, we must also ensure that everyone is treated with the maximum of support and equality.

I agree with some of the comments made by Deputy Tom Barry about small business people and how they treat and work with their staff. This is an important issue. Before Christmas one [574]constituent of mine told me of his small business which employs seven people. Because of the downturn and the crisis he has taken a salary cut. He used to earn €81,000 per year and he has down-sized his personal salary to €35,000 per annum so that he can keep his staff. This is the type of story I like to hear about employment. The business person in question is on the north side of Dublin and I take my hat off to him. Many small businesses treat their staff with integrity and respect and they work with their staff. Anyone who knows anything about the matter will know that this increases productivity. It is important that one works with and motivates one’s staff and gives them the key skills so that they can do the jobs that they are best at. One does not hear many stories of people taking a personal hit for themselves and their families to retain staff.

I put it to my colleague from Dublin North Central, the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, that when he is examining these issues he should look closely at improving and trying to support these people rather than making life more difficult for them. The Minister should not be afraid to go back and examine the rent problem and deal quickly with the issue of rates and so on. Anything that will help to employ people with meaningful jobs and which treats staff with respect is good for the country, the economy and good for any attempt to try to turn around the situation.

Section 12 prohibits the charging of work-seeking fees by the employment agencies. It strengthens the current provision under the Employment Agency Act 1971. I strongly welcome section 12, which is important. Section 13 provides that an agency worker is entitled to be treated no less favourably than a comparable employee for access to collective facilities and amenities provided by the hirer to employees.

I welcome the publication of the legislation and I welcome the debate. I note in the section dealing with the financial implications for the public sector and the health sector, in which agency workers feature prominently, it is estimated that based on the current usage levels of agency work, additional costs will be incurred by the Exchequer in terms of providing equal treatment in basic work and employment conditions for agency workers. This is a hit we can afford to take and it is important. Everyone in the House has an interest in creating jobs and providing for the rights of agency workers, supporting them and treating them with respect.

Deputy Nicky McFadden:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill and to comment on certain aspects of the legislation. The Bill will implement an EU directive, the overall objective of which is to provide a boost to the work and employment opportunities for temporary agency workers in Ireland. While exact figures are unknown, available data from work carried out in the regulatory impact analysis shows that there are approximately 35,000 temporary workers currently employed in Ireland through 340 operating employment agencies. It is therefore necessary that guaranteeing equal treatment for agency workers in terms of pay and basic working conditions and entitlements is given due priority. I commend and pay tribute to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, on his work in this regard.

Many people are struggling to find employment and take every opportunity to secure whatever length of employment may be available. Those who take on temporary work through agencies should be safe in the knowledge that the work they do will be financially beneficial and worthwhile. A certain degree of stability is the least these workers deserve. While protecting the basic rights of temporary agency workers, it is important that a fair and balanced approach is taken so that costs on employment are kept to a minimum and the impact of economic competitiveness is minimised in what are difficult economic conditions.

[575]Under the Bill, pay is defined as basic pay, along with any pay in excess of basic pay in respect of shift work, overtime, piece work, Sunday work and unsociable hours. The basic working and employment conditions protected by the Bill expressly exclude sick pay, payments under a pension scheme or other occupational social security schemes. I agree with Deputy Tom Fleming and Deputy Catherine Murphy that it is most unfair that sick pay and pensions should be disregarded in this Bill. In general, agency workers are paid significantly less than comparable full-time, permanent and directly employed colleagues. Should the Bill become law, basic working and employment conditions to which an agency worker is entitled shall be the same as a comparable employee and I wholeheartedly welcome this. A reality of the recession is that employers are more inclined to employ workers on a temporary basis through an agency rather than committing to employing workers on a permanent basis. It is therefore essential that these temporary workers’ rights are protected. The main benefit for agency workers is the elimination of any pay differential that may have previously existed between them and employees directly employed by the hirer.

An important issue raised by my constituents on several occasions is the consideration of long-term agency workers for permanent positions that arise. I am aware of an agency worker who has been in the same employment for three years and who is dependent on a place on an employment panel to be considered for such positions. However, these panels have expiration dates. Agency workers should get the opportunity to apply for permanent positions in the case of retirements and other situations.

Information provision in respect of employment, equality and industrial relations rights and obligations will bring about major improvements in workplace relations. The Minister’s objectives are to encourage early resolution of disputes, vindication of employee rights and the minimisation of the costs for employees, employers and Government and these are welcome goals. The introduction of these new and improved rights for temporary workers is a positive step. The Bill will help temporary workers to achieve better working conditions and, in turn, attract more people to take up these kinds of employment opportunities.

Deputy Martin Heydon:  I will share time with Deputy Phelan. I welcome the introduction of the Bill and the opportunity to speak on it today. I also welcome the clarity that the introduction of this Bill will now bring for many agency workers, employers and agencies as to how the equal treatment for agency workers is to apply. I am on record as having raised my concerns about this directive in the House under Topical Issues last November.

As we approached the implementation date of 5 December last year there was considerable uncertainty and confusion among employers and agencies as to how the directive would be implemented in Ireland and, crucially, whether a derogation would be negotiated between the social partners as happened in Britain and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately agreement was not subsequently reached on a derogation and I strongly believe that the unions should have agreed a minimum period of three months in order not to put us at a competitive disadvantage with our nearest neighbours, as is now the case.

The Department’s regulatory impact analysis recommended the policy option that included a qualifying period. The unions’ failure to agree this has led to many of the difficulties currently experienced by recruitment agencies and businesses. We expected these employers to have applied the terms of this legislation before they even knew its precise terms.

Is it possible to review the retrospective start date of 5 December? I ask this because I believe it will cause practical issues. From a financial point of view, it will create large pay bills for employers and agencies covering a period when there was no legislation in place. However, I believe it will also result in legal challenges which will place pressure on an already backlogged employment appeals system.

[576]I am not sure if the provisions of this Bill have been applied in practice since 5 December, as many employers were expecting a derogation to be agreed and the late confirmation that there would not be such a derogation did not allow time for employers to amend their systems. That has only been happening since guidance was issued from the Department through the employer groups about how the equal terms should apply, and this has only been since 5 December. Indeed, this Bill was only published on 22 December, so it will be difficult to expect employers to adhere to the terms of a Bill from a date before its publication. While there will be difficulties for many agencies and employers, the potential impact on the HSE alone is very significant.

It has been reported that the estimated staffing costs of the HSE will rise by €33 million a year as a result of the implementation of the provisions of this directive. Through the use of parliamentary questions, I asked the Minister for Health about the cost of using agency nurses. The following is the information I received. In 2009, the Department spent in excess of €48 million on the cost of nursing, medical and allied health and social care, rising to in excess of €110 million in 2010. I expect that figure to increase again when we receive the information on the amount spent in 2011.

I understand the constraints on staff numbers that the Minister is under following the memorandum of understanding agreed by the last Government with the troika, but I believe we are now at a point where we must renegotiate our staffing levels in the health sector as part of that agreement. It is costing us more to hire agency nurses than full-time staff and this directive has widened that cost even further. On a practical level, there are more problems associated with the extensive use of agency nurses. For example, there is a far greater burden placed on the remaining full-time staff if agency staff make themselves unavailable during holiday periods such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve, as happened recently. This leads to an extremely low morale among our health care professionals and this is not good for our health system. Agency staff represent a good short-term measure in the health sector, but not a good long-term policy, and I would like the Minister for Health to push for changes in this regard.

It is estimated that there are about 35,000 agency workers employed in Ireland. Their use provides a degree of flexibility for struggling businesses that cannot commit to full-time employees or who have seasonal work. I welcome the clarification this Bill provides on their position in the Irish workforce which recognises the huge contribution they have made to many industries, including the health system.

Apart from the equal pay and terms for agency workers which many people associate with this Bill, there are also other entitlements which are now confirmed for agency workers which are welcome. The confirmation that agency workers should now be informed of vacancies and other employment opportunities at their hirer company is a welcome addition. Many speakers last night also mentioned the access to shared canteen and crèche facilities where they are available. I would expect that in most cases, this shared access is already the case, but its confirmation is welcome.

I hope that employing agencies, hirer companies and agency workers can work together to implement the changes this EU directive will require, and I thank the Minister of State and his officials for their work on this Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett, who has 20 minutes available.

Deputy Sean Sherlock:  Twenty minutes.

[577]Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I need a lot more than that to say what I have to say. It is pleasant to begin by welcoming the basic aspiration of this legislation, which is to ensure that the rights and entitlements of agency workers should be equivalent to those who are directly employed. That is a very laudable and long overdue measure. In that context, I am disappointed at the reservations or outright opposition of Deputy Calleary from Fianna Fáil, who spoke about the dangers such measures represent for competitiveness in the current economic environment. Frankly, I am amazed how economic buzzwords such as competitiveness and flexibility always seem to be more important for certain schools of thought than the rights of workers. It just defies comprehension.

While I want to make a number of specific points about this Bill and how well or otherwise it discharges its basic aspiration to give equal rights to agency workers, it is important to respond to Deputy Calleary on a general point. From the point of view of workers and trade unionists, the use of agency workers — not the agency workers themselves — has in many cases been a dagger pointed at the heart of workers’ rights in this country and right across Europe. They have been used to undermine basic rights and conditions that workers have won and fought for over decades and, in my opinion, they have been used consciously by certain unscrupulous employers and some governments deliberately to weaken, divide and undermine the trade union movement and its role in trying to represent the best interests and rights of workers. Anything that moves to address that problem and ensure that agency workers are not used to undermine existing wages and conditions should be welcomed.

The idolisers of flexibility and competitiveness, such as Deputy Calleary, who seem to think that those things are so important, might just consider a few macroeconomic facts about our economy and the global economy in recent years. There has been a fetish for competitiveness and flexibility which has led to the undermining of workers’ rights and the idea of a permanent, safe and secure job. The use of agency workers has played a very considerable part in trying to undermine that notion, as if there was something wrong with the idea we should have a permanent, safe and secure job. Is that not what we should strive for? Is that not what people like Connolly and Larkin fought for? Was the trade union movement not built in order to get away from a situation where workers were disposable objects, hired and fired at will by unscrupulous employers? Is that not what 1913 was all about? In recent years, some people want to go back to those dark days, and agency workers have been used to undermine the rights and entitlements that workers have won over the years. To my mind, that defies comprehension, but even in macroeconomic terms it has been a disaster. Economists and the political establishment need to understand that. The ratcheting down of wages, which happened systematically in this economy as a share of national wealth, has had disastrous economic consequences. It is worth spelling them out, because this is rarely commented upon in the big debates about the economy.

  3 o’clock

During the period of the boom in this country, the share of national wealth going to wages and salaries was reduced by 10%. That led to a direct correlated increase in the share going to profits, shares and bonuses. There was a reduction in the take of workers as part of the national cake, and an increase in profits going to the wealthy, shareholders, employers and so on. The result of this was that demand had to be sustained in the economy through the extension of credit by the banks. Banks extended credit to people whose wages were not high enough in order to fuel demand for property, retail and so on. The demand was being fuelled on the never-never and was part of creating the bubble that crashed the economy. The people who tried to push down wages and conditions and increase their profits helped create the conditions for the bubble which have backfired on them and led to the economic crash.

[578]It is cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face for short-term gain to think that by depressing workers’ wages and salaries one is somehow gaining.

On an international scale this fetish with competitiveness, flexibility and driving down wages and conditions has played a very substantial part in the financialisation of the global economy which played such a key part in causing the current economic crisis. Since the late 1970s in the hunt for profits, because profits were falling from the early 1970s onwards in the manufacturing industry and other areas, there has been a move towards pushing down wages and conditions, financialising the economy as companies try to keep up their profits, and pouring money into financial speculation and into all these obscure, weird, wonderful and ultimately very dangerous financial tools that were developed for making short-term profit. This is what companies did with their extra share of profits as they drove down the wages and conditions of workers. Simultaneously, they were depressing the buying power of ordinary workers to buy the goods and services that were being produced in the real economy.

People need to understand that the underlying reason for the systemic nature of the current global economic crisis is not only the individual greed of bankers and speculators but is precisely because of the fetish sustained over 20 or 30 years to drive down the share of wealth that goes to wages and salaries in favour of shares and bonuses which end up sloshing around in the financial markets destabilising the global economy, the European economy and the Irish economy. This is an important macro-economic point to make. Deputy Calleary is utterly wrong in his thinking, morally and economically.

The aspiration of the legislation is very good. Section 6 states that the basic working and employment conditions to which an agency worker is entitled shall be the same as the basic working and employment conditions to which a comparable employee is entitled. This is excellent and it will remove the danger that can be represented by the misuse and abuse of agency workers undermining existing wages and conditions and can mean a levelling up for the rights and entitlements of agency workers themselves. If Deputy Heydon is concerned about the excessive costs of the use of agency workers in the health service — and he is absolutely right — the way to deal with this is not by introducing this type of legislation but to directly employ them. If this Bill leads to a decision by the HSE and other bodies in the public sector to directly employ more people because it is better value for money, not to mention far better for the workers involved, it would be a very good thing indeed.

However, there is a very big problem with the legislation which comes in section 6(2) following the very laudable aspiration I outlined. It states:

This section shall not, in so far only as it relates to pay, apply to an agency worker employed by an employment agency under a permanent contract of employment, provided that, in respect of the period between assignments and subject to Part 3 of the Act of 2000 and any registered employment agreement or any order under the Industrial Relations Act 1946, he or she is paid by the employment agency an amount equal to not less than half of the pay to which he or she was entitled in respect of his or her most recent assignment.

This is the Swedish derogation and effectively undermines the entire point of the legislation. It means it is allowed to pay less to agency workers, such as nurses in the health service, if they are employed permanently in a health division of an agency. An agency can employ them and pay them less than a nurse would be paid by a hospital. In the periods when the nurse or other employee is not assigned to a particular company or a body such as a hospital, the agency is required to pay only 50% of what the employee receives when working in the company or hospital. What that person receives for working in a hospital can be less than an ordinary nurse [579]receives for doing the same job. I use a nurse as an example but it could be any employee. In other words, agencies and employers can get around this by the agency permanently employing people and contracting them at a lower wages and conditions and paying them half this when they are not on assignment. I put it to the Minister that if he is serious about giving effect to the central aspiration and objective of the legislation, which is to give equal rights to agency workers and full-time employees, this subsection should be deleted because it is a major loophole and way out which will undermine and subvert the central aspiration of the legislation.

Section 7 allows for sectoral derogations. There are considerable conditions and qualifications for this, all of which are generally good. There cannot be a derogation from section 6 which contains the central objective of the legislation without there being collective agreements between representatives of the employees and employers and this must be registered with the Labour Court also. So far so good, but the question is raised as to how to define a representative of the workers. In this case, it is required that the union or representative body must represent 90% of the agency workforce. It is practically impossible given the nature of agency workers for a union to have 90% membership in the agency itself. It is entirely plausible that 90% of the workers of the company, body or organisation contracting the agency workers could be represented by a union but not the agency itself. Putting these types of restrictions on the ability of unions to represent workers in this sector and requiring high levels of representation in the agencies themselves is unrealisable practically for the unions and therefore leads to the possibility of abuse.

Deputy Alex White:  Is this in section 7?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Yes, it refers to union representation.

Deputy Sean Sherlock:  Is the Deputy sure about this?

Deputy Alex White:  The 90%?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I am working off notes from Unite trade union so I will have to examine it, but according to section 7 the Labour Court shall not approve a collective agreement unless in the opinion of the court the representative body is sufficiently representative of agency workers.

Deputy Alex White:  It does not state 90%.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Yes, but it mentions agency workers. Unite states that the proportion being considered is 90%. Even if it is less than 90% it will be very difficult for unions to have a high level of representation among agency workers because unions tend to organise in the workplace in the organisation or body and not among the agency workers. How can they be organised? It would be extremely difficult to do so. This is a major problem which needs to be dealt with.

There is also the question of comparators. If the job for which somebody is being contracted has an obvious comparator within a company or organisation contracting the employees, there can be a fairly easy direct comparison. If such a position does not exist in the company, there must be a kind of hypothetical comparison, which can be problematic as there can be a difficulty in defining the comparison. There is a particular difficulty as there is a requirement in the directive for three types of comparability, as the comparable employee and agency worker must do the same work under the same or similar conditions, the work done must be of the same or similar nature, and the work must be equal to or greater in value than that of the comparable worker, having regard to skill, physical or mental requirements. In equality legis[580]lation only one of those criteria must be met. As a result, the comparison may not be broadly defined, leading to the possibility of employers undermining the ability of the agency worker to make a reasonable comparison between the work he or she does against a person doing similar work. That issue must be considered.

Section 22 concerns penalisation of employers who abuse agency workers. I hope what is contained in the section is a mistake or a printing error and if it is not, there should be an explanation. Section 22(2) states:

If a penalisation of an employee, in contravention of subsection (1), constitutes a dismissal of the employee within the meaning of the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2007, relief may not be granted to the employee in respect of that penalisation both under Schedule 2 and under those Acts.

If somebody is dismissed in contravention of subsection (1), it appears relief may not be granted. I assume this is a mistake but if it is not, the Minister might explain the reasoning behind it.

There is a question of training and the need to include an element in the Bill which would give some right to agency workers to access training courses that may be available to full-time and directly employed staff. There may not be the possibility of precisely the same rights to courses if a person is employed on a short-term basis but there should be some provision for training in employment.

The key issue is the so-called Swedish derogation. It should be deleted because if it remains, it would fundamentally undermine the entire point of the legislation and provide a way for agencies or employers to get around the central purpose of this legislation, which is to ensure equal rights for agency workers and those with direct employment.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy):  I understand Deputy Alex White is sharing his time.

Deputy Alex White:  I wish to share time with Deputies Anne Phelan and Keating. Perhaps the Acting Chairman might indicate when I have used eight minutes.

Deputy Derek Keating:  To be helpful, I only need one minute or 90 seconds.

Deputy Alex White:  I will use ten minutes if that is the case.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy):  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Alex White:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate, which concerns the introduction of important legislation, and not before time. It is a crucial directive involving agency workers. It is important to remind ourselves of some issues as I have listened to much of the debate, including contributions from colleagues who are sceptical and have difficulties with some aspects of this legislation. I do not have such difficulties. I am not referring to the comments of Deputy Boyd Barrett but rather other issues, including those relating to the derogation, which I will discuss later. These are items of protective legislation for workers and there is an important strain of legislation and directives from the European Union to this end. The Minister quite fairly pointed this out in his speech.

People know we have had protection of part-time workers for a number of years, as well as legislation protecting fixed-term workers. There are other areas of protection required for what are sometimes known as posted workers. The basic principle is relatively simple but neverthe[581]less very important. Deputy Catherine Murphy mentioned earlier that she had worked with somebody in a similar post who was paid less than she was. We should have the principle of equal pay for like work. It should not be a throwaway aspiration but should be made a reality. These directives have that aim and this legislation will achieve it. Deputy Calleary and others have sought to set up a conflict between the principle of protective rights on one hand and cost and competitiveness on the other. If there is any element of a risk to cost, there is a suggestion that we should in some way consider differently the basic principle of protective rights, but I do not agree with that.

These must, of course, be the subject of negotiation and one cannot say there is no right for businesses and the representatives of employers to have a very strong say on the nature and extent of protective rights to be introduced. They have such a say. There have been rights for part-time and fixed-term workers for years and the sky has not fallen. These are important rights which have been in place for quite a long time. The notion that the extension of the principle of equality to agency workers would be done grudgingly or that we are doing it because we have been told to do it by Europe should be rejected. I do not accept Deputy Calleary’s argument that this is setting back job creation. I would like to understand that argument a little better. I have read the departmental documentation and the assessment of this legislation and there is no compelling argument that giving people the same rate for similar work erodes competitiveness. There is an issue of cost but we should consider workers’ rights as well.

I was struck in a positive way by Deputy Barry’s comments. He indicated that he is an employer and had some concerns about the derogation issue, which I will address. I do not want to paraphrase the Deputy unnecessarily or misrepresent him but he lauded the principle of long-term quality work. He is anxious to recruit the right people with associated reputation and skills. I would suggest such people could have a stake in employment and the job that they hold. They would not be dispensable or work for a few days at a time. They would have a commitment and by virtue of the stability of the employment, they would have a commitment to the job carried out. As Deputy Barry illustrated well, this is not just a positive for the worker but for the employer, industry and business in general, as people would be able to work together and have a long-term stake in collective action.

It was never a really good objective to seek to promote agency work at the expense of whole-time work. By all means let us promote agency work and make it attractive in the sense that where there is a requirement for flexibility in filling a gap for a particular period, it should be possible to do it. In that sense I do not mind the promotion of agency work but not for it to be used as a replacement for whole-time work. That was the principle enunciated by Deputy Barry and I hope I do not misrepresent him. His point was a fair one.

There is a case for promoting temporary agency work right across the board in the normal operations of many businesses, small and large, and in the public service for having a legal procedure whereby a gap can be filled by a temporary or an agency worker. I accept this. Such flexibility is required in certain circumstances, but this does not give an ability, as some seem to think, to pay such workers less. By all means let us have flexibility in the law to have temporary workers, to fill the absence of an existing employee on maternity leave or meet other exigencies in a particular employment, but why should that mean we should be able to pay them less? That is where I part company with some of my colleagues with whom I do not agree. That is why I have a problem with people who appear to have a difficulty with the derogation. Let us strip out what it means. What is the position on the period of 12 weeks that people say is so important? It means one can bring in an agency worker and pay them perhaps substantially less than they will otherwise be entitled to if the Bill is passed, as I hope it will [582]be. That is the bottom line. There is nothing else because they have pretty much all of the other rights. It is only about pay.

When Deputy Calleary referred to the need for flexibility and railed against what he called the failure of the unions to agree to this measure, what he and others should have said bluntly was that they wanted to be able to pay agency workers less, to use cheaper labour for a period. I respectfully part company with the Minister who said it would not in any sense disadvantage temporary agency workers as they would on the expiry of the qualifying period benefit from equal treatment. The truth of the matter is that if one has a period of 12 weeks many agency workers will be employed for 12 weeks or a little less, which is often the pattern of employment in such circumstances when people are taken on for a short period. They never receive the additional pay because they are never kept on after 12 weeks. That is the experience right across the board. Let us not fool ourselves in that regard.

It is right to have flexibility and introduce legislation, which is important and which I hope will be passed quickly through the Houses. The only material difference is that people appear to be seeking flexibility to pay less money. I do not believe any case, let alone a strong one, has been made for this. I would not be critical of the unions on this occasion for standing up for the rights of agency workers. They are right. I do not know what went on in the negotiations or between IBEC and the ICTU, but if the ICTU and the trade unions were not standing up for the rights of agency workers in these circumstances, the simple truth is that they would not be doing their job.

I wish to refer briefly to a couple of points raised by Deputy Boyd Barrett. They are not as big a problem as he believes. I accept the points were raised in good faith. Section 7 deals with collective agreements which, in effect, amount to a derogation. It would be something on which trade unions and employers could agree but they cannot create a less favourable environment than that provided for in the legislation. That is the important point.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I referred to section 6(2).

Deputy Alex White:  It is mentioned in section 7.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  My point relates to section 6(2) and concerns the Swedish derogation.

Deputy Alex White:  There should not be any concern. It is a positive measure. I am coming from the same perspective on this issue as the Deputy and do not think that is a difficulty.

On the other article to which the Deputy referred on penalisation, I respectfully say to him that what it means is that someone who is penalised and dismissed cannot recover twice. In other words, they cannot bring a case and recover compensation under this legislation and also under the unfair dismissals legislation.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  What about section 6(2)?

Deputy Alex White:  The Deputy referred to section 7.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  No, I referred to section 6(2).

Deputy Ann Phelan:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this measure introduced by the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, to address the closing of the entitlement gap for agency workers. This entitlement is contained in the EU directive on temporary agency workers for transposition into Irish law which could [583]aptly be described as a human right for agency and other workers. In that regard, I am greatly influenced by SIPTU’s vice president, Ms Patricia King, who played her usual sterling role in defending the concept of equal status for agency workers. It is worth mentioning her statement made in transposition talks between the Government and the social partners on the EU directive on temporary agency workers: “No persuasive case was made as to why the application of the directive should be different here in Ireland from the situation in the majority of other European countries.” She went on to state:

Workers have a right to be paid equal pay for equal work. It is a fundamental principle; and a question of equality; and that was what our campaign for this Directive and these rights was all about in the first place.

Because agency workers do not benefit from the same basic working and employment conditions as directly recruited employees, differences attached to equal rights and privileges in the workplace have become a contentious element of friction. It is, therefore, correct that we now align entitlements in areas such as health and safety, payment of wages and unfair dismissals, and that agency workers can seek redress in the same manner as directly recruited employees.

I am aware that ad hoc additional legislation was added since the early 1990s which has resulted in the onus for the protection of agency workers being placed on either the good will of the employment agency or the hirer. These measures have failed workers and resulted in confusion in the law in this area. It is clear that the time has come when we cannot ignore the need for change to ensure fairness and equal treatment for agency workers. In the regrettable absence of mutual agreement between the Government and the social partners on a derogation in respect of the directive on temporary agency work, Directive 2008/104/EC, in respect of a qualifying period for the provisions on equal pay, the Minister is correct in taking this course of action to transpose the EU directive. The Bill attempts to establish a suitable framework for the use of temporary agency work with a view to contributing effectively to the creation of jobs and the development of flexible forms of working. I, therefore, welcome the assurances contained in the Bill to ensure agency workers will have the same working and employment conditions as if they were directly employed by the hirer. Likewise, clarity on employment conditions relating not just to pay but also to public holiday and annual leave entitlements is a comfort to those being exploited.

Perhaps one of the most contentious items is the question of premium payments for unsocial working time, as well as Sunday premium hours. It has become a bit of a farce in some workplaces where a directly recruited employee is working alongside a less well paid agency colleague doing the same type of work.

Section 2(1) is an important legal remedy for workers who have difficulty with dodgy employers when questions arise as to whether it is the assignee of the client or the employment agency who is for responsible for meeting certain welfare obligations in dispute. Section 2(4) clarifies that the buck will stop with the employment agency. One of the most annoying problems reported to public representatives by constituents who have had outstanding issues with an employer is trying to pin down who ultimately pays when a dispute arises between the agency and the hirer. Thankfully, section 14(2) binds both parties to a resolution process which will impose an onus on the party who actually benefited from work carried out by the worker.

I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett’s argument that agency workers have been used to undermine the workforce, and we all know of this practice.

Once again, I congratulate the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, on his work in expediting passage of this Bill and I commend it to the House.

[584]Deputy Derek Keating:  I thank Deputies Alex White and Ann Phelan for giving me some time following what was a misunderstanding with the schedule. In speaking on the protection of employees I am reminded of this Government’s commitment and reiterated yesterday by the Taoiseach when he renewed his new year’s resolution which is central to this Government’s plan. The Tánaiste has referred on a number of occasions to the Government’s commitment to the creation of employment as being at the heart of the programme for Government.

I am not in favour of creating jobs at any price. The musical, “Oliver”, was staged recently in the National Concert Hall. It tells the story of London society in the 1800s and some employers want to drag us back to that era. I welcome this Bill which will introduce equality. I cannot but help refer to my visit last night to some employees in Liffey Valley who are being treated disgracefully by their employer. They are so badly treated that they are refusing to leave their current place of employment. They are employees of a company which has recorded profits of €100 million in 2011. I was struck by the integrity of the people and I am full of admiration for people such as Tara Kane and others. I thank the Minister and I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Sherlock, is in the House today because he responded immediately following the intervention by the Acting Chairman, Deputy Joanna Tuffy, when she raised it in the House on the Topical Issues debate. The Minister of State has intervened and is liaising with the trade unions. I wish him well in this work. However, the workers are still there today and they face a fourth night sleeping in unfortunate and very inappropriate conditions, but such is their determination that I know they will remain there.

I welcome this legislation. The Minister and the Government are intent on protecting workers’ rights. I wish the Minister well in protecting the rights of all workers, including those who have been treated in such a shabby way in recent times. I hope I have allowed time for Deputy Keaveney.

Deputy Colm Keaveney:  I warmly welcome this Bill, the purpose of which is to ensure fairness across the economy. The notion that temporary agency workers spend a brief time in their place of employment runs contrary to my own experience. In all sectors of the economy, agency workers are used indefinitely in the workplace. They often work shoulder to shoulder with comparable and like workers but they earn significantly less money per hour. An agency worker is a person who has an agreement to work in a workplace but, most likely, is working for less money than a comparable permanent worker in the same place of employment.

It is significant that this Government is associated with fairness. It is a downright disgrace that a directive has been in existence since 2008. It was digested by the previous Administration for nearly three years while agency workers were being treated unfairly in all sectors of the economy in terms of their right to equal pay and conditions compared with other workers.

The European Union has experienced a dramatic increase in the participation of agency workers in the workplace. Even in bad times in 2010 there was an 8% increase in the employment of agency workers in the European Union economies. This has provided an opportunity for some people to continue to treat people unfairly. In this country, part-time workers and fixed-time workers have the protection of legislation. I ask why agency workers are used as an opportunity to pay less and to avoid liability under existing legislation. A fixed-term or fixed-purpose term worker will know his or her terms and conditions, and the same applies to those on temporary contracts, but an agency worker is sent from one place to another. I am delighted at the stance of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions which is to fight for its members to ensure that, for the purpose of the domestic economy, people will earn a fair wage.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy):  Deputy Nulty will be in possession when the debate is resumed.

[585]Deputy Patrick Nulty:  I thank the Technical Group for facilitating me in making my contribution to this important debate. I support this legislation. We must bear in mind the wider context of this legislation which is the struggle of workers in this economy to protect their rights, to fight for their entitlements and to achieve secure and safe pay. I refer in particular to the Vita Cortex workers who were outside the House today and also the brave young women in the La Senza shop in Liffey Valley who are fighting tooth and nail for their rights and their basic entitlements, as well as the nearly 1,000 workers who today lost their jobs in Ulster Bank. We must remember those people today as we discuss this legislation. I come to this debate as a democratic socialist and as a member of a trade union. I support those workers and stand shoulder to shoulder with them as we debate this important legislation.

The response of the Fianna Fáil Party to this legislation is quite contemptuous. Not only has the party had it sitting on the books while it was in government and failed to act but the mealy-mouthed response from Fianna Fáil to attempts to protect agency workers and ensure they achieve equality in pay and in the workplace is absolutely deplorable. I refer to examples of a particularly lukewarm response in some sections of the Fine Gael Party but I do not include Deputy Keating who has made a very positive and fine contribution. However, right across certain sectors of conservative Ireland there has been resistance to this legislation, but I, for one, am very happy to support it. I regard it as an important step forward on behalf of agency workers.

It must be remembered that within the mainstream debate, the rights of workers are increasingly considered to be disposable, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary presented by many studies. I refer to academic works such as The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson which shows that more equal societies always do better and create more and better jobs, more growth and a more harmonious community in which people can live and develop. There are still those who say that Irish wages must be slashed and the rights of Irish workers must be eroded further if we are to remain competitive, as they perceive it. I reject that analysis wholeheartedly because those conservative forces in our society — epitomised by the previous Government and others who have criticised this legislation — ignore the evidence of countries such as Scandinavia where high wages, secure work and strong trade unions are central to and the backbone of their competitive economies.

It is in the context of the efforts to make workers here more secure that this legislation is important. It is worth noting that the Bill did not make it to the House without opposition. While the Bill was opposed by the Government originally in 2002, its basic objectives have now been realised and I am glad to see it brought before the House. We must transpose into Irish law the EU directive on agency work to ensure agency workers are treated equally with direct employees in terms of basic pay and working conditions.

The Bill is a consequence of the work of trade unions throughout Europe, particularly the European Trade Union Confederation, which is dealing with the consequences of the deep changes in workplace organisation that have taken place in recent years. We must remember today the march by more than 100,000 workers in December 2005 against the exploitation of workers in Irish Ferries. That was a powerful demonstration against the race to the bottom. That was a vital show of strength by workers, but we still, not just in this country but across Europe, face a struggle against the race to the bottom and against attempts by organisations like the IMF and the European Commission to attack the rights of workers, our social welfare system and our public services all in the interest of the markets.

Debate adjourned.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy):  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn — the need to ensure the necessary resources are provided to the accident and emergency ward of Letterkenny General Hospital; (2) Deputy Paschal Donohoe — the need to review the payment methods for the household services charge: (3) Deputies Michael Creed and Michael Healy-Rae — the proposed changes to the pupil-teacher ratio for small schools of up to 86 pupils; (4) Deputy Michael McCarthy — the need to review the criteria of the back to education allowance to give students the opportunity to take up postgraduate diploma courses; (5) Deputy John O’Mahony — the changes being implemented to the community employment scheme: (6) Deputy Derek Keating — the problems of receiving State payments at Lucan post office, Dublin; (7) Deputy Tony McLoughlin — coastal erosion and in particular the problems around the County Sligo area; (8) Deputy Patrick Nulty — the decision to end the dial to stop drug dealing phoneline service; (9) Deputy Terence Flanagan — the need to enter into a bilateral adoption agreement with Ethiopia; (10) Deputy Timmy Dooley — the need to declare Ireland a fracking free zone; (11) Deputies Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Brendan Smith — the need to resolve the problems faced by former workers of Lagan Brick, Kingscourt, County Cavan and to address the plight of other workers in similar situations; (12) Deputy Dan Neville — the need to address self-harm and attempted suicide by way of intentional overdosing; (13) Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív — the need to re-assess the permitted stocking levels of sheep and cattle in the Maam Turk and Twelve Bens areas of County Galway; (14) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan — the need for the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to meet with representatives of the residents of the Priory Hall complex, Dublin; (15) Deputy James Bannon — the need to include the rural transport programme in the context of all public transport subventions; (16) Deputy Nicky McFadden — the 4th Western Brigade, Athlone, County Westmeath and the new structure of the Defence Forces; (17) Deputy Pat Deering — the proposed changes to community employment projects; (18) Deputy Dara Calleary — the impending closure of in-patient mental health care services at Ballina District Hospital and the proposed closure of Teach Ashling, Castlebar, County Mayo; (19) Deputy Peter Mathews — the need to postpone the redemption of the €1.25 billion Anglo Irish Bank bond due on 25 January 2012; and (20) Deputy John Lyons — the importance of completing the physical and social regeneration of Ballymun, Dublin.

The matters raised by Deputies Michael Creed and Michael Healy-Rae; Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin and Brendan Smith; James Bannon; and John Lyons have been selected for discussion.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  Will the Minister be honest with the people and tell them that he wishes, by stealth, to close down the majority of small schools in Ireland through changing the criteria of 12 pupils required to 14 in September 2012, to 17 in 2013 and to 20 in 2014? This measure will close a significant number of small schools throughout the length and breadth of the country. These schools provide an invaluable high level of education locally to young children. Centralising these young children would remove them from their local communities where they have built up a great relationship with their teachers and remove them from a [587]situation where the parents know they are safe and in a happy environment close to their homes. This way of life will be torn apart by these proposals.

I thank the Minister sincerely for being here this evening. I am well aware that he has said, and I have it in writing from him, that it is important to emphasise that no small schools will be closed due to the changes that have been announced. That cannot be the situation. He knows——

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Can the Deputy repeat that?

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  I said that the Minister has said it is important to emphasise that no small school will be closed due to the changes announced.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  Yes. That is correct.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  I disagree with that. I believe small schools will close as a result of this. Over the years, these small schools have seen significant investment. Classrooms have been upgraded, new roofs and playgrounds have been added and so on. It is terrible to think that these schools could now be closed down by stealth. I plead with the Minister to reconsider this. I know the situation and that the Minister must try to balance the books, but tearing at education and making cuts like this is not helpful. How much will be actually saved as a result? I have serious concerns about this issue and plead with the Minister to take on board these concerns. They come from my heart and I am here to defend small schools the length and breadth of the country, not just those in my constituency. I believe in education and in giving people every opportunity. Small classes are a better environment for young children, especially when starting out.

Deputy Michael Creed:  Much of what I have to say is similar to what Deputy Healy-Rae has said. I accept that in a time of crisis, like that we face currently, financial resources are scarce and we must ensure we get the best return for them. However, I equally believe that at a time like this there are opportunities to restructure the educational model. It is important not to miss that opportunity. The weakness in the Minister’s approach is that it is too much stick and not enough carrot in respect of the requirement to change. The savings that could be made in the education area could be delivered in other areas and I will suggest some that are worth considering.

We could have administrative principals over clusters of small schools, who would decide themselves over a period of time on the optimum model for delivery of education in that cluster area. This opportunity has been missed and now backs are up and this is an emotive issue. For example, in my area there will be a meeting next Monday night which will be emotive and which will mobilise the community. It is regrettable also, in the context of the value for money review which is examining the small two-teacher schools, that we did not wait for the outcome of that review to have an informed debate, perhaps initiated by the Department’s inspectors, with boards of management, parents and teachers to discover the optimum delivery of education services in these communities, most but not all of which are rural communities. There is an issue also with regard to how this relates to Church of Ireland small schools. I suggest there could be savings made through such a clustering arrangement, particularly in terms of shared services, back office facilities and secretarial administration.

We also need to look critically at the curriculum and to sweat it down in early years to make savings. Currently, we teach English, Irish, Maths, history, geography, drama, science, social, political and health education, art, music and religion in primary schools. We should look at sweating this down in the early years to make savings. This would complement the Minister’s objective of improving literacy and numeracy.

[588]Two minutes is a very short time to make an appropriate case, but I suggest there are opportunities to remodel delivery of education in rural areas to an extent that parents would go along with and that would be to the benefit of children. However, this must come from the bottom up.

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I have an official reply with me, but I do not propose to put it on the record as I want to give a genuine response to both Deputies. I have no agenda to close any school, nor does the Department have a central plan or model that will be applied willy-nilly across the country. That might have been the way in the past.

Our system is 181 years old this year. As I said last night, at one stage there were more than 6,000 primary schools across rural Ireland, because they were set up in 1831. Now, there are 3,200. I want to get to the bottom of this issue with my response. What I want for rural Ireland is for children attending school in rural Ireland to have the best possible primary education system that can be delivered in the 21st century. However, this does not have to be delivered on a platform that was designed in the 1940s or in the 1950s. We do not have a model on a shelf in the Department in Marlborough Street that will fit all the way from Kerry or Cork to Donegal. If communities and parents can come forward with ideas, we will look at them. I am aware of a clustering model in east Cork where 13 primary schools came together and utilised the infrastructure and the resources of those 13 buildings and integrated boards of management, secretarial support and resources.

What I want to achieve is the best possible outcomes for rural pupils who attend rural schools in the 21st century, for children starting next September who will celebrate their 21st birthdays in 2030 or thereabouts. We must look at how best to do this. We do not have the best model. We do not have any particular model. However, the current system cannot stay still any more than it did 20, 30 or 40 years ago. The Deputies are aware of the famous controversy in Dún Chaoin. All the protests in the world did not stop the march of progress. However, that march must be initiated by the people on the ground, not by the people on Marlborough Street.

I understand that the value for money report will be published in a few weeks times. The Deputies might be aware of it, although “value for money” is not the most elegant phrase. There are just under 600 schools of 50 or fewer pupils. Most of these are in the west, given that its population has been more static and is now more concentrated than previously. Let us find a proper, creative and sensible way to deal with this issue. The Department will not gain by emptying schools and selling them, given that there is no market. In many cases, the Department does not own the buildings. Rather, they are owned by the parish and so on. There is no ulterior motive. Fixed costs are associated with any school. Insurance remains the same whether the school has two or four teachers. There are other fixed costs, for example, heating.

I do not know the answer to my next question. Given current levels of traffic, how many parents in the Deputies’ part of the world let their children walk to school along roads and boreens? I am somewhat familiar with the area. If I lived there, I would not let an eight or nine year old walk the road to school. The schools exist because every child who attended them previously used to walk to them.

Where will we go from here? The Deputies should discuss the matter with us after the value for money report has been published and they have had a chance to examine it from the point of view of what is best for people’s children and grandchildren and for the delivery of education. Their proposals might differ between Kerry and Cork, but we need not have the one system. Instead, we need the best outcome, that is, a kid attending primary school in rural Ireland getting as good if not a better choice of curriculum and teachers year by year as opposed to, [589]for example, four years in a single room. The Deputies’ communities know best how something will work on the ground.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  I thank the Minister for not reading from a script and appreciate that his comments were from the heart. We all want what is best for children, but families and I are terrified that schools built through the hard work of previous Administrations that saw fit to invest money in them will lose teachers and be downgraded. As the Minister stated, the number of national schools has decreased from 6,000 to approximately half that figure because the larger number could not be sustained.

I am familiar with Lauragh, Tuosist and other areas. All Deputies have small schools in their areas that they want to keep open. We want families to have the option of keeping their children nearby instead of putting them on buses to centralised locations. We will work with the Minister to achieve everything that we can.

Deputy Michael Creed:  I thank the Minister for the openness of his response. Is his Department in favour of clustering, that is, administrative principals taking responsibility for a cluster of schools? A figurehead is required to drive and build a consensus at local level. The Department must spearhead such an approach on the ground with the schools in this category, particularly smaller schools.

This debate is not exclusively about threatened closures. It is also about funding and the question of four-teacher and three-teacher schools losing one teacher each. In some circumstances, the threat to withdraw services might lead to parents walking away, which would have consequences in terms of school transport costs and additional classroom requirements.

The concept of an administrative principal running a campus incorporating, for example, a primary school and a secondary school a couple of miles apart is an option. The principal would drive this initiative. The Department needs to send a signal in this regard.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn:  The Department, which has always responded to Ministers and will continue to do so after I am gone, will do what the Minister has directed as authorised by this assembly. I am up for anything that will improve rural Ireland and that will have parents’ endorsement. For example, an extended parish or a combination of parishes might want one board of management with a single point of contact and a number of buildings that would constitute the campus of a primary school. For example, there could be a crèche, a junior school — junior and senior infants, first class and second class — and so on. No template is sitting on a shelf in Marlborough Street to be imposed in Kerry or Cork. It would be much better, viable and sustainable if people in the Deputies’ parts of Cork and Kerry proposed an initiative that could fit or be adjusted to fit Cavan, Monaghan, and so on.

We want a system that delivers the best educational outcomes for young people attending rural schools in the 21st century. The Deputies know what will work on the ground much better than we do. It is our duty to ensure that schools reach certain quality standards. I am open to any formulation that fits within the framework of primary education.

The value for money report will be published in the next three or four weeks. I have not seen sight of it and cannot pretend that I know what it contains. However, it will be the trigger upon which this discussion can commence.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this Topical Issue today and for selecting yesterday the related Topical Issue matters of the disgraceful treatment of workers at La Senza and Vita Cortex. In the cases of La Senza in Dublin, Vita Cortex in Cork and Lagan Brick in Kingscourt, Count Cavan, laid off workers have been treated in a reprehensible manner by employers. A pattern is clearly emerging and must be stopped.

[590]Last week, I met the protesting workers at Lagan Brick. They have won widespread support for their protest at their disgraceful treatment by the owners of Lagan Brick. At an hour’s notice ten days before Christmas, they were told that their jobs were gone and the plant would close. There was no negotiation, proper redundancy procedure or redundancy payment beyond statutory redundancy. One of the workers has given service of 43 years to the company and every worker I met had given more than 20 years of service. They have maintained a 24-hour vigil at the plant since being laid off on 15 December.

Lagan Brick claims that the Kingscourt plant was closed, but workers believe that the company’s position is not as has been claimed and is still viable. They fear that, following their lay-off, the company may well seek to employ agency workers at lower rates of pay and poorer conditions. They believe that contracts for work at the plant are available. The workers agreed to talks with the Labour Relations Commission, LRC. The employers eventually agreed. The process was addressed on Tuesday and has been deferred until next Monday.

Whatever the outcome of the LRC talks, the Government has a responsibility to address the pattern emerging from each of the cases I have cited. It cannot be left solely to the State’s industrial relations machinery.

  4 o’clock

It is important that the House be made aware of the reply that the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation gave to my parliamentary question yesterday, in which he stated that Lagan Brick was in breach of the Protection of Employment Act 1977, as amended. It is clear from his reply that it is a collective redundancy situation. As we address the matter, the statutory period of consultation has not yet lapsed. The company is in clear breach of its obligations, responsibilities and role under the legislation. I urge the Minister to make the required intervention to make it clear to these and other offending employers that workers in this country will not be treated in such a fashion. I urge the Minister to indicate to the House today his intent to follow through on the logic of his response.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing my colleague, Deputy Ó Caoláin, and me to raise this issue. I welcome the Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, to the Chamber to respond to the debate. I also welcome John Regan of SIPTU and several members of the Lagan Brick workforce who are in the Gallery for this discussion.

The town of Kingscourt has a catchment area comprising parts of three counties, namely, Cavan, Meath and Monaghan. As such, this issue has exercised Deputy Ó Caoláin, Senator Thomas Byrne and me. Setting aside the decision itself, the way in which the company conveyed the news to the workforce was entirely unacceptable. On the evening of 14 December, two shop stewards were told the plant was closing forthwith, with the other 25 employees being informed several days later. This clearly constitutes a contravention of the 30 day notice period provided for in the Protection of Employment Acts. SIPTU has written directly to the Minister, Deputy Bruton, seeking his comments on this issue. The employees want to retain their jobs and to see the maximum number of jobs secured at the Kingscourt facility. The issue is under consideration at a conciliation conference of the Labour Relations Commission, and we all hope progress will be made.

There is a 100 year tradition of brick manufacturing in Kingscourt, where there were originally two brick yards. The one we are referring to was established in the 1930s and has earned a reputation for producing brick of the highest quality. I visited the factory two years ago in the context of the then employment subsidy scheme, where I met the local management and the workforce. The workers indicated that day their determination to bring about the efficiencies and improved productivity necessary to ensure the plant would remain viable. When the downturn in the construction sector came, the company fought hard to win new export markets, [591]particularly in Britain. The workers are determined to do their utmost to bring about even greater efficiencies. They have already done so in the past 18 months to two years, with all workers taking a wage cut and 25 employees until recently doing the work done previously by 35. That is a measure of the additional productivity achieved. I appeal to the Minister to use every available opportunity to ensure the plant resumes production and the existing jobs are maintained and protected.

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  I thank the Deputies for raising this important issue. Workers at Lagan Brick in Kingscourt, County Cavan, have been involved in a protest outside the company’s premises following its announcement before Christmas that it expects to make 29 of its 39 employees redundant and to close the Kingscourt plant. The employees want to retain maximum employment at the plant and to secure satisfactory redundancy terms for any employees who lose their jobs. Representatives of the company and the trade union, SIPTU, attended talks at the Labour Relations Commission last Tuesday, 10 January, and I understand the conciliation conference was adjourned to allow both parties to reflect on their positions. That engagement will reconvene at the LRC next Monday, 16 January. I am aware there was an earlier collective redundancy at another Lagan Brick factory in 2011. The ensuing dispute in that instance was successfully resolved by utilising the conciliation service of the Labour Relations Commission.

Under the Protection of Employment Acts 1977 to 2007 there are several provisions regarding the information and consultation process which must be entered into with employee representatives prior to the implementation of collective redundancies, and regarding the provision of information to the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. Certain sections of the Acts make it mandatory for an employer proposing collective redundancy to engage in a 30 day information and consultation process with employee representatives and to provide certain information relating to the proposed redundancies. An employer is prohibited from issuing any notice of redundancy during the mandatory employee information and consultation process.

I understand the workers have taken issue with the manner in which the job losses were announced and are claiming the company has contravened the 30 day notice period provided for in the Acts. This matter may be resolved at conciliation. Alternatively, Regulation No. 6 of the European Communities (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2000 provides a remedy for employees whose employer has not complied with sections 9 and 10 of the Protection of Employment Act whereby they may refer complaints to a rights commissioner. In the case of Lagan Brick, I am not directly a party to the information and consultation process and am not in a position to determine whether there have or have not been breaches of that Act.

Deputy Smith is correct that SIPTU has written directly to me with a request to investigate this case. However, the matter is now at the LRC. We have a voluntary system of industrial disputes resolution in this State under which even the most difficult disputes have been successfully resolved by conciliation and negotiation by both sides. I am hopeful, as in the previous instance, that this process will lead to a successful conclusion in this case. If it fails, workers’ resort would be to the rights commissioners in the first instance. If employees in this case feel their employer has not complied with its obligations, they may consider lodging claims with the Rights Commissioners Service and, if appropriate, seeking professional advice on the matter. The employees may also contact the information unit of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, for further information on their individual entitlements. Similarly, the employer may contact NERA for information on its obligations under employment rights legislation.

Section 12 of the Protection of Employment Acts requires an employer to notify the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation in writing of proposed redundancies at least 30 days before [592]the dismissal takes effect. I received the statutory notice of the redundancies at Lagan Brick on 15 December 2011. Responsibility for statutory redundancy issues and the operation of the social insurance fund falls within the remit of the Minister for Social Protection.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister confirmed in his closing remarks the point we have made in regard to the 30 day notice requirement. If he only received notice on the same day on which the workers were locked out, the company is clearly in breach of the required section of the Protection of Employment Act 1977. There is no doubt in that regard. The alternative to which the Minister refers in regard to the procedure being adopted through the Labour Relations Commission is one that the workers and their representatives will have noted. Whether they decide to go the rights commissioner route will be influenced by the outcome of next Monday’s adjourned engagement at the LRC.

It is not good enough for the Minister to sit back and be an observer of this. It is important that he take note that what is at issue is not only an individual breach but that a pattern is now emerging in regard to several companies, as highlighted in this House in the past 24 hours. We must have stricter compliance with proper industrial relations practice. Workers’ rights must be something the Minister pursues and the Government will impose. Has the Minister given consideration to any other sanctions he might consider, including a withdrawal of access to State contracts — that is, public moneys — if companies are not prepared to treat their workers with respect?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I thank the Minister for his reply. He indicated that he is hopeful there will be a successful conclusion to the negotiations at the Labour Relations Commission. The successful conclusion of those negotiations would see a resumption of employment for the workforce at Lagan Brick in Kingscourt. These people want to return to gainful employment in a business in which they have worked to build a reputation for high quality product. When I visited the plant and met the workforce shortly after Christmas, I was struck by the determination and absolute anxiety of the workers to get back to their work. As I said earlier, they took a wage cut some years ago and have worked hard to increase productivity.

It is incumbent on the Minister, his Department and the various State agencies that report to the Department to make every effort to ensure production is resumed at Lagan Brick. It has a long tradition of production, in excess of 100 years. We want that plant to resume employment. The people in the Visitors’ Gallery today and their colleagues at home in Cavan, Monaghan and Meath want positive reassurance from the Minister that every effort will be made to ensure that production resumes at Lagan Brick in Kingscourt.

Deputy Richard Bruton:  While I understand the Deputies’ and the workers’ frustration, the consultation period has not concluded. Representatives of the workers and the company are engaged at the LRC. The track record has shown that despite real difficulties — no doubt there are difficulties in this case — the LRC has successfully resolved those issues in the past. Those in the LRC are the professionals in the field and it is not good IR practice to seek to get political involvement where seasoned professionals can handle this, which is the appropriate approach.

At this point the status of the workers is not clear. I accept that the notice only went in on 15 December. However, until the period is exhausted, my Department will not be able to establish whether there has been a breach. We do not have the evidence to determine if a breach has occurred. I hope and expect that both sides will take this opportunity to find a resolution that retains as many employees as possible and treats those workers who cannot be retained in a proper and decent fashion.

Deputy James Bannon:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for affording me opportunity to discuss the need for the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to include consideration of the rural transport programme in the overall context of all public transport subventions and planning and not in isolation. Taken as part of the whole, the allocation for rural transport is minimal. For example in 2009, of the €575 million allocation for public transport, a mere €11 million or 1.9% was directed towards the rural transport programme. Out of the €73.5 million allocated to free travel passes, a minimal allocation of €1.5 million or 2% went to rural users. We are now at the start of 2012 and a new concept needs to be brought to bear on the issue of public transport.

Such figures as those quoted are unrealistic given the urgent need for upgraded and enhanced transport provision in rural areas. The Rural Transport Network believes that a shared collective vision needs to be agreed, which is fully inclusive of all voluntary and statutory agencies, encompassing all outlooks and aspirations. To promote and develop a fully integrated rural transport system the network advocates the inclusion of rural transport within the public transport network as a whole, to be part of a better integrated and hence more efficient national structure. It is essential that the Rural Transport Network is included as an integral part of any upgraded integrated transport service process. The network envisages a three-year transitional period to foster such inclusion. To assist the process a temporary local-rural transport transition unit should be set up in the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. A planned transfer of the Pobal rural transport role to the NTA by the end of the transition period is envisaged.

The RTA also proposes the procurement by the network of school transport and the joint approach of the Departments of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and Environment, Community and Local Government to the preparation of local transport service plans for each council area, as per the programme for Government. It is also important to address the pooling of all major national transport funding via the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, and the National Transport Authority.

As it stands, current policy, regulation and subvention arrangements for public transport have an inherent scope for inefficiencies and lack of effectiveness, especially as has been experienced in rural areas. I know this only too well in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath, where remote areas suffer from a shamefully deficient transport provision. The current problems within the structures for transport provision can be broken down into such difficulties as: unclear roles and responsibilities which give rise to piecemeal arrangements; a marked lack of competition with the exception of intercity services; a disturbing lack of transparency regarding public subvention and lack of a clear picture of what the taxpayer gets from it; a lack of clarity on HSE non-emergency transport policy, practice and expenditure; and potential duplication of some services. Perhaps the most controversial issue regarding rural transport provision is the lack of a coherent location of the RTP in the overall transport framework with a resultant perception of it being an inclusion rather than part of an integrated entity.

I look forward to a positive response from the Minister of State.

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly):  As a fellow rural Deputy, I know the Deputy is very passionate on the issue as I am. The maintenance and development of rural passenger transport services is one of the principal objectives of my Department and I intend to make significant progress on it in 2012. The programme for Government acknowledges the importance of transport for rural communities and includes a commitment to “maintain and extend the Rural Transport Programme with other local transport services as much as is practicable”. In that regard, and in the face of significant pressures on the Exchequer, I am pleased that the Government has maintained funding for the rural transport programme in 2012 at 92% of the 2011 allocation. Essentially, [594]€9.77 million will be made available for the RTP this year and it should facilitate the maintenance of transport services in rural areas in 2012.

This funding is being provided in recognition of the important role the RTP plays in combating rural isolation, particularly for the elderly. The RTP benefits from funding under the free travel scheme of the Department of Social Protection while some groups also benefit from local development funding from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. I am also aware that additional funds are generated by a number of groups from their own resources. I have met many of the groups and attended their annual conference last year.

However, I cannot overemphasise the importance of achieving greater efficiencies in the administration costs associated with implementing the RTP to maximise the programme funding on the provision of transport services. The achievement of greater efficiencies is vital in the face of the challenging fiscal climate facing the country.

There is a wider context to consider when assessing rural transport. For instance, many people in rural areas cannot access public transport services when school transport or other State-funded transport services may be operational in their areas. This highlights a need to change the way we think about rural transport and to explore new ideas. In essence we need to think about rural transport in a broader integrated transport context and in doing so to ensure that we continue to meet the transport needs of rural areas. It is also important to ensure that the community continues to remain at the heart of rural transport in Ireland.

To that end, an integrated approach to public transport provision in rural areas is being examined. As part of this work, the potential is being explored for efficiencies that can be made by bringing together aspects of HSE transport, school transport, the RTP and other transport services. The overall aim is to reduce duplication and costs while increasing efficiency and maintaining service provision. Involvement of stakeholder organisations will be required, particularly at local level, where it is envisaged that local working groups will explore opportunities for transport integration in partnership with these stakeholders including agencies, voluntary and other representative organisations. This process is at an early stage.

A value for money and policy review of the RTP has been received. Among other things, the review report highlights the need to reduce certain costs, in particular administration costs, and emphasises the need to achieve efficiencies. The issues at stake do not just involve my Department but other Departments and agencies, and as such require careful consideration. It is intended to publish the report following its consideration by Government, together with our response to the recommendations made therein.

It is also intended to publish a pilot study on local integrated transport services. Both reports are being considered in the context of plans for the future of the RTP and the better integration of Exchequer-funded transport services. The future in this area is not without challenges, some of which will be significant. However, we are committed to exploring the practical potential to maintain and extend the rural transport programme with other local transport services and to seeking support in exploring the possibilities of integration and changing the way we think about rural transport services. This is the top priority for me in the Department this year. The support and input of Members to our efforts in this regard would be greatly appreciated.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joanna Tuffy):  I ask Deputy Bannon to be brief as we are running out of time.

Deputy James Bannon:  I welcome the maintenance of funding for rural transport in 2012. I also welcome that an integrated approach to public transport in rural areas is being examined. [595] The rural transport project has proven to be a success story in terms of its addressing social exclusion in rural areas through the provision of a door-to-door service to worthy and vulnerable people in our society.

I ask that the Minister of State consider the position of rural areas and increase rural subvention and service provision, taking rural transport under the umbrella of national provision rather than as an add-on. There is much uncertainty in this area, in which the LEADER groups are involved. People in rural areas require continuity of service. There is always a fear when budgets are due to be announced that such budgets will deplete or reduce funding for rural services. It is important rural transport is supported.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  I agree with the sentiments of the Deputy’s comments. From an Exchequer point of view, I will try to protect the service as much as is practicable. I take on board the Deputy’s comments in regard to the National Transport Authority. As suggested by Deputy Bannon, we will be looking at greater integration and structures and would welcome his support in this regard. We will need to look at all of the services about which we have both spoken, including the HSE, school transport and voluntary groups in terms of how we can achieve greater integration and economies and through that provide a better service. We must ensure we do not have different types of transport services operating in the same direction at the same time. In this regard, transport providers will have to work closer. In doing so, we might be able to provide or extend services in other areas which currently do not have a public transport service. I live in an area which does not have such a service.

Through greater integration, we hope to provide a better service. This will require the coming together of many agencies and Departments, which will be a serious programme of work. However, 2012 is the year we hope will be the year when the back will be broken in relation to this work so that we can deliver better services into the future.

Deputy John Lyons:  I wish the Minister of State the best of luck in her new portfolio. I know her experience of regeneration in Limerick will be of benefit in her work in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The Ballymun project of the 1960s fell approximately 10% short of total completion for various reasons, leading to many of the problems experienced in Ballymun over the years. People who know the Ballymun of the past will know it was synonymous with horses, “Into the West” and so on. This has in many ways stuck with it.

I remind the Minister of State that it was a Labour Party Minister in Government who in 1997 wrote the cheque to commence the largest urban regeneration project in Europe, namely, Ballymun Regeneration Limited, BRL. This project is almost complete. Some 15 years on, 1,600 new homes and 1,400 private units have been built. The Minister of State’s Department gave a further €4.6 million prior to Christmas for continuation of this work, which is appreciated. The final 10% of this project remains to be completed. I appeal to the Minister of State to ensure we learn from our mistakes of the past. The last 10% is important. It is not just the icing on the cake: it is the final piece of the jigsaw which completes the project. Without it, the regeneration programme will not be complete. Infrastructure in respect of one particular housing unit, Sillogue 9 comprising 48 units, remains to be completed. Part of this infrastructure will ensure some of the sites which will not be developed will be shovel ready for when an upturn in the economy comes.

We must ensure that young children who grew up on what is a building site will have the facilities to allow them continue to live in a thriving and viable successful community. I ask [596]that the Minister of State and Department take this into account. Without completion of the final 10% of this project, it will be a disappointing regeneration programme.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I thank Deputy Lyons for raising this issue. As he stated, both he and I have a strong interest in regeneration. I begin by reiterating my own commitment and that of my Department and the Government to seeing the regeneration of Ballymun successfully completed.

Ballymun regeneration is by far the largest regeneration project ever undertaken in this country, with a capital investment of more than €700 million over the past 15 years. Over that period, the project has delivered over 1,600 social housing units, 105 voluntary housing units and some 1,200 private and affordable units. A further 215 units are under construction at present and another 25 were recently approved to go to tender. Six of the 7 landmark towers have been demolished and almost all of the original 2,800 flats are either already demolished or are under contract to be demolished. In addition, the project has seen the delivery of a range of new infrastructure from roads and other services, to new parks, neighbourhood centres and state of the art community facilities. It is important to note that this substantial investment has not been limited to physical infrastructure. In line with the principles of regeneration, Ballymun Regeneration Limited, BRL, has also sought to address the causes of disadvantage through a programme of social interventions, including the very successful Axis Theatre and bringing much needed job opportunities to the area, such as IKEA and through the Rediscovery Centre.

The Ballymun regeneration programme has now moved into its completion phase. My Department is working closely with BRL and the City Council to ensure it is completed properly, on time and in a manner that protects the existing investment. I note Deputy Lyons’ point in this regard. These projects are very complex and require a broad vision beyond just the replacement of houses. For this reason, our actions to complete the project at Ballymun are as important as those to commence it.

That said, after 15 years the community profile has changed and it is clear that the original number of social housing units proposed under the original masterplan may no longer be needed. As such, it is my intention to ensure that the projects planned and under way — some 250 units — will meet the remaining housing needs of the community as quickly as possible. I am particularly concerned to ensure that those 26 households living in the worst accommodation are rehoused as a matter of urgency. In addition, I would like to restate my commitment to the social and economic regeneration of the area, which will have to continue after the physical works are completed. In this regard, I will be looking to my Government colleagues to ensure a whole of Government approach is taken and sustained.

I note the particular area to which Deputy Lyons referred.

Deputy John Lyons:  I welcome the Minister of State’s kind words, in particular her commitment to the social and economic regeneration of the area, post Ballymun regeneration. I take this opportunity to invite the Minister of State to walk the area of Ballymun to see the work and investment of this Government and of the Government of which the Labour Party was part, which signed the first cheques in respect of the demolition of the flats in 1997.

Deputy Jan O’Sullivan:  I would very much like to take the Deputy up on the invitation to see the work being done in Ballymun. It is important that the project is appropriately completed so that the lives of people in the community are greatly improved. Despite the many challenges [597]of my Department, and across Government, in terms of funding I can assure the Deputy that funding for completion of this project has been protected.

  1.  Deputy Timmy Dooley    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    when the Booz & Company report on the ownership and management of Cork and Shannon airports will be published; if he has any plans to amend the State Airports Act 2004 to give effect to any of the proposals from the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1754/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The Deputy’s question refers to the report on the ownership and management of Cork and Shannon airports, whether I intend to publish the report and if I have plans to amend legislation to give effect to the proposals arising from the report.

The report was undertaken by consultants at my request to provide me with wide-ranging advice on all possible options for the future ownership and operation of Cork and Shannon airports in order that I can propose informed recommendations to the Government. The Deputy will be aware that in 2008, my predecessor as Minister for Transport postponed until 2011 making a decision on the separation of Cork and Shannon airports as envisaged under the State Airports Act 2004. It is thus falls on me to consider the future of these two State-owned airports. I consulted Dublin, Cork and Shannon airport authorities on this question and their unanimous view is that there is no support for separation as originally envisaged. As a result, I sought consultancy advice on the way forward for the two airports. I asked the consultants to consult as widely as possible with stakeholders in Cork and Shannon on sustainable options for the two airports.

I received the consultants’ report in December and I am currently considering their analysis and recommendations. I intend to bring proposals to the Government as soon as possible. As the report contains commercially sensitive information, much of which was provided on a confidential basis, it will not be possible to publish the report in full. However, I will publish a redacted version in due course. In the context of bringing forward proposals for the two airports, I will take account of the need for legislative changes.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I thank the Minister for his reply and welcome his stated intention to publish redacted elements of the report. However, I am disappointed by the continued delay on this important issue. While I accept the Minister only received the report in December, the issue has been around for some time and his Department possesses quite a lot of corporate knowledge on it. The Minister is correct to point out that a previous Minister put off a decision with an expectation of reviewing market conditions. Much corporate information is available and I am disappointed the issue effectively has been allowed to rest for the past 11 or 12 months.

The difficulty is the Minister made some quite specific promises in his party’s manifesto prior to the general election about creating independent airports at Dublin, Shannon and Cork. This has created concerns in the minds of workers who are fearful for their jobs and has created an unrealisable expectation in the minds of some within the tourism sector. The Fine Gael Party and some elements within other parties had sought to suggest that merely breaking up the [598]Dublin Airport Authority was the solution to the problems at all airports and that therefore, in a separated or independent environment, passenger numbers would flourish and the activities and business interests of those in the regions would benefit significantly. Consequently, there was a legitimate expectation of some action but it is clear the Minister has dragged his heels in this regard. I understand he only appointed the Booz & Company consultants last October or November. They have acted well and I accept they consulted widely but I am disappointed that procrastination has been allowed on this issue.

The significant elements of concern that existed in 2008 remain extant. Passenger numbers are falling and it has been necessary to change the forecasts for passenger numbers and growth. The Minister is aware the medium-term forecasts will be well off profile, which creates a significant problem in respect of debt financing or in dealing with the existing debt burden. These issues constitute significant challenges that face the incoming board and executive team. Economic circumstances have changed across the marketplace and the Minister is in a difficult position regarding the company. The company’s efforts in attempting to refinance some of the bond undertakings——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Does the Deputy have a question?

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The question is inherent. Why has it taken so long for the Government to act on commitments it made before the last general election, which on the one hand gave an expectation to one group of people, while on the other hand created fear in the minds of others? Can the Government bring this issue to a conclusion? Can the Minister set out his policy proposals and allow everyone to get on with their lives?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  First, there really has been no delay but it takes a bit of time to make the right decision. In making the right decision, I wished to ensure I had the advice from the various airport authorities and from independent consultants, as well as having time to give other members of the Cabinet, and other Departments in particular, an opportunity to consider the recommendations and proposals that lie within the Booz & Company report, as this issue also impinges on other Departments and is not simply a matter for my Department.

My own view has been expressed previously, while I also note the Fine Gael manifesto is not the same as the programme for Government. My view is that separation of the airports would be beneficial and that it would be beneficial to have greater competition among the State airports. While that is one proposal, it can only be done on a sustainable basis. It is very important that whatever is done with Cork and Shannon will ensure these airports are sustainable financially and are in a position to prosper, develop and compete. This must be ensured and I must be confident this is the case before proceeding with separation or deciding not to opt for separation.

However what will happen, and I agree with the Deputy on its importance, is that certainty is required as to what is the policy. Rightly or wrongly, between 2008 and 2011, no such certainty existed because decisions were postponed. I anticipate that during the course of this calendar year, we will have certainty as to the future of the airports and will be able to move on from there.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  May I ask a supplementary question?

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, we are out of time. I remind Members the Minister has two minutes in which to reply and four minutes overall are available thereafter.

  2.  Deputy Dessie Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the position regarding the report of the taxi industry review group; and his view on the requirements in terms of legislation to enact its recommendations [1573/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly):  I announced the taxi regulation review on 8 June last in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. The review group, under my chairmanship, completed its report in December last and I have circulated the report to relevant Ministers and their Departments with a view to early consideration of the outcome of the review by the Government. Once the Government has had an opportunity to consider the review, I expect to be in a position to publish it on my Department’s website and to outline the Government’s response to it.

I thank all those who made submissions to the review group or participated in it. I was heartened by the constructive contributions of many diverse groups with an interest in the taxi industry. The review considered a wide range of issues relating to the taxi sector, including current regulatory policy and practices, licensing systems, enforcement and future dialogue with the taxi sector. I am confident the recommended measures in the review will enable necessary further reforms of the sector to allow consumers to have confidence in the taxi system, while also ensuring legitimate and competent operators and drivers can be rewarded fairly by operating under a regulatory framework that is adequately enforced.

Amendments to primary legislation will be required to implement some of the review proposals, together with secondary legislation that will be the responsibility of the National Transport Authority. I intend to clarify the primary legislative requirements and their timetable in due course.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  I am pleased to learn the report has been completed. The Minister of State should study it as quickly as possible before making its contents available to Members. While I made one submission on behalf of my party, many good submissions were made by others. Many taxi drivers feel under pressure and must be reassured that Members are considering the issues they raised. For example, over the Christmas period, it was reported by many taxi drivers that people were using false identity cards to collect passengers and that this practice was widespread. Moreover, for some reason there was no proper management or supervision over the Christmas period and no one was checking to ascertain whether this was happening. Perhaps this was because it was Christmas, but it is unacceptable and should never happen. Other issues arise in respect of taxis and I draw the Minister of State’s attention to the fact that while the identification that is displayed on the screens of the taxis is in English on one side, there is no Irish on the other side. It would be a good idea to have bilingual identification on the taxis and the Minister could put this proposal into the mix. I do not believe this has been done previously.

I welcome the Minister of State’s intention to release this report. The Joint Committee on Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht probably will have sight of the report before anyone else and its members will study it. I look forward to reading it and I certainly hope it will address many of the taxi drivers’ concerns.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  I thank the Deputy for his submission on this matter. The issue of enforcement which he correctly stated is very much addressed in the report and it is one that we must address. We need a new process for enforcement of current and future regulations and changes. That is one of the primary and most important aspects of the report. We need to ensure that rogue traders, those who should not be driving cars, operating in the business and [600]those distributing licences etc., can no longer operate. That is a critical component. We need to make it a profession in which it is worthwhile and financially viable to work. All the measures that will be contained in the report will allow us to ensure this.

On the issue of signage, there will be a number of changes in this area which will be of great benefit to drivers, particularly full-time drivers.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  Will the signage be displayed bilingually? That issue was brought to my attention and I do not think it has been mentioned previously.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  That is an issue that will be addressed in the report.

  3.  Deputy Mick Wallace    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he is concerned that there are a number of serious inaccuracies (details supplied) in the route selection report for the proposed Oilgate to Rosslare Harbour, County Wexford road upgrade project; the action he proposes to correct these inaccuracies in a report which fails to justify the proposed project, which has so far cost the taxpayer in excess of €2 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [41465/11]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  This question relates to the route selection report for the Oilgate to Rosslare roads scheme. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding of the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual road projects is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Therefore, this not a matter in which I have a role. Rather it is a matter for the NRA and I will ask the NRA to write directly to the Deputy in regard to the route selection report. If he does not receive a reply within ten days he should contact my office on the matter.

As I have indicated previously to the Deputy, the Oilgate to Rosslare scheme is one of a range of projects which have reached the route corridor selection phase but cannot proceed to construction for some time given the current difficult economic environment. When the project can be progressed it will be subject to approval by An Bord Pleanála.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  I am not much the wiser having heard that reply. As Minister with responsibility for transport, it would great if the Minister had a little more control over the NRA than the previous Minister had. I do not understand the position if it is the case that the legislation does not allow Minister to have more impact in these decisions. Many of the decisions made by the NRA indicate that it seems keen to spend money a good deal of the time but we cannot afford it any more. We have been talking about the impact of severe cuts on people who need our help in this House during the past few months and the notion that roads would be built is a little over the top given the state of our finances. The Minister with responsibility for transport needs to have an impact in this respect and the decision should not be left with the NRA.

We pointed out to the Minister that it is claimed in the report that the project will benefit traffic congestion in the UK midlands — that is off the wall. It is claimed that the existing road is unsafe, which is completely true. It is a good road to travel on. I have travelled on it a good deal, probably as much as anyone. The traffic volumes on it are not bad. The road is fine. Wexford town is already bypassed and it does not need to be bypassed again. We do not need a bypass on the bypass. The traffic volumes that were assessed for the project do not bear up to scrutiny.

[601]Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Minister does have a certain role in this regard in the sense that it is the Minister’s role to set policy, allocate budgets and oversee corporate governance. In this regard, the decision is not to spend additional moneys on this road for the time being because the money is not available to complete the project. Therefore, it does not make sense to spend further millions just to bring it from one stage of planning to the next.

I have changed the policy of the previous Government which was to spend hundreds of millions of euro planning and designing projects without knowing whether it could afford to build them. I am only proceeding with planning and design where we know that we can afford to build the project, and that is not the case at present. However, it is also my policy position that we should not stop planning for the future. Rosslare is a very large port with great potential. It makes sense that at some point in the future, and it may be the distant future, Rosslare should be connected by a high quality road to the motorway network, which is not the case at present. The road is adequate at present for the port that is there. I visited the port in recent months to see for myself. However, if Rosslare Port were to be expanded as a major port on the east coast in the future, it would require a better road connection. That is why it is important to plan for the future in this regard.

The route selection report, to which the Deputy referred, is available on Wexford County Council’s website. I believe the Deputy is mischaracterising it to the extent that what it argues is that Rosslare could be used as a port in the future to access the east coast of Ireland as an alternative to Dublin Port, thus allowing heavy vehicles to avoid the congestion that already exists in the UK midlands, it is not that the road would be built so that people could avoid that. It recognises the fact that there is a good deal of congestion in the UK midlands and it might make sense to develop another port on the east coast of Ireland so that heavy goods vehicles could come that way rather than having to go through the middle of England.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  There is potential to develop the existing road to meet the requirements of Rosslare Harbour, if it were developed into a serious port at some point in the future, but in the meantime the notion of freezing the 300 m corridor along it and affecting all the people who have businesses there does not make sense. These people are affected by this decision. For example, a vegetable farmer has lost a grant of €150,000 to build more sheds — his enterprise is labour intensive. Jobs will be lost by freezing the land where that farmer is working. If Rosslare becomes a big port, this corridor may be needed eventually and the Minister has said that this is planning for the future. He might be planning for what will happen in 50 years time but in the meantime he is freezing land on people who are living in the present.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I am conscious of the planning issue the Deputy raised, “planning blight” as it is described in other jurisdictions. The NRA has issued new guidelines to local authorities in the past few weeks giving them the criteria under which they could allow development to occur in these corridors, as in the case of developments such as agricultural sheds. Development in these route corridors is a decision of the planning authority, not the NRA. I would ask local authorities to take a pragmatic view when it comes to development in route corridors. There is a big difference between potting sheds or greenhouses and building a supermarket. Local authorities need to be pragmatic about that.

It is important to plan for the future. The Harcourt Street train line was closed for 30 or 40 years. I am glad it was not developed because if it had been we would not have had the Luas. The Dunboyne reservation and the reservation out to Navan was retained for the best part of 50 years and it is now coming back into use. One could say the same in regard to Midleton. It makes sense sometimes to maintain corridors.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  Something like that is fine but this is a different scenario.

  4.  Deputy Timmy Dooley    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will outline in percentage terms, the expected fare increases in public transport services provided by CIE in 2013 and 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1755/12]

Deputy Alan Kelly:  Public transport fares are a matter for the CIE operating companies in conjunction with the National Transport Authority. I am aware that the NTA approved a range of fare increases in respect of the CIE companies recently which took effect earlier this month. It is the responsibility of the NTA to make a determination on any future fare increases as appropriate.

Notwithstanding the NTA’s statutory responsibilities, I would add that Government recognises the need for the CIE companies to respond to the challenges of reduced PSO subvention funding, reduced fares income arising from reductions in passenger numbers and increased costs, such as fuel costs, which are outside their control. As a general principle it is my belief that efficiencies in operational costs should, in the first instance, be examined over fare increases and service reductions. However, in the current environment there has to be a recognition that unfortunately, fare increases will be inevitable if costs cannot be reduced sufficiently in order to maintain a reasonable level of service provision.

While a recovery in passenger numbers could increase company revenues, all concerned in my Department and the NTA must focus on identifying key public transport priorities in our cities and across the country. In turn, the PSO public transport service providers will have to achieve greater efficiency and cost effectiveness in the years ahead based on a realistic assessment of the scope and level of contracted services.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  It is clear that the reduction in the PSO subvention provided by the Government for the CIE group of companies has led to a considerable fare increase. Obviously, this is having an impact on people’s capacity to travel to work. The Government has made a great deal of the fact that it has decided not to tax work. It could be strongly argued that the increase in the cost of getting to work — either in the form of an increase in the fares charged by the CIE group of companies or in a rise in the cost of motor tax or fuel oil — has led to a correspondingly significant increase in taxes on work.

In the past the Minister indicated that there was a necessity for transport prices to be reduced and argued that this was part of the economic model which showed that the country had the capacity to be competitive. The programme for Government states the Administration recognises the need to rebalance transport policy in favour of public transport. The Government indicated that it would establish a Cabinet sub-committee on infrastructure to explore the benefits to the public transport passenger of a more diverse bus service. What has been done to establish such a service? A great deal was promised in this regard. Is the Minister of State satisfied with the response of CIE in the context of its efforts to reduce the cost of its operations and develop a more cost-effective method of providing public transportation which would not, in the first instance, rely on increases in passenger fares?

Deputy Alan Kelly:  The Department and the NTA have been working hard in various ways to encourage a greater uptake of public transport services. In the context of fare increases, it is important to point out that serious savings are to be made by consumers who choose, as we are encouraging them to do, to avail of the integrated ticket, the leap card. Using a leap card can lead to savings of as much as 9% in using Dublin Bus services, 16% to 19% in using DART commuter services and 17% in using Luas services. The uptake of the leap card has been so significant that we are confident that many people are being encouraged to use public transport.

[603]The Deputy is well aware that there have been a number of reports on the efforts of the various CIE companies. The Deloitte report on Dublin Bus shows that many cost efficiencies and savings have been made. Of course, the companies in question are always going to be seeking to make further savings. In the context of the financial position of these companies, it is important to note that Dublin Bus, Irish Rail and Bus Éireann have all made significant savings in the past year. These savings will have to be re-examined in the current economic context. However, we are happy with the way in which the companies are going in this regard.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  As a result of the time I spent as a member of the Joint Committee on Transport, I am aware of the Deloitte report and the efforts the various companies have made. Is the Minister of State prepared to accept that, in view of the fact that he is not providing the group of companies with adequate resources, it is right and fitting that there should be an increase in passenger fares in order to pay for the subvention for PSO routes? Is he happy with the fare increases?

Deputy Alan Kelly:  In an ideal world we would not be contemplating fare increases. Given the costs associated with the various companies, many of which are fixed, and in the light of the price of fuel, there is an inevitability to the imposition of fare increases. However, as the Deputy has acknowledged on previous occasions, there is a way of mitigating the impact of these increases through use of the leap card. We have purposely differentiated the fares in order to encourage more people to use public transport and thereby lower the costs relating to the various companies into the future.

  5.  Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to reverse the decline in tourism numbers visiting the west of Ireland, which are down by 37% in the years 2007 to 2010. [1638/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  All regions were affected by the drop in visitor numbers between 2007 and 2010. While the global recession was a primary cause, it is undeniable the tourism sector had become less competitive and that in many parts of the country it was overly reliant on domestic business. The challenge facing the Government was to help rebuild tourism competitiveness andchange the perception in terms of value for money. The jobs initiative reduced the VATrate to 9% from 1 July last on a range of tourism services, including hotels and restaurants. The Government also halved employers’ PRSI and introduced a visa waiver scheme which makes Ireland more accessible from important new and emerging markets. These measures were aimed at supporting employment within the tourism sector across the country, as well as helping businesses to lower their cost base and offer a more competitive product. This was important in order to address a perception of Ireland being an expensive place to visit,particularly for British tourists. The necessary structures and people to deliver The Gathering initiative in 2013 are being put in place. I expect this initiative to have a major impact in the west.

The growth in overseas visitor numbers of 6.8% for the first 11 months of 2011 and the increase in employment in the accommodation and food services sector of 6,000 during the previous two quarters is welcome and shows that we are hopefully turning the corner. Operational responsibility and programming for the promotion and development of tourism in individual regions, including the west, rests with the tourism agencies. The ITIC report from which the Deputy quotes addresses a number of recommendations to both the industry in the west [604]and the agencies. Many of these recommendations are being implemented. I have asked Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Ireland to inform the Deputy of their detailed plans for 2012.

An Ceann Comhairle:  As Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan is not present, we will move on.

  6.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the progress made to date in finding a replacement for a person (details supplied) as chief executive of the Dublin Airport Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1556/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Under Article 29 of the Air Navigation and Transport (Amendment) Act 1998, the recruitment of a CEO is a matter for the board of the Dublin Airport Authority and not one in which I have a legal function. I understand, however, that the authority has advertised the post in the national press. The contract of the current CEO runs until next April. The terms and conditions under which appointments such as that in question are made are subject to my approval and that of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I am expecting a formal request in due course when the board has selected a candidate.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The Minister will be aware that the outgoing CEO, Mr. Collier, announced on 15 November, almost two months ago, his retention to resign. I am concerned about the length of time it has taken to begin the process of recruiting a new CEO. The Minister is correct to state advertisements have been prepared. However, I am not sure whether these have yet appeared. If they have done so, it was only in recent days. While the Minister does not have a function in the appointment of the chief executive officer, he does have a function in the appointment of the chairman. Has a tardy approach been taken to appointing a new CEO because there has not been a chairman in place since last May? The previous chairman, Mr. Dilger, resigned in April. I understand his contract ended or that he terminated his employment on or about 31 May last. It took until November for the Minister to approach the chairman designate who came before the Joint Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht this week. While the individual in question is an excellent candidate and would be very good for Dublin Airport, he has limited, if any, experience in the airline sector. That creates a problem for the DAA because in the coming months, following the departure of Mr. Collier, there will be a period during which a CEO will not be in place. The chairman designate has indicated that it will take approximately nine months to appoint a new CEO. During that period the authority will be run by a chairman who has little or no experience in the day-to-day running of an airport. The chairman designate is being placed in a difficult position and our airport infrastructure is being put in a perilous position. Why did it take so long to appoint a new chairman?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  To clarify, the position of CEO was advertised in the press in recent weeks. In general, the search for a CEO to head up a company of this size and nature can take up to nine months. The chairman designate who was approached in November is soon to be appointed. As the Deputy stated, he appeared before the joint committee earlier in the week. I understand he gave an extremely good account of himself during the hearing. I am sure his appointment will be confirmed by the Government shortly. In addition, I will be appointing a new board for the DAA in the next fortnight.

  [605]5 o’clock

It has taken time to put matters in order, as it is not easy to find very good people to chair State companies. It is easy enough to get someone to sit on a board, but it is quite difficult to encourage a person to take on the chairmanship of the board of a State company. This is owing to the demands involved, the thankless nature of the job and the very poor remuneration for those who chair such boards. After tax, those who chair State boards are paid €7,000 or €8,000 per year for work which could take between ten and 20 hours work a week to complete. It is difficult, therefore, to find people to serve. However, I must state those I have found to chair these boards to date are excellent individuals. Before anyone asks, none of them has Fine Gael connections. It takes time to find the right person. However, it is worth taking that time.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I have no issue with the calibre of the individual whom the Minister has appointed to the chair. He is a candidate of exceptional quality and skill but he does not have the experience he will need in the absence of a chief executive and for this I am disappointed it has taken the Minister so long. Six months is an undue period. The Minister should have been able to find a chairman more quickly.

During the course of the committee discussions, the chairman-designate made clear that he believes the fact that the new pay cap will be in place will be an inhibiting factor in respect of the appointment of a new chief executive. Has the Minister given any consideration to lifting the cap for the appointment of a chief executive for the Dublin Airport Authority, taking into account that no taxpayer’s money is involved and the DAA is self-sufficient, especially in light of the points made by the chairman-designate? Does the Minister wish to be in a position whereby he will be obliged to take a second, third or fourth-rate candidate when he could enter negotiations with the chairman and find the best person to lead the airports of the country in future?

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  I met the chairman and we had a long discussion at the committee meeting. There was a concern in terms of the issue of the pay cap of €250,000 set by the Minister. It is too much one way or the other but in this time of austerity and given all that is happening in the economy, I have no wish to see us going beyond that amount. The chairman indicated he had no problem with this in general. I have no arguments with his credentials. He seems to be good as far as I am concerned. However, it is an immense job. There is a €500 million pension fund which has many problems. It is a profitable company and I do not believe the taxpayer should have to put much to it. It is an urgent matter.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I reassure Deputy Dooley that there will be an acting chief executive in place during the interregnum and the acting chief executive will have a great deal of experience of running airports. The chairman-designate stated that he believed the salary cap would inhibit the DAA in its search for a new chief executive but he made his position clear. He stated that the board and the chairman of the DAA would comply with Government policy, whatever the pay cap.

The Government has no plans to reconsider the pay cap although the point Deputy Dooley makes is valid. The chief executive is not paid by the Exchequer but by the DAA. The higher the salary, the higher the tax returned to the taxpayer, a point many people do not fathom.

The current chief executive is leaving. I am disappointed he is going because he has done a good job. He is leaving to run London City Airport, an airport with one ninth the number of passengers of the three State airports combined. He is leaving for a salary of £410,000 plus a bonus of between 55% and 95%. The chief executive of Manchester Airport, a similar sized airport to Dublin, receives a salary of £515,000 before a bonus. This is something we should [606]bear in mind in this State. While many people in the State are paid more than their equivalents in other countries, this is not the case when it comes to the chief executive of the DAA.

  7.  Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views on the tourism measures contained within the jobs initiative and their impact on helping tourism here regain cost competitiveness and support employment. [1397/12]

  11.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the impact of the jobs initiative on tourism, with particular reference to the reduced lower VAT rate and the British-Irish tourism visa waiver scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1528/12]

  29.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he is satisfied that the tourism sector is likely to develop and expand sufficiently in the course of 2012 to maximise its potential contribution to the generation of employment with consequent reduction in the live register and thereby creating a positive economic impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1637/12]

  53.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he has carried out any studies into the effect of the VAT and PRSI reduction introduced in mid-2011 on tourism numbers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1550/12]

  259.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent if any to which he has reviewed the employment potential in the tourism sector with a view to maximisation of the creation of increased employment opportunities while retaining existing jobs; the degree to which he has received submissions from the sector in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1830/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 11, 29, 53 and 259 together.

The jobs initiative introduced a reduced 9% VAT rate from 1 July on a range of services, including hotels and restaurants. The Government also halved employers’ PRSI for those on modest wages and introduced a visa waiver scheme that makes Ireland more accessible for tourists from important new and emerging markets. These measures were aimed at supporting the creation and maintenance of employment within the tourism sector as well as helping tourism businesses lower their cost base and allowing them to offer a more competitive product to tourists. The reduced VAT rate for tourism and leisure related products and services was important to correct a perception of Ireland being an expensive place to visit. This latter point is particularly important in terms of the British market, which is our main source of visitors and the market from which we have lost most share in recent years.

At this stage it is too early to assess accurately the impact of these measures on either tourism numbers or on employment in the sector. With regard to tourism numbers, we will need to consider the figures over a longer period to assess properly the impact of the initiative. In respect of the impact of the measures on sustaining employment in the tourism sector, the most recent figures from the CSO only relate to the third quarter of 2011 and do not fully measure the impact of the jobs initiative. Therefore, it will be later this year before we can begin properly to form a view on the effect of these measures on competitiveness and employment.

I am, however, pleased to report that overseas tourism numbers have increased by 6.8% in the year to the end of November, and I am also encouraged that employment in the accom[607]modation and food services sector increased by 6,000 over the six month period between the launch of the jobs initiative and September 2011. I have every confidence the tourism industry will have exceeded the targets set for 2011 when the full year statistics are available approximately one month from now.

Improving the perception among domestic and overseas visitors that holidaying in Ireland offers good value for money was an important part of the jobs initiative measures. In this regard, I draw the attention of Deputies to the most recent consumer price index which shows that in the year to November 2011, the price index for restaurant and hotels is down 0.9% and down 1% for recreation and culture related products and services it is down 1%. However, the overall consumer price index was up 2.9% during the same period. It should be noted that the restaurant and hotels index is at its lowest level since March 2007 in terms of prices while the culture and recreation index is at the lowest level since March 2006.

These price reductions were driven by a wide number of factors, including the VAT reduction, and demonstrate the increased competitiveness of the Irish tourism market. Delivering value for money is crucial to the recovery of the Irish tourism market and this improving cost competitiveness is an important part of that.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy:  I thank the Minister. I realise tourism is a key priority for the Minister, the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, the Minister of State, Deputy Kelly, and the Government. Tourism is a competitive market and our keenest competitors invest heavily in their tourism infrastructure. The information available here so far has shown that tourism is now joining the agrifood industry as a good news story in our economy. I have no doubt that the measures the Government has put in place to date have contributed to this. In particular, the VAT reduction that the naysayers declared would not be passed on is, in fact, being passed on to the consumer. In addition, the visa waiver programme will continue to contribute because it removes the red tape and barriers that would have been in place previously. The benefits from this will be seen during the London Olympic Games with spin-off tourism here.

Interest in Ireland as a tourism destination remains strong and the key to this is our branding as a product. It is difficult for us to think of our country as a product but it is in terms of tourism. We are ranked 10th by the World Economic Forum for marketing and brand effectiveness. This says a good deal about the people who have been in charge of our tourism product. If we get our branding and marketing right then employment will follow. I welcome Tourism Ireland’s new advertising campaign, Jump into Ireland. It is a global campaign to promote Ireland overseas in the coming three years. Tourism Ireland intends to have 9 million visitors by 2015, which is significant for a small island such as this one.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I apologise for interrupting but I remind Deputies that there is a limit during ordinary questions of one minute per supplementary question.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I thank Deputy Corcoran Kennedy for her comments and I concur with everything she said. Tourism is a product in terms of marketing Ireland abroad and it is the aim of Tourism Ireland to increase the number of visitors to Ireland back to 9 million by 2016. This would recover the position to where we were some time ago.

Deputy Sandra McLellan:  I thank the Minister for his answer. There was a modest increase in visitor numbers to the country last year and that should be welcomed. However, with the Olympic Games and the UEFA European Championships this summer, does the Minister believe there is scope to tap into this potential for increased visitor numbers? Will the Minister provide details of plans to bring the Olympic Games torch here? Does he have any detailed [608]plans for a programme of events around the Olympic Games and the UEFA European Championships?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  As Deputy McLellan will be aware, the UEFA European Championships will be in Poland, so I do not believe it will bring many tourists to Ireland. With regard to the Olympic Games, the visa waiver was designed to allow people who will visit the United Kingdom to come to Ireland afterwards. I hope that will work. Quite a large number of people will avoid the south east of England and London during the Olympic Games and some of them will hopefully come to Ireland instead.

The Minister of State, Deputy Ring has chaired the committee in charge of the Olympic torch in preparation for the games. I am not sure if it is permitted to give way to him on this point, but——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I am sure he can pass on the information.

Deputy Michael Ring:  The committee is working very hard and we have a number of cultural events, both in Ireland and Britain. Naturally enough, Londoners will be fed up with all the people who will be there, even though they have an interest in sport themselves. We are targeting them and we are also targeting people who would usually go to London that year and encourage them to come to Ireland. We are organising a number of cultural events in Dublin, Kilkenny, Galway and places like that. We are working hard and we are trying to target the displaced people who might otherwise go to London. In spite of being criticised about not getting teams, we are doing well in the tourism and business part of it. We have got €200 million worth of contracts already and we are expecting that to rise to €500 million. It is all good news for the country.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy:  I am delighted to hear about all the efforts being made by the Minister of State to bring visitors into the country. I hope that he drags some of them to the midlands and not just to the more established tourism areas.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  He left out Mayo, which surprised me.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy:  We have a fantastic product in the midlands and I feel that it has not been exploited to its full potential. We have a science centre in Birr and we have got fabulous bog lands and waterways. I really feel that the potential is there and I encourage the Minister of State to visit us and exploit that potential.

Deputy Michael McNamara:  Does the Minister have any specific figures on the increase in visitors from countries in respect of which a visa waiver was granted to increase trade? Has there been an increase in trade from those countries? I ask the question because business people who are interested in trading in Ireland are having difficulty in obtaining visas. It is a hindrance to the development of trade in Ireland. It has been raised with me by Ennis Chamber of Commerce, among other trade bodies. Has the Government those specific figures and does it intend to address the problem more broadly than in respect of the emerging markets, which have already been granted a visa waiver?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The number of tourists coming in from Australia and the developing markets — mainly India, China and the Middle East — has seen double digit growth in 2011. Growth was at 18% up until the middle of the year, albeit coming from a very low base, and the overall figure was 10%, which is really good. Our biggest growth was from those new emerging markets, albeit a small part of the tourist numbers that come to Ireland.

[609]It is a little bit hard to read it in some ways due to the UK waiver system, because if a person already has a UK visa, he or she does not need a visa to come into Ireland anymore. Therefore, when we see the number of visa applications for Ireland falling, it is hard to know whether we interpret that as fewer people coming in or as people just using their UK visa. However, the Government understands that we need to do a little bit more on visas. I had a bilateral meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality about that. When I travelled to India and the Middle East, that message comes back strongly. It was an issue raised at the Global Irish Network. Notwithstanding security concerns, we can do more on the visa front and in giving visas to investors.

One factor we must take into account is the fact that we are part of the common travel area with Britain. Giving people access to Ireland must be co-ordinated with Britain, or we may lose the common travel area. I would love Ireland to be in Schengen, so that people would not need a visa to travel from other parts of Europe to Ireland. We cannot do that now because we would have to leave the common travel area, which would mean border controls with London. It is a price that is too high to pay. We will still do as much as we can on visas.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I do not want to rain on the parade in respect of the growth in passenger numbers, but while I accept there has been a modest increase in tourism activity, have the numbers presented factored in the ash cloud of 2010? Has the Minister seen a particular spike in tourism growth as a result of the reduction in VAT?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Growth has been quite bumpy. Growth was very high in the first half of the year, which probably reflected the fact that the ash cloud depressed the number of tourists coming to Ireland in the second half of the previous year. Growth was slightly negative in some of the later months of the year, but if the airport figures area anything to go by, December is very good. There was an 11% increase in people using Dublin Airport in December 2011, when compared with December 2010. That is very encouraging. Events in the world economy and in the eurozone could present problems for us this year. It will be hard for us to meet our 4.5% growth target if our major markets go into recession.

The VAT change helped to address the perception of Ireland as a high cost destination. A visitor attitude survey published today shows that there has been a considerable improvement in visitor attitudes to Ireland as a high cost destination, particularly among British tourists, which is really important.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  We know that there has been a huge drop in the internal market at the airports. I hope that we can look at more initiatives for the internal market. There has been an increase internationally, which tapered towards the end of last year.

With the Olympic Games approaching, are we in contact with our counterparts in the North? Many events have been organised in the North which can feed into our events, and vice versa. There is a great scope to attract people from both sides of the Border and from other countries.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  There has not been a big fall off in domestic tourism. There has been a big fall off in the number of people flying domestically, which is a different thing. That is because people can drive on motorways to almost anywhere in Ireland in two hours. Why would someone get on a aeroplane when he or she can travel quicker and cheaper by car?

There has been some contact with the North. Tourism Ireland is an all-island body. My meeting with the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Arlene Foster MLA, will be taking place in the next couple of weeks, so we will certainly be discussing things then. This is a very big year for Northern Ireland, due to the Titanic celebrations and there will be some events in Cobh as well to match that. The Irish Open is also going North for the first time, [610]which some people have mixed feelings about, but that does not signal much more co-operation between the North and South when it comes to tourism.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  It is open to all.

  8.  Deputy Dara Calleary    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he has received the report of the taxi review group; when he expects to submit to Cabinet; when he expects to publish the taxi review group findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1522/12]

Deputy Alan Kelly:  I announced the taxi regulation review on 8 June 2011 in line with the commitment in the programme for Government. The review group under my chairmanship completed its report in December last and I have circulated the report to relevant Ministers and their Departments with a view to early consideration of the outcome of the review by the Government. Once the Government has had an opportunity to consider the review, I expect to be in a position to publish it on my Department’s website and to outline the Government’s response to it.

I would like to take the opportunity to thank all those who made submissions to the review group and who participated in the group. I was heartened by the constructive contributions of the many diverse groups with an interest in the taxi industry. The review considered a wide range of issues relating to the taxi sector, including current regulatory policy and practices, licensing systems, enforcement and future dialogue with the taxi sector. I am confident that the recommended measures in the review will enable necessary further reforms of the sector to allow consumers to have confidence in the taxi system while also ensuring that legitimate and competent operators and drivers can be rewarded fairly by operating under a regulatory framework that is adequately enforced.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. However, the question remains: when does he expect to be in a position to publish the report? When will he be in a position to bring forward any legislative changes that he desires or that the Cabinet so directs?

Deputy Alan Kelly:  The report has been circulated among the relevant Departments. The committee had its last meeting. Once the Government has considered the report, it will be published. It will then be a priority to address the primary and secondary legislative needs.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  The Minister of State is not in a position at this stage to give an indicative guideline or timeframe.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  The indicative timeframe will be in the next month or so.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  Prior to its publication I assume it will go back to the committee for consideration.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  The committee has completed its work.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  We have not seen the review.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  It has. The final document was signed off by the committee. I chair it so I know it has seen it. The work has been completed and recommendations have been made.

[611]Deputy Dessie Ellis:  I meant the Oireachtas committee.

Deputy Alan Kelly:  Subsequent to it being published it can be considered. I have spoken to the committee Chairman, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, and I already indicated I am willing to go before the committee to discuss it.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  That is fine.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Excellent.

  9.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the position regarding the developments at the sports campus at Abbotstown, Dublin; the further developments he intends to undertake there; and a timeframe for same. [1564/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Deputy’s question relates to developments at the Sports Campus at Abbotstown in Blanchardstown in Dublin.

At its meeting on 21 June, the Government approved my proposals for the development of the National Sports Campus at Abbotstown in Blanchardstown on an incremental basis. In particular I have asked the National Sports Campus Development Authority, NSCDA, to proceed with the development of a national indoor training arena, which would include an indoor track. I am acutely aware of the difficulty of securing capital funding from the Exchequer because of the financial difficulties facing the Government. I have, therefore, asked the campus authority to explore other avenues of funding such as philanthropy and or the sale of some of the land. I have also asked the campus authority to continue to pursue the policy of developing elements of the development control plan in partnership with the GAA, FAI, IRFU and the Irish Hockey Association. As provided for in section 7(8) of the National Sports Campus Development Authority Act 2006, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is arranging for the transfer of the land to the NSCDA.

Abbotstown House is a protected structure under the Fingal County development plan. I believe that Abbotstown House would benefit from having an anchor tenant and that the Irish Sports Council would be an ideal tenant in this regard. This matter is being examined by the NSCDA in consultation with the Irish Sports Council and the OPW.

In parallel with the core National Sports Campus project, the campus authority is also continuing its strategy of redeveloping and refurbishing existing buildings on the Abbotstown site for use by the wider sporting community, in particular the national governing bodies of sport. The OPW is assessing tenders for the refurbishment of the former Marine Institute Building as the sports HQ and it is expected that work on the project will commence in February and will be completed prior to the end of the calendar year.

I take this opportunity to inform the House that 2011 was a record-breaking year for the National Aquatic Centre, which forms part of the campus, with visitor numbers totalling 825,051 which is an increase of 12.5% on the previous year.

Deputy Sandra McLellan:  Thank God the Bertie bowl did not go ahead. Is there a timeline with regard to the proposal that the Irish Sports Council might use it? In advance of the London Olympics have there been any discussion or confirmations of further teams which might use Abbotstown in preparation for the games?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The Irish Sports Council is working from rented offices in Blanchardstown and it is proposed that it will move to Abbotstown House. No decision on this has been [612]made for certain because we need to examine the house and work out how much it would cost to refurbish it so it would be able to take the Irish Sports Council. We must also work out when the lease where it is ends to ensure any move is value for money. It is a decision that should be made this year.

With regard to the London Olympics I am not aware of any additional teams which have agreed to take up training facilities at the Sports Campus. Quite a number will use the National Aquatic Centre which is very welcome. We have learned two things, the first of which is if we want teams to train here we must have the facilities, which we do in the National Aquatic Centre and the pool in Limerick but not when it comes to track and field events and gymnastics. We hope to change this by developing the Sports Campus. We also learned that cities in the UK gave cash incentives to teams to train there and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, and I took the view that rather than spending €20,000 or €30,000 to entice the Tajikistan basketball team to come to a town in Ireland the money would be better spent on facilities and sports people in Ireland.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  I welcome the Minister’s reply and compliment him and the Minister of State, Deputy Ring. It is important that we put on the record spending €20,000 or €30,000 would have been a futile exercise and the Minister was correct in the approach taken. It is imperative that we develop the indoor facilities at Abbotstown as we lack these. We saw on the recent “Prime Time” programme that a water polo tournament will be held in the National Aquatic Centre which is being utilised to its maximum. It is an example of something the previous Government did well and I accept this. The Minister and Minister of State used common sense with regard to trying to bring people here. Those who are complaining about the Government’s approach should read the reply to this question. The Minister and Minister of State with responsibility for sport are prepared to invest in the development of facilities. We should look at the long-term future rather than the 2012 London Olympics. It is important that we have a strategic plan for all sports.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I thank the Deputy for his comments and I agree with him wholeheartedly in this regard. I must be fair to the previous Government. I also agree with Deputy McLellan as I am also glad the Bertie bowl was not built. I do not think it was necessary as the Aviva is a great stadium, as is Croke Park. One thing the previous Government did was to build the National Aquatic Centre and notwithstanding the initial problems that occurred with the roof and some of the management——

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  It leaked.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  ——it is an outstanding facility. In fairness to the previous Government it was a good decision and quite visionary to go ahead with the project when people were critical at the time.

  10.  Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will clarify if a board member of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company (details supplied) has returned wrongly claimed travel and subsistence expenses as reported in the national media; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1633/12]

  34.  Deputy Joe Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will clarify whether a board member (details supplied) of the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company [613]has returned wrongly claimed travel and subsistence expenses as reported in the national media; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1634/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 34 together.

The question relates to the issue of expenses by a board member of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. I previously responded to Deputy Boyd Barrett’s questions on this matter on 29 September and 14 December last. Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company confirms each year that it complies with the relevant travel and subsistence regulations. As I said previously, I understand that the matter of repayment of flight expenses has been resolved and that they will be repaid by mid-2012.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  In his reply the Minister used the future tense which means the expenses have not been repaid. Will the Minister clarify this? When I brought this issue to the attention of the Minister in September, the report was that Mr. Nagle had committed to——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We do not mention names.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I apologise. The director in question had committed to pay back the money, which we should remind ourselves were claims made for expenses for travelling from Dubai to board meetings for Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. In that year he claimed €10,250 as against, for example, the CEO who claimed only €3,000 and a small amount claimed by another board director. In September it was stated he would pay it back but now the Minister is stating it will be close to a year before he does so. I find this extraordinary. While I am at it——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are over time. I will ask the Minister to reply and then call Deputy Boyd Barrett again.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I do not have day-to-day involvement in the running of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. It is a semi-State body governed by its board and managed by its CEO. However, I am advised in writing by the chairman that the director in question has made a written commitment and that he will repay the cost of the flights and that such payment will be made in full by mid-2012.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  The reason this is important is because these same directors and the chairman the Minister mentioned are trying to impose pay cuts of between 20% and 30% on workers earning a fraction of what they do. They have also forcibly made redundant five harbour police, with whom they are also involved in a dispute because they made a mistake and overpaid them and are now seeking the money back. There is much anger and grievance because the same people making these decisions are overclaiming for expenses and not paying them back.

Will the Minister confirm what precisely is the salary of the CEO of the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company? According to my figures, in 2010 he was paid €168,000 per year in total. There was one recent monthly payment detailing how he received €14,000 per month, which would add up to €168,000. Will the Minister confirm if, in addition, he gets pension contributions amounting to €42,000 and PRSI contributions amounting to €18,000 per year paid? That would put the total cost of the CEO at €228,000 per year. That is pretty awful when workers are being forced from their jobs in the harbour and others are being asked for pay cuts of between 20% and 30%.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  The fees paid to the chairman and members of the board are modest and much less than what the staff are paid.

[614]Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I am talking about the CEO.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I do not know his remuneration package off the top of my head but I can provide those details to the Deputy by correspondence. I imagine the figures are much lower in 2012 than they were in 2010, in line with reductions in CEO pay and remuneration. I am very sad that workers have lost their jobs at Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company but this has come about because of a loss of business. People cannot be kept employed in a job that is not there to be done any more.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  They guys giving them the axe are being paid €168,000 per year.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  There is a dispute which is being dealt with by the Labour Relations Commission.

Question No. 11 answered with Question No. 7.

  12.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the position regarding the progress of the Luas extension. [1579/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Under the new capital investment programme for transport to 2016 the priority for funding is to ensure that investment made to date is protected and safety standards are maintained. Beyond that I have provided funds to advance a small number of projects which will add value to the existing network and support economic recovery. In this regard I have provided funds to allow the commencement of construction of Luas Broombridge or BXD.

This project has been prioritised given that it will advance the proposed long-term integration agenda for public transport in the greater Dublin area and create a Luas network through linking the existing lines, serve areas of the north city such as Grangegorman, Phibsborough and Cabra and integrate with rail services on the Maynooth and Dunboyne lines as well as quality bus corridor, cross-city and city centre bus services.

The railway order application for this project was submitted to An Bord Pleanála in June 2010 and a decision is awaited. The National Transport Authority and the Railway Procurement Agency have made some appropriate preparatory arrangements but key decisions and actions which will determine the construction start must await the outcome of the planning process.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  We had debates on the different projects and Luas BXD is one that has been chosen to move ahead. The EU and IMF were critical of us cutting capital spending, which should be borne in mind. We argued that cutting the capital spend, including metro north, was not good because of all the work that was put in and potential job creation. The Minister has indicated that we are awaiting the conclusion of the planning process but new contracts will come in at lower rates than previously as prices in the past were much higher; we would see more realistic prices today.

I hope this is not dragged out for too long and the process can conclude promptly. I would love to know when construction will start but the Minister does not seem to be in a position to indicate the timeframe. I hope it will not be too long as this capital project must be pushed on.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I concur with the Deputy’s comments. We must wait to see if we get a rail order, which will have conditions attached. Only then can this go to tender. With regard to the capital investment plan, we only have funds to start construction from 2015, and it is [615]hoped the project will be running by 2017. If a funding mechanism can be provided to bring forward the commencement of works to next year, for example, I would be very enthusiastic about it. We all agree that it would be preferable to have the works on O’Connell Street completed by Easter 2016 rather than being ongoing at that time.

I would like to see more capital projects going ahead but they cannot, as people will know, because of the current financial position. The IMF and EU may have taken the view that we should not have cut capital as hard as we did but their view is that we should have hit current spending harder. That spending includes public sector pay and social welfare, so I am not sure if the view would be shared by the Deputy opposite.

It is interesting that Sinn Féin’s stimulus plan, which was published before Christmas, had a proposed €7 billion investment in the economy, most of it borrowed from the European Investment Bank, but not a euro going to transport. I am not sure if Deputy Ellis lost the battle at the Sinn Féin front bench but it was interesting nonetheless.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  We did not lose any battles on capital projects and we believe projects should proceed. We made such a point. The timescale for these projects is very long and the Minister has mentioned dates in 2015 and 2017. The 2016 commemorations are coming up and I would like to see at least one of these projects in place by then.

In Ballymun we collected many contributions along the routes so will the same process occur along the routes for this project? We cannot get the contributions back for people who paid towards the metro north and we do not know when it will come about; that is wrong. Have contributions been made with regard to this line?

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  It is important to bear in mind with regard to contributions made along the metro line, they are much less than the amount spent on the preparatory planning and enabling works.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  The total was approximately €3.1 million.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Some €180 million has been spent. Currently there is no development contribution scheme along the BXD route. It is a matter for the city council and it would be appropriate to have discussions with the council on some form of contribution, particularly with regard to property along the route, including undeveloped sites that will increase in value because of the project.

  13.  Deputy Jerry Buttimer    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans for Cork Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1352/12]

  16.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    when he will make a decision in relation to the future ownership and operation of Shannon Airport in the context of the report (details supplied); if he will publish the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1357/12]

  35.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans for the future strategic development of Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1359/12]

  40.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views regarding the future of Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1350/12]

[616]

  41.  Deputy Kieran O’Donnell    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans for the future of Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1358/12]

  42.  Deputy Michael McNamara    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the detailed terms of reference of consultants (details supplied); the company’s relevant experience with airports here and the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1349/12]

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 16, 35, and 40 to 42, inclusive, together.

I have already outlined in the House today the current position on the future of Cork and Shannon airports and the background to the commissioning of consultants to carry out a study of the options for the future ownership and operation of both airports. The tender process used to select the consultants took into account, among other factors, the degree of each tenderer’s expertise and experience of the aviation sector, nationally and internationally. The terms of reference for the study were essentially to identify and analyse all likely options with regard to the ownership and operation of the two airports and having regard to all relevant factors to make clear recommendations to me and the Government as to the optimal ownership and operational structure for the airports.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  I thank the Minister for his reply and congratulate him on demonstrating political leadership which was lacking in the previous regime with regard to Cork Airport. As part of the consultative process there was real engagement and I compliment the company involved. I hope the Minister takes on board the strategic importance of Cork Airport, particularly given the location and catchment area of approximately €1 million. If it is allowed, it can become a key player in our transport infrastructure. It will require a very strong commitment from the Government to be held in State ownership and a business plan. It must be allowed the ability to grow and be autonomous within the Dublin Airport Authority. It is a difficult time in the aviation industry and the Cork facility is suffering. It deserves to be kept in State ownership and should have autonomy within the DAA. There must be space to be able to grow and develop as it is a critical facility.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I will take the Deputies who asked the questions first.

Deputy Joe Carey:  I commend the Minister for dealing with the issue after years of inaction on the part of the previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments. The matter is finally being dealt with. Shannon Airport has paid a very heavy price, losing 52% of passengers over the past three to four years. I welcome the recent public announcements by the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, on a visit to County Clare, that it is his desire that Shannon Airport would again become the second busiest airport in the country after Dublin. I would like to establish when he intends to bring the memo to Government and when a decision will be made. We need clarity and certainty. Shannon and the mid-west region can begin an economic fightback. The decision will be a catalyst for that to happen. I would also like to hear the Minister’s views on the conditions of workers in the airport. Could he offer any thoughts in that regard? It is critical that they are not made the scapegoats in the decision that is to be taken.

Deputy Kieran O’Donnell:  I thank the Minister for taking action on this issue. Shannon Airport is probably the most vital piece of infrastructure for Limerick, the mid-west, Shannon and County Clare. Everyone, across all party lines, is agreed that the situation cannot remain as it is. We must examine the issue. That is why I welcome the fact that the Booz & Company report has been commissioned by the Minister. What is important now is that we get a timescale [617]on when the Minister proposes to bring the matter to Cabinet and for the implementation of the plan. We must reach a point where Shannon Airport is able to operate independently of Dublin. It is difficult for any airport to compete with its employer, namely, the Dublin Airport Authority, DAA. The operation of the airport is underpinned and conditional upon Shannon Airport not being laden down with debt, which is the scourge of any business in terms of being able to function. I commend the Minister on bringing the report forward but we need to know the timescale he envisages for the implementation of the plan and the details thereon.

Deputy Michael McNamara:  My specific question relates to the past experience of Booz & Company. While I am aware from media reports that it has past experience of the sale of airport, the key recommendation is that Shannon Airport would remain in State ownership. I am relieved to hear that as I would be most disturbed if there was any proposal to remove anything of the strategic importance of Shannon Airport from State ownership.

I join with Deputy Carey in expressing concern for the future of the workers. I wonder whether Booz & Company. has sufficient expertise in the area. There is a proposal to devolve the airport to a State-owned undertaking but it is essential that such an undertaking would have sufficient resources to make Shannon work and to ensure the future of Shannon Airport as a cargo airport, an avionics airport and an industry airport but primarily as a passenger airport which is essential for the tourism sector of the entire mid-west. The Minister does not need reminding of that as he is the Minister primarily responsible for tourism. I would welcome his comments on the expertise of Booz & Company on how it is proposed to ensure the future undertaking which might run Shannon Airport — if it is devolved from the DAA — will have the resources and cash-flow necessary to invest in the airport, as the Dublin Airport Authority has been doing in the past to ensure that it remains a 24 hour international airport of the calibre required to drive the economy of the entire mid-west region of Limerick, Clare and north Tipperary.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I did not manage to respond to the Minister on the matter that arose on another question but he indicated that certainty would be brought to it over the course of the coming year. I hope that was a broad, general statement and that he intends to deal with it a lot more quickly than by the end of the year. I would welcome certainty on the timescale.

Comments by Government Members seem to indicate that independence is the solution for Shannon. From my point of view, that is absolutely not the case. Shannon Airport needs more autonomy within an overall structure. I saw media reports in which a few kites were flown either by the Minister or by——

Deputy Michael McNamara:  Unfortunately, more kites than flights.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  ——some people within the Department who have access to the report.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  The previous Minister, Mr. Dempsey, flew some kites.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  Prior to Christmas we saw various proposals being put forward as the preferred option. One such proposal related to the development of a management structure similar to that of CIE with the three airports having an independent structure within an overall umbrella aviation company. I favour that approach as the way forward and would strongly support it. I welcome the Minister’s comments in that regard.

Deputy Leo Varadkar:  Many questions were asked and I hope I do justice to Deputies in terms of replying to their questions. Booz & Company has had extensive experience both in [618]terms of infrastructure and airports. I can provide the Deputy with a more detailed document if he requires on the background to some work it did internationally. Many people would accept the company did a very good job, although I accept there was scepticism about it initially. One of the things I asked it to do was to spend time in the relevant regions and with the various sectoral interests, which it did. It did it well and I was pleased with the work carried out.

It is important to put on record the motivation of the Government on the issue, which is to make sure we have strong airports in both Cork and Shannon, Cork being a passenger airport and a business airport for the future. Cork is working very well as an airport but the difficulty there is the enormous debt that has arisen from the new terminal which it will not be able to pay off on its own. Inevitably, over time the debt will have to be paid off by passengers using Dublin Airport. Shannon Airport has a great future as a passenger airport but also as one which is concerned with avionics and aero-industry but the status quo there is not working and the airport is in decline, which is why we need to have a change of policy in that regard.

When it comes to public ownership I agree with the Deputies’ comments. It is intended that the airports will stay in public ownership but that is not to say that there cannot be private sector investment and involvement in the airports in a way that is not the case currently.

When it comes to timescale, I need to spend a little more time in consultations and discussions. I have not yet had a proper chance to talk to the unions, for example, some of the stakeholders in the various regions and some of the businesses that are interested in investing. A memo for information will go to Government this month or next month and then a memo for decision will be prepared later on in the year. Given that any decision to proceed with separation could require legislation, getting it all done this year is ambitious but possible.

Regarding the workers, I fully understand that they want assurances about their pension, terms and conditions and security of tenure. I should point out that nobody in the DAA at the moment in any of the existing airports has security about their pension because of the huge pension deficit, so there is an opportunity there for the workers. Nobody has security about their jobs because further redundancies are planned, albeit voluntarily, and nobody in the entire country has security about their terms and conditions unless they are covered by the Croke Park agreement, which the staff in the DAA are not. Let us be realistic about the current position.

We have a lot of semi-State companies and State agencies and it is important that the workers in semi-State companies and in State agencies are respected. At the same time, we must remember that semi-State companies and State agencies should not be run in the interest of the workers. The HSE should be run in the interests of patients not the staff, schools should be run in the interests of children not the teachers and airports should be run in the interests of passengers and the broader economic interests of the region not just those who work there. I am sure everyone would agree with that.

Written Answers follows Adjournment.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.50 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 13 January 2012.

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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 13, inclusive, answered orally.

  14.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to develop a strategy for the promotion of cycling as a mode of transport and to develop safer more accessible resources to support cyclists. [1578/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly):  The Government set out its commitment to invest in the National Cycle Policy in the Programme for Government. The National Cycle Policy calls for a wide programme of action including investment in cycling infrastructure and soft measures to promote cycling.

I recognise that the development of safe cycle routes is a key factor in encouraging more people to cycle and encouraging those who already cycle to use their bikes for more journeys.

The Government will therefore continue to provide funding to local authorities for the development of urban cycle lanes, greenway cycling trails and progressing the development of a national cycle network. In developing cycle schemes local authorities are obliged to have regard to the National Cycling Manual, which has sustainable safety as its guiding principal.

In addition to funding new on and off-road cycle routes my Department and the National Transport Authority are working with local authorities in Dublin and Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford to develop proposals for the expansion of the very successful Dublin Bike rental scheme and the establishment of similar schemes in other cities. The Dublin Bike scheme has allowed commuters who do not use their own bikes to get into town to cycle for trips within the city and also allows non-cyclists and lapsed cyclists to try city cycling.

Along with capital investment, my Department supports a number of initiatives to promote and develop cycling such as Bike Week, the smarter travel workplaces project and the Green Schools Travel programme.

  15.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent [620]of service reductions in public transport services provided by CIÉ for 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1547/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly):  The public transport services provided by the CIÉ operating companies in 2012 are a matter for the companies concerned in conjunction with the National Transport Authority. I have referred the Deputy’s question to the National Transport Authority for direct reply. Please inform my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Notwithstanding the NTA’s statutory responsibilities, Government recognises that there is a need for the CIE companies to respond to the challenge of reduced PSO subvention funding, reduced fares income arising from reductions in passenger numbers and increased costs, such as fuel costs, which are outside their control. As a general principle it is my belief that efficiencies in operational costs should, in the first instance, be examined over fare increases and service reductions. However, in the current environment there has to be a recognition that unfortunately fare increases will be inevitable if costs cannot be reduced sufficiently in order to maintain a reasonable level of service provision.

While a recovery in passenger numbers could increase company revenues, all concerned in my Department and the NTA must focus on identifying key public transport priorities in our cities and across the country. In turn, the PSO public transport service providers will have to achieve greater efficiency and cost effectiveness in the years ahead based on a realistic assessment of the scope and level of contracted services.

Question No. 16 answered with Question No. 13.

  17.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the steps he is taking to support tourism in the regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1344/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  The Government recognises that tourism is very important to all regions of Ireland. It employs an estimated 180,000 people spread throughout the country and much of this in rural areas.

The Government’s Jobs Initiative last year placed the tourism and hospitality sector at the heart of our economic recovery, recognising its vital contribution to employment, economic activity and foreign revenue earnings. The VAT reduction on a range of labour-intensive tourism services from 13.5% to 9% with effect from 1 July 2011 enhances further the competitiveness of our tourism product. The new Visa Waiver Scheme will encourage visitors from emerging markets to add Ireland to a trip to the UK. The Government has also significantly reduced the cost of employing people by halving employers’ PRSI for those on modest wages.

In addition, the necessary structures to deliver “The Gathering” in 2013 are being put in place. This year will be critical in starting our marketing efforts to help achieve the target we have set of bringing an extra 325,000 visitors to Ireland.

We are seeing a recovery in overseas visitor numbers with year-on-year growth of just under 7% in the first eleven months of 2011.

Operational responsibility for promotion and development of tourism in individual regions, rests with the State tourism agencies. The Government is providing more than €138 million to support tourism in 2012 across a diverse range of activities including overseas and domestic marketing, investment in the development of tourism product and vital business supports to [621]tourism enterprises. I am satisfied that the tourism agencies are pursuing the appropriate strategies to support the continued promotion and development of the sector.

  18.  Deputy Pat Deering    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the date on which the number of road fatalities in 2011 on a county basis will be available; and his priorities to further reduce the national number of fatalities in 2012. [1403/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The Deputy’s question relates to road fatality statistics, the record in 2011 and future initiatives.

Provisional figures show that there were 185 road fatalities on Irish roads in 2011. This is a reduction of 27 on 2010 and is the lowest annual figure since records began. Detailed analysis of the statistics, including on a county basis, will be carried out by the Road Safety Authority (RSA) and will be published in their Road Collision Facts 2011 report later in the year.

However, provisional figures have been provided which breaks the road fatalities down by Garda Division. I will provide this directly to the Deputy, but he may be interested to note that in respect of the Carlow/Kilkenny Garda Division the number of fatalities reduced from 11 in 2010 to 9 last year.

The steady reduction in fatalities over the last number of years has been brought about through a number of factors, including legislation, initiatives by organisations such as the Road Safety Authority and the Garda Síochána, better roads and improved vehicle standards and by changes in driver behaviour. Since the Road Safety Strategy 2007 to 2012, with its many actions for addressing road safety issues, was introduced in 2007 road deaths have dropped by 50%. I have asked the RSA to draft a successor Strategy from 2013 and work has already begun on this.

The Government has made road safety a key priority. New drink driving levels and other significant road safety measures were rolled out last year. Additional measures will be launched in the years ahead, including the new plastic drivers’ licence, enhanced commercial vehicle roadworthiness testing, the publication of legislation to provide for impairment testing of drug drivers at the roadside and the introduction of new penalty points offences.

  19.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the progress made in developing new routes and additional capacity to airports here; the estimated impact that this will have on tourist numbers visiting Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1555/12]

  54.  Deputy Tom Barry    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his position regarding the future of the travel tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1355/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 54 together.

The questions relate to progress made in developing new routes and additional capacity to Irish airports, and the position regarding the future of the travel tax.

As the Deputies will be aware, the market for air services in the EU is fully liberalised so it is a matter for carriers to decide what routes to serve; there is no scope for Government intervention in the market except through public service obligation routes and strict conditions are laid down in EU law for the application of PSOs.

[622]The Deputies will also be aware of the Government’s 2011 Jobs Initiative which included a three-pronged plan to enhance overseas access and thereby promote inbound tourism through:

abolishing the travel tax conditional on clear commitments by airlines to increase inbound capacity from our source markets;

the introduction of a new growth incentive scheme by the Dublin Airport Authority; and

more targeted co-operative marketing of new routes from key source tourism markets by Tourism Ireland, DAA and the airlines to encourage more tourists to fly into Ireland.

Subsequently, the Government decided, in the absence of a sufficient response from the airlines, to retain the air travel tax and to avail of part of the receipts from its retention to fund additional co-operative marketing activities. A €9 million overseas tourism marketing campaign over the Autumn/Winter period was led by Tourism Ireland, inclusive of matching funding provided by partner companies, including Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Aer Arann, overseas airlines, tour operators and online travel agents, and ferry companies.

The Central Statistics Office Overseas Travel statistics for the first 11 months of 2011 show that there were just over 6 million overseas visits to Ireland in that period, representing an increase of 6.8% compared to the corresponding period of 2010. Ireland grew market share from all its top markets, including Great Britain. Tourism Ireland has set a target of growth of 4.5% for visit numbers for 2012 based on expected levels of access.

In relation to the future of the travel tax, despite the failure to conclude an agreement with the airlines last summer, I undertook at that time to review the position in the Spring of this year. As my colleague Minister Noonan stated in his Budget speech: “This offer is still on the table and while the Government appreciates the contribution to the Irish economy being made by the main carriers, we want them to bring additional tourists into the country.” Therefore, I will be engaging with the airlines again on this matter and hopefully we will achieve further progress on the matter this year.

  20.  Deputy Sandra McLellan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the efforts he has made to ensure the Olympic torch passes through Ireland in the run up to the London Olympics in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1554/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  The International Olympic Committee agreed last month that the Olympic Flame will visit Dublin in June as part of the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. This proposal was developed with the full support of the Government.

  21.  Deputy Joe Carey    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide a progress report on The Gathering 2013 project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1356/12]

  58.  Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide a progress report on The Gathering 2013 project. [1398/12]

[623]Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 58 together.

I presented proposals for “The Gathering 2013” at last October’s 2011 Global Irish Economic Forum. The National Tourism Development Authority, Fáilte Ireland is the lead agency for the implementation of The Gathering initiative. The event will be the biggest tourism initiative ever staged in Ireland and will consist of a year-long programme of festivals, events and other gatherings in every region of the country. The aim is to bring an additional 325,000 overseas visitors to Ireland.

As outlined at the Global Irish Economic Forum, the initiative is being overseen by a small, tightly-focused working group, bringing together the tourism bodies and my Department, along with other members with relevant expertise on a pro bono basis, in a Project Board, under the chair of Ann Riordan (formerly Chair of Tourism Ireland and of Dublin Tourism). The Project Board will oversee planning and delivery of the Gathering, supported by a small executive team drawn mainly from the tourism agencies alongside graduates under the JobsBridge programme. This will be supported by a Council of Champions, which will act as a forum to engage the wider community at home and abroad to provide support. Tim O’Connor, former Secretary-General to the President, will act as Chair of the Council of Champions and he is also a member of the Project Board.

As operational progress in relation to the Gathering is primarily a matter for Fáilte Ireland, I have referred the Deputy’s questions to them for additional reply. If you have not received a response from them in ten working days, please inform my private office.

  22.  Deputy Michael Moynihan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport in view of    his stated intention to reduce funding for local and regional roads in Budget 2012, the details of any safety audit that has been carried out to ensure that reduced funding will not lead to a less safe environment for motorists. [1565/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each road authority within its area, in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act, 1993. Works on such roads are a matter for the relevant local authority to be funded from its own resources and may be supplemented by State road grants.

The Department continues to assist Road Authorities with supplementary funding under a range of headings. The main focus of that funding is to assist with the maintenance of the existing road network. Grants also continue to be made available towards Low Cost Safety schemes for which the criteria for grant approval is based on accident data, inspection of sites and targeting locations showing a demonstrable hazard which can be improved through engineering measures.

  23.  Deputy Jim Daly    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide an update on the number of overseas visitors to Ireland in 2011; and his targets for 2012. [1339/12]

  25.  Deputy Micheál Martin    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans for increasing tourist numbers in 2012 ahead of The Gathering in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1534/12]

[624]

  56.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide an update on the number of overseas visitors to Ireland in 2011; and his targets for 2012. [1494/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 23, 25 and 56 together.

The target for overseas visits in 2012, set out in the Marketing Plan of Tourism Ireland, the agency with responsibility for marketing Ireland as a holiday destination overseas, is to increase visit numbers to Ireland by a further 4.5%. This will build on the growth in visits achieved in 2011, for the first time since 2007. While final statistics in relation to overseas visits to Ireland in 2011 are still being compiled by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), figures for the first 11 months of 2011 were published by the CSO on Monday 9 January. These show that there were just over 6 million overseas visits to Ireland in that period, an increase of 6.8% compared to the corresponding period of 2010. Numbers of visits to Ireland grew from all our main market areas, including Great Britain, our largest and most important tourism market.

To help achieve the targeted growth, I have allocated over €39 million this year for overseas tourism marketing which allows Tourism Ireland to implement its Plan, as well as funding Fáilte Ireland’s enterprise supports and product development. Prioritising tourism marketing investment, along with continued implementation of other measures in the Programme for Government and the Jobs Initiative to support levels of access and enhance competitiveness, such as the Visa Waiver Scheme, the lower VAT rate for tourism services, and continued investment in tourism infrastructure and product, will provide the platform on which the tourism industry, working in partnership with the tourism agencies, can deliver this growth. Our targets for 2012 will in turn be built on by The Gathering 2013, the largest ever tourism initiative for Ireland, which aims to deliver an additional 325,000 visitors to Ireland in 2013.

  24.  Deputy Pearse Doherty    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to improve the tourist experience here through the use of mobile Internet devices and applications similar to and including the culturefox app; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1540/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The provision of information to tourists including through facilities such as mobile internet devices is an operational matter for Fáilte Ireland. I am aware, for example, that Fáilte Ireland launched a free Discover Ireland app for Apple and Android mobile operating systems during the summer of 2011. For further information, I have referred the Deputy’s Question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Question No. 25 answered with Question No. 23.

  26.  Deputy Michael Colreavy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the percentage of State-owned or contracted public transport vehicles which are wheelchair accessible; and his plans to ensure that wheelchair users are sufficiently provided for. [1582/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The percentage of public transport vehicles which are wheelchair accessible is a matter for the public transport providers and I have referred the Deputy’s question to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

[625]Public Transport accessibility is being progressed by my Department through the implementation of the Department’s Sectoral Plan under the 2005 Disability Act, a copy of which is available on my Department’s website.

  27.  Deputy Michael Colreavy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    when he will open a new round of applications for the capital sports grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1524/12]

  72.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the steps he is taking to re-establish a sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1345/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 27 and 72 together.

I recently announced that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will be advertising two new rounds of the Sports Capital Programme between now and 2016.

Officials in my Department are currently making the necessary arrangements with a view to launching a new round of the Sports Capital Programme in early 2012.

  28.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the amount that has been allocated to Bus Éireann for its 2012 public service obligation provision; if he will outline the PSO provision for Irish Rail in the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1342/12]

  64.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the amount that has been allocated to Dublin Bus for its 2012 public service obligation provision; if he will outline the PSO provision for Irish Rail in the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1343/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 64 together.

The provision of public service obligation services by the CIÉ companies is subject to contract between the companies and the National Transport Authority (NTA). The total Exchequer allocation in respect of the provision of Public Service Obligations(PSO) services for 2012 is €242.32m. The amount to be allocated to Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus is determined by the NTA in line with their contracts. I have requested the NTA to provide you with the agreed allocations in respect of 2012. If you do not receive a reply within ten working days please notify my private office.

Exchequer funding in respect of PSO services provided by Irish Rail since 2008 is as follows:

2008 —€181.152m;

2009 —€170.624m;

2010 —€155.137m;

2011 —€148.689m.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 7.

  30.  Deputy Gerry Adams    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to reinstate funding for the grants to support sport in disadvantaged areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1559/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The funding referred to by the Deputy relates to funding provided through the Dormant Accounts Fund for the appointment of Sports Inclusion Disability Officers (SIDOs) in Local Sports Partnerships.

Any funding secured from the Dormant Accounts Fund is clearly time bound and the SIDO appointments were made on that basis. In 2010, the Irish Sports Council agreed a funding mechanism to ensure the continuation of the SIDO scheme beyond the dormant accounts funding. This funding is part of an overall package of funding for the Local Sports Partnership network.

  31.  Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the role he sees for sport in the promotion of the national image in 2012; the way he intends to ensure that role is realised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1535/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  Sport undoubtedly showcases Ireland around the world and we have a proud tradition in the international sporting arena where we consistently punch above our weight. On the back of the success of Irish golfers in major golf tournaments in recent years, Tourism Ireland has developed the “Home of Champions” campaign to promote golfing holidays in Ireland.

As Minister of State with responsibility for both Sport and Tourism, I want to ensure that Ireland’s position as a leading location for international sporting events is further developed and enhanced. The Programme for Government includes a provision that event tourism will be prioritised to continue to bring major events to Ireland. The hosting of sports events gives an opportunity to show that a small country can successfully host big events, such as the Tall Ships, Volvo Ocean Race or the Solheim Cup.

The hosting of sports events also provides a great showcase for Ireland as a country. Millions around the world watch big sporting events on their television screens and this provides a great opportunity for people to view a positive image of Ireland. The media coverage of sports tourism events helps to put Ireland onto travel itineraries as a holiday destination.

Fáilte Ireland supports the sports tourism sector under the festivals and events initiative and allocated €3.8 million in 2011 for direct financial support to festivals and events, including sports. The Volvo Ocean Race will return to Ireland in 2012 with its finale in Galway while Dún Laoghaire will host the World Youth Championship sailing event next year. The major international publicity drive around the Volvo Ocean Race has already commenced.

  32.  Deputy Seán Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the amount of money that was raised by e-flow from Irish road users since its founding; the amount of this that was raised from late fee penalties. [1574/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll bye-laws and to enter into toll agreements with private investors in respect of national roads is vested in the National Roads Authority (NRA) under [627]Part V of the Roads Act 1993 (as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007).

Noting the above position, I have referred the Deputy’s Question to the NRA for direct response. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a response within 10 working days.

  33.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his reaction to recent reports of criticism from the European Commission over the front loading of capital spending cuts in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1570/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  My Department’s capital allocation for 2012 and the following 4 years as set out in the “Infrastructural and Capital Investment 2012-16: Medium Term Exchequer Framework” published in November 2011 represents the outcome of the Capital Expenditure Review carried out last year across all Government Departments.

Throughout the process I recognised the need for my Department to deliver on its share of the required reduction in public expenditure.

The capital allocation for Transport, Sport and Tourism for 2012 is €1,231 million. This is a reduction of €98 million, or just under 7.4%, from the allocation of €1,329 million under the National Recovery Plan. Cuts in subsequent years are greater, ranging from over 12% in 2014 to almost 18.3% in 2016.

I have prioritised funding to protect existing investment and to maintain safety standards but have also secured funds to advance a small number of projects which will add value to the existing network and support economic recovery and job creation.

Unfortunately, given the difficult financial situation hard decisions as regards spending cuts had to be taken as part of the fiscal consolidation now required of Ireland.

Question No. 34 answered with Question No. 10.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 13.

  36.  Deputy Pearse Doherty    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the amount that State owned public transport companies paid in road tolls in the years 2007 to date in 2012. [1576/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The statutory power to levy tolls on national roads, to make toll bye-laws and to enter into toll agreements with private investors in respect of national roads is vested in the National Roads Authority (NRA) under Part V of the Roads Act 1993 (as amended by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Roads Act 2007).

Noting the position above, I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NRA for direct response. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

  37.  Deputy Noel Harrington    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the funds that have been made available for tourism capital projects over the coming years; if he will [628]provide details of funds that have been committed from such capital funds for projects in the south west region in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1354/12]

  67.  Deputy Jim Daly    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views in relation to capital funding becoming available to enhance and create major tourist attractions here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1340/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 37 and 67 together.

Under the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Medium Term Exchequer Framework, the projected level of support for capital investment in tourism is €81 million for the period 2012 to 2016.

For 2012, there is an allocation of €21.2 million to Failte Ireland to support investment in tourism product development, in recognition of the contribution that capital investment in tourism can make to increasing visitor numbers and to supporting the economic recovery. It is important to develop, upgrade and enhance our tourism product offering in order to continue to attract visitors to Ireland. I should point out that there is a high level of existing funding commitments to be met under the Programme, particularly over the next couple of years.

My Department’s role in relation to tourism lies primarily in the area of national policy. It is not involved in the administration of tourism-related funding programmes, which are operated by Fáilte Ireland who administer the Tourism Capital Investment Programme, which provides support for investment in certain categories of visitor attraction, visitor activities and tourism infrastructure.

Projects funded or approved under the Programme are spread throughout the country, including Waterford Viking Triangle, Trinity College Book of Kells, Sliabh Liag Cliffs in Donegal, King John’s Castle in Limerick and the Mayo Greenway. Projects funded or approved in the South West include Derrynane House, Killarney House, Garnish Island, Mizen Head Footbridge, Tralee Eco Park and Fota House.

In relation to the specific details of projects funded by Fáilte Ireland in the South West I have referred the Deputy’s Question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

  38.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the progress that has been made to date in securing properties under the control of the National Assets Management Agency that might be suitable for use as local sports facilities; if he will provide a list of these properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1544/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  Under the Sports Capital Programme the Department provides funding at local, regional and national level to sporting clubs and organisations, voluntary and community organisations and, in certain circumstances, local authorities and schools/colleges towards the provision of sporting facilities. The Programme does not provide funding towards the purchase of land or buildings.

My officials have had discussions with NAMA with regard to how NAMA properities can be made available to sporting organisations. From these discussions, I understand that NAMA has already made arrangements with some sports groups to lease land controlled by NAMA and that NAMA tries to accommodate these requests where it is possible. However, such arrangements are a matter for NAMA and the sporting organisations involved.

  39.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide a timeframe for when there will be a proper aviation policy put forward to ensure that we have joined up thinking when it comes to plotting the future of aviation, distributing of resources and so on throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1347/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I reject the Deputy’s assertion that there is a lack of joined up thinking in our aviation policy. The aim of our aviation policy is to ensure that the sector supports Irelands economic and social goals in a safe, competitive, cost-effective and sustainable manner and to ensure maximum connectivity for Ireland with the rest of the world for the benefit of Irish business and tourism. Bringing aviation and tourism together under one Department and Minister in itself has been helpful in developing more joined up thinking across the two sectors.

The Deputy will be aware that since taking office the Government has been actively encouraged airlines to deliver more tourists to Ireland. In our 2011 Jobs Initiative, we included a three-pronged plan to enhance overseas access and thereby promote inbound tourism through:

abolishing the travel tax conditional on clear commitments by airlines to increase inbound capacity from our source markets;

the introduction of a new growth incentive scheme by the Dublin Airport Authority; and

more targeted co-operative marketing of new routes from key source tourism markets by Tourism Ireland, DAA and the airlines to encourage more tourists to fly into Ireland.

While the Government subsequently decided, in the absence of a sufficient response from the airlines, to retain the air travel tax, we have undertaken the review the matter again this Spring. In the meantime, part of the receipts from its retention were made available to fund additional cooperative marketing activities. A €9 million overseas tourism marketing campaign over the Autumn/Winter period was led by Tourism Ireland, inclusive of matching funding provided by partner companies, including Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Aer Arann, overseas airlines, tour operators and online travel agents, and ferry companies; further evidence of joined up thinking in developing and implementing policies across both sectors.

As regards the Deputy’s point about the distribution of resources, the Government decided in June last year on the future funding arrangements for Donegal, Knock, Kerry and Waterford airports for both operational and capital purposes. From this year onwards, operational subvention (OPEX) and capital expenditure (CAPEX) funding will be available for Waterford, Kerry, Knock and Donegal Airports. Furthermore, the Dublin/Kerry and Dublin/Donegal PSO routes have been maintained. The financial allocations in this regard have been published in the Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-2016: Medium Term Exchequer Framework.

Questions Nos. 40 to 42, inclusive, answered with Question No. 13.

  43.  Deputy Gerry Adams    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he has met his ministerial counterpart in the Stormont Assembly and other interested parties to discuss a plan for the integration and rationalisation of transport provision and infrastructure in the Border region; and if he will give an update on any such meetings. [1586/12]

[630]Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  As part of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) I meet formally with my Ministerial counterparts at the Department for Regional Development and the Department of Environment, bi-annually, to discuss a range of transport topics of mutual interest and where there is potential for an integrated approach across both jurisdictions. The topics covered include road safety, road and rail transport, sustainable transport and freight. Additionally, opportunities to meet with both Ministers occur at the bi-annual NSMC Pleanary meetings.

Apart from those discussions, I have not had any separate discussions on the development of a formal plan for the integration and rationalisation of transport provision and infrastructure in the border region.

  44.  Deputy Peadar Tóibín    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to extend the provision of free wifi on public transport networks. [1577/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. The National Transport Authority (NTA) has responsibility for the implementation and development of infrastructure projects in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).

A project to install Wi-Fi on the Dart and commuter rail fleet in the GDA commenced in 2011 and this will be completed in the current year. A similar project to install Wi-Fi on the remainder of the Inter-City fleet also commenced in 2011. In addition the Railway Procurement Agency is installing Wi-Fi for passengers on Luas trams this year. Dublin Bus also hopes to carry out a Wi-Fi pilot on 10 buses during the coming year and, depending on the results of this pilot phase, the company will examine the technical and financial feasibility of retrofitting Wi-Fi to the wider fleet.

In late 2011, Bus Eireann began the roll out of Wi-Fi on its PSO services and Wi-Fi is now fitted in 36 buses. Subject to funding availability, Bus Éireann plans to continue the roll out of Wi-Fi services on its PSO fleet through 2012. The 60 new PSO buses which Bus Éireann took delivery of in late 2011, and which are due to enter service in 2012, have Wi-Fi fitted. In addition, I understand that Bus Eireann will be using its own resources to fund the roll out of Wi-Fi across its commercial Expressway fleet during the second half of 2012.

  45.  Deputy Pat Deering    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    when the capital sports funding figure for 2012 will be announced; the amount of money that will be available and the criteria for availing of this funding. [1404/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  A sum of €21.2m has been provided in 2012 for the D3 subhead, out of which sports capital grant payments are made. In addition, there is carryover of €3.6m into this subhead in 2012. The terms and conditions for the most recent round of the Sports Capital Programme are available on the Department’s website www.dttas.ie. These are, of course, subject to change for the next round of the programme.

  46.  Deputy Sandra McLellan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to maximise the tourist dividend form the Titanic anniversary in 2012; the budget available to promote the anniversary; the scope for co-operation with his counterpart in Northern Ireland [631]and with the stakeholders, including Cobh and Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1536/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  This year’s centenary of the Titanic sailing — while commemorating a tragic event — also presents significant opportunities for Irish tourism. Tourism Ireland commenced its Titanic promotion activities in 2010 which included the setting up of a dedicated website and the bringing of overseas journalists to Cobh to highlight the links to the Titanic. While the allocation of resources to particular activities is a matter for the tourism agencies themselves, I understand that Failte Ireland will be providing funding for events in Cobh in April and that the two tourism agencies plan to bring further international media to selected Cobh Titanic 100 events.

In terms of cooperation with Northern Ireland, as the Deputy will be aware, tourism was specifically identified in the Good Friday Agreement as one of the key areas for North/South cooperation, and consequently it is one of the sectors on which the North/South Ministerial Council meets in sectoral format, to make decisions on common policies and approaches in the area of tourism. The next meeting in Tourism Sectoral format is scheduled for the 25th January at which I will meet the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment in Northern Ireland, Ms Arlene Foster MLA. Among the items to be discussed at this meeting will be major tourism initiatives this year including the centenary of the Titanic sailing.

  47.  Deputy Clare Daly    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he made a poverty impact assessment on the recent fare increases in Dublin Bus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1551/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The issue raised is a matter for the National Transport Authority (NTA). I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

  48.  Deputy Noel Harrington    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide a detailed breakdown of the tourists visiting the west Cork region during 2011; the major attractions that they visited; the obstacles he perceives to greater growth of this sector in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1353/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The collection of statistics are primarily a matter for the Central Statistics Office (CSO). I understand that the CSO does not provide a regional breakdown of statistics in their monthly ‘Overseas Travel’ publication. I am aware, however, that Fáilte Ireland, provides an estimated regional breakdown of overseas visits on an annual basis, based on research of its own as well as available CSO statistics. The most recent full year figures are for 2009 with provisional figures available for 2010. The data is available, on a regional and county basis, under Tourism Facts / Tourism Regions in the Research and Statistics section of the www.failteireland.ie website.

In regard to 2011 figures, I have asked Fáilte Ireland, if possible, to provide the Deputy with an estimate of the number of tourists to West Cork during 2011 together with the attractions they visited. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

The obstacles to growth in the tourism sector in West Cork are similar to those in the rest of the country, namely the difficult economic conditions in overseas markets and here in [632]Ireland. The Government is assisting the sector, in particular by maintaining this year the VAT rate cut, introduced in the Jobs Initiative in 2011. There is also provision in 2012 for expenditure of more than €138 million on tourism services across a diverse range of activities including overseas and domestic marketing, investment in the development of our tourism product and providing tourism enterprises with a range of business supports.

  49.  Deputy Seán Crowe    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide an update on the work of the high level co-ordinating group which is identifying opportunities that might arise from the proximity of the London Olympics and paralympic games in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1542/12]

  57.  Deputy Peadar Tóibín    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide an update in the discussion on the efforts to have teams and supporters visit Ireland and use facilities here during and in the run up to the London Olympics; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1548/12]

  252.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he has any plans in respect of London Olympics 2012 to attract foreign teams to Ireland for pre-Olympic training; his views on the enormous potential for Ireland in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1713/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 49, 57 and 252 together.

As the Deputies are aware, I am chairing the London 2012 Coordinating Group which comprises representatives from the Irish Sports Council, Paralympics Ireland, Fáilte Ireland, Tourism Ireland, the Arts Council, Culture Ireland, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The biggest potential benefits around the London Games have been identified in the enterprise and tourism sectors and these are being actively pursued. Enterprise Ireland is pursuing opportunities for Irish business and Tourism Ireland has been rolling out a programme of promotional activity to target a wide range of potential visitors around the world in the run-up to and during the Games. The cultural agencies are also developing proposals for a cultural programme around the Games.

A number of international teams have chosen the National Aquatic Centre as a training base in the lead up to the London Games which is a reflection of the world-class calibre of the facility. My Department is working on attracting other teams to train here and a CD, containing details of a number of Irish elite sports facilities which are suitable as training camps, has been widely circulated internationally. A difficulty that arises in attracting teams is that the UK is offering financial incentives to international teams to train in the UK in the lead up to the Games. The London 2012 Coordinating Group will continue to meet in the coming year with the relevant Government Departments and State Agencies continuing to work together to maximise the opportunities across each of the sectors.

  50.  Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the position regarding the funding being provided by the State for the A5 Dublin to Derry road and progress in its construction. [1580/12]

[633]Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The most recent position is that the A5 project was discussed at the North-South Ministerial Council Plenary meeting on 18th November 2011. At the plenary meeting, Ministers noted that the provision of further funding by the Irish Government for the A5 road was being deferred but that the Government will provide £25m per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project. It was also noted that the relevant Departments will now prepare a new funding and implementation plan for the project for agreement at the next NSMC Transport meeting with endorsement at the next NSMC Plenary meeting.

  51.  Deputy Brian Stanley    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the efforts he has made to ensure a viable and sustainable bed and breakfast sector here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1523/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The development of particular accommodation sectors including the Bed and Breakfast Sector is an operational matter for Fáilte Ireland. I am aware that Fáilte Ireland works very closely with the sector and in recent times have put in place a voluntary classification and categorisation system, supported by a new brand. Accordingly, I have referred the Deputy’s question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

  52.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views on the effect of cuts to Dublin Bus; the way that this is affecting services throughout the city; and his plans to ensure persons who rely on public transport are not left without a service. [1581/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  As the Deputy will be aware, the operation and provision of bus services is a matter for Dublin Bus in conjunction with the National Transport Authority.

The Deloitte Cost and Efficiency Review of Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann was published in January 2009. The Review identified some scope for greater efficiencies in Dublin Bus. Following the publication of that Report, Dublin Bus undertook an extensive review of their bus network and subsequently announced plans for the re-organisation of routes and timetables. The objective of the redesign was to provide current and future bus customers with a service that will be modern, accessible, integrated, easy to understand, punctual and frequent. I understand that Dublin Bus has held over 30 public meetings and 250 meetings with key stakeholders as part of its consultation programme. All changes are advertised in advance through national and local media, and through social media, as well as house leaflet drops to areas serviced by the bus routes where changes occur.

I am supportive of the efforts of Dublin Bus to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness. Given the losses recorded by Dublin Bus in recent years and having regard to unavoidable constraints on the availability of Exchequer funds for PSO subvention, it is important that Dublin Bus deliver greater efficiency and effectiveness in order to safeguard the overall sustainability of effective and efficient public transport services in the future.

Question No. 53 answered with Question No. 7.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 19.

  55.  Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the steps he will take in the current dispute between a company (details supplied) and its permanent workforce in Dún Laoghaire calling on the company to ensure that all redundancies sought will be purely voluntary and that those workers who wish to seek redeployment or remain with the company will be accommodated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1632/12]

  65.  Deputy Joe Higgins    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will intervene in the current dispute between Stena and its permanent workforce in Dún Laoghaire calling on the company to insure that all redundancies sought will be purely voluntary and that those workers who wish to seek redeployment or remain with the company will be accommodated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1635/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 55 and 65 together.

Officials from my Department maintain regular contact with the ports and various shipping companies and have been kept apprised of Stena Line’s most recent adjustments to its services. I recently met senior executives from the company. However, I do not have any function with regard to commercial operational matters.

Stena Line’s current contract with Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company was renewed in 2011. Stena Line, as a commercial company, has taken a decision to introduce greater efficiencies and reduce their overall operating overheads in order to continue to provide services from Dún Laoghaire according to Stena Lines. The HSS Stena Explorer, operating on the Dún Laoghaire-Holyhead route, generates most of its turnover during the period May to September. Stena say that this, coupled with high fuel operating costs, leaves the remaining months commercially unviable. The company also say that, as a result, it will continue to operate the route, but on a seasonal basis only, from April to September 2012, leading to a consequential reduction in port operations jobs.

The company has been in consultations with their staff and their trade union representatives over the last three months, and more recently, with the Labour Court. The company have informed me that there is no scope for retaining or redeploying staff as there are no Stena vacancies to be filled. I understand that many staff have indicated their interest in accepting the redundancy terms on offer.

I also understand that negotiations are ongoing and the company has deferred the most recent proposed redundancy termination dates while the Labour Court continues to explore matters.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 23.

Question No. 57 answered with Question No. 49.

Question No. 58 answered with Question No. 21.

  59.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his intentions with regard to the regulation of clamping; and his plans in this area. [1495/12]

  254.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to investigate the possibility of replacing the car clamping system that currently exists in Dublin [635]with a fine and emergency clamping removal system as has recently happened in Cork city. [1756/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 254 together.

I am aware of the range of issues which have been raised by members of the public regarding difficulties they have encountered with elements of the clamping industry. While current legislation permits local authorities to clamp vehicles in public places, either directly or by contract with a clamping company, there is no legislation covering clamping on private property. In line with the commitment in the Programme for Government to regulate the vehicle clamping industry, I recently presented a discussion document to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Transport, Culture and the Gaeltacht, outlining the issues involved in regulating the industry, my proposals on the shape of appropriate legislation and inviting their views. When the Committee’s views have been received, I anticipate that appropriate legislation will be brought before the Oireachtas.

  60.  Deputy Brian Walsh    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if a public bike scheme will be operational in County Galway by summer 2012; if a decision was made to roll out such a scheme and if sufficient support from the private sector was forthcoming following the upcoming symposia announced this week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1348/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Alan Kelly):  Recognising the success of the Dublinbikes scheme, the Programme for Government commits my Department to look to extend the scheme to other cities and integrate the scheme more effectively with public transport links. Following an analysis, carried out at my request, on the potential for the extension of the Dublinbikes scheme to other cities, consultations on the potential for and means of securing new city bike schemes were launched in November 2011 with symposia held in Cork, Galway, Limerick and Galway to inform and involve key business and civil stakeholders.

My Department and the National Transport Authority are currently considering the responses to those symposia, including how to address key issues identified such as the changed commercial environment to that pertaining when the Dublinbikes scheme was negotiated and different characteristics of scheme provision in smaller cities. I am committed to exploring a range of mechanisms to secure public bike schemes in other cities and work is ongoing in that regard.

  61.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will indicate the extent to which the specific targets identified in his Department’s statement of strategy have been met; his proposals, if any, to monitor any such targets on an annual or other basis; the extent to which it is anticipated that this strategy will impact positively on the development and operation of the sectors under his aegis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1636/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  My Department’s Statement of Strategy is currently being finalised and will be published shortly. The predominant focus of the strategy will be the implementation of the commitments in the Programme for Government and the maximisation of the contribution that my Department and the sectors [636]under its aegis can make to the achievement of national economic recovery and fiscal consolidation. The document will contain a full suite of Key Performance Indicators which I will use to monitor the implementation of the strategy and which will provide publicly available objective indicators of progress.

  62.  Deputy Arthur Spring    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the current status of the proposed dual carriageway from Adare to Abbeyfeale, County Limerick, and of the Adare bypass; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1346/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  As Minister for Transport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme. The construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national roads, is a matter for the National Roads Authority under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Noting this I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NRA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

  63.  Deputy Pat Breen    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his policy regarding tourism marketing for the west of Ireland, including Shannon Airport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1351/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The matter raised is an operational one for Fáilte Ireland, in the first instance, working together with Tourism Ireland where appropriate. I have referred the Deputy’s Question to both agencies for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Question No. 64 answered with Question No. 28.

Question No. 65 answered with Question No. 55.

  66.  Deputy Clare Daly    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans regarding the minority stake the State still holds in Aer Lingus. [1538/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The Government has considered the various options open to it in terms of generating revenue from the sale of state assets — including the recommendations of the State Assets Review Group (McCarthy Report). That Report had recommended that the Government dispose of the State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus “as soon as is opportune” but no decision has yet been taken by the Government on the future of its shareholding.

Subsequently, a group was established led by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform and including my Department, other relevant Departments and the NTMA, to consider possibilities in this regard and advise the Government in relation to the appropriate valuations to be placed on the assets in question, and on the most appropriate method of disposal, likely timeframe and economic impact of any such disposals. The State’s shareholding in Aer Lingus is one of the State Assets that is being considered as part of this process.

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 37.

  68.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views on the report published recently by the Dublin City Business Association on tourism in Dublin entitled Rejuvenating Dublin’s Tourism Product; his plans to act on the recommendations of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1560/12]

  70.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views on reports of findings from a recent study on Irish tourism commissioned by the Dublin City Business Association, particularly the aspects of the report relating to the Irish share of the world market and Ireland’s marketing spend per arrival; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1341/12]

  250.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his views that value for money is achieved in our marketing spend to attract tourists to Ireland in view of the finding from the World Tourism Organisation in 2009 that Ireland had the highest marketing spend per tourist arrival of 29 European countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1695/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 68, 70 and 250 together.

There are some interesting and informative points in the recent report commissioned by the Dublin City Business Association, entitled “Rejuvenating Dublin’s Tourism Product” which I and my Department are considering. However, there also appear to be some doubtful conclusions.

For example, it is incorrect to say that 6% of Fáilte Ireland’s current spending in 2009 was in Dublin. This only reflects funding granted to Dublin Tourism and does not take account of direct spending by Fáilte Ireland that supports tourism in Dublin, e.g. on domestic marketing and sectors concentrated in Dublin such as business tourism. Similarly, Dublin has a very high profile in Tourism Ireland’s overseas marketing.

The Report says that in 2009 Scotland attracted 9 million visitors “from abroad”. However, data from Visit Scotland show 2.5 million overseas trips to Scotland that year, with 6.5 million visits from the rest of Great Britain. Scotland is a regional market in Britain, sharing the same transport networks and currency and such trips should not be compared to overseas visits.

Ireland’s reduction in world market share has to be viewed in the context of Europe’s decreasing share of world tourism at the expense of emerging regions such as Asia.

The analysis of Ireland’s marketing spend per visitor as the highest in Europe is incorrect as it excludes the two highest spending countries per head, Cyprus and Malta, which like Ireland are peripheral island destinations. In addition, as the report acknowledges, Tourism Ireland markets the whole island; when trips to Northern Ireland are included, spend per head drops very considerably. In terms of value, the World Economic Forum’s 2011 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index ranks Ireland 10th of 139 Countries for effectiveness of marketing and branding to attract tourists.

The Government, through Fáilte Ireland, is already supporting capital investment in tourism as we recognise that tourism attractions constantly need refreshing — for example, Dublinia, the Book of Kells experience and all-weather facilities in Meeting House Square in Temple Bar have all received or have been approved for investment support from Fáilte Ireland.

  69.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide a breakdown of recent and planned increases in public transport fares in the 2011 to 2013 period; and his view of the way that this will effect service users. [1583/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Public Transport fares are a matter for the operating companies in conjunction with the National Transport Authority (NTA). I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Question No. 70 answered with Question No. 68.

  71.  Deputy Brian Stanley    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the plans he has to introduce a requirement for taxi licence holders to have an acceptable knowledge of the roads of an area in which they are licensed to operate. [1584/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The regulation of the taxi industry, including arrangements for the sitting of the taxi suitability and area knowledge tests that operators have to undergo, are a matter for the National Transport Authority (NTA) under the Taxi Regulation Act, 2003.

As part of the Taxi Regulation Review the matter of standards for taxi drivers including area knowledge has been considered by the Review Group among a range of issue concerning SPSV Regulation. I hope to announce the outcome of the Review Report shortly.

Question No. 72 answered with Question No. 27.

  73.  Deputy Joe McHugh    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will provide an update on the developments in outdoor tourism including off-road biking tourism; his views on the work that Fáilte Ireland is doing in this respect; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1552/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  My Department’s role in relation to tourism relates primarily to the area of national policy, and it is not involved in the development of individual sectors of the tourism industry. The matter raised is an operational matter for Fáilte Ireland and I have referred the Deputy’s Question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

For the Deputy’s information, I am aware that Fáilte Ireland has supported capital investment in off-road biking facilities. In 2011, Fáilte Ireland approved funding, under the Tourism Capital Investment Programme, for the development of a mountain biking facility near Killarney, Co. Kerry. Also, a mountain biking facility at Ballyhoura, Co. Limerick, was supported under a previous tourism capital funding programme.

The Mayo Greenway, developed with support from both my Department and from the Fáilte Ireland Tourism Capital Investment Programme, also provides a safe, motor traffic-free route for walking and cycling. In 2011, funding was announced for the extension of the Greenway, including a cycleway to Croagh Patrick and the development of a linear route to connect to Castlebar, via Islandeady and also establish a link onto the existing Castlebar walking loops.

  74.  Deputy Micheál Martin    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will detail any commitments he has made regarding the A5-N2 road project. [1779/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The A5 project was discussed at the North South Ministerial Council Plenary meeting on 18th November 2011. At the plenary meeting, Ministers noted that the provision of further funding by the Irish Government for the A5 road was being deferred but that the Government will provide £25m per annum in 2015 and 2016 towards the project.

It was also noted that the relevant departments will now prepare a new funding and implementation plan for the projects for agreement at the next NSMC Transport meeting with endorsement at the next NSMC Plenary meeting.

  75.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade    if it is correct that the closure of the Vatican embassy and others will now not save €1.2 million and may in fact cost this country more. [1810/12]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore):  The economies that will be achieved by the closure of the Embassies to the Holy See and Tehran and the Irish Aid office in Dili are estimated to amount to €1.175 million over a full year. This figure includes the relocation of the offices of the Embassy to Italy and the residence of the Ambassador to Italy to the state-owned Villa Spada, which will allow for a considerable saving in rent, amounting to €445,000 annually. It is expected that the savings will be fully realised in 2013. However, in 2012, there will be immediate disengagement costs (for example, local staff severance packages, running down of rental and other contracts) and the net savings from the closure this year are estimated at about €480,000. In addition, as a result of the closures, it will be possible to relocate 6 diplomatic staff to help offset staff losses elsewhere in the service.

  76.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Finance    the criteria upon which a primary medical certificate may be awarded, and in specific, if there is any mechanism under which chronic illnesses, which relapse and remit, may be recognised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1653/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme provides relief from VAT and VRT (up to a certain limit) on the purchase of a car adapted for the transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities, to those who meet certain disability criteria. The disability criteria for eligibility for the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. To get the Primary Medical Certificate, an applicant must be severely and permanently disabled and satisfy one of the following conditions:

a) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs;

b) be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs;

c) be without both hands or without both arms;

[640]

d) be without one or both legs;

e) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg;

f) have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

Some 13,500 people benefited under the scheme in 2010 at an overall estimated cost of €55 million. I have no plans to widen the qualification criteria.

  77.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Finance    if all Government offices in County Kerry will be retained; if current staffing levels will be maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1705/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  My Department does not occupy any Government offices in County Kerry. The Office of Public Works is responsible for the leasing and purchase of most Government offices within the State. You should contact OPW regarding any future plans they may have for the Government offices which are based in County Kerry.

  78.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Finance    if he is satisfied that the letter from the Revenue Commissioners regarding the Department of Social Protection weekly pension was not, as reported, sent to persons who have no liability for additional taxation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1724/12]

  81.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the date on which he was made aware by the Revenue Commissioners of their intention to target a compliance campaign at persons in receipt of a State pension and a private occupational pension; the estimate of the amount of money he expects to be raised from the initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1784/12]

  82.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    the way the figure of €45 million in 2012 and €50 million in a full year, and which appears in the summary of budget measures document published with budget 2012, was arrived at as an estimate of the revenue to be raised from various tax enforcement and compliance initiatives to be undertaken by the Revenue; if he will provide a breakdown of this amount; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1785/12]

  83.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    if it is his intention that the Revenue should pursue back payments of tax due from pensioners who are in receipt of a State social welfare pension and a private occupational pension, and who are the subject of the current compliance initiative by the Revenue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1786/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 78 and 81 to 83, inclusive, together.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that in September 2011, under the auspices of a High Level Group of officials charged with ensuring ever closer working between the Depart[641]ment of Social Protection and Revenue, work commenced on looking afresh at data holdings in both organisations which had not previously been exchanged and which, with improvements in technology, could now be exchanged.

Subsequently, under its existing data exchange arrangements with the Department of Social Protection, information relating to long-term social welfare recipients was received by the Commissioners in late November 2011. This consisted of some 560,000 records relating to the State Pension, the Transition Pension, Widows/Widowers/Surviving Civil Partner’s Pension and Invalidity Pension.

At the end of November, Revenue advised my Department that the aggregate amount of additional tax likely to be collected from this and other compliance activities with DSP was material in the context of the Budget with a view to my Department factoring it in to the Budget arithmetic. This is a normal part of the interaction between my Department and the Commissioners and is what every Government has always expected from them. On the basis of discussions between officials, it was estimated that it would be appropriate to factor into the Budget figures some €55 million in additional income tax in a full year. This estimate was arrived at on the basis of Revenue’s view that some €300 million of previously untaxed income had been identified from the data exchange referred to above. It also took account of a previous data exchange in relation to lone parents’ payments.

It must be emphasised that Revenue was not, and still is not, in a position to analyse the cases in question individually. Having regard to the profile of the population to whom the data relates, in arriving at the Budget estimate, a prudent view was taken of the likely effective tax rate which might apply and of the possibility that not all tax credits and other tax reliefs might have been claimed by those affected.

Revenue has carried out a high level analysis of the records received from the Department of Social Protection in November 2011 and has matched them with Revenue’s own records. Following this exercise, it transpired that in approximately one quarter of the cases — 150,000 — the amounts of income on record did not match for a variety of reasons — some were paying too much tax, others were paying too little. A large proportion of this group of 150,000 cases had not reported their DSP pension to Revenue as they are required to do, and had been advised to do, by the Department of Social Protection when they were first awarded the pension in question.

In some 15,000 cases, and these are the cases which have caused the most confusion, the taxpayers involved had not reported their DSP pension to Revenue but it appeared to Revenue that, if there were no other unreported sources of income, they were most likely exempt from tax. Revenue wrote to those taxpayers indicating that there could be a temporary impact on their salary/occupational pension but that they would shortly issue a new Tax Credit Certificate which reflects the fact that they are exempt from tax.

I am advised by Revenue that in these 15,000 cases, the appropriate new Tax Credit Certificates will issue within a number of weeks.

Apart from these cases, based on the information available on Revenue’s records and that received from the Department of Social Protection, Revenue have very little evidence that letters were issued to taxpayers who have no additional tax liability. However, individual taxpayers are now approaching Revenue to correct their tax records and it may, indeed, be the case, depending on individual circumstances, that no additional tax liability will arise in some cases. If the Deputy is aware of such cases, he may wish to bring them to the attention of the Commissioners so that the necessary adjustments may be made.

The Revenue Commissioners have accepted that the communications strategy could have been handled better in this instance, in particular if they had more time before the start of [642]the tax year to inform the persons affected that additional tax would be deducted from their occupational pensions once those pensions started to be paid in 2012. The Commissioners overarching objective was to ensure that the taxpayers involved paid the right amount of tax at the right time for 2012 and beyond, and I support that objective. Otherwise, arrears of tax for 2012 would have quickly built up in the early part of 2012. These arrears would then have had to be collected at a very much higher rate later in 2012 had this exercise not begun at the start of the tax year. By acting early and adjusting tax certificates at the start of the tax year Revenue’s aim was to spread the payment of the additional tax evenly throughout the tax year.

Revenue has a job do to administer the tax system fairly and efficiently. Government policy encourages exchange of information to support smarter working and it also supports fairness in the tax system. In fairness to the vast majority of taxpayers, including pensioners, who fully pay their taxes and who make full information available to Revenue in good time to allow for the correct calculation of tax liabilities, the information received from the Department of Social Protection had to be acted on by Revenue and, for the reasons already set out, had to be acted on quickly in order to ensure the orderly deduction of the correct tax payments from the occupational pensions of those affected from the start of the 2012 tax year.

Revenue has advised me that, as respects the information received from the Department of Social Protection, they are not carrying out a wide scale arrears programme on the basis that any such wide scale programme would be unfocussed and unlikely to be cost effective. In accordance with Revenue’s normal practice, I expect and believe that Revenue will deal with the question of tax arrears, for those cases that actually have arrears, on the basis of a full and detailed risk analysis of the data and will target those cases where there is every likelihood of material amounts of extra tax being collected. Some cases will be uneconomic to pursue having regard to the resources available to Revenue, the cost of collection compared with the amount that may be recovered and having regard to the other tasks that Revenue must do in order to ensure that the necessary taxes and duties are collected for the Exchequer and that adequate border controls are maintained. Some cases relate to very recent pensioners so the question of arrears will not arise at all. I expect that the issue of arrears will not arise for a large proportion of the cases.

Revenue has a good track record in managing large projects in a sensible way while at the same time collecting the tax that the State needs and I am confident that they will on this occasion also.

  79.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Finance    the position regarding a tax clearance certificate in respect of a company (details supplied). [1760/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that a tax clearance certificate has not been issued to the company concerned because the tax affairs of directors of the company are not up to date. Some directors of the company are partners in a partnership that has outstanding tax returns. However, in view of the particular circumstances of the case, the Revenue Commissioners have now decided to issue a tax clearance certificate to the company for a period of six months. This is being done on the basis that all outstanding tax issues will be resolved within that period.

  80.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Finance    when the living alone allow[643]ance became taxable for persons on the widow’s contributory pension and the old age contributory pension; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1782/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The position is that the amount representing what is known as the “living alone allowance” payable under the Social Welfare Acts is not a separate pension but rather is an increased amount of certain pensions such as the widows’ pension and the State pension (previously known as the old age pension). Such pensions, including the living alone increase, are taxable.

Questions Nos. 81 to 83, inclusive, answered with Question No. 78.

  84.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    when he expects Ireland to return to the international sovereign debt markets; and the latest date, based on current projections, by which Ireland would have to successfully return to borrowing on the debt markets. [1787/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  It is the stated intention of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) to return to sovereign debt markets as soon as market conditions permit. My hope is that a full return to the bond markets will become possible by mid-2013. The steps necessary to position the NTMA for such a return include continued progress in the reduction of the budget deficit in line with the targets agreed in the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support, together with the implementation of policies that will see us return to sustainable economic growth. Of course, resolution of the wider euro area sovereign debt and banking crisis is also a critical factor. The NTMA is in ongoing contact with market participants and will advise me when it feels that the time is right to re-enter the markets.

I should say that, based on conservative projections of our funding needs, there is no urgency about a return to the markets. Indeed, the purpose of a programme such as the EU/IMF Programme for Ireland is to provide the space necessary for economic and fiscal adjustment to take place. Based on current projections and assuming no market access, the State has access to sufficient funds for its needs well into the second half of 2013.

  85.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance    when the 2012 stress tests of Irish banks will be carried out; the arrangements that will apply to the appointment of consultants to work on the stress tests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1791/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The assessment and application of the stress tests of Irish Banks is not a function of the Department of Finance but the Central Bank has informed me that it is preparing its plans for the 2012 Financial Measures Programme, including the nature, timing and specification of solvency stress tests. The activities proposed in these plans are subject to the review by, and agreement with, the IMF/EU/ECB and thus the details of which cannot be disclosed in advance of signing an updated Memorandum of Understanding with the troika. The appointment of consultants to assist with these proposed plans is on-going in accordance with public procurement rules and again subject to the signing of an updated Memorandum of Understanding with the troika.

  86.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Finance in regard to    the results of the PCAR stress tests for the Irish banks announced in March 2011, if he has any concerns that the emerging data relating to the level of owner occupier mortgage arrears, the state of buy to [644]let residential loans, commercial loans, non-National Asset Management Agency property loans and various forms of personal credit, could approach and possibly exceed the adverse scenario assumptions with the possible consequence of additional recapitalisation being required for the banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1792/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The assessment and application of the stress tests of Irish Banks is not a function of the Department of Finance but the Central Bank has informed me that the solvency stress test applied by the Central Bank of Ireland in 2011 was used to recapitalise the Irish guaranteed institutions. The stress test scenarios were designed to represent extreme but plausible events, but they were not forecasts. The macroeconomic environment deteriorated in 2011 and as a result, arrears levels and loan loss provisioning has increased. As the realised scenario in 2011 was within the bounds considered for the purposes of recapitalising the banks in 2011, the Central Bank is currently of the view that the banks are adequately capitalised.

The Central Bank is preparing for the 2012 Financial Measures Programme, including the development of an updated solvency stress test. The activities proposed in these plans are subject to the review and agreement by the IMF/EU/ECB and thus the details of which cannot be disclosed in advance of signing an updated Memorandum of Understanding with the troika.

  87.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    the extent it is expected that the income of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is likely to be affected by the recent decision of the Revenue Commissioners in respect of taxation of employment, pensions and social welfare payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1817/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I have been advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, based on the information currently available, the weekly income of the person concerned will be reduced by an amount of €9.94 per week. Revenue will be contacting the person concerned directly to ensure that the details on record are up to date.

  88.  Deputy Michael McCarthy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will confirm if a person (details supplied) in County Cork is exempt from the universal social charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1838/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that as the person concerned has an annual income in excess of €10,036 he is liable for the Universal Social Charge. The rates of the charge are 2% on amounts up to €10,036 (€193 weekly), 4% thereafter on amounts up to €16,016 (€308) weekly, and 7% on income over €16,016. A Tax Credit and Universal Social Charge Certificate for the year 2012, which sets out the rates and income bands for the Universal Social Charge, issued to the person’s employer on 19 December 2011.

The taxpayer can obtain a copy of the Tax Credit Certificate by registering online for PAYE Anytime and viewing or printing the Certificate or by contacting Mr. Diarmuid O’Connor at Revenue House, Blackpool, Cork (Tel. 021-6027506).

  89.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of IT 38 forms filed with the Revenue Commissioners from 2001 to 2011. [1845/12]

[645]

  90.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of IT 38 forms filed with the Revenue Commissioners in each of the years, 2001 to 2011 which referred only to gifts. [1846/12]

  91.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of CA24 forms filed with the Revenue Commissioners in each of the years 2001 to 2011. [1847/12]

  92.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of IT 4 forms filed with the Revenue Commissioners in each of the years 2001 to 2011. [1848/12]

  93.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of IT 32 forms filed with the Revenue Commissioners in each of the years 2001 to 2011. [1849/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 to 93, inclusive, together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that figures of the numbers of Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) returns filed in the years 2001 to 2010, as published in the “Volume of Business” table of their Annual Reports, are as shown in the following table.

Year Inland Revenue Affidavits Gift/Inheritance and Discretionary Trust Returns
2001 17,000 13,000
2002 14,575 12,583
2003 14,264 11,661
2004 15,039 15,054
2005 21,881 19,601
2006 22,225 22,954
2007 23,196 24,574
2008 23,748 28,069
2009 19,218 27,524
2010 14,319 16,560

“Inland Revenue Affidavits” are forms CA24; “Gift/Inheritance and Discretionary Trust Returns” are forms IT 38, IT4 and IT 32.

Corresponding figures for 2011 are not yet available.

A separate breakdown by type of return or by type of disposal is not readily available and could not be identified without a protracted investigation of Revenue records.

  94.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of IT 4, IT 32, IT 38 and CA 24 forms examined by staff of the Revenue Commissioners with a view to carrying out an audit; the number of actual audits carried out; and the yield arising for each of the years 2005 to 2011. [1850/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the overall approach to tackling compliance is to examine all the tax risks to the Exchequer and to make the appropriate intervention in carefully selected cases. By carefully selecting the cases for intervention, and carefully choosing the type of intervention, Revenue maximises the use of resources, and minimises the compliance burden on compliant taxpayers. Accordingly [646]the focus of an inquiry may vary from a comprehensive look at all the taxes and duties for which a taxpayer may be liable, to a detailed look at a single tax-head, such as CAT, or to a concentration on a single issue of concern. The targeted approach uses all the information available in a case, and is supported by Revenue’s automated risk management system, REAP. REAP categorises taxpayers in accordance with defined risk criteria, including specifically Capital Acquisition Tax risks. In addition all CAT return forms are screened for specific risk and evaluated for further intervention where necessary.

The relevant information on audits that is centrally available relates to the numbers of CAT, Stamp Duty and pension audits carried out in the years 2007 to 2011. These are as follows:

Year 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Number of audits 1,026 1,187 757 256 73
Yield €5.4m €9.7m €5.3m €2m €0.6m

Corresponding figures for 2005 and 2006 are not available, and a separate breakdown of these figures for CAT audits alone is not available.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, although the number of audits has fallen significantly in recent years, the REAP system enables Revenue to better target audit resources at cases more likely to achieve a yield. In addition, as noted above, the figures in the table include Stamp Duty audits, and the significant fall in Stamp Duty transactions and property values would affect the number of cases available for audit.

  95.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of deceased in the State in each of the years 2005 to 2010 for whom no CAT return of any type was received. [1851/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The Central Statistics Office, CSO, provides data on the number of deaths in a calendar year. I am advised by the CSO that the figures for deaths occurring in the year from 2005 to 2008 are as follows:

Year 2005 2006 2007 2008
No. Deaths 28,260 28,488 28,117 28,274

Information for 2009 and 2010 is currently only available on the number of deaths registered in those years, as opposed to the number of deaths which took place in those years. The number of deaths registered in 2009 was 28,898 and the number registered in 2010 was 27,122. Some of the deaths which were registered in 2009 would relate to deaths which occurred in 2008.

The Revenue Commissioners’ statistics are based on the number of CA24 forms filed in a calendar year, rather than the number of forms filed for individuals who died in a particular year.

For example, under the current Capital Acquisitions Tax, CAT, pay and file system, the returns for CAT in respect of inheritances between 1 September 2010 and 31 August 2011 could be filed up to 30 September 2011, so the returns filed in 2011 will relate to inheritances in 2010 and 2011, with possibly some late returns for earlier years. In addition, in some cases the death may have taken place before 1 September 2010 but the valuation date for inheritance tax purposes occurs after that date.

[647]The numbers of CAT returns filed in the years 2005 to 2010, as published by the Revenue Commissioners in the “Volume of Business” table of their Annual Reports, are as shown in the following table:

Year Inland Revenue Affidavits (form CA24) filed
2005 21,881
2006 22,225
2007 23,196
2008 23,748
2009 19,218
2010 14,319

As the statistics are compiled on a different basis, it is not possible to directly relate the number of deaths in a year to the number of CA24 forms filed in that year, in order to work out the number of deaths in a particular year in respect of which no form CA24 was filed.

  96.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the total net value assets listed on forms IT 38 returns on death only in each of the years 2001 to 2011. [1852/12]

  97.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the total net value assets listed on forms IT 38 gifts only in each of the years 2001 to 2011. [1853/12]

  98.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    the gross amounts listed on forms CA24 filed with the Revenue Commissioners of property in the State passing under the will intestacy of the deceased and property outside the State passing under the will intestacy of the deceased for the years 2006 to 2011. [1854/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions No. 96 to 98, inclusive, together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant available figures are as follows:

TABLE 1

Year Taxable Benefits — Form IT38
€ million
Death Gift
2001 903 286
2002 1,095 371
2003 1,068 723
2004 1,696 408
2005 2,110 672
2006 2,542 1,026
2007 3,374 1,726
2008 4,081 585
2009 3,213 993
2010 (to 14 June) 807 419

[648]TABLE 2

Year Gross Amounts of Property — Form CA24
€ million
Irish Foreign
2006 6,651 197
2007 7,692 158
2008 8,244 248
2009 6,776 877
2010 (to 14 June) 2,510 71

Figures in the tables are rounded to the nearest €1 million.

A single pay and file date was introduced for CAT with effect from 14 June 2010 to bring it into line with the timing arrangements of other self-assessment taxes and significant structural and system changes had to be made to implement these changes. While the necessary basic data to enable statistics to be provided for the second half of 2010 and for 2011 is not yet available, work is ongoing to obtain statistical information from the new system as soon as possible.

  99.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will publish his Department’s methodology in calculating the expected yield tax profile for capital acquisitions tax for 2011 and 2012. [1855/12]

  100.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance in estimating    the expected yield from capital acquisitions tax for the years 2008 to date in 2012, if he will give details of the assumptions made by him under each of the following headings: number of deaths, number of transfers to spouses only, total value of the assets of all deceased, total value of assets transferred to spouses, total value of assets transferred to those other than spouses, the number of taxable gifts and their collective value, the total number of taxable inheritances, the numbers of claims for business and agricultural relief and the costs of the exemptions granted such claims, the number of claims for favoured nephew status and the number of claims in respect of the relief on dwelling houses. [1856/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 99 and 100 together.

In preparing forecasts for capital acquisition tax receipts, the methodology adopted by my Department involves the estimate of the outturn for the outgoing year. This becomes the base for the preparation of the projection for the forecast year. The resulting projected outturn is then adjusted as necessary to take account of the effects of previous Budget measures which may have a pass-through effect or any known one-off factors likely to impact upon the yield. To this resulting “cleaned” base a macroeconomic multiplier, in this case the estimated nominal GNP growth rate is applied. The impact of any Budget day policy measures is also incorporated.

Accordingly, projections for capital acquisition tax receipts are not produced by reference to details of the numbers of deaths, gifts, property values, reliefs and exemptions. Therefore it is not possible to provide the data requested by the Deputy in relation to the above mentioned factors.

[649]The illustrative table below presents the Department’s projections for capital acquisition tax against outturn for the 2008-2011 period. The projections in each of the past two years have been reasonably robust with very minor shortfalls against target recorded in both 2010 and 2011. It should be pointed out that over the 2008-2009 period the Irish economy was subject to unprecedented volatility which impacted adversely upon the nominal GNP growth rates. Hence the forecasting performance was not as robust in those years. It should be noted that the 2008 report of the Tax Forecasting Methodology Review Group found that the Department’s tax forecasting methodology in line with international practice.

Budget Day Forecast Outturn % Deviation
€m €m
2008 405 332 -18.1%
2009* 295 254 -13.8%
2010 240 238 -0.9%
2011 250 244 -2.6%

*Supplementary Budget — April 2009.

The Budget 2012 estimate of receipts from capital acquisitions tax in 2012 is €295 million.

  101.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will provide an analysis of the capital acquisitions tax take for the years 2009 and 2010 inclusive, indicating the value of gifts or inheritances under the various thresholds and the tax take under each threshold. [1857/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the breakdown of yield from Capital Acquisitions Tax (CAT) for the years in question is as follows:

Year Inheritance tax
€m
Gift tax
€m
Discretionary Trust tax €m Probate tax
€m
€m €m €m €m
2009 201.6 50.5 2.9 0.6
2010 86.2 46.8 3.0 0.5

On the basis of the taxable values of gifts or inheritances liable to tax, the breakdowns of the 2009 and 2010 yield from Inheritance tax and Gift tax by Group Thresholds A, B and C are estimated as follows:

Group threshold — relationship to disponor % of total Inheritance tax and Gift tax
2009-2010 (Provisional)
A — Son/Daughter 31.530
B — Parent/Brother/ Sister/Niece/ Nephew/Grandchild 5.049
C — Relationship other than Group A or B 18.521

  102.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the rationale behind the exclusion of persons in receipt of the disability allowance from labour activation and further [650]education programmes such as Springboard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1655/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Springboard initiative which was introduced in 2011 was not a general education measure. It was a specific initiative to provide part time reskilling opportunities to enable unemployed people who had lost jobs in sectors where employment levels will not return, to reskill while actively seeking employment. It was not targeted at school leavers or new graduates who have never been in employment or at those who may have lost their job as a result of an illness or disability and who may be able to return to work in their chosen profession when their illness or disability has ended. Disability Allowance was not included as an eligible payment for access to Springboard as it is paid in recognition of the fact that a person may not be available to take up employment due to illness or disability. It was open to any person with a disability who met the eligibility criteria to apply for a place on a Springboard programme and providers were also reminded of their obligations to ensure that appropriate facilities were in place to support the participation of people with disabilities. The eligibility criteria for access to the new round of Springboard programmes provided for in the 2012 Budget will be informed by the findings of the evaluation of the first phase of the initiative which is almost finalised.

  103.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his plans to provide short-term training courses in the hospitality area especially in preparation for bar work and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1684/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  It is not in the current remit of FÁS to provide courses in the hospitality area such as Bar work. Such training provision is under the remit of Fáilte Ireland.

However, companies who have a specific need to access bar work training can contact Skillnets (www.skillnets.com) who fund enterprise-led training through a network model, where companies from networks representing specific industry sectors or geographical regions co-operate to deliver training programmes appropriate to current market requirements.

  104.  Deputy Heather Humphreys    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of non-national pupils in primary schools over the past five years; the number at the present time needing English tuition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1687/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  Data relating to nationality was collected for the first time in 2007/08 as part of the National School Annual Census. The 2007/2008 data show that there were almost 44,000 non-Irish national pupils in mainstream primary schools. As not all schools had this information available in 2007/2008 data is based on principal’s best estimates and therefore figures should be treated as indicative only.

The most recent data available, for the 2010/11 school year, indicates just under 60,000 non-Irish national pupils at primary level (including both mainstream and special primary schools). Statistical information in respect of the current school year is currently being compiled in my Department and is due for publication in September 2012.

Significant support is given to schools by way of language support provision. The level of extra teaching support provided in respect of language support to any school is determined by the numbers of eligible pupils enrolled and the associated assessed levels of those pupils’ language proficiency. In the current school year my Department has provided temporary full-time [651]teaching posts in respect of English as an additional language (EAL) to support circa 28,500 such pupils at primary level.

Under the proposed reforms for the coming school year the combined resources available for GAM (General Allocation Model) and language support (currently 4,700 posts) will be used to create a single simplified allocation process to cover both the GAM and language support. Schools will have autonomy on how to deploy the resource between language support and learning support depending on their specific needs.

The new GAM arrangements also provide for additional permanent teaching posts (350) to be given to schools with high concentration of pupils that require language support. Further additional temporary EAL support will also be provided, as necessary, to schools that will have high concentrations of pupils that require language support in the 2012/13 school. These allocations will be made on the basis of appeals by any of these schools to the Staffing Appeals Board.

  105.  Deputy Pat Deering    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the reason no special needs assistants have been assigned for this school year for children with behavioural needs; the number of SNA posts that have been retained for future appointments; and if he is satisfied that the learning of other pupils is not being adversely affected by the presence of pupils with major behavioural needs not being assigned SNA support. [1700/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I wish to advise the Deputy that approximately 6,000 children in primary and post primary schools are currently being supported by some 4,500 SNAs either wholly or partly to address behavioural issues. These allocations have been made in relation to students with an assessment of Emotional Behavioural Disorder (EBD) or in relation to students who may have a disability diagnosis other than EBD, but who may have been allocated care support for behavioural issues. It is therefore not the case that no special needs assistants have been assigned for this school year for children with behavioural care needs.

Approximately 10,290 of the 10,575 Special Needs Assistant (SNA) posts available for allocation, have now been allocated to schools by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), leaving approximately 285 posts available for allocation between now and the end of the school year for cases such as emergencies, acquired injuries or new school entrants with care needs. Some adjustments may also be made where pupils have moved or transferred between schools during the school year.

NCSE Circular 01/02/2011 set out the measures which should be taken into account in arriving at a level of SNA allocation to schools. It advised that in the case of new applications for SNA support where a professional report has identified care needs as being related to behaviour, access to SNA support will be considered only after the school has set out the specific strategies that have been employed to manage behaviour and that have been implemented to minimise the pupil’s difficulties. Provision of SNA support should only be provided where it is clear that other behavioural management strategies have not been successful.

My Departments Circular 0009/2009 also advises that where an application for SNA support relates to the management of a student’s behaviour, there must be clear evidence that the student’s behaviour is a danger to themselves or others and that sustained efforts by the school have not proven to be successful in the amelioration of such documented behaviours.

It should be noted that SNAs are only one of a number of interventions in place in Irish schools which either directly or indirectly address behaviour. Other supports include the [652]National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) in post primary and the support teacher scheme in primary and also the support of National Educational Psychology Services. More indirectly, the enhanced Pupil Teacher Ratios under Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) and Home School Completion Liaison (HSCL) programmes all seek to address attendance and participation levels, which often account for the underlying reasons for behaviour problems. I am satisfied that adequate resources are being provided to schools to support them in dealing with pupil behaviour.

The National Educational Psychological Service has published “Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties — A Continuum of Support for Primary Schools — Guidelines for Teachers”. In addition, my Department will shortly publish new Guidelines for Schools for Supporting Students with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties to give further guidance to schools.

  106.  Deputy Pat Deering    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the annual cost of providing home tuition to students at both primary and secondary level; if he will give a breakdown of the figures for the past five years; the categories of students that are being catered for by the provision of home tuition and the number of teachers involved. [1701/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Deputy will be aware that my Department’s home tuition scheme provides funding to parents to provide education at home for children who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting a suitable educational placement and also to provide early educational intervention for preschool children with autism. A separate home tuition scheme provides for children who are unable to attend school for reasons other than medical condition or special education needs. This later scheme includes cases where a child is currently without a school place or the offer of a school place and where the child’s parent/guardian wishes to enrol their child in a school recognised by the Department of Education and Skills.

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the annual costing of providing home tuition under both schemes to students both at primary and post primary level for the past five years is as follows:

Year 2007: €5,952,256;

Year 2008: €8,910,150;

Year 2009: €9,307,294;

Year 2010: €9,787,058;

Year 2011: €10,348,098.

The number of tutors who delivered tuition in the 2010/2011 school year was 1,490. Information regarding the number of tutors who delivered tuition in the previous years is not readily available in my Department.

  107.  Deputy Pat Deering    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the criteria he will use for the amalgamation of small schools and the amount of money he expects to save by the amalgamation; if these amalgamations will involve capital expenditure on refurbishments and [653]extensions; and the way this cost will compare with the savings achieved in the first place. [1702/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Deputy will be aware that as part of the Budget 2012 decisions, the number of pupils required to gain and retain a teaching post in small primary schools will be gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014. The schools concerned are those with four or less classroom teachers. It is important to emphasise that no small schools will be forcibly closed by my Department due to the changes that have been announced.

However, the existing staffing schedule acts as a disincentive for small schools to consider amalgamation. At a time of great strain in our public finances, we have to ensure that the very valuable but limited resources available for the education system are used in the best way possible.

The decision making authority for any amalgamation belongs to the Patron of a school, subject to the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills. My Department’s role is to facilitate any such proposal or discussions between the relevant parties. I want to reiterate that the initiative for an amalgamation may come from a variety of sources, such as parents, staff, Board of Management and in particular, the Patron. I have said on several occasions that any decisions to amalgamate schools will be taken at a local level.

The phasing of these measures provides the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible. We have a very significant number of small schools across the country.

Given the constraints on capital funding, the Government has to prioritise school building projects and the very real need to ensure that every child has access to a school place. The need, if any, for any capital expenditure to facilitate an amalgamation will depend on the individual circumstances of the schools concerned. In determining the level of expenditure, my Department must take account of the continuing requirement to manage expenditure within the context of overall educational policy and the level of capital provision available at the time.

The Deputy will also be aware that a value for money review on small primary schools is currently underway in my Department. This review is part of the normal review processes undertaken by all Departments on an annual basis on selected areas of expenditure and is being conducted in line with the standard procedure for value for money reviews. Work on the review is well advanced and I expect that the report of the review should be available to me early in this year. I will then have to consider its outcomes and proposals.

  108.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will give details of plans he has announced for the building of a second level school at his Department’s site at Kingswood Heights, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if he will confirm the schedule being followed; the discussions he has had locally in respect of the proposed catchment area for this school; if he will also note the need to stress to his architectural planners that provision must be made to cater for the local traffic challenges associated with the site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1716/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department has identified a requirement for a new 1,000 pupil post primary school which will serve the general Tallaght area to cater for increasing demographic demand in the area. The school will be constructed [654]on the site at Kingswood Heights. Traffic management issues associated with the proposed new school will be dealt with as part of the normal planning application process.

The Deputy may be aware that my Department is promoting a two stage competition for the design of this post-primary school in conjunction with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI). This will provide a real opportunity for innovative design in new second-level schools. The winning entry will be announced in September 2012. The successful Design Team will design the new school and manage its construction with a view to the school opening in late August 2017. Further details of the competition are available on the RIAI website www.riai.ie.

  109.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will present details of plans to provide new permanent school buildings at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24; his views on the fact that the school community has conducted a long campaign over many years for such a development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1717/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy was included in the School Building Works Programme for 2012 announced on 19th December 2011. It is one of a number of schools authorised to proceed to tender and construction in 2012.

A Stage 2(b) submission (i.e. detailed design and tender documents) was recently submitted to my Department and is currently being reviewed. When that review is complete, officials from my Department will be in contact with the Board of Management regarding the progression of the project to tender and construction stage.

  110.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if his attention has been drawn to instances in which schools are limiting the attendance of children with special educational needs on health and safety grounds; his views that this situation is unacceptable; if he concurs that in such instances all necessary resources to ensure a child can fully attend school are in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1725/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I wish to advise the Deputy that I am not aware of any widespread difficulties regarding schools limiting the attendance of pupils with special educational needs on health and safety grounds.

The Deputy will be aware that all schools have access to a full range of supports to facilitate the enrolment and full attendance of pupils with special educational needs. These supports include a permanent allocation of additional teaching support in all Primary schools through the General Allocation Model of additional teacher support as well as additional resource teaching and Special Needs Assistant (SNA) care supports which may be allocated to schools by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) in respect of qualifying pupils.

In total, 9,950 whole time equivalent (WTE) Resource Teaching/Learning support posts and 10,575 WTE Special Needs Assistant (SNA) posts are being provided for schools in the current school year. The NCSE has advised all schools of their resource teaching and SNA allocations for the current school year and has retained capacity to respond to late applications for SNA support for emergencies, acquired injuries, or new school entrants with care needs.

Other supports which are available for schools include the National Behaviour Support Service (NBSS) in post primary and the support teacher scheme in primary and also the support of National Educational Psychology Services. The National Educational Psychological Service [655]has published “Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties — A Continuum of Support for Primary Schools — Guidelines for Teachers”. In order to further assist schools, my Department will shortly publish new Guidelines for Schools for Supporting Students with Behavioural, Emotional and Social Difficulties, in order to give further guidance to schools.

I am satisfied that schools have access to the range of supports which allow for the enrolment and full attendance of pupils with special educational needs to schools. In circumstances where it is agreed that the best interests of a child, or the effective provision of education for children with whom the child is to be educated, are not best served by a mainstream school placement, my Department also makes provision for special school and special class placements.

Finally, where a school refuses to enrol, or expels a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to the Secretary General of my Department. The Deputy may also be aware that in 2011, I launched a “Discussion Paper on a Regulatory Framework for School Enrolment”. My officials are co-ordinating the submissions received. The feedback from this consultation will help inform the nature and scope of a new regulatory framework for school enrolment, to make the process of enrolling in schools more open, equitable and consistent, not least for children with special educational needs. I will be reviewing the matters referred to by the Deputy as part of this process.

  111.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will ensure that documentation is produced for parents from either the National Council for Special Education or the special educational needs organiser outlining the way a decision was reached regarding the resources to be allocated to a child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1726/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Deputy will be aware that the NCSE is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs) for allocating resource teachers and Special Needs Assistants to schools to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

Applications are made by schools directly to the NCSE for additional resources to meet the special educational needs of identified pupils. Accordingly, the NCSE informs the school of the decision in relation to their application, in writing.

Where parents seek to meet the SENO at any stage to discuss their particular case SENOs are available to do so. SENO contact details are available on the NCSEs website www.ncse.ie.

In order to provide further assistance and information for parents, the NCSE recently published a comprehensive Information Booklet for Parents for Children with Special Educational Needs which provides information to parents regarding provision of services. This information guide is available at www.ncse.ie.

  112.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the actions he is taking in conjunction with the National Council for Special Education to ensure a standardising of the decision-making process regarding resources allocated by special educational needs organisers; if he is concerned that standards can differ significantly from locality to locality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1727/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Deputy will be aware that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible for the provision of a range of educational services at local and national level for students with special educational needs. In [656]particular, its network of Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) co-ordinate special needs education provision at local level and arrange for the delivery of special educational services. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support.

The NCSE adopts a consistent approach to the consideration of applications from schools for supports for children with special educational needs, in accordance with the policies of my Department. However, each case must be considered individually given the differing requirements of pupils with special educational needs and the fact that the care needs of pupils may emerge in schools in different ways, due to varying factors, including the layout and design of a school. The NCSE will also take into account the existing level of resources which schools may have, along with the individual diagnosis of a child and details of the care needs which might arise in a school setting outlined in professional reports.

  113.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his plans to expedite the co-ordination of the assessment of needs process for a child with special educational needs prior to them commencing school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1728/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I wish to advise the Deputy that, for children under the age of 5, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through its network of Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), liaises with Assessment Officers in the Health Service Executive (HSE) in respect of the assessment of need process under the 2005 Disability Act 2005.

The Assessment Officer contacts the relevant SENO when an educational need is identified as part of the assessment process.

My Department’s Circular 0020/2011 clarifies the roles of the NCSE and the HSE in relation to the assessment of need process, as well as the role of the school in this regard. This Circular is available on my Departments website at www.education.ie.

  114.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will consider reforming the role of special needs assistants in classrooms; if he has considered the experience of other education systems in Europe in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1729/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Deputy will be aware that my Department recently published a Value for Money (VFM) and Policy Analysis review of the Special Needs Assistant scheme. This review is available on my Department’s website:www.education.ie. The review makes a number of recommendations for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the scheme and with regards to the future basis for the scheme.

The review contains a Literature Review, which considered the national and international literature regarding approaches used to allocate support staff to schools and assessed the impact of support staff on students’ outcomes. Information on the allocation and deployment of support staff to schools in ten other European Countries was also collected as part of this review and is presented in an Appendix to the review.

My Department has now established a working group which will consider and implement the recommendations of the SNA Value for Money and Policy Analysis review.

  115.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his plans to [657]provide for more post-primary school places in Droichead Nua, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1734/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department is progressing plans to provide a significant expansion to St. Conleth’s post-primary school in Droichead Nua, which will provide over 500 additional pupil places for the area. It should also be noted that the newly-opened Community School in the neighbouring Kildare town feeder area is likely to further ease demand and pressure for places in the Newbridge area. My Department will continue to monitor enrolments in the Newbridge area to ensure that there is sufficient school accommodation to meet any future projected demands.

  116.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he has received an application for a new school building from a school (details supplied); the status of the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1737/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I can confirm to the Deputy that the school to which he refers applied for capital funding towards ancillary accommodation and external improvement works. The project has been assigned a band rating of 2.2. The current status of all projects on the school building programme, including the school referred to by the Deputy, may be viewed on my Department’s website at www.education.ie and this will be updated regularly throughout the year.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government’s Medium Term Infrastructure and Capital Investment Framework, which was published on 10th November 2011, sets out the demographic challenge facing the education system in the coming years. In view of the need to ensure that every child has access to a school place, the delivery of major school projects and smaller projects devolved to schools to meet the demographic demands will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years. On that basis, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project, referred to by the Deputy, at this time. I also wish to advise the Deputy that my Department has approved grant support towards the rental of 2 classrooms to meet its accommodation needs.

  117.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding an application for a new building in respect of a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1738/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department has confirmed the need for a new school building to the school in question. The school building can only be provided when a site has been secured. The process of identifying a site is currently underway. My Department will be in further contact with the school regarding progress in this matter.

  118.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the progress made to date on the provision of a secondary school in Claregalway, County Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1739/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department has identified a requirement for a new post-primary school which will serve the Claregalway area to meet the demographic demand. The process of identifying a site for a new school building is underway.

  119.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will investigate whether any higher education grant or assistance is available in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1742/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for the relevant grant awarding authority. The Deputy will appreciate that in the absence of all of the relevant details that would be contained in an individual’s application form and supporting documentation it would not be possible for me to say whether or not a student would qualify for a grant. The student in question should apply directly to her local grant awarding to have her eligibility for a student grant assessed.

  120.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the full year expenditure saving arising from his decision to implement from 2012 a phased withdrawal of supports in some schools from earlier disadvantage programmes or schemes predating the current DEIS scheme. [1753/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  It is important to note that a key aspect of the EU/IMF Programme of Support and Ireland’s overall budgetary strategy is a requirement to reduce the public sector payroll. In the Education sector finding savings and controlling the increase in public sector numbers is particularly difficult given that one third of all public sector employees work in the education sector.

Savings measures for my Department announced in the budget are estimated to provide savings of some €76 million in 2012 increasing to some €241 million in 2014. Included in the savings proposals is a range of measures for reform within the education sector to ensure optimum use of the significant investment being made in education by this Government.

Achieving this level of savings in my Department’s budget has required very difficult decisions across various expenditure streams alongside meeting the demographic pressures of a school going population that is increasing. This is a significant challenge in our education sector, unlike other countries, as we have a rapidly rising schoolgoing population requiring additional school places for the extra 70,000 pupils arriving in our schools in the next six years.

Providing for increased enrolments is a key priority and while achieving savings in my Department’s budget has required very difficult decisions to be made the Government has shielded, to the greatest extent possible, front-line services in schools.

Conscious of the concerns of some schools that will be adversely affected by the withdrawal of certain posts under previous disadvantage schemes, I have met with school principals, teachers, parents and communities in recent weeks, to hear their concerns and clarify the position in relation to changes announced under Budget 2012. Consequently, I have asked my Department for a report within the coming weeks on the position of DEIS Band 1 and Band 2 schools who currently have posts under older schemes, in the context of the staffing allocations due to issue to all schools in the coming weeks.

My Department is currently working on the staffing allocation for all schools and is not in a position at the present time to give details of staffing measures for individual schools. Schools will be notified in the coming weeks of their staffing entitlements under the new arrangement for 2012/13.

[659]

  121.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will review the proposed strict criteria for the small primary school teacher complement with a view to providing more flexibility so that they can continue providing high-quality education, as these schools are a crucial factor in maintaining the fabric and viability of rural areas; if he will take cognisance of the fact that the majority of these schools have been extended and upgraded in recent years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1761/12]

  123.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will retain the three-teacher status of a school (details supplied) in County Kerry which had an extension built in the recent past and is in excellent structural condition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1763/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 123 together.

The Deputy will be aware that as part of the budget 2012 decisions, the number of pupils required to gain and retain a teaching post in small primary schools will be gradually increased between September 2012 and September 2014. The schools concerned are those with four or less classroom teachers. It is important to emphasise that no small schools will be forcibly closed by my Department due to the changes that have been announced.

However, the existing staffing schedule acts as a disincentive for small schools to consider amalgamation. At a time of great strain in our public finances, we have to ensure that the very valuable but limited resources available for the education system are used in the best way possible. Even when all of these phased increases are implemented, the threshold will still be significantly lower than the minimum of 28 pupils that were required for the appointment of the second teacher in schools prior to the mid 1990’s.

The decision making authority for any amalgamation belongs to the Patron of a school, subject to the approval of the Minister for Education and Skills. My Department’s role is to facilitate any such proposal or discussions between the relevant parties. I want to reiterate that the initiative for an amalgamation may come from a variety of sources, such as parents, staff, Board of Management and in particular, the Patron. I have said on several occasions that any decisions to amalgamate schools will be taken at a local level.

The phasing of these measures provides the schools concerned with time to consider the potential for amalgamation with other schools where this is feasible. We have a very significant number of small schools across the country. The existing staffing schedule also acts as a disincentive for small schools to consider amalgamation. We have to ensure that the very valuable but limited resources we have available in the system are used in the best and fairest way across the whole system. It is hoped that all school communities will consider how greater efficiencies and better educational outcomes can be achieved for all of our children.

Given the constraints on capital funding, the Government has to prioritise school building projects and the very real need to ensure that every child has access to a school place. The need, if any, for any capital expenditure to facilitate an amalgamation will depend on the individual circumstances of the schools concerned. In determining the level of expenditure, my Department must take account of the continuing requirement to manage expenditure within the context of overall educational policy and the level of capital provision available at the time.

The Deputy will also be aware that a value for money review on small primary schools is currently underway in my Department. This review is part of the normal processes undertaken by all Departments on selected areas of expenditure and is being conducted in line with the [660]standard procedure for value for money reviews. I expect that the report of the review should be available to me early in this year. I will then have to consider its outcomes and proposals.

  122.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will review the budget changes to the guidance counselling allocation in second level education; if he will take cognisance of the fact that students will be deprived of one-to-one counselling support for a wide range of personal problems and issues including low self-esteem, family breakdown, mental issues, self-harm and bereavement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1762/12]

  125.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    when a circular will issue to schools in respect of the employment of career guidance counsellors following the changes announced in budget 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1802/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 125 together.

The change that has been announced gives schools greater autonomy in how they allocate staff resources to best meet the needs of their students, including how they provide for guidance and counselling. It is a change to how resources are allocated to schools not a policy decision to terminate guidance provision as some may chose to present it.

Until now, a specific resource was provided for guidance in addition to the standard teacher allocation to post primary schools. In future, schools must meet their guidance requirements from within the overall resource provided by that normal staffing schedule. Individually schools can continue to make provision for guidance and counselling. Decisions on how this will be done will be taken at school level in the best interests of students and to ensure the best use of resources available. In this way, the main teacher allocation can be maintained at 19:1 for schools generally, while schools will have discretion to balance what they allocate for guidance against the competing demands of providing subject choice.

I have also provided for the filling of 300 Assistant Principal posts in second-level schools over the level originally planned. This will ensure that schools have sufficient management positions to ensure appropriate supports are available for all students.

A key priority for me is to continue to prioritise and target available funding at schools with the most concentrated levels of educational disadvantage. All 195 second-level school in DEIS will be given targeted support by a more favourable staffing schedule of 18.25:1. This is a 0.75 point reduction compared to the existing PTR of 19:1 that applies in non-fee-paying second-level schools.

The budget measures, including those relating to guidance, come into effect from September 2012. Schools will be notified in the normal manner in relation to these changes. My Department will be issuing a Circular in the coming weeks that will outline the staffing arrangements in schools for the 2012/13 school year. The Department will set out the position clearly and this should dispel any potential for misunderstanding the budget measure.

Question No. 123 answered with Question No. 121.

  124.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding payments to subcontractors (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1773/12]

[661]Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The contract for the project to which the Deputy refers is between the Board of Management and the main contractor. There is no contractual relationship between any of the sub-contractors engaged on this project and either my Department or the Board of Management.

In general, all sub-contractors employed on school building projects are employed directly by the main contractor or indirectly by the main contractor through other sub-contractors. It is a matter for all sub-contractors to agree terms and conditions and a schedule of payments with the main contractor as their direct employer.

I can confirm that all monies due to be paid under the terms of the main contract have been paid to the Board of Management.

Question No. 125 answered with Question No. 122.

  126.  Deputy Michael McCarthy    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the current teacher allocation for a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1840/12]

  127.  Deputy Michael McCarthy    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if a school (details supplied) in County Cork will lose a teacher due to budgetary readjustments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1842/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 127 together.

The criteria used for the allocation of teachers to schools are published annually on my Department’s website. The key factor for determining the level of staffing resources provided at individual school level is the staffing schedule for the relevant school year and pupil enrolments on the previous 30 September. The staffing schedules for the current school year and for the coming school year were published on my Department’s website in March and December 2011 respectively.

My Department’s focus is on implementing the staffing arrangements for the coming school year and I do not propose to divert scarce staffing resources to deal with individual queries from the Deputy. My Department will be notifying schools in the coming weeks of the new staffing arrangements for 2012/13 school year.

  128.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform    if he will direct the board of the An Post National Lottery Company to compile and publish a report which will identify each of the organisations, schemes, projects and so on across all Votes and subheads to which national lottery funding was awarded in the years 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1679/12]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin):  An Post National Lottery Company does not have any role in relation to how the surplus which it generates is spent. The surplus from the National Lottery is paid to the Exchequer in a number of instalments each year. This surplus is treated as an item of non-tax revenue to the Exchequer. It is not possible to indicate the amount or percentage of Lottery funding provided to any individual Vote or subhead. However, it is estimated that in 2011 total funding from the Lottery rep[662]resented 66% of the overall allocation for all subheads which were part-funded by the proceeds of the Lottery.

Figures for total annual funding from the National Lottery and total spending under subheads which are part-funded by the proceeds of the National Lottery are published each year in Appendix 1 of the Revised Estimates for Public Services. Individual Government Departments with responsibility for expenditure that is part-funded by the National Lottery surplus publish details of such expenditure (including lists of recipient organisations and amounts involved) on their websites.

  129.  Deputy Patrick O’Donovan    asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform    if in view of the decision of the electorate in the recent referendum on judicial pay, he has considered using similar methods in respect of the pension entitlements and severance packages of specific grades of public and or civil servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1741/12]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin):  The recent referendum was required because of the special position of the judiciary under the Constitution. The same considerations do not apply to public and civil servants. Accordingly, as the Deputy will be aware, there have been considerable changes to public service pensions over the past number of years without recourse to referenda.

In 2009 a Pension-Related Deduction (PRD) was introduced. Also, a pension reduction (the Public Service Pension Reduction) was implemented with effect from 1 January 2011 across all areas of the public service. This measure was most recently amended at end 2011 to impose a new top reduction rate of 20% on pension amounts above €100,000. It is also worth noting that the pay cut introduced in 2010 will impact on the pensions and lump sums of those retiring after the end of the “grace period” i.e. from 1 March 2012 onwards.

The Deputy will also know that the process of modernising and restructuring the pensions system is ongoing, and in this context, I introduced a Bill in the House on 19 October 2011 — the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme) and Remuneration Bill 2011 — to give effect to a new single pension scheme for new-entrant public servants which will reduce longer-term pension costs by around one-third. This new scheme will be based on a career average system with later pension age (phased increase to 68) and pension increases linked to CPI.

  130.  Deputy Heather Humphreys    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    his plans to address the issue of below-cost selling in supermarkets which is having a serious, negative impact on both primary producers and processing companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1689/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  The use of sales promotions and pricing strategies in any business is a legitimate marketing tool and is the normal outcome of the competitive process. I have no direct function in relation to such practices which are matters for retailer themselves and are not an offence unless they involve abuse of a dominant position. A determination on whether a retailer is abusing a dominant position in the marketplace would necessitate a comprehensive investigation by the Competition Authority. The Authority is the independent statutory body responsible for enforcing competition law in the State and complaints of any alleged anti-competitive practice should be referred to it.

[663]As regards the grocery goods supply chain, the Programme for Government contains a specific commitment to enact legislation to regulate certain practices in the supply chain. It is my intention to give effect to this commitment by including a specific enabling provision in the legislation, currently being prepared by my Department to merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, which will allow for the introduction of statutory Codes of Practice in areas such as the grocery goods sector.

The Government is strongly committed to ensuring that Ireland continues to have vibrant agri-food and retail sectors, particularly given the importance of these sectors to the national economy. The Government considers it important, therefore, that there is balance in the relationship between the various players in the grocery goods sector. The introduction of a Code of Practice, as provided for in the Programme for Government, is intended to achieve such a balance taking into account the interests of all stakeholders in the grocery goods sector including the interests of the consumer and the need to ensure that there is no impediment to the passing on of lower prices to consumers.

  131.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the measures he is taking to create jobs in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1676/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  Job creation is at the top of the Government’s agenda. Since we came into office, we have been working hard to create the improved economic conditions which will support the maintenance of existing jobs and the creation of new ones. Our objective is to put the country back on the road to economic recovery and full employment.

The Jobs Initiative, announced on 10 May 2011, focuses our limited resources on measures that offer the greatest potential for expansion and employment creation in the domestic economy. The Initiative had a significant focus on tourism and the reduction in the VAT Rate has helped provide an important stimulus to tourism generally, such that visitor numbers were up 7.4% in the first 10 months of last year. This would have benefited the tourism industry generally, but undoubtedly in Co. Kerry.

Work is also continuing on the Government’s Action Plan for Jobs which will set out a series of clear, actionable measures to support the creation and retention of jobs. The Strategy will focus on areas such as:

improving competitiveness and intensifying competition in sheltered sectors;

assisting indigenous business to grow;

supporting indigenous start-ups;

attracting inward entrepreneurial start-ups;

developing and deepening the impact of Foreign Direct Investment;

exploiting opportunities in new and emerging sectors; and

supporting employment initiatives within the community.

Specifically in relation to Co. Kerry, two Industrial Development agencies under the aegis of my Department, IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland, together with Kerry County Enterprise Board (CEB) support enterprise development in Co. Kerry.

[664]IDA Ireland continues to promote Kerry for new inward investment across the ICT, International Financial Services and Globally Traded Business sectors. In line with the National Spatial Strategy, the agency concentrates its efforts on the linked hub locations of Killarney in South Kerry and Tralee in North Kerry. According to the latest figures available, there are 15 IDA Ireland supported companies in Kerry employing 1,313 permanent staff. In selecting locations to show companies, IDA Ireland seeks to include locations which have been affected by closures/job losses.

At present, there are 124 Enterprise Ireland client companies in Co. Kerry employing more than 3,000 people in full time jobs. In 2011, Enterprise Ireland paid almost €2.6m in financial support to its client companies in Co. Kerry. The number of full time new jobs created in Enterprise Ireland client companies in Co. Kerry 2011, exceeded jobs lost for the first time in the past decade. This positive outcome in Co. Kerry in 2011 reflects the national picture, where employment in Irish exporting companies stabilised.

The latest figures available indicate that in 2011, Kerry CEB approved funding amounting to €440,600 to 37 projects; 45 payments issued to 32 grantees to the value of €222,600, with associated job creation figures of 56 full time and 18 part time jobs. I am confident that the measures outlined in the Action Plan for Jobs, together with the policies and initiatives being pursued by the Industrial Development agencies and the County and City Enterprise Boards, will continue to bring about employment and investment opportunities for Co. Kerry and the country generally.

  132.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the position regarding the EU directive on temporary agency work, now in effect, and when he expects it to be implemented; the application date in respect of the payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1683/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  I can advise the Deputy that EU Directive 2008/104/EC on Temporary Agency Work was adopted in 2008 with a transposition date of 5 December 2011. At its core, the Directive aims to afford protection to temporary agency workers by extending the principle of equal treatment to their basic working and employment conditions.

In terms of transposition of the Directive into Irish law, a Bill entitled Protection of Employees (Temporary Agency Work) Bill 2011 was published on 16 December, 2011. This is a priority Bill for my Department and is being progressed with a view to early enactment in the Houses of the Oireachtas in 2012. The Bill commenced Second stage in the Dáil on Wednesday 11th January and Committee Stage of the Bill is provisionally scheduled for Tuesday 24 January 2012. It is intended that, when enacted, the Bill will, with the exception of the provisions that create offences, have retrospective effect to the Directive transposition date i.e. 5 December, 2011. This means in effect that from 5 December 2011, temporary agency workers employed by employment agencies and assigned to work with a hirer are entitled to equal treatment in basic working and employment conditions in the same way as if they were directly recruited by the hirer to the same job.

  133.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the steps she has taken to resolve the dispute between the former employers of a company (details supplied) and its former employees in respect of the non-payment by the company of redundancy to the staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1790/12]

[665]

  155.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will be made on the application by a company (details supplied) to the social insurance fund for payment of statutory redundancy payments to former employees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1789/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 133 and 155 together.

Responsibility for the processing of claims under the Redundancy Payments Scheme transferred from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation to the Department of Social Protection in January 2011.

The purpose of the Redundancy Payments Scheme is to compensate workers under the Redundancy Payments Acts 1967 to 2007 for the loss of their jobs by reason of redundancy. Under the Redundancy Payments Acts an eligible employee is entitled to two weeks statutory redundancy payment for every year of service, plus a bonus week. Compensation is based on the worker’s length of reckonable service and reckonable weekly remuneration, subject to a ceiling of €600 per week. Employees must have at least two years’ service to be eligible for a redundancy payment. Rebates to employers and lump sums paid directly to employees are paid from the Social Insurance Fund (SIF).

It is the responsibility of the employer to pay statutory redundancy to all eligible employees. An employer who pays statutory redundancy payments to employees is then entitled to a rebate from the State of a percentage of the relevant amount. Where an employer can prove to the satisfaction of the Department that he/she is unable to pay the statutory redundancy to his/her employees the Department will make lump sum payments directly to the employees and will seek to recover the debt from the employer. To prove inability to pay the employer must submit documentary evidence to confirm that this is the position.

An official from my Department contacted the company concerned to establish the position in relation to redundancy claims and to ensure that the workers of the company are in a position to access any redundancy payments to which they may be entitled. The company submitted 34 applications on-line on 22 December 2011 and hard copies/associated papers were received on 4 January 2012. Straightforward redundancy claims submitted since October 2011 are generally processed for payment within 6 to 8 weeks but this can vary considerably depending on the complexity of the claims.

Questions Nos. 134 and 135 withdrawn.

  136.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the labour activation measures available to persons in receipt of disability allowance; if there is any mechanism by which the additional costs and barriers preventing persons with disabilities from re-entering the workforce my be recognised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1654/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Persons with a disability, who meet the entry criteria, are able to participate in the full range of programmes and services available from my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. Persons with a disability may call into one of my Department’s Employment Service Office or Local Employment Service Office to meet with an Employment Services Officer or Mediator who will provide them with full information, advice and guidance in relation to training and employment.

[666]The Supported Employment Programme, is an employment and recruitment service to assist people with a disability to secure and maintain a job in the open labour market. The range of supports provided by job coaches under the programme include work experience placements as well as support with the job application process, matching skills with employers needs and assistance with integrating into the workplace.

As well as the Supported Employment Programme, my Department provides a range of other supports to support the employment of people with disabilities. These include the Disability Awareness Training Support Scheme, the Wage Subsidy Scheme, and the Reasonable Accommodation Fund for the Employment of Disabled People, the Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant, the Employee Retention Grant Scheme and a range of Employment Schemes. Many of these schemes provide specific assistance to enable people with disabilities secure and retain employment. Individuals in receipt of a disability allowance can also avail of many of the education and training programmes that are provided under the auspices of the Department of Education and Skills and delivered by the VECs and the training side of FÁS.

  137.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the rationale behind the exclusion of persons in receipt of the disability allowance from labour activation and further education programmes such as JobBridge; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1655/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The National Internship Scheme provides internship opportunities of either 6 or 9 months for unemployed individuals on the Live Register, in organisations in the private, public and community voluntary sectors. The scheme is limited to individuals who are currently on the Live Register and have been in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance/Benefit or are signing on for credits for at least 3 of the last 6 months.

My Department continues to monitor and review the operation of the JobBridge scheme including its eligibility criteria on an ongoing basis. The eligibility to access the National Internship Scheme is based on the overall objective of labour market policy in ensuring a pathway to appropriate employment, training and education opportunities for those on the Live Register. It is important that as employment opportunities become available they are taken up by those on the Live Register. The structure for achieving this objective is through a reinvigorated National Employment Action Plan (NEAP) which currently provides the framework for engaging with the unemployed.

Given the scale of the unemployment crisis, the key objective of labour market policy and of the NEAP will be to keep those on the Live Register close to the Labour Market and prevent the drift into long-term unemployment. This will ensure that Live Register members availing of activation measures such as the National Internship Scheme will, while retaining social welfare unemployment payments and a top up allowance of €50, get an opportunity to engage in the workplace, get work experience and so be in a position to avail of employment opportunities as the economy improves.

For these reasons, it has been proposed as a matter of public policy that eligibility for the scheme be confined to those on the Live Register and in receipt of unemployment payments or signing for credits for 3 of the last 6 months. As such, the policy objective is to prioritise scarce resources on those on the Live Register so as to increase their chances of leaving it thereby ensuring a reduction in Exchequer costs over time.

[667]Individuals in receipt of Disability Payments may access a wide range of activation supports including the Work Placement Programme, which is designed to provide participants with valuable work experience, thereby improving their prospects of securing employment.

  138.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of applications for disability allowance for each of the years 2007 to 2011; if these figures will be broken down to indicate the total number of successful applications; the number of applications that were successful at first instance; the total number of appeals made; the number of applications that were successful on appeal in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1656/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The statistics requested are in the tabular statement hereunder. The number of disability allowance applications that were successful at the first instance is not available.

Disability Allowance Applications/Appeals 2007-2011

Number received Number Awarded No. of Appeals Received No. of Appeals Allowed No. of Appeals Partially Allowed
2007 19,989 11,684 2,938 536 35
2008 21,358 13,176 3,522 658 27
2009 20,794 10,179 4,696 719 43
2010 21,409 8,306 4,840 935 44
2011 24,264 9,246 5,472 1,699 131

  139.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the total number of applications for domiciliary care allowance for each of the years 2007 to 2011, and if these figures will be broken down to indicate the total number of successful applications; the number of applications which were successful at first instance; the total number of appeals made; the number of applications which were successful on appeal in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1657/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The Department has been accepting new claims for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) since 1 April 2009. Statistics relating to the allowance for the period prior to April 2009 are a matter for the HSE, the previous administrators of the scheme.

The number of applicants for DCA that were received, awarded and refused in each year from April 2009 to date is set out in table 1 below while details in relation to appeals are set out in table 2.

Table 1 — Domiciliary Care Allowance applications — April 2009 to date

Applications received Applications fully processed in year Applications allowed incl. on review* Applications refused
2009 (from 1st April) 3,389 2,823 1,220 1,603
2010 5,457 5,333 2,576 2,757
2011 5,525 5,396 2,502 2,894

[668]*Includes cases initially disallowed but allowed on review following receipt of additional information.

Table 2 — Domiciliary Care Allowance Appeals — April 2009 to date

Appeals registered Appeals withdrawn (allowed on medical review) Medical reviews outstanding on appeal Appeals allowed Appeals disallowed Appeals outstanding
2009 836 189 0 293 353 1
2010 1,858 518 0 528 728 84
2011 2,270 424 293 220 421 912

  140.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she will provide an update on the proposed evaluation of the JobBridge national internship scheme; the persons who have been appointed to evaluate the scheme; the nature of their remit; the time timeframe in which it is envisaged the evaluation will be completed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1660/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The Department of Social Protection has invited tenders for consultancy for an evaluation of the JobBridge, National Internship Scheme for the Department. The Department has received a significant number of tender responses and is currently in the process of reviewing and scoring these tender responses. It is envisaged that a successful vendor will be selected in the coming weeks.

Remit of the Evaluation

The Department requires this Project to be undertaken to assess the design, delivery and impact of the JobBridge scheme on the unemployed. It should also assist the Department in making further policy decisions on the benefit of work placement programmes in the overall context of the Government’s activation policy which is to engage with every unemployed individual to provide them with a pathway to employment and to prevent and reduce long term unemployment.

The evaluation should include the following key outcomes:

Socio economic profile of the participants on the scheme;

Information on the host organisations that have used the scheme including, size, sector and reason for participating;

Details of the progression of those on the scheme into education, training or job placement. In the case of job placement this should detail if placement is with the same company, in the same sector and the sustainability of that placement;

Details of the nature of the work experience of the participants and a measurement of the relevance of that experience to the labour market and to progression into employment;

An assessment of the displacement effect of the scheme;

[669]

An assessment of the level of deadweight in the scheme;

Information on the satisfaction of participants with their experience of the scheme;

Information on the satisfaction of host organisations with their experience of the scheme;

An assessment of the process and procedures used by the Department in running the scheme;

Recommendations on how the scheme might be improved.

Timescale

It is anticipated that the entire work will be undertaken by the successful vendor and will be completed by the end of the year.

  141.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of participants on the JobBridge scheme to date; the number who have now completed their internships; the number who have successfully entered the workforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1661/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  JobBridge, the National Internship Scheme, came into operation on 1 July 2011. As of Wednesday, 11 January, a total of 3,916 internships have commenced. The first internships did not commence until mid July. As JobBridge internships are for either 6 or 9 months it is too early to report on the number of interns who have completed their internship. It is also too early to determine the number of interns who have attained full employment as a result of their internship. My Department has invited tenders for consultancy for the evaluation of the JobBridge, National Internship Scheme for the Department. Progression rates from JobBridge into employment will feature as part of this evaluation. It is expected that this evaluation will commence in early 2012.

  142.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the supports available to those unemployed persons who do not qualify for social welfare payments to re-enter the workforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1662/12]

  144.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the supports available to unemployed persons in receipt of a payment other than jobseeker’s benefit or allowance to re-enter the workforce; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1664/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 142 and 144 together.

The Department of Social Protection operates a range of employment support measures designed to encourage and support social welfare recipients of working age to reduce their dependency on welfare payments. Individuals that are in receipt of a social welfare payment other than a jobseekers payment can avail of the back to education programme, the back to work scheme, the rural social scheme and the Work Placement Programme.

These individuals can also access the training programmes provided by FÁS under the auspices of the Department of Education and Skills but they will not receive a training allowance, while participating on these programme. My Department through its Employment Service and Local Employment Service offices provides a full range of services and supports to jobseekers. [670] This includes providing jobseekers with information on the labour market including information on appropriate job vacancies mediation and guidance and advice on the employment and training programmes that are available to the jobseeker. Jobseekers should call to their local Employment Service and Local Employment Service Social Welfare Office to get information on the full range of services they are entitled to.

  143.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of unemployed persons who did not qualify for social welfare payments in each of the years 2007-11; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1663/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The metrics used in my Department in relation to claim processing are Awarded, Disallowed or Withdrawn. An unemployed person may submit several claims for payment under the Jobseeker’s Benefit or Jobseeker’s Allowance schemes over a period, for example if they move in and out of employment and having regard to the level of social insurance cover they have at the time they become unemployed. Each claim is considered on its own merit and a decision made whether to award or disallow the claim under the terms of the relevant scheme.

I have set out below, for your information, a table which sets out by scheme the number of claims that were disallowed in each of the years 2008 to 2011. The information requested by the Deputy is not available prior to 2008.

Year Jobseeker’s Allowance Disallowed Jobseeker’s Benefit Disallowed Total Disallowed
2007 Not Available Not Available Not Available
2008 14,561 7,133 21,694
2009 23,681 7,237 30,918
2010 27,884 7,243 35,127
2011 23,017 7,680 30,697
Total 89,143 29,293 118,436

Question No. 144 answered with Question No. 142.

  145.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Social Protection    her plans to expedite the introduction of the total contribution-credit system for the assessment of applications for State pension from 2020 to September 2012, in view of the proposed changes she announced as part of budget 2012 in regard to rates of payment of State pensions for those who become entitled to a pension after September 2012, particularly for those who have a contribution record of over 30 years payment-credits and who will lose out under the averaging rule because of the changes introduced by her; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1673/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Recognising that the State pension (contributory) is a very valuable benefit, it is important to ensure that those qualifying have made a sustained contribution to the Social Insurance Fund (SIF) over their working lives. Aligning the rate of pension with the contributions made ensures that those who contribute more during a working life benefit more in retirement than those with lesser contributions thereby ensuring equity in the social welfare system.

[671]The changes to rate bands, to be introduced for new customers in September 2012, supports the total contributions approach whereby payment made will be linked to contributions paid over a working life. When the total contributions approach is implemented in full, it will replace the current averaging system and remove the associated anomalies whereby those who pay less could in fact receive a higher payment under the current arrangement. It had been expected that the total contributions approach would be introduced in 2020. However, in light of economic circumstances, this date is being reviewed.

The Social Insurance Fund is expected to have a deficit of €1.9 billion this year. One of my key priorities has been to balance the books, in particular by starting to put the Social Insurance Fund on a sustainable footing. It is a reality that people need to contribute and work for longer if they are to achieve the sort of financial support they expect to receive in retirement. A core principle of sustainable social protection systems in advanced economies is that citizens receive benefits in proportion to their contributions. The changes to rate bands will move significantly towards that aim and supports the social contract between the State and the individual.

  146.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the position regarding carer’s allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1686/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I confirm that the department is in receipt of an application for carer’s allowance from the above named person. In the interests of fairness and equity and unless there are exceptional circumstances, applications are dealt with in order of date of receipt in the department.

On completion of the necessary investigations relating to all aspects of his claim a decision will be made and the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

Question No. 147 withdrawn.

  148.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she will review the budget measure whereby carer’s allowance is now to be considered as assessable means in the calculation of entitlement to family income supplement; if she will take into account that carer’s are the only group of social welfare recipients that work 168 hours for their payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1708/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Carers play a particularly important role in society which the Government acknowledges through a range of supports, including carer’s allowance, half-rate carer’s allowance, carer’s benefit, the respite care grant, free travel and household benefits.

The means test for carer’s allowance is one of the most generous means tests in the social welfare system, most notably with regard to spouse’s earnings. Since April 2008, the income disregard has been €332.50 per week for a single person and €665 per week for a couple. A couple with two children can earn up to €35,400 and qualify for the maximum rate of carer’s allowance while a couple earning €59,300 will still qualify for the minimum rate of carer’s allowance.

There are currently just over 51,000 full-time carers in receipt of a carer’s allowance payment from the Department. This includes almost 22,000 who are receiving half-rate carer’s allowance in addition to another social welfare payment. There are just over 1,700 people in receipt of [672]carer’s benefit. Customers in receipt of carer’s allowance and benefit also receive an annual respite care grant of €1,700 in respect of each person for whom they care. In addition, more than 17,000 carers who are not in receipt of a carer’s allowance or benefit payment received the annual respite care grant of €1,700 last June.

One of the measures introduced as part of Budget 2012 is that income from weekly carer’s payments will be included for the purposes of calculating entitlement to Family Income Supplement (FIS) in line with other welfare payments, on a phased basis with effect from January 2012. Entitlement to FIS is based on the level of a family’s income including net income from employment and the value of any social welfare payments they might have. However, income from carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit was an exception and was not taken into account in assessing family income for FIS purposes prior to January 2012.

From January 2012, for new applicants and upon renewal for existing claimants, income from carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit payments will be included in the (FIS) income assessment. The measure will be implemented over 3 years with 1/3rd of the income from carer’s allowance and carer’s benefit payments assessed in 2012, 2/3rds in 2013 and full assessment in 2014.

This provides for a more consistent approach to the concurrent payment of FIS with other social welfare benefits through the standardisation of the treatment of social welfare income for this purpose. The reform reduces a person’s secondary payment (FIS) without affecting their primary payment, therefore targeting available scarce resources at those in most need.

  149.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the position regarding an application for disability allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1710/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an Appeals Officer having fully considered all the available evidence disallowed the appeal of the person concerned by way of a summary decision.

Under Social Welfare legislation, the decision of the Appeals Officer is final and conclusive and may only be reviewed by the Appeals Officer in the light of new evidence or new facts.

Following the submission of additional evidence, the file has been requested to be returned to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. On receipt of this file, the Appeals Officer will review the case. The person concerned will be contacted when the review of his appeal has been finalised.

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.

  150.  Deputy Jim Daly    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reason a rebate on redundancy payments has not issued (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1723/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Two redundancy rebate claims in respect of the company concerned were received on 30 May 2011. Redundancy rebate claims received at the start of May 2011 are currently being processed.

[673]

  151.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she is satisfied that the online application facility for redundancy payments is currently operating correctly and has been over the past few months; the steps being taken by her to correct any possible faults with the online application facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1731/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  There were initial issues with the online application facility since it went live on 3 October 2011, but most of these have been resolved. Any remaining issues are being addressed. We are conscious, however, that the application can be improved and the Department is developing plans to do this over the next few weeks.

  152.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she will consider increasing the number of Tús places available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1747/12]

  153.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she will extend the length of the Tús contract beyond one year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1748/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 153 together.

Tús, the community work placement initiative introduced during 2011, will provide up to 5,000 short-term, quality work opportunities for those who are unemployed for more than a year when fully operational. This initiative is being delivered through the network of local development companies and Údarás na Gaeltachta and, at the end of December 2011, over 2,250 people are engaged in the delivery of services nationally.

Consideration of the expansion of this initiative can only be undertaken in the context of the resources allocated to my Department. The funds allocated for 2012 amount to €84m. These funds are required to meet the pay costs of participants and supervisors, provision of materials, insurance, health and safety, training and related operational costs. I have no plans to increase the number of places available on this initiative at this time.

The purpose of Tús is the provision of quality work for those who are unemployed in order to break the cycle of unemployment and to improve a person’s opportunities in returning to the labour market. I consider the existing 12-month period on Tús to be adequate to meet the objectives of the initiative whilst also ensuring that as many unemployed people as possible are able to benefit. I intend to keep the operations of this initiative under review.

  154.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of applications by employers, including the number of individual employee payments involved, to the Social Insurance Fund claiming inability to pay statutory redundancy payments; the anticipated waiting period for a new application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1788/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The Department does not maintain statistics in relation to the number of companies with regard to their inability to pay statutory redundancy. However, as lump sums are paid where companies refuse to pay or are unable to pay, an indicator, which may be useful to the Deputy in this regard, is the level of lump sums in comparison to rebate payments, as shown in the table below:

Year Total Expenditure Rebate Expenditure Lump Sum Expenditure Lump Sum % of Overall
2008 €193.71m €161.8m €31.91m 16%
2009 €335.86m €247.9m €87.96m 26%
2010 €469.97m €373.2m €96.77m 21%

Straightforward redundancy claims submitted online through a new processing system, since October 2011 are generally processed within 6 to 8 weeks, but this can vary considerably depending on the complexity of the claims.

Question No. 155 answered with Question No. 133.

  156.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when she transferred information to the Office of the Revenue Commissioners relating to 560,000 pensioners that resulted in 115,000 pensioners being informed of additional tax liability. [1796/12]

  157.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when she was requested by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners to provide the information that led to 115,000 pensioners being informed of additional tax liability. [1797/12]

  158.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the additional information that has been requested by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners regarding pensioners' tax liability. [1798/12]

  159.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the cross-governmental agency information transfer procedures that have been put in place since March 2011 regarding tax liability and welfare payment recipients. [1799/12]

  160.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the way the pension tax issue will affect our senior citizens and particularly those under the fair deal scheme in nursing homes; and if she will clarify this matter. [1807/12]

  161.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Social Protection    her views on the huge concerns from our pensioners on the tax issue. [1808/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 156 to 161, inclusive, together.

For the past number of years, my Department has been actively engaged in data matching with other Government Departments and public bodies for control purposes. To this end, there is an extensive legal structure to support the sharing of data for the purpose of controlling the entitlement and payment of benefits. The legislative provisions that allow for the specific sharing of data — with the Revenue Commissioners and other Government Departments and agencies — are contained in section 261 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act 2005. In exercising these functions, the Department also operates in accordance with the relevant data protection legislation.

One of the Department’s primary relationships in relation to data sharing is with the Revenue Commissioners. In recent years, bilateral liaison with Revenue has been improved [675]through the establishment of a High Level Group at Management Board level, whose purpose is to ensure on-going collaboration and interaction between the two bodies, including in relation to social welfare fraud and tax non-compliance. Both organisations are working together with a view to aligning expertise and information across their operations. In this context, a number of working groups have been established which are looking at a range of specifics issues, including that of social welfare abuse and tax compliance.

In this context, it is important to emphasise that data exchange operates on a two-way basis between the Revenue Commissioners and the Department and has been on-going for many years.

On foot of a specific data matching exercise carried out by the Department in late 2011, following work done by one of the High Level Group’s sub-groups, as outlined above, some 563,800 records of pensioners were provided to the Revenue Commissioners on 1st December 2011. The data in question related to customers in receipt of five social welfare schemes, namely state pension state pension (contributory), state pension(transition) state pension (non-contributory), widow’s/widower’s/surviving civil partner’s pension and invalidity pensions. The data provided contained the customer’s PPS number, name, pension type and rate of payment.

The Deputies should note that this is part of an on-going policy to enhance data sharing between the Department and other public service bodies. As technology develops, in the Department and elsewhere, it is expected that the exchange of data with other organisations will continue to be improved.

The taxation of all citizens is a matter for the Revenue Commissioners. However, in the case of social welfare payments which are subject to tax, the Department notifies its customers that their payments are taxable and that the customer should contact his/her local tax office in this regard. A notice to this effect is contained in the award letter issued by the Department to the customer. These leaflets are available for download from the Department’s website (welfare.ie) and are sent out to the customer, along with the relevant application form for the schemes, when an enquiry is made about entitlement. The Department’s website also contains information on this matter and with effect from Monday 9th January, a link to the relevant page on the Revenue website from the Department’s website has also been set up.

With regard to the Fair Deal scheme, each applicant undergoes a financial assessment of income and assets in order to calculate their contribution towards the cost of care. Should there be any change to any individual’s financial circumstances, it is open to the individual to seek a review of their contribution by contacting the local HSE Nursing Home Support Office.

  162.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the basis on which it was determined by a medical referee that a person (details supplied) in County Kildare was no longer entitled to domiciliary care allowance, given the existence of clear and incontrovertible medical evidence to the affect that the child requires significantly more attention than is normally required for a child of that age; if she will therefore urgently review the case with a view to immediate restoration of the payment or, in default thereof, arrange for an oral hearing to appeal the matter; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1814/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received on 16th June 2010 from the person concerned. This application was referred to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors who found that her child was medically eligible for the allowance. DCA cases processed by the Department have a review date entered when initially awarded. This date is based on the recommendation of the Medical [676]Assessor having considered the child’s medical prognosis. A review date of 12 months was entered in this case.

The person concerned was contacted on 24th October 2011 in relation to the review of her DCA claim and she submitted up-to-date information regarding the medical condition and the substantial extra care and attention required by her son. This information was referred to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors who found that her child no longer met the medical eligibility criteria for the allowance. A letter issued on 6th December 2011 advising her of the decision.

In the case of an application which is refused on medical grounds, the applicant may submit additional information in support of their case and this information will be reviewed and/or they may appeal the decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. The person concerned requested a review and the case was subsequently examined by another Medical Assessor who also found that the child was no longer medically eligible for the payment. She was notified of this decision on 3rd January 2012 and informed of her right of appeal to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

  163.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when the date for an oral hearing is likely to be set in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in respect of an application for domiciliary care allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1816/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the appeal from the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral hearing in this case. There has been a very significant increase in the number of appeals received by the Social Welfare Appeals Office since 2007 when the intake was 14,070 to 2010 and 2011 when the intake rose to 32,432 and 31,241 respectively. This has significantly impacted on the processing time for appeals which require oral hearings and, in order to be fair to all appellants, they are dealt with in strict chronological order.

While every effort is being made to deal with the large numbers awaiting oral hearing as quickly as possible, it is not possible to give a date when the person’s oral hearing will be heard, but s/he will be informed when arrangements have been made. 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.

  164.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    his plans to put in place a waiver system in cases of hardship where people are unable to afford the cost of switching to Saorview; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1730/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  I am very much aware of the challenges digital switchover brings, in particular for households that are reliant on the existing “free to air” analogue TV network. I wish to make clear from the outset, however, that I have no plans to introduce waivers for persons to upgrade their television equipment. All households solely reliant on the existing “free to air” analogue TV network will need to upgrade to digital TV by 24th October 2012, the date of analogue switch off, or they will lose access to television services. TV households can choose to upgrade to digital [677]TV by moving to a pay-TV service or by upgrading to Saorview, Ireland’s national digital TV aerial network, which was launched by RTÉ on 26th May 2011.

To upgrade to Saorview, TV households will need to purchase either a Saorview approved set top box to connect to their existing TV or a new Saorview digital TV. In some cases, depending on the type of aerial, the orientation and age of the aerial, some TV households may need a new aerial or aerial adjustment. The number of these is estimated to be around 20,000 TV households. Experience from other European countries indicates that the cost of set top boxes and other digital receivers reduces as the date for digital switchover approaches, and there is increased competition in the market. There is clear evidence that this is now happening in Ireland with affordable set top boxes that meet the Saorview standard now coming on the market, as well as a range of suitable digital televisions. In addition, experience from other European countries also shows that the availability of accurate and reliable information and the provision of practical assistance is the most effective approach towards assisting people in making the switch to digital television.

In this regard, therefore, to overcome the challenges that digital switchover brings, I have undertaken to deliver a substantial information campaign providing households with information on the digital switchover and on their options for going digital. This information campaign commenced in quarter four 2011. There are a number of strands to the campaign including a national telephone helpline and a national advertising and public relations campaign. The campaign will run up to the end of 2012.

In conjunction with this, my Department has been working to address the particular information and assistance needs of vulnerable households as they prepare to go digital. In this context, the expertise and local knowledge of the many voluntary and charity organisations around the country is of critical importance in ensuring the success of the switchover process. On January 10th 2012 I signed an agreement with national voluntary organisation, the Wheel, to develop and operate a nationwide community outreach digital switchover programme (Outreach Programme).

The Wheel, in conjunction with voluntary and community organisations throughout the country, will roll out a countrywide Outreach Programme in April 2012, which will provide additional assistance and advice at community level to those who may find the move to digital TV difficult. The aim of the Outreach Programme is to ensure that everybody is made aware of the switchover and that no TV viewers are left without a TV service once the national analogue TV service switches off on October 24th 2012. A press release issued and is available on my Department’s website at www.dcenr.gov.ie.

  165.  Deputy Patrick O’Donovan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the level of grant aid being paid annually to an organisation (details supplied). [1740/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  Under Section 123 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, as amended by Part 4 of the Communications Regulations Act 2011, with the approval of the Minister for Finance, I may pay RTÉ and TG4 in respect of each financial year an amount equal to the total of receipts in that year in respect of broadcasting (TV) licence fees, less (i) any expenses incurred in relation to the collection of those fees and (ii) an amount being equal to 7% of these net television licence fee receipts, which is paid under Section 156 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) in respect of the Broadcasting Funding Scheme.

[678]The following table sets out details of the amounts paid to RTÉ in the years 2008 to date in 2011 in the form of a grant-in-aid.

Year RTÉ
2008 €199 million
2009 €204 million
2010 €195.7 million
2011 €182.4 million

  166.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the number of qualified applications under the warmer homes grant scheme that are awaiting completion installation; the number of contractors that are assigned or designated to the scheme; if he is satisfied with the waiting time and list; his plans to overcome the concerns being expressed by many of the applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1767/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  Better Energy: Warmer Homes delivers a range of energy efficiency measures to households that are vulnerable to energy poverty with a total of 20,388 being addressed in 2011. The scheme is managed on behalf of my Department by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and delivered through a range of Community Based Organisations (CBOs), augmented by a panel of private contractors in order to ensure national coverage. The SEAI had 28 CBOs and 20 contractors operational on the scheme in 2011. It is anticipated that a similar number of CBOs and contractors will be active in 2012.

SEAI advise that there are a total of 8,833 homes on the national waiting list as of 4 January 2012. Service delivery plans, within the available 2012 budget, are currently being finalised. Households on the waiting list on 31 December 2011 will be retrofitted according to their position on the waiting list.

2012 will mark a shift in emphasis on the Better Energy: Warmer Homes scheme to take account of the Government’s Affordable Energy Strategy, which I launched last November. Heretofore, applicants were considered eligible for retrofit measures if they met defined criteria, such as eligibility for the National Fuel Scheme. All successful applicants were placed on a waiting list and addressed in rotation. The focus in 2012 will shift to addressing those households considered in extreme energy poverty as a priority; such households typically spend over 20% of their disposable income on energy services. This will ensure that those most in need receive the benefit of energy efficiency measures first.

  167.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Longford who was approved for participation in the better energy homes schemes by the Sustainable Energy Authorityof Ireland, has not received payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1843/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) administers the Better Energy Programme, on behalf of my Department. The Scheme has paid out €119,057 million for the installation of [679]274,184 measures in 110,254 homes. All applicants are required to undertake complete works in accordance with the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme. In accepting the grant offer the applicant accepts all conditions of the scheme indicating those set out in the Application Guide.

SEAI advise that homes of mixed construction types require different solutions in order to ensure the property is insulated to the optimum level. Where this is the case, applicants will only be eligible for a Better Energy Homes grant for the measure addressing the majority area of the property. Partial solutions are only acceptable by SEAI in exceptional cases where it is not “physically or economically possible” to provide a whole-element solution. The idea of internally dry-lining all exposed walls in a particular dwelling may become economically unviable where for example it would require kitchen units to be removed. SEAI require that justification for these exceptional partial solutions must be given in the Declaration of Works.

Queries in relation to individual applications are an operational matter for the SEAI and a dedicated hot line can be reached at 1800 250 204. In addition, the SEAI has established a specific email address for queries from Oireachtas members, which can be sent to oireachtas@seai.ie and will be dealt with promptly.

  168.  Deputy Robert Dowds    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government to set out, in tabular form,    the number of cases of anti-social behaviour in private accommodation which were brought to the attention of the Private Residential Tenancies Board for each of the past four years; the number of these cases in which action was taken by the PRTB against a tenant engaging in anti-social behaviour; and the number of times this included the eviction of a tenant. [1642/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I have no function in the operational matters of the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB), an independent statutory body established under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The PRTB publishes statistics, which include anti-social behaviour disputes, in its Annual Reports available on the website www.prtb.ie.

  169.  Deputy Robert Dowds    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the remuneration packages for each of the members of the board of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. [1643/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Board members of the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB), who are entitled to fees, are in receipt of such fees for meetings, inspections and training sessions on an attendance basis only. Details of attendance and remuneration are published in the PRTB’s Annual Reports available on the website www.prtb.ie.

  170.  Deputy Robert Dowds    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his plans to introduce legislation to enable residents in private accommodation to lodge complaints to the Private Residential Tenancies Board regarding anti-social neighbours through a proxy, such as a member of the Garda Síochána or a public representative, rather than forcing them to reveal their identities and thus put them at risk of intimidation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1644/12]

[680]Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 regulates the tenant-landlord relationship in the private rented residential sector. The Act sets out the obligations of tenants and landlords in the sector and the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) is the independent statutory body charged with the administration of the Act and the enforcement of those obligations, as necessary. While action to deal with anti-social behaviour is primarily a matter for An Garda Síochána, in the case of private rented dwellings landlords are responsible for enforcing the obligations that apply to their tenants under the Act.

The Act, in this regard, prohibits a tenant in a private residential tenancy from engaging in anti-social behaviour in, or in the vicinity of, a dwelling to which the Act applies and allows a landlord to terminate any tenancy where the tenant is engaging in or allowing others to engage in such behaviour, subject to a notice period of only 7 days in the case of serious anti-social behaviour or 28 days in the case of less serious but persistent behaviour. The Act also provides that a third party directly and adversely affected by anti-social behaviour may, subject to certain conditions, refer to the Board a complaint against a landlord who has failed to enforce tenant obligations. A specific condition is that the third party complainant must have taken reasonable steps to resolve the matter by communicating or attempting to communicate with the parties to the tenancy concerned.

Breaches of tenants’ or landlords’ obligations may be referred to the PRTB in the context of applications to it for its dispute resolution services. Parties involved in a dispute can apply for either adjudication or mediation as a means of dispute resolution. In the event of an appeal from adjudication or an unsuccessful mediation the dispute will be referred to a tenancy tribunal and the PRTB may then issue directions regarding those obligations in its Determination Orders and, in the event of non-compliance with the Orders, it may pursue enforcement via Court proceedings.

I am satisfied that the Act is adequate in the matter of third party disputes. While I have no plans to amend the legislation in this regard, I will keep the matter under review.

  171.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his plans to address the situation whereby planning applications for an extension of time are being refused, following on from a previous grant of permission, due to a change in environmental guidelines; if he will amend the 2010 Planning Act to resolve this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1645/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Article 24 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 (as amended) requires an outline application, in addition to the requirements of article 22(2), to be accompanied only by such plans and particulars as are necessary to enable the planning authority to make a decision in relation to the siting, layout or other proposals for development in respect of which a decision is sought. Article 22(2)(c) requests evidence of site suitability where it is proposed to dispose of wastewater other than into a public sewer.

Where an application for permission is made to a planning authority consequent on the grant of outline permission, the planning authority cannot refuse to grant permission on the basis of any matter which had been decided in the grant of outline permission, provided that the authority is satisfied that the proposed development is within the terms of the outline permission. However, an outline permission does not operate to authorise the carrying out of any development to which the outline permission relates until a subsequent permission has been granted. [681] My Department has written to all Planning Authorities to clarify that, where at outline stage an applicant has carried out a site suitability test which is in compliance with the EPA code of practice, there should be no requirement to carry out a further test at the consequent permission stage.

  172.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide a breakdown of the amount collected from commercial rates levied on Irish businesses by local authorities for each of the years 2000 to 2011, inclusive; the number of businesses levied each year; the percentage for local authority expenditure this total represented for each of the years concerned in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1665/12]

  173.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide a breakdown of the amount collected from water charges levied on Irish businesses by local authorities for each of the years 2000 to 2011, inclusive; the number of businesses levied each year; the percentage of local authority expenditure this total represented for each of the years concerned in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1666/12]

  174.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he has conducted any review of the economic impact of local authority rates on small and medium businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1667/12]

  175.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his plans to review the commercial rates payable to local authorities in view of the funding such bodies will receive from water charges and property tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1668/12]

  178.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he has considered granting local authorities the power to reduce all or part of a business’ commercial rates bills in cases of extreme financial hardship, as is the practice in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1671/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 172 to 175, inclusive, and 178 together.

Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists prepared by the independent Commissioner of Valuation under the Valuation Act 2001. The levying and collection of rates are matters for each individual local authority. The annual rate on valuation (ARV), which is applied to the valuation of each property, determined by the Valuation Office, to obtain the amount payable in rates, is decided by the elected members of each local authority in the annual budget and its determination is a reserved function. As with all local charges, the invoicing and collection of due amounts is a matter for the local authority concerned to manage in the light of prevailing local circumstances and in accordance with normal accountancy procedures.

The Commissioner of Valuation, who has sole responsibility for all valuation matters, is conducting a programme of revaluation of all commercial and industrial properties throughout the State on a county by county basis. The purpose of the revaluation process is to provide for more consistent and up-to-date valuations for rating purposes and to assist in providing a more [682]equitable distribution of valuations across those liable to pay rates. The Commissioner, in consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, has been reviewing various options for streamlining the valuation process and speeding up the national revaluation programme. In this regard, the Government recently approved the drafting of a Valuation Bill to amend the Valuation Act.

I recognise that these are difficult economic times for many small and medium size businesses. I have asked local authorities to exercise restraint in setting their 2012 ARVs in the context of the adoptions of their 2012 Budgets. Local authorities have responded positively to similar requests in recent years. I will continue to keep all matters relating to rates under consideration in my Department. Local authorities play a central role in supporting economic development and enterprise at local level. They do this in a number of ways, including through their capital and current budgets, economic planning and development and the provision of goods and services as well as community infrastructure. Business support units in each county and city council are providing a focal point for businesses to engage appropriately with the local government system on relevant matters in setting up and managing their businesses. The Government’s commitment to align the community development sector with local government will also see a more co-ordinated focus on the support of local enterprise and community development.

The EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland commits to the introduction of a property tax and domestic water charges. In the light of the complex issues involved in the introduction of a property tax, the Government decided to introduce a household charge in 2012 to meet the EU/IMF commitment. The household charge, which, if collected in full, will contribute €160 million towards the provision of local services, is an interim measure and proposals for a full property tax will be developed and considered by the Government as soon as possible. The property tax will provide a more stable funding base for the local government sector.

The Programme for Government also commits to the introduction of a fair funding model to deliver clean and reliable water. The objective is to install water meters in households connected to public water supplies and to move to a charging system that is based on usage. My Department is finalising a strategy to implement these proposals and I will be in a position to announce further details shortly.

The information requested in respect of commercial rates and water charges is set out, where available, in the following tables. In the years 2000 to 2003, local authorities published their accounts on a cash accounting basis and from 2004 on an accruals basis. The figures are, therefore, not directly comparable across all years.

The information requested on the number of businesses levied for commercial rates and water charges is not available in my Department. In addition, the data requested in relation to commercial water charge receipts for the years 2000 to 2003 are not available to me. For these years consolidated figures in respect of “Receipts for Public Water Supply” are available. However, these figures would include commercial water charges and other income such as charges related to group water schemes, state grants and inter-local authority payments. The data requested in respect of 2010 and 2011 are not yet available in my Department. Audited annual financial statement data for 2010 and 2011 will be available by 31 March 2012 and 31 March 2013 respectively.

[683]Commercial Rates

Cash Receipts Cash Receipts as % of Cash Expenditure Income — Accruals Basis Income as % of Expenditure — Accruals Basis
2000 €586,455,728 24% N/A N/A
2001 €662,750,756 23% N/A N/A
2002 €750,154,327 23% N/A N/A
2003 €839,297,992 25% N/A N/A
2004 €875,908,097 N/A €942,791,171 25%
2005 €1,020,425,365 N/A €1,050,449,231 26%
2006 €1,134,488,242 N/A €1,188,865,931 27%
2007 €1,232,785,108 N/A €1,267,366,002 26%
2008 €1,276,265,552 N/A €1,356,392,809 26%
2009 €1,263,368,440 N/A €1,408,720,936 29%

Commercial Water Charges

Cash Receipts Cash Receipts as % of Cash Expenditure Income — Accruals Basis Income as % of Expenditure — Accruals Basis
2004 €106,305,672 N/A €120,903,711 3%
2005 €134,286,704 N/A €132,767,080 3%
2006 €141,896,649 N/A €147,228,576 3%
2007 €145,232,026 N/A €169,238,004 3%
2008 €163,845,502 N/A €195,436,502 4%
2009 €169,932,784 N/A €210,352,288 4%

  176.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide an update on the programme for Government commitment to abolish the position of county manager and replace it with a chief executive mandated to implement democratically decided policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1669/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 24, 44, 42 and 122 of 30 November 2011 which sets out the position in this matter.

  177.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide an update on the programme for Government commitment to examine the potential to merge services between two or more local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1670/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  A range of work relevant to the delivery of the Programme for Government commitments on shared services is underway and will be developed further. In pursuance of the implementation of the Local Government Efficiency Review, I have established an independently chaired Implementation Group to drive forward the recommendations, including in relation to shared [684]services. The Group has recently completed an interim report, which I have asked the Group to develop further. I understand the Group is engaging with the County and City Managers’ Association in this regard.

Other specific measures in relation to shared services are being implemented under the programme for Public Service Review and the Public Service Agreement (PSA). Reports on progress and savings under the Local Government Sectoral Action Plan of the PSA were made to the Implementation Body in May 2011. An updated and revised Action Plan under the PSA for the local authority sector is currently being prepared and will be submitted to the National Implementation Body this month. The Action Plan will contain actions designed to examine the potential for and the implementation of shared services across the functional areas of local authorities.

Question No. 178 answered with Question No. 172.

  179.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his views on a matter regarding self-regulation (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1672/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 509 and 575 of 11th January 2012 which sets out the position in this matter.

  180.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    when the vacant positions on An Bord Pleanála will be filled; when a qualified architect will be appointed to the board in view of the necessity to have architectural and urban design expertise on the board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1677/12]

  188.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will appoint an architect to the board of An Bord Pleanála in view of the fact that there is no one with architectural, urban design or conservation expertise currently sitting on the board that deals with planning appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1751/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 188 together.

The procedures for the appointment by the Minister of ordinary members of An Bord Pleanála are set out in sections 104-106 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2010. Nominating bodies that are specified in the associated Planning and Development Regulations are requested to nominate persons. The persons appointed by the Minister are from panels formed from these nominations. The Board is not intended to be an expert body as such (it has experts to advise it) but should be a balanced group of people with diverse backgrounds who can reach a considered view on issues.

The statutory process of filling a number of the current vacancies on the Board is now underway and the first of the new appointments will be made in the coming weeks. Cognisance will be given when appointing new board members to the balance of skill sets and expertise [685]required at Board level for the effective discharge of An Bord Pleanála’s complex and wide ranging functions.

  181.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will direct the Dormant Accounts Board to compile and publish a report which will identify each of organisations, schemes, projects and so on, across all Votes and subheads to which dormant accounts funding was awarded in the years 2010 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1678/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  In compliance with the Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Act 2005, details of all the organisations that have been awarded Dormant Accounts Funding to date are available on my Department’s website (www.environ.ie). This material includes the schemes and projects across all votes and sub-heads to which Dormant Accounts Funding was awarded in the years 2010 and 2011.

  182.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if consideration will be given to making a concession in the household charge to home owners who paid high stamp duty on house purchases both first time and second hand before the collapse in house values and the reduction in stamp duty rates; if consideration will be given to providing tax credits to such persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1693/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides for a number of exemptions and waivers from payment of the household charge. The exemptions from payment of the household charge are:

Residential properties that are part of the trading stock of a business and have not been sold or been the source of any income since construction;

Residential property owned by a Minister of the Government, a housing authority or the Health Service Executive;

Voluntary and co-operative housing;

Residential property to which commercial rates apply;

Residential property owned by a charity or a discretionary trust; and

Residential property which an owner has vacated due to long-term mental or physical infirmity (e.g. elderly person that has moved into a nursing home).

Two waivers apply for:

Owners of residential property entitled to mortgage interest supplement; and

Owners of houses in certain unfinished housing estates.

The legislation does not provide for an exemption or waiver from payment of the household charge in respect of persons who paid stamp duty in recent years and I have no proposals in this regard. Tax credits are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Finance.

  183.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will instruct each of the city and county managers to compile in 2012 a comprehensive register of estate management companies in each of their functional areas; if he will collect and publish figures on the numbers of households paying management charges; if he is satisfied that the services provided by estate management companies to residents are of a reasonable standard and are proportionate to the estate management costs levied by such companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1697/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  My Department has no function in relation to the operation of property management companies. The Multi Unit Developments Act 2011 which falls under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, regulates the management and operation of such companies.

  184.  Deputy Patrick O’Donovan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide a status report on a scheme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1703/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  In April 2009 a proposal by Clúid Housing Association to provide eleven voluntary housing units at Ardagh was submitted for funding under my Department’s Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme (CLSS). Due to the high level of commitments at that time it was not possible to approve the proposal. A decision was subsequently made in 2010 to discontinue the CLSS.

Approved housing bodies may put forward proposals to meet housing need under my Department’s Social Housing Leasing Initiative and the Capital Advance Leasing Facility. It is open to Clúid Housing Association to consider this approach with regard to meeting housing need at Ardagh.

  185.  Deputy Nicky McFadden    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if a person (details supplied) will be liable to pay both the household charge and second home tax in respect of the same property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1744/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The €200 charge on non-principal private residences is payable by the owners of private rented accommodation, holiday homes and other non-principal residences. The most important exemption under the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 is for a person’s sole or main residence. However, any one individual can have only one such residence.

In a situation where a person owns a property in which he or she does not live and his or her sole or main residence is a rented property, there would be a liability for the non-principal private residence charge in respect of the property owned by the person, unless it is otherwise exempted under section 4 of the Act.

Under the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011, owners of residential property are liable to the €100 household charge. This liability extends to property owners with a liability to pay the charge on non-principal private residences.

[687]

  186.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the total number of properties expected to be registered under the household charge scheme. [1749/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  Section 5 of the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 requires an owner of a residential property who, on a liability date, is liable to pay a household charge, or is entitled to a waiver from payment of a household charge under section 4, to provide to the relevant local authority a declaration stating that he or she is so liable or so entitled, as the case may be.

The total number of properties registered will be dependent on the numbers of residential property owners that declare a liability for the household charge. It is estimated that there are some 1.6 million residential properties liable to the charge.

  187.  Deputy Niall Collins    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the total amount collected under the household charge scheme each day since the 1 January 2012. [1750/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The daily amounts paid or mandated by direct debit up to and including the 10th of January 2012 are set out in the table.

Year Amount
01/01/2012 €20,900
02/01/2012 €25,300
03/01/2012 €46,200
04/01/2012 €942,100
05/01/2012 €624,000
06/01/2012 €386,200
07/01/2012 €151,700
08/01/2012 €156,900
09/01/2012 €294,400
10/01/2012 €214,400

Question No. 188 answered with Question No. 180.

  189.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if a property tax will apply to vacant residential properties, that are not rented and are up for sale. [1759/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  It will be a matter for the Government to decide on the scope and application of the property tax to replace the interim household charge in due course.

  190.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the position regarding the issuing of bin waivers for low income households; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1765/12]

[688]Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, under which service providers will bid to provide waste collection services in a given area, for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service.

A public consultation designed to inform the policy development process concluded in September 2011. A large number of responses were received from a broad spectrum of interests. As one might expect, a consensus is not apparent and, on almost all of the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed including in relation to the issue of waiver schemes. All of the responses received, in addition to a summary document, are available on my Department’s website.

I expect to be in a position to submit final proposals in relation to household waste collection to Government early this year. All policy proposals will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of issues and perspectives. The issue of waivers for low income households will be among the issues for consideration in this context.

  191.  Deputy Dessie Ellis    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 139 of 9 November 2011 and 221 of 15 December 2011, if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Dublin City Council local authority mortgage holders have received no communication from the council on the interest rate cuts and that some mortgage holders are reporting that their monthly payments have not decreased; if he will ensure that these and future cuts are passed on immediately, uniformly and in a transparent manner; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1835/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  As outlined in the reply to Question 221 of 15 December 2011, the Board of the Housing Finance Agency decided at its meeting on 9 December 2011 to pass on in full the rate cut of 0.25%, announced the previous day by the European Central Bank, to those local authority borrowers with variable interest rate mortgages. As a result of this latest decrease local authority borrowers will enjoy a differential of well over 1.5% below the average variable rate in the wider mortgage market. The new rate will take effect from 1 February 2012. The November rate cut announced by the ECB on 3 November 2011, has already been passed on to local authority variable mortgage holders. In responding to future movements in ECB rates, the Agency will give careful consideration, on each occasion, to the fluctuating relationship between its lending rates and the cost of funds.

  192.  Deputy Michael McCarthy    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the reason behind a recent increase in landfill levy rates; when the increase was introduced; the amount by which the levy was increased; the current levy rate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1863/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  Ireland’s current reliance on landfill as the principal method of managing our waste is unsustainable. The landfill levy is chargeable on waste presented for disposal at landfill facilities and is designed to encourage a shift away from landfill to waste management practices which are higher in the internationally accepted waste hierarchy. In addition, Ireland must comply with [689]challenging targets under Directive 1999/31/EC with regard to the diversion of biodegradable municipal waste from landfill or face potential fines for non-compliance. Landfill gate fees have fallen in recent years, thus undermining the dissuasive effect of the levy.

Therefore, the landfill levy was increased by €20 per tonne (from €30 per tonne to €50 per tonne) with effect from 1 September 2011. This increase is intended to send a strong price signal to the producers, collectors and managers of waste that the current reliance on landfill cannot be sustained. Further increases in the landfill levy are also planned, to €65 per tonne in July this year and to €75 per tonne in July 2013. I hope to see significantly improved levels of prevention, recovery, recycling and reuse of waste as a consequence of these increases.

  193.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    when he expects to publish a Bill on mental capacity; if he intends that Ireland will ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities following the publication of this legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1658/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Government Legislation Programme, published on 11 January 2012, indicates that the Mental Capacity Bill is expected to be published in this session. The Bill will reform the law on mental capacity taking into account the Law Reform Commission’s Report on Vulnerable Adults and the Law. The enactment of new mental capacity legislation is one of the core elements of the remaining work to be completed towards ratifying the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

It is the Government’s intention to ratify the UN Convention as quickly as possible, taking into account the need to ensure that all necessary legislative and administrative requirements under the Convention are being met.

  194.  Deputy Gerry Adams    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if he has given consideration to issues relating to the former Bethany Home, Dublin and the practicality of addressing the issues arising from the home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1680/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Government has charged the inter-departmental committee with clarifying any State interaction with the Magdalen institutions and producing a narrative detailing such interaction. There are presently no plans to expand its brief beyond those institutions.

I can assure the Deputy however that consideration is being given to issues related to the former Bethany Home and the appropriateness and practicality of such issues being addressed in a satisfactory manner at the present time.

  195.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    his plans to transfer any current function and related staff from the Department of Justice and Equality offices in Killarney, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1709/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  My Department operates a Financial Shared Services Centre in Killarney, County Kerry. It provides payroll, pensions, financial [690]management and other related support services to my Department, and to a number of other client organisations, including the Garda Síochána, the Courts Service, the Irish Prison Service, the Property Registration Authority and other Government Departments and Agencies. There are no plans involving the transfer of any current functions and related staff from Killarney.

  196.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if he has had any contact with South Dublin County Council in respect of the decision of the council in the Fortunestown local area draft plan to include a site in Tallaght west for a Garda station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1715/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  In accordance with the provisions of the Garda Síochána Act 2005, decisions in relation to the opening of Garda stations are a matter, in the first instance, for the Garda Commissioner.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that they are not aware of any plans to provide a site for a Garda station at the location referred to by the Deputy. In addition, I have not had any contact with South Dublin County Council in relation to this matter.

  197.  Deputy Ciarán Lynch    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if he has considered giving priority to applicants who are members of the Garda Reserve in any future recruitment drives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1745/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Recruitment to An Garda Síochána is governed by Statutory Regulations, namely the Garda Síochána (Admission and Appointments) Regulations 1988/2005. These regulations incorporate the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 which allow the Public Appointments Service to give due recognition to any satisfactory service by a person as a reserve member of the Garda Síochána.

  198.  Deputy Timmy Dooley    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if he will quantify the number of marked patrol cars available for use in each of the Garda divisions as of 9 January, 2012; the number of marked patrol cars that have reached the 300,000 km limit in the past six months by division; the number of marked patrol cars that have been replaced by division in the same six months; the number of marked patrol cars by division that have in excess of 250,000 km clocked; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1746/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Decisions in relation to the provision and deployment of Garda transport are matters for the Garda Commissioner.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that provision has been made in the Garda Vote for 2012 to acquire new vehicles for An Garda Síochána and in that general context a Request for Tender is currently being developed in conjunction with the National Procurement Service. This is a matter which will be pursued in the light of An Garda Síochána’s operational priorities and the availability of financial resources.

[691]No new marked patrol cars were added to the Garda fleet during the last six months and the further information requested by the Deputy is contained in the table:

DIVISION (including DMR Traffic) MARKED PATROL CARS
as at 9/1/12
MARKED PATROL CARS WITHDRAWN
Jul-Dec 11
MARKED PATROL CARS 250,000KM+
as at 9/1/12
TOTAL 683 71 165
CAVAN-MONAGHAN 27 5 8
CLARE 16 1 7
CORK CITY 27 4 5
CORK NORTH 21 0 9
CORK WEST 27 7 5
DMR EAST 14 2 3
DMR NORTH 20 3 3
DMR NORTH CENTRAL 15 1 2
DMR SOUTH 16 0 3
DMR SOUTH CENTRAL 18 1 4
DMR TRAFFIC 13 1 2
DMR WEST 29 4 6
DONEGAL 37 3 6
GALWAY 44 3 16
KERRY 18 2 4
KILDARE 24 7 6
KILKENNY/CARLOW 20 2 7
LAOIS-OFFALY 23 3 10
LIMERICK 34 2 7
LOUTH 20 0 4
MAYO 30 1 6
MEATH 28 1 6
ROSCOMMON-LONGFORD 16 1 2
SLIGO-LEITRIM 26 5 5
TIPPERARY 26 3 9
WATERFORD 24 2 5
WESTMEATH 18 4 4
WEXFORD 27 2 10
WICKLOW 25 1 1

  199.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    when it is expected that matters regarding the entitlement to citizenship will be determined in the case of the child of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1818/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 231 on 15th December, 2011. The case referred to has not yet received a hearing date and as the Deputy will be aware the scheduling of cases is a matter for the judiciary.

[692]Reply to Parliamentary Question No. 231 of 15th December, 2011.

The legal issues that bear on the case referred to by the Deputy are the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court in another preceding case and, as they are sub-judice, I am constrained as to any comment I can make on the matter.

  200.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the extent to which a medical condition is being monitored in the case of a person (details supplied) currently serving a sentence in the Midlands Prison, Portlaoise, County Laois; if the person has received the required and regular medical attention in line with his or her condition; if the full extent of the condition has been determined; if and when the person is likely to be referred for further surgery or procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1820/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Irish Prison Service provides general healthcare services for the assessment, treatment and care of prisoners comparable to those available in a community primary care setting and which are appropriate to a custodial environment. Prisoners are referred to external specialist services as clinically indicated by the prison doctor and referrals are on the same basis as for citizens in the general community covered by the GMS (Medical Card) Scheme.

I have been assured by the Irish Prison Service that the person referred to is receiving all appropriate medical care as required by his medical condition in Midlands Prison. However, as I am sure you are aware, medical confidentiality is a time-honoured principle of professional healthcare ethics and accordingly I am not at liberty to divulge information relating to aperson’s medical records.

  201.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the progress made to date and-or procedures to be followed in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who is resident here for the past 13 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1821/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that the person concerned was granted residence for 5 years on the basis of EU Treaty Rights on 21 October 2003. The person in question was subsequently granted a further 5 year period under EU Treaty Rights on 24 November 2007.

The current position is that, following the granting of permission on 24 November 2007, the individual’s passport was stamped with the appropriate permission (Stamp 4EUFam) by the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB) until the passport’s expiry date of 30 July 2011. On the 18 August 2011 the individual attended the GNIB seeking to have the remainder of his permission registered and to receive a further residence card. The individual, however, failed to present a valid passport to GNIB for registration and was informed that he must do so before he can be granted the remainder of his permission. To date the individual in question has failed to present a valid passport to GNIB.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without [693]the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

  202.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if and when citizenship or residency status is likely to be determined in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1822/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The person concerned is a failed asylum applicant. Arising from the refusal of her asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 4th February, 2011, that the then Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against her. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006.

The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the application for Subsidiary Protection is refused, the position in the State of the person concerned will then be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before a final decision is made. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

The Deputy might wish to note that as the person concerned has no current right of residency in the State, the issue of an application for Irish citizenship does not arise at this time.

I should remind the Deputy that queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the 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.

  203.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    if, further to Parliamentary Question No. 439 of 15 of November 2011, he will carry out or cause to be carried out a review of the circumstances relating to the application for refugee, asylum, residency or other status in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 in view of the fact that they appear to have proceeded in fashion other than that in the person's best interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1823/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I refer the Deputy to my detailed Reply — set out beneath — to his earlier Parliamentary Question, No. 439 of Tuesday, 15th November, 2011. The position is unchanged since then. The Deputy can be assured that the procedures followed, and to be followed, in the case of the person concerned are as set out in the relevant national asylum and immigration legislation and also take account of the State’s [694]international obligations in this area. As a result, I see no justification for any review of any of the actions taken to date in this case.

Parliamentary Question, No. 439 of Tuesday, 15th November, 2011

The person concerned applied for asylum on 26th January, 2010. In accordance with the provisions of Section 9 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended), the person concerned was entitled to remain in the State until her application for asylum was decided.

On 2nd February, 2010, the person concerned applied to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) to voluntarily return to her country of origin. The person concerned subsequently applied for a student visa and the IOM closed its file on the case.

On 11th June, 2010, the person concerned withdrew her asylum application and was declared not to be a refugee on 16th June, 2010 by the Refugee Applications Commissioner, in accordance with section 13(2)(a)(b) of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended).

Arising from the withdrawal and subsequent refusal of her asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 7th July, 2010, that the then Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against her. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006.

The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome. In assessing the application, regard will be given to the specific claims made by the applicant as measured against objective, reputable, up to date information relating to the applicant’s country of origin.

In the event that the application for Subsidiary Protection is refused, the position in the State of the person concerned will then be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before a final decision is made. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

  204.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    further to Parliamentary Question No. 249 of 15 December 2011, if he will examine the case for residency and citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare, in view of the fact that the applicant has lived here in the company of his parent for the past 13 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1824/12]

[695]Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The person concerned was granted permission to remain in the State, initially on Stamp 2A (student) conditions and subsequently on Stamp 4 conditions. The decision to grant him permission to remain had regard for the fact that his mother had been granted permission to remain in the State, in 2002, based on her parentage of an Irish born citizen child. The Stamp 4 based permission to remain granted to the person concerned expired on 5th October, 2011, the expiry date on his Passport.

The person concerned would appear to have left the State without first having secured a re-entry visa. Upon receipt of an enquiry as to how the person concerned could re-enter the State, he was advised, via a family member who made enquiries on his behalf, that the only option available in such circumstances was that a fresh visa application be made, from outside the State.

A visa application for the person concerned was received in the Visa Office, Dublin on the 14th November, 2011. Given the circumstances, the application was dealt with in an expeditious manner. A Visa Officer considered the application and refused the granting of the visa sought on 15th November, 2011 for the following reasons:

(i) There was insufficient documentation submitted in support of the application. The Visa Officer noted that a detailed explanation was not provided as to why the person concerned travelled outside the State without a valid Garda registration card or a re-entry visa and

(ii) There was an inconsistency noted in that the passport submitted by the applicant had not been signed.

As is the case with all refused visa applications, the refusal decision, and the reasons for that decision, were sent to the applicant in writing. In addition, and in common with all visa applications refused in Dublin, the refusal decision and the reasons for that decision were posted promptly on-line, in a secure format.

It is open to the person concerned to submit an appeal within two months of the date of refusal, in this case before 15th January, 2012. Guidelines on the visa appeals process are available on the Website of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (www.inis.gov.ie).

It would appear that the person concerned proceeded to re-enter the State illegally i.e. without a valid visa. It would appear also that the person concerned wishes to have his permission to remain renewed. If he wishes to have his case formally considered, he must make a formal written renewal request to my Department c/o The Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS), PO Box 10003, Dublin 1.

Upon receipt of any such renewal application, the case of the person concerned will be examined by the relevant officials in my Department. Once a renewal decision has been made, this decision, and the consequences of the decision, will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

I understand also that the person concerned submitted an application for a Certificate of Naturalisation in March, 2010. On examination of the application submitted, it was determined that the person concerned did not meet the statutory residency requirements as set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (as amended). The person concerned was notified to this effect by letter dated 14th July, 2010.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may [696]consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from the INIS is, in the Deputy’s view, inadequate or too long awaited.

  205.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the procedures to date and yet to be followed in the matter of examination of entitlement to citizenship in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 6; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1825/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy’s Question was received in the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) in June 2006.

On examination of the application submitted it was determined that the person in question did not meet the statutory residency requirements as set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. The person concerned was informed of this in a letter issued to him on 21 October, 2006.

Section 15 of that Act provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. The conditions are that the applicant must—

be of full age.

be of good character.

have had a period of one year’s continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, have had a total residence in the State amounting to four years.

have, before a judge of the District Court in open court, in a citizenship ceremony or in such manner as the Minister, for special reasons, allows—

(i) made a declaration, in the prescribed manner, of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, and

(ii) undertaken to faithfully observe the laws of the State and to respect its democratic values.

In the context of naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State are excluded. These include—

periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State.

periods granted for the purposes of study.

periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act, 1996.

It is open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the prescribed statutory requirements. Officials in the Citizenship Division inform me that they have no record of any further application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person concerned.

[697]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.

  206.  Deputy Gerry Adams    asked the Minister for Defence    if it is the case that Irish Air Corps pilots can retire after 15 years service and receive a pension payable from the date the pilot leaves the service; the number of persons who currently benefit from this arrangement and are in receipt of a pension before normal retirement age; the cost to the State on an annual basis; his plans to review the current practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1732/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Under the pre-April 2004 Defence Forces Pensions Schemes, commissioned officers in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) — including Air Corps pilots — may qualify for payment of pension and lump sum immediately on retirement after 12 years’ pensionable service, regardless of age. However, these arrangements have undergone fundamental reform. This process of reform began with the previous Government’s acceptance of the broad thrust of the recommendations of the Commission on Public Service Pensions, including the pension terms to apply to future new entrants across the public service generally. Under the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions)Act 2004, revised occupational pension arrangements apply to all military personnel — including Air Corps pilots — who join the PDF as new entrants on or after 1 April 2004. Their pension scheme terms provide for a “minimum pension age” of 50. This means that pensions and gratuities will not normally be payable immediately on retirement unless the person serves to age 50. Where leaving the PDF before age 50, benefits are not payable immediately but are “preserved” and payable from age 60.

As part of further reforms, a new single pension scheme will apply to all future new entrants joining the public service, including the PDF. It is expected that this new single scheme will come into operation in 2012. As provided in the relevant Bill published in September 2011 by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, the new scheme will include a move to calculating retirement benefits based on career average earnings rather than on final salary. For such new entrant PDF personnel, it is proposed that the current minimum pension age of 50 will continue to apply.

It should be noted that the requirement for certain groups e.g. military, police and fire-fighters, to have enhanced pension arrangements together with earlier retirement ages is internationally accepted in the public service context. Given the robust nature of their duties such groups are required to retire earlier than the norm and, as such, have traditionally had accelerated pension arrangements.

With regard to the numbers of retired Air Corps officers in this category and their associated pension costs, the relevant detailed information sought by the Deputy is not readily available. However, I have asked that a search of records be undertaken in both the Department and the Defence Forces to determine the extent to which the information sought by the Deputy can be made available and once this is complete I will revert further to him in the matter.

  207.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to pardon Irish soldiers [698]who fought with the Allies during World War II; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1764/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  This is a very complicated issue and covers a wider range of individuals other than those who deserted to join the British Army during World War II. Having regard to the wider dimensions of the issue, including for those who were actually tried by Court Martial for desertion during the Emergency and thereafter, the matter has been referred to the Attorney General’s Office for advice. The matter will require some further research by that office and detailed consideration of the wider implications of any proposed course of action. I am awaiting the advice of the Attorney General and will consider the matter further at that stage. I expect to receive that advice shortly.

  208.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    when a REP scheme 4 payment will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1801/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The person named commenced REPS 4 in June 2008 and received payments for the first three years of the contract.

REPS 4 is a measure under the current 2007-13 Rural Development Programme and accordingly is subject to EU Regulations which require detailed administrative checks on all applications to be completed before any payments can issue. Those administrative checks highlighted a discrepancy leading to an over-claim in relation to Natura land. As a consequence, a reduction penalty will apply to the payment to the person named. A letter outlining the nature of this penalty will issue shortly and, in the meantime, the claim will be processed further and payment will issue shortly.

  209.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the total sum expended by the Health Service Executive in each of the years 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 in the provision of those supports, envisaged for transfer to the yet to be established child and family support agency; the directly attributable HSE management and staff costs covering these services in each of the specified years, being a part of the totals above; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1707/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  I established the Task Force on the Child and Family Support Agency in September 2011 under the chairmanship of Ms Maureen Lynott. The Task Force will advise my Department in regard to the necessary transition programme to establish a Child and Family Support Agency, and will base its work on best practice in child welfare, family support and public administration; consistent with the Government’s public sector reform agenda.

The Task Force has been asked to advise on the appropriate service responsibilities for the Agency during the course of its work from amongst those within the HSE that relate to children and family services, or from within the relevant operational responsibilities of my Department or its agencies. Resource allocation for the new Agency will largely be determined by the services for which it will have responsibility; in terms of both direct provision and commissioning. The Task Force will review the existing budgets, staffing and other corporate sup[699]ports in respect of the services transferring. Further, the Task Force has been asked to assess and propose, within the resources available for the transferring services, a plan for resource and staffing configuration which takes full account of the overall corporate vision, indicators of need (geographically and by service) and the objectives of public sector reform and modernisation.

I am firmly committed to the transformation of Ireland’s child protection and welfare services. Central to this is delivering transparent and accountable management and budgeting. The establishment for the first time of a dedicated budget sub-head within the HSE Vote for children and families is an important part of the ongoing ‘change agenda’, which is aimed at strengthening organisation capacity, business processes and systems, and will pave the way for the transition to the new Child and Family Support Agency in 2013. Management of these services will be led by the National Director (Mr Gordon Jeyes) who already has a very close working relationship with me and my Department. These developments are an integral part of preparations for the new stand alone Agency.

The full remit of child and family services that will transfer to the new Agency has not yet been decided. In this regard, I look forward to receiving the report of the Task Force’s work, which will inform preparations for the new Agency, including the drafting of legislation. For the purposes of the information requested it is assumed that the Deputy is referring to HSE expenditure in the area of children and family services. The HSE reports, in its annual service plan, high level financial information by care group on estimated expenditure levels for the previous year. The estimated expenditure levels for the period 2008-2010 are as follows:—

2010 €601m (source: HSE Service Plan 2011);

2009 €575m (source: HSE Service Plan 2010);

2008 €570m (source: HSE Service Plan 2009).

An outturn in respect of 2007 is not readily available as financial information was presented in regional and not care group format at that time. The reported expenditure levels do not distinguish between pay and non-pay elements. Accordingly I have asked the HSE to examine the matter and to reply directly to the Deputy.

  210.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    her plans to address the significant increase in calls to the Childline helpline on Christmas Day; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1690/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  Childline is a confidential listening service for children and young people operated by the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC). The service is available by telephone, online and mobile texting and is operated by professionally trained ISPCC staff and volunteers. The ISPCC reported that Childline received 1,387 calls and messages on Christmas day and that 85 ISPCC volunteers gave freely of their time to listen and support children who needed to talk to someone.

I have no precise information regarding the breakdown of the nature of the calls received by Childline on Christmas Day. It is difficult therefore to make any assessment of the issues raised. However, I have asked the Health Service Executive, as the body charged with statutory responsibility for child welfare and protection matters and which has an established relationship with the ISPCC, to liaise directly with the ISPCC on this issue with a view to identifying any [700]particular areas of concern arising from the level of contact made with Childline on Christmas Day.

  211.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of unprocessed reports of suspected abuse of children across each of the child protection services areas at 2011 year end; the number of these in each area that suggest child sexual abuse; the date of first report of the longest known such cases by area; the average waiting time by area for the processing of all reports; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1706/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive for the information in question which I will forward to the Deputy.

  212.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    further to Parliamentary Question No. 471 of 27 September 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [1811/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  I have asked the Health Service Executive to update the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  213.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    further to Parliamentary Question No. 472 of 27 September 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [1812/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  I have asked the Health Service Executive to update the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

  214.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    further to Parliamentary Question No. 146 of 3 November 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [1813/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  My Department has sought the information from the HSE requested by the Deputy on the number of children who have left care this year. I will provide the Deputy with the information when it becomes available.

  215.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of unaccompanied children in State care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1864/12]

  216.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of unaccompanied children who have not had personal guardians appointed to them; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1865/12]

[701]

  217.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of unaccompanied children who went missing from State care in 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1866/12]

  218.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of unaccompanied children who are currently missing from State care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1867/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 215 to 218, inclusive, together.

As these are service matters, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy with the most up-to-date information.

  219.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Health    if he will seek to have urgently required surgery expedited in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1646/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I am determined to address the issues which cause unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. In this regard I have established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which will work to unblock access to acute services by dramatically improving the flow of patients through the system, and by streamlining waiting lists, including referrals from GPs. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies — mainly the HSE and the NTPF.

As a priority, public hospitals were instructed to ensure that, by the end of 2011, they had no patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment. I can confirm that the vast majority of hospitals achieved this objective. During 2012 the SDU will support hospitals in the delivery of a 9 month maximum wait time for inpatient or daycase surgery

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient’s general practitioner consider that the patient’s condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and facility involved.

  220.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the progress made to date in implementing the programme for Government commitment to put the standards for residential care in respect of persons with disabilities on a statutory footing; if this will extend to those providing home care facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1647/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As the Deputy will be aware, residential services for people with disabilities are currently unregulated. This is acknowledged as a matter of concern. The legislative framework for the regulation of these services is provided for by the Health Act 2007, which envisages a role for the Health Information and Quality Authority, HIQA, in this regard. Part 7 of the Act outlines the role of the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services in terms of registering and inspecting designated centres for people with disabilities.

[702]HIQA has prepared and published standards for this sector, which outline what is expected of a provider of services and what a person with a disability, his or her family, and the public can expect to receive from residential care services. They clearly set out what a quality safe residential service for people with disabilities should be and support the delivery of person-centred care in this sector.

The Government is committed to ensuring that vulnerable people with disabilities in residential services are safeguarded and protected, and that their quality of life is enhanced. With this in mind, the current Programme for Government commits to mandatory standards for this sector and inspections of services by HIQA. As I announced on 16 June last, discussions have begun between the Department of Health and HIQA to progress this commitment. Given the complex nature of residential service provision for people with disabilities, ranging from congregated settings to dispersed housing in the community, careful consideration is being given to designing the most appropriate regulatory model and this work is ongoing. A target date of January 2013 has been provisionally set for the commencement of the proposed regulatory scheme.

Part 7 of the Health Act 2007 does not provide for this arrangement to be extended to home care facilities.

  221.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the progress made to date in implementing the programme for Government commitment to introducing personal budgets for persons accessing disability services; when it is expected personal budgets will be introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1648/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  The funding of disability services by the Department of Health is the subject of a detailed Value for Money and Policy Review as part of the Government’s Value for Money Reviews for the period 2009 to 2011.

As part of the overall VFM review, a separate Expert Reference Group on Disability Policy was established to look specifically at existing disability policy and whether it needs to be changed to better meet the expectations and objectives of people with disabilities. As part of this review, a public consultation process on existing disability services was also undertaken which confirmed that people with disabilities and their families, more than anything else, are looking for more choice in the services they receive and more control over how they access them.

The report proposes a very significant reframing of disability services towards a model of individualised supports, underpinned by mainstreaming of all public services. On this basis, State funding would be allocated based on an independent assessment of individual needs. Following the needs assessments, individual support plans would then be drawn up and individualised budgets allocated from which the supports and services needed would be purchased.

A number of mechanisms are proposed to achieve this, including a broker system where the person has the choice and control but the broker administers the budget and commissions supports and services on their behalf, or direct payments where the person manages the budget and purchases the supports themselves.

The Group’s final report has already been the subject of both internal consultation within the Department of Health and external consultation with other Government Departments. The [703]Report was also released in October last for the public and interested parties to have their say on the future direction of disability policy in this country.

The Department received 94 submissions from individuals and organisations. The submissions from the public consultation on the Disability Review are currently being considered by officials in the Department. Following this exercise, it is my intention to look at the VFM Review, which is nearing completion, and the Disability Review together and in conjunction with Minister Reilly to ensure that proposals for the future of disability services are brought to Government.

  222.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    if he will provide an update on the current review of disability spending, and details on the group of persons conducting the review; the manner in which they were appointed; the remit of the review group; the timeframe for the completion of the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1649/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  The Value for Money and Policy Review (VFM&PR) of the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Disability Services in Ireland is being undertaken in the context of the Government’s Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative 2009-2011 and is due to be completed in the first quarter of 2012. The review, which encompasses statutory and non-statutory service providers, is assessing how well current services for people with disabilities are meeting their objectives and how the future planning and development of services should be supported and delivered.

As part of the overall VFM review, a separate Expert Reference Group on Disability Policy was established to look specifically at existing disability policy and whether it needs to be changed to better meet the expectations and objectives of people with disabilities. The Group’s final report has been the subject of internal consultation within the Department of Health and with other Government Departments. During November 2011 it was released for public consultation and submissions received on foot of this are now being considered.

On completion, it is my intention to look at both reports together and in conjunction with Minister Reilly to ensure that proposals for the future of our disability services are brought to Government for its consideration and publication in due course.

A Steering Group has been established to oversee the VFM&PR. The Steering Group is chaired by an independent chairperson, Mr. Laurence Crowley, and has two other independent members, as well as members drawn from the Disability Sector, Department of Health, the Department of Finance, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the HSE. Members of the group were appointed in line with the Department of Finance Value for Money and Policy Review Initiative 2009-2011 guidelines. The Members of the Steering Group are:

Membership of the Steering Group
Laurence Crowley Chairperson
Gerard Flood External Member
James O’Dwyer External Member
Bairbre Nic Aongusa, Director, Office for Disability & Mental Health, Department of Health (DoH)
Jim Breslin, Assistant Secretary, Finance, Performance Evaluation, Information & Research, DoH(Substitute Tracey Conroy)
Mr. Brendan Broderick, Chief Executive Officer, Sisters of Charity of Jesus and Mary Services
Mr. John Dolan, Chief Executive Officer, Disability Federation of Ireland
Colm Desmond, Office for Disability & Mental Health, DoHC (Replaced Dermot Ryan, November 2009) Lead Reviewer & Project Team Lead
James O’Grady, Policy Advisor, Office for Disability & Mental Health, DoHC. (Resigned end 2010) Lead on Policy Review
Tom Heffernan, Sectoral Policy Unit, Department of Finance (Replaced Patricia Purtill mid 2010)
Dr. Cate Hartigan, Assistant National Director, Disability Services, HSE (Replaced Ger Crowley HSE, February 2012)
Yvonne O’Neill, Assistant National Director, HSE VFM Directorate
Eoin Dormer, Central Expenditure Evaluation Unit, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (replaced Cormac Gilhooley February 2010)
Malachy Corcoran, Office for Disability & Mental Health Secretary

The Terms of Reference for the review are as follows:

1. Identify the objectives, which have pertained to date, for the disability services programme in the health sector.

2. Examine the current validity of those objectives and their compatibility with the overall strategy of the Department of Health, the National Disability Strategy and Towards 2016.

3. Define the outputs associated with the programme activity and identify the level and trend of those outputs.

4. Identify any issues with the availability of information regarding current outputs and outcomes.

5. Examine the extent to which the programme’s objectives have been achieved, and comment on the effectiveness with which they have been achieved.

6. Identify the level and trend of costs and staffing resources associated with the disability services and thus comment on the efficiency with which it has achieved its objectives. Compare overall costs, including wage costs and non-pay costs, across the sector [both statutory and non-statutory].

7. Having regard to the range of providers of disability services, examine whether there is scope to minimise overheads, including administrative costs, management structures, research, advertising, profile-building, and infrastructure costs.

8. Evaluate the degree to which the objectives warrant the allocation of public funding on a current and ongoing basis and examine the scope for alternative policy or organisational approaches to achieving these objectives on a more efficient and/or effective basis.

9. Specify potential future performance indicators that might be used to better monitor the performance of the disability services programme.

10. A final robust report containing findings and recommendations in relation to TORs 1 to 9 above.

  223.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the amount spent by the State in providing services for persons with disabilities for each of the years 2007 to 2011, inclusive; the [705]amount which was paid to private service providers for this purpose in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1650/12]

  224.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the level of consultation undertaken between him and private service providers for persons with disabilities to ensure that value for money is obtained; the basis on which private service providers are evaluated; if he is able to track the amount spent on service provision for the end user; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1651/12]

  225.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the mechanisms available to him to prevent an unnecessary duplication of services, among disability service providers serving the same catchment area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1652/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 223 to 225, inclusive, together.

Specialist disability services are provided in a variety of community and residential settings in partnership with service users, their families and carers, and a range of statutory, non-statutory, voluntary and community groups. Some services are delivered directly by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and include basic health services as well as assessment, rehabilitation, community based care and residential care. Most specialist disability services are provided by voluntary organisations with funding from the HSE. The integral role of the non-statutory, voluntary and community groups is of particular relevance in the disability sector. These agencies provide a very significant and broad range of services in partnership with and on behalf of the HSE.

The statutory basis for this is Sections 38 and 39 of the Health Act 2004, which is now the primary legislative provision under which funding is made to non-statutory bodies in the State by the HSE. There are over 500 diverse voluntary providers delivering disability services on behalf of the State. However the core group of providers which deliver the majority of residential, day, respite and personal assistants services amount to roughly 75 organisations. Arising out of a C&AG Report in this area the HSE introduced a new governance framework in 2009. The Service Level Arrangement or Grant Aid Agreement between the HSE and the Service provider governs the funding relationship between the relevant bodies and formalises a relationship between both parties which seeks to address the needs of each in an open way. It ensures that robust and equitable agreements are put in place based on a formal specification of services to be provided in return for funding and agree clearly defined service levels, outcomes and performance indicators.

The HSE spends approximately €1.5 billion on specialist disability services through the arrangements outlined above and, in this context I have asked the HSE to answer the specific queries you have raised and to reply to you directly.

  226.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding an application for a hip replacement in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1685/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I am determined to address the issues which cause unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. In this regard I have [706]established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which will work to unblock access to acute services by dramatically improving the flow of patients through the system, and by streamlining waiting lists, including referrals from GPs. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies — mainly the HSE and the NTPF.

As a priority, public hospitals were instructed to ensure that, by the end of 2011, they had no patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment. I can confirm that the vast majority of hospitals achieved this objective. During 2012 the SDU will support hospitals in the delivery of a 9 month maximum wait time for inpatient or day-case surgery

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient’s general practitioner consider that the patient’s condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and facility involved.

  227.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Health    if he will address the situation in County Kerry whereby victims of sexual assault and rape have to face the long journey of travelling to Cork, by making the necessary funding available as a matter of urgency for the provision of a dedicated sexual assault treatment unit at Kerry General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1692/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  The sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) for the Cork and Kerry region is located in the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital Cork. The provision of the service at a regional level was based on the sustainability of the service provision and ensuring that the skills, experience and training required by the clinical staff should be at a level which would be appropriate from a legal perspective when and if such cases come before the courts. A national review of the Sexual Assault Treatment Services undertaken in 2006 (O’Shea Report) indicated that the unit available for the Cork/Kerry area was seen as sufficient to meet the needs of the region.

I have been advised by the HSE South that a revenue provision of €100K funding for sexual assault treatment services in Kerry was provided and they have confirmed that this funding is incorporated into the Emergency Department’s budget at Kerry General Hospital where victims of such violence will frequently present. The Emergency Department at Kerry General Hospital, provided on a 24/7 basis at the hospital, is often the first point of contact for such victims and where appropriate clinical care can be provided when necessary.

Management of Kerry General Hospital have had a number of engagements with the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre with regards to the services and this communication will continue to ensure best practice is followed within the available resources.

In the context of the current financial climate, the HSE is focused on maintaining the current level and responsiveness of these critical services.

  228.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for Health    the disciplinary procedures that are being taken against hospital consultants who did not sign off on health insurance claim forms in a timely manner, resulting in the loss of €76 million to the State; if he will consider pursuing the individual consultants for these losses where negligence occurred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1699/12]

[707]Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  There is no explicit contractual requirement that medical consultants sign off on health insurance claim forms within an agreed timeframe. However, Consultant Contract 1997 provides that a consultant will co-operate with the employing authority in the collection of maintenance fees, while Consultant Contract 2008 provides that consultants are to work within the framework of the hospital/agency’s service plan and to ensure that functions are undertaken in a manner that minimises possible disruptions in service. Where there is a delay in finalisation of claim forms the charges due to public hospitals are not lost. Receipt, however, is delayed. This impacts negatively on the hospital’s cash flow and financial position.

While the HSE and voluntary hospitals recoup considerable sums from private health insurance companies in respect of private and semi-private treatment services provided to their members, lengthy delays often occur between the discharge of patients and the receipt of payment from the companies. This has led to an unacceptably high level of debtor days with a significant amount in fees outstanding. Some hospitals are much more efficient at collecting this income than others. It is intended that more hospitals will achieve the income collection standard of the better performing hospitals, and, as a result, a target of €50 million in accelerated income has been set for 2012.

I have already indicated my intention to have health service management engage with the consultant representative bodies to achieve efficiencies, productivity increases and reform under the Public Service Agreement. The timely completion of private patient claim forms is among the issues which I wish to see addressed in this context.

  229.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health    if he will report on his recent visit to Tallaght hospital, Dublin; the discussions he had with management and board in respect of funding and governance issues; his views on the concerns of the wider community in respect of the future of the Tallaght hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1714/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  Having been advised that the first meeting of the new interim Board of Tallaght hospital was taking place, I attended to offer my support and real encouragement to the Board and its new chairperson, Sir Keith Pearson. I discussed the important role the Board will play, not just in relation to the new governance arrangements in Tallaght but also in the context of the governance arrangements that may apply to many hospitals as part of the reform of our health services. I thanked the board members for taking on this role. I also thanked the outgoing Board and, in particular, the outgoing chairperson David Pierpoint and his deputy chair Mairead Shields who had given sterling service on the previous Board and who had brought Tallaght to this new and very promising place. I wished Sir Keith all the very best in his new endeavour and thanked him very much for giving of his time on a pro bono basis to such an important task.

I am aware of the concerns to which the Deputy refers, however I am convinced that with the new governance structure now in place, with the leadership of Sir Keith Pearson and the hospital’s new CEO, Tallaght Hospital is now in a good position to face the challenges of the future. The new Board and the CEO are working closely with the HSE to take the necessary steps to address the financial and organisational issues at the hospital.

  230.  Deputy Tom Fleming    asked the Minister for Health    his plans to assist a voluntary organisation (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1719/12]

[708]Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  Under the HSE’s National Cancer Control Programme (HSE-NCCP), cancer surgery and diagnosis are undergoing a process of consolidation into eight centres (and one satellite centre), while radiation oncology services are provided in a limited number of centres. Consequently, patients may need to travel for treatment. There are a number of systems of support in place for these patients including the HSE-NCCP’s Travel2Care scheme. The HSE is also currently reviewing its policy in relation to eligibility for non-ambulance based transport services in order to ensure that a consistent policy is adopted nationally for these services.

  231.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Health    his views on the possibility of whether cuts to palliative care were contained in the health budget. [1757/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  The HSE has statutory responsibility for the delivery of health and personal social services, and the question of funding specific care programmes, or individual non-statutory care providers, can only be addressed in the context of finalising the HSE Service Plan 2012. The allocation of funding across care groups, including Palliative Care, has yet to be agreed. As was the case in previous years, the Executive will engage with voluntary providers to discuss services levels for 2012, in line with resources available. A focus of such discussions will be to identify savings designed to have minimum effects on the provision of services to patients.

  232.  Deputy Eoghan Murphy    asked the Minister for Health    if he will consider the possibility of putting in place a director for mental health with budgetary authority and accountability. [1758/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  Significantly the new system of governance will involve seven Directorates, including a separate Directorate for Mental Health which will have full responsibility and accountability in that area. In this context, my colleague Minister Reilly intends to bring forward detailed proposals at a later date for the re-organisation of the HSE at directorate, regional and local levels in a manner which facilitates a smooth transition from the current governance arrangements to the proposed new structures.

  233.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health    if he will provide an update on recent reports in the media that there is to be an increase in the health insurance levy; the anticipated impact this will have on incomes of families that are already facing increasing levels of charges for a number of services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1766/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  Community rating, in principle, provides that everybody is charged the same premium for a particular health insurance plan, irrespective of age, gender and the current or likely future state of their health. The only exceptions to this rule relate to children less than 18 years of age and students in full time education.

Community rating therefore means that the level of risk that a particular consumer poses to an insurer does not directly affect the premium paid. It also means that premiums for younger or healthier lives are typically higher than their expected claims would require, whereas for older or less healthy lives, premiums are typically lower than the expected claims would require.

[709]The Interim Scheme of Age-Related Tax Credits and Community Rating Levy was introduced in 2009 in order to provide direct support to community rating. It achieves this by way of a mechanism which provides for a cost subsidy from the young to the old. It works by allocating Tax Credits for persons in six age bands and funding this by the collection of an annual levy on health insurance companies based on the number of lives covered by policies underwritten by them. The scheme is designed to be Exchequer neutral and ensures that every customer has the benefit of a community rated health insurance premium.

The Scheme provides that health insurers receive higher premiums in respect of insuring older people, but that older people receive tax credits equal to the amount of the additional premium so that all people continue to pay the same amount for a given health insurance product. In this way community rating is maintained and insurers are partly compensated for the higher level of claims associated with older people.

Last month I was pleased to announce changes to the Interim Scheme which will help to make private health insurance more affordable for older people. With the agreement of the Minister for Finance, there will be extra age-related income tax credit for insured persons aged 60 years and over, from 1 January 2012, funded by an increase in the annual levy on health insurers based on the number of lives insured by them. The new rates will be included in the forthcoming Finance Bill.

The new rates are calculated to result in no overall increase in the total amount paid to health insurers by way of premiums and to spread the risk more evenly between the healthy and the less healthy, the old and the young. It is important to note that the levy on policies is not a revenue collecting mechanism for the Exchequer.

The Community Rating Levy, under the Interim Scheme is placed on private health insurance providers for each insured individual, and not on the individuals themselves. It is a matter for the companies as to the extent, if any, they pass the levy on to their clients. I welcome the announcements by both Aviva Healthcare and the VHI that they do not envisage passing an increase on to customers’ premiums on foot of the revised rates of Age-Related Tax Credit and Community Rating Levy for 2012.

  234.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1771/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  235.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1772/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  236.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health in view of    the failure over the past number of years by Galway primary community and continuing care to remain within [710]budget and following the appointment of a super-manager for the Galway-Roscommon PCCC areas, if he will ensure that the budget for each county remains separate; the steps he is taking to protect the Roscommon service from any debt carry-over; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1775/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  237.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health    the number of home help hours allocated in the 2011 service plan for County Roscommon; the corresponding allocation for home care packages; the end of year out turn in each case; the corresponding figures for 2012; the additional steps being taken to ensure the full uptake of this allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1776/12]

  238.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health    the number of home help hours allocated in the 2011 service plan for County Leitrim; the corresponding allocation for home care packages; the end of year out-turn in each case; the corresponding figures for 2012; the additional steps being taken to ensure the full uptake of this allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1777/12]

  239.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Health    the number of home help hours allocated in the 2011 service plan for County Galway; the corresponding allocation for home care packages; the end of year out-turn in each case; the corresponding figures for 2012; and the additional steps being taken to ensure the full uptake of this allocation. [1778/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 237 to 239, inclusive, together.

As these are service matters they have been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  240.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    if his attention has been drawn to a Health Information and Quality Authority report (details supplied) which states that many older persons were not given rehabilitation after suffering strokes and did not have adequate access to speech and language therapy; the steps the Health Service Executive is taking to ensure that similar problems do not occur in other HSE regions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1780/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  241.  Deputy John O’Mahony    asked the Minister for Health    the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not received a decision on their appeal for a medical card. [1800/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[711]

  242.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Health    the action being taken to deal with concerns outlined by doctors in the north east in relation to delays in processing medical card applications and also the reduction in out of hours services which occurred some months ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1803/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  Any undue delay in the processing of medical card applications and reviews is a matter of serious concern to me and I have held detailed discussions with the Health Service Executive on this issue. I have asked the HSE for a report on each of the issues raised by the GPs mentioned in the question and this is being worked on at present. I will be communicating with the GPs concerned once this is complete.

I was particularly concerned at some of the reports in relation to medical card renewals. A medical card holder who genuinely engages with the review of their medical card should not have their entitlement withdrawn before that review is complete. The HSE is taking steps to ensure that cards are not withdrawn in such circumstances going forward.

The HSE will this month introduce a new medical card review process for persons aged 66 years or over. This will result in these reviews being based on a self-assessment review model, as currently operates for persons aged over 70. The HSE also plans to introduce this self assessment model for medical card holders aged under 66, who were granted their medical card on the basis of a means assessment. The HSE is also standardising eligibility review periods from two years to three years for people aged under 66 years, with a new four year eligibility review period for medical card holders aged 66 years or over.

In addition, from early February, the HSE will implement a new system that provides additional functionality to GPs to maintain the eligibility of their patients where a patient is going through the renewal process. This new system will also allow GPs to add details of newly born babies online.

These reforms should significantly reduce the administrative burden on medical card holders and the HSE, and contribute to a more efficient service. I am continuing to engage with the HSE on a range of other issues in relation to the processing of medical card applications.

In relation to out-of-hours services in the North East, the North East Doctor On-Call (NEDOC) Service has been in place for the past eleven years and is provided by GPs with appropriate supports from the HSE. In 2010, the Health Service Executive published a report entitled “National Review of GP Out of Hours’ Services”. This review identified 13 recommendations aimed at standardising the operation of GP out-of-hours co-operatives. Part of this standardisation resulted in the fees for GP out-of-hours services set by Regulation under the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act (2009) being applied to NEDOC, rather than the grant payment which applied prior to this. These GP out-of-hours fees now apply to all GP out-of-hours co-operatives.

In March 2011, NEDOC Ltd. put in place revised rotas which reduced the number of doctors on duty in each of the four treatment centres. From July to September 2011, the number of night time doctors was reduced from four to three — however, with the onset of winter and increased activity, the fourth night time doctor was re-instated from 1st October 2011, resulting in a night time doctor being available in each of the four treatment centres.

The HSE will continue to monitor the rostering arrangements put in place by NEDOC to ensure that a safe and effective level of GP rostering is in place to meet the demands of the service.

[712]

  243.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health    if and when a medical card applied for several months ago is likely to issue in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1826/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  244.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding the steps he has taken regarding the future of a hospital (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if he will appreciate the concerns of families of residents and the wider community in respect of the threatened closure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1836/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.However, the HSE has given assurances that they will engage fully in a local consultation process with all the stakeholders before any decision is taken in relation to the Community Nursing Unit in question.

  245.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Health    further to Parliamentary Question No. 595 of 22 November 2011, the position regarding same; if there is a timeframe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1858/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  I wish to advise the Deputy that the matter remains under consideration by the HSE and I shall inform the Deputy as soon as the process has been concluded.

  246.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Health    the rehabilitative supports, programmes and funding that the Health Service Executive provides to older patients who have suffered strokes or similar impairments; the inspection regime which is in place to ensure that every effort is made to rehabilitate these patients; if he is satisfied that this inspection regime is stringent enough; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1868/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  As these are service matters, they have been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  247.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the way applicants for parking permits for the disabled are assessed; the person who determines eligibility for this scheme; if the new disabled drivers’ permits incorporate anti-fraud measures; his plans to review or revise the medical eligibility criteria, for example, focus more on a person’s level of mobility impairment rather than the type of disability they have; if he will include cardiac and respiratory criteria when these limit mobility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1698/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The Disabled Parking Scheme is operated on behalf of my Department by the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland [713](DDAI) and the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA). The Scheme functions under Regulations, and my Department has agreed terms and conditions with the DDAI and the IWA for its detailed operation.

Applicants for the permit apply to the DDAI or IWA, who must verify the identity of the applicant and assess the application against agreed medical criteria. If applications are rejected there is an appeals process, with cases reviewed independently by an Occupational Therapist or Medical Practitioner.

Last year, I amended the regulations governing the Scheme in order to move the focus of eligibility from diagnosis with particular medical conditions to level of mobility impairment. For example, people with cardiac and respiratory conditions which severely restrict their mobility are eligible, based on their mobility impairment rather than on their particular medical conditions. In addition, people who hold a Primary Medical Certificate or who have been certified blind by the National Council for the Blind are entitled to a permit. Details of eligibility are further fleshed out in the terms and conditions agreed with the DDAI and IWA.

The format of the disabled parking permit conforms to EU requirements. At the same time, the DDAI and IWA have worked to improve the permit to introduce anti-fraud measures. The DDAI and IWA have the right to withdraw permits where they have been abused, and the Gardaí and traffic wardens have powers to inspect and detain permits if they have reason to believe they are forged or are being used illegally.

  248.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    his plans to introduce mechanisms to reduce the abuse of disabled driver parking spaces by non-disabled drivers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1659/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Disabled parking spaces are provided for the use of people who have a legitimate need and have qualified for a disabled parking permit. Unfortunately there are abuses, in particular people parking in disabled spaces without a permit, people using permits issued to someone else, and people using forged permits. All of these abuses are particularly deplorable because they deprive those who genuinely need them of access to appropriate parking spaces.

In 2010, my Department published a study of the workings of the Disabled Parking Scheme. The study noted a number of measures taken already to enforce the Scheme, including the fact that the penalty for illegal parking in a disabled parking space is double that for any other parking offence, and that Gardaí and traffic wardens have been given powers to inspect permits and consfiscate permits which are false or being used illegally.

Since the study was published, my Department has agreed terms and conditions for the Scheme with the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland (DDAI) and the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA), the two bodies charged with oversight of the Scheme. These provide a number of grounds on which permits may be withdrawn if they are abused. The DDAI and IWA have improved the permit in order to make forgery more difficult. In addition, I have revised the legislation governing the Scheme to ensure that permits go to those truly in need. On-street-enforcement of the Scheme is a matter for An Garda Síochána and for traffic wardens.

At present, I am satisfied that the existing laws and enforcement powers are sufficient. However, my Department remains in ongoing contact with the DDAI and IWA, and I remain open to considering any improvements to the Scheme which may be needed in future.

  249.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will consider making changes to current driver licensing regulations for holders of foreign licences, in particular holders of full US licences, who on being resident here for more than 12 months are required to sit and pass theory and practical driving examinations in addition to taking 12 driving lessons before they can be issued with a full Irish licence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1682/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Driver licensing law in Ireland operates within the framework of EU legislation, and its purpose is to ensure a minimum level of assurance regarding the competence of people who drive on our roads. As part of the driver licensing regime, Ireland recognises and has exchange relationships with other EU Member States, whose nationals, if resident in Ireland, can therefore exchange their driving licences for the equivalent Irish licence.

In addition, we have driver licence exchange agreements with a number of countries outside the EU. These arrangements are made only following detailed examination on both sides of the mutual compatibility of licensing regimes. From Ireland’s point of view, this means that we need to be assured that the licence regime in the countries in question meets EU standards. As a matter of policy, in particular with regard to the need for assurance of an adequate standard of competence to driver on our roads, and with regard to the need to maintain EU standards, I cannot change the the basis on which we accord recognition to foreign driving licences.

Where the driver licensing system in another jurisdiction is not compatible with EU standards, we cannot engage in a licence exchange relationship and must insist on testing drivers from such jurisdictions. In the case of the USA we do not have an exchange arrangement, because driver licensing in the US operates at State rather than federal level, and there are therefore many different standards applied to licences in different states. However, the six months waiting rule before sitting a driving test does not apply to applicants that come to Ireland with a full in date licence from their own country.

Question No. 250 answered with Question No. 68.

  251.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he will legislate to allow for partial parking on footpaths in dense urban areas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1696/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Under the Traffic and Parking Regulations, partial parking of vehicles on pavements is currently not permitted. Since coming into office, I have been asked about this issue a number of times and have given it some consideration.

The argument for changing the Regulations relates to the difficulty which many people have parking in urban areas, especially areas with high residency and narrow streets. Last year, Dublin City Council wrote to me arguing in favour of partial parking, and submitted a Footway Parking Study Report in support. However, it was clear from that Report that the number of locations where partial parking would be suitable is fairly limited, and so the benefits from changing the Regulations would be small.

[715]The potential risks from a change would be serious. Footpaths are provided for the safety of pedestrians, by segregating them from passing or parking traffic by means of the kerb. Safety is my number one concern, and pedestrians are innately vulnerable road users. Furthermore, footpaths are not constructed to the same specifications as roads and are not built to bear the weight of vehicles. There would be potential damage to kerbs, paths and utility access covers, as well as congestion and obstruction.

On balance, I believe the arguments in favour of the current Regulations substantially outweigh those for change. In dealing with urban parking, local authorities have a range of options open to them. It remains a matter for them to apply whichever of the legally permitted range of parking arrangements they consider most appropriate on any given street. As the Minister responsible for the Regulations, I am satisfied that partial parking would entail great risker than benefit.

Question No. 252 answered with Question No. 49.

  253.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the number of spectators who attended the Irish Open 2011 broken down by country from which they are from; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1752/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Data on spectator numbers for the 2011 Irish Open is primarily a matter for the organisers of the event, the European Tour. As sponsors of the event in question, Fáilte Ireland may be in a position to assist in relation to the Deputy’s query. I have referred the Deputy’s Question to Fáilte Ireland for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Question No. 254 answered with Question No. 59.

  255.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the date on which the National Transport Authority will begin to examine the structure of commuter rail fares, in order to eliminate the current anomalies in the pricing structure which sees commuters in peripheral DART regions paying substantially higher fares than other rail users, in view of the fact the NTA has promised to undertake a review of commuter rail fares once it has completed its current rationalisation of intercity rail fares; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1781/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The issue raised is a matter for the National Transport Authority (NTA). I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

  256.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which air freight costs here are competitive and in line with the such costs in adjoining jurisdictions; the factors if any making a difference; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1827/12]

[716]

  262.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which the cost of air passenger and freight transport here is competitive with similar services throughout Europe having particular regard to the availability of rail services as an alternative on mainland Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1833/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 256 and 262 together.

My Department engages with freight interests for the various modes, including air and rail, through its involvement with the All-Island Freight Forum. The Forum is jointly chaired by my Department and the Northern Ireland Department for Regional Development. One of its primary roles is to draw together the Government side and industry stakeholders to characterise and progress the roles each can play in identifying and implementing measures to secure competitive, sustainable and safe freight transport domestically and internationally. In the context of the Working Groups established under the Forum, the Irish Maritime Development Office is currently undertaking a study on international connectivity encompassing air and sea connections and freight flow mapping on the island of Ireland which should provide clarity to all including business on the options available for the movement of goods.

As regards the competiveness of air transport costs, costs of both freight and passenger transport by air are set by the market. Policy on competitiveness is led by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

  257.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which he expects to be in a position to provide adequate funding to meet the remedial work arising from the identification of well-known accident black spots on the roads throughout the country in the current year; if a specific programme targeting such locations is likely; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1828/12]

  260.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent that he and or his Department and the National Roads Authority have examined the locations at which numerous accidents have taken place on minor or major roads including motorways throughout the country with particular reference to the frequency of such accidents with a view to identifying the cause or causes and addressing the issues by way of remedial action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1831/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 257 and 260 together.

The construction, improvement and maintenance of individual national road projects are a matter for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under sections 17 and 19 the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. This includes funding for safety related works on national roads. The selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded is a matter for the NRA in conjunction with the relevant the local authority. The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is a statutory function of each road authority in accordance with the provisions of section 13 of the Roads Act 1993. The carrying out of safety works on these roads is a matter for each local authority to decide. The initial selection and prioritisation of projects to be funded is also a matter for the local authority.

  258.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which efforts can be made and or increased to attract major sporting events to this country over the next five years keeping in mind the economic benefits accruing therefrom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1829/12]

  267.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which he has had discussions with international sporting organisations with a view to increasing interest on the holding of such events in this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1869/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Michael Ring):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 258 and 267 together.

As Minister of State with responsibility for both Sport and Tourism, I want to ensure that Ireland remains an attractive location for international sporting events. The Programme for Government includes a commitment that event tourism will be prioritised in order to continue to bring major events to Ireland. The hosting of sports events gives an opportunity to show that a country like Ireland can host big events, such as the Ryder Cup, the Tall Ships Race, Volvo Ocean Race or the Solheim Cup, in an efficient and professional manner. It also provides a great showcase for Ireland and the media coverage of sports tourism events helps to put Ireland onto travel itineraries as a holiday destination. Fáilte Ireland continues to support the sports tourism sector and in 2012 the Volvo Ocean Race will return to Ireland with its finale in Galway while Dún Laoghaire will host the ISAF Youth World Sailing Championship.

The common procedure in regard to the hosting of an international sporting event is that the Irish affiliate of the relevant governing body will bid to host the event in Ireland. Where appropriate, the State Tourism agencies will provide advice and assistance to the sporting body which is seeking to secure an international event. In certain cases it may also be appropriate for Fáilte Ireland to provide financial support towards the event, in return for a contractually-agreed package of tourism benefits.

I am supportive of the efforts of the State Tourism Agencies and the National Governing Bodies of Sport to attract international events, subject, of course, to an assessment of the costs/benefits involved in any State financial support.

Question No. 259 answered with Question No. 7.

Question No. 260 answered with Question No. 257.

  261.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the number if any of public private partnerships likely to be involved in new capital projects promoted by him over the next four years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1832/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding in relation to the national roads programme. The implementation of individual national road schemes, including Public Private Partnership schemes, is a matter for the National Roads Authority (NRA) in accordance with the Roads Acts 1993-2007.

[718]The Infrastructure and Capital Investment Framework 2012- 2016 makes provision for the N11 Arklow-Rathnew/N7 Newlands Cross PPP project to proceed. Also, the intention is to pursue the N17/N18 Gort-Tuam PPP with a view to the project going ahead within the Capital Investment framework period.

Question No. 262 answered with Question No. 256.

  263.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which he has had discussions with his counterparts in the EU and the US with a view to enhancing tourist traffic through this country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1834/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I have had no specific meetings with my counterparts, as Minister for Tourism, in the EU and the US to discuss enhancing tourist traffic through this country. By its nature, tourism is an area where countries compete to maximise the number of visitors coming from abroad. In this regard, primary responsibility for the overseas promotion of Ireland as a tourist destination rests with Tourism Ireland. Since coming into Office, both Minister of State Ring and I have attended a number of overseas promotional events on behalf of Tourism Ireland with the aim of highlighting the attractions of Ireland as a holiday destination. Also, my Department officials meet with their foreign counterparts to discuss the legal/regulatory framework under which air transport services can be provided.

  264.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the study that has taken place on the issue of the increased number of motor accidents on motorways with particular reference to the M4 and M7; if such accidents relate to road design, speed, traffic levels, driver error or other factors; the steps proposed or taken to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1859/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority has responsibility for the analysis of road collision statistics.

Noting this, I have referred the Deputy’s question to the Road Safety Authority for direct reply. He should advise my private office if he does not receive a reply within 10 working days.

  265.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he intends to take any specific measures to encourage the maximisation of benefit from the sport and recreational sectors in the effort toward economic recovery in view of recent recognition, as reported, of the major influence the sector has on national and local economic issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1860/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I recognise the wider economic benefits that continued investment in sport can achieve. The allocation for the Irish Sports Council (ISC) for 2012 is almost €44.5 million. Participation in sport can bring benefits [719]in terms of health and well-being which can in turn produce an economic dividend through reducing costs to the health sector. The funding to the ISC will continue to support the work of the National Governing Bodies of Sport and a wide range of programmes through the Local Sports Partnerships to increase participation rates.

The ISC will also continue to support our elite athletes as they compete on the world stage. The performance of Irish athletes internationally, in areas including golf, rugby, soccer and boxing, not only boosts the morale of the country itself but promotes our image internationally and draws tourism to Ireland from around the world. It is estimated that sports tourism brings in around €350 million per year into the country.

Over the next five years, capital funding has been set aside for two Sports Capital Programmes and the completion of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme, as well as the development of the National Sports Campus in Blanchardstown (Abbotstown) on an incremental basis. This sports funding will support local sporting facilities, and will also ensure that all projects in the current round of the Local Authority Swimming Pool Programme can be completed. These capital programmes will also help to support existing jobs, and in some cases create new ones.

  266.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the extent to which he has evaluated the degree to which the rail services can be enhanced with a view to making it possible to commute daily over larger distances from areas in which surplus housing exists and extra population can be beneficial. [1861/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  In accordance with the Programme for Government, I recognise the need to rebalance transport policy to favour public transport. The public transport system will play a critical role in supporting a return to sustainable economic growth, the maintenance of a competitive environment for investment and addressing the challenge of climate change. Despite the reduced sums available for capital and current expenditure, this Government will continue to prioritise the role of public transport.

The issue of enhancement of existing services is a matter for the transport operator in the first instance and a matter between the operator and the National Transport Authority (NTA) in relation to amendments to existing services. I have referred the Deputy’s question to the NTA and Iarnród Éireann for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within ten working days.

Question No. 267 answered with Question No. 258.

  268.  Deputy Dessie Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the number of cars in the period 2009 to date in 2012 which have received NCT examination that have failed; the proportion of these that were passed within the 30 days allowed for partial retest; and the proportion that passed a full retest after the end of the 30 day cut off. [1585/12]

  269.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the rationale for the 30 day cut-off point for the period in which a car can avoid a full retest when it has failed a part of a NCT examination [1575/12]

[720]Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 268 and 269 together.

Under the Road Safety Authority Act 2006 (Conferral of Functions) Order 2006 (S.I. No. 477 of 2006) the Road Safety Authority has responsibility for the delivery of the National Car Test (NCT).

I have referred the Deputies’ questions to the Road Safety Authority for direct reply. They should advise my private office if they do not receive a reply within 10 working days.