Dáil Éireann

14/Mar/2012

Prelude

Leaders’ Questions

Order of Business

Visit of United States of America Delegation

Order of Business (Resumed)

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2012: First Stage

Local Government (Superannuation) (Consolidation) Scheme 1998 (Amendment) Bill 2012: First Stage

Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Bill 2012: First Stage

Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2012: Financial Resolution

Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012: Order for Second Stage

Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012: Second Stage

Priority Questions

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Property

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Operations

Other Questions

Defence Forces Equipment

Defence Forces Personnel

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Review

Army Barracks

Commemorative Events

Topical Issue Matters

Topical Issue Debate

Broadcasting Legislation

Post Office Network

Community Care

Hospital Services

Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed) and Subsequent Stages

Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011: Order for Report Stage

Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011: Report and Final Stages

Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2012: Message from Select Sub-Committee

Banking Sector Regulation: Motion (Resumed)

Written Answers

Defence Forces Reserve

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Property

Defence Forces Personnel

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Reserve

Irish Red Cross

Army Barracks

Defence Forces Strength

Defence Forces Personnel

Army Barracks

Personal Injury Claims

European Defence Agency

Personal Injury Claims

Army Barracks

Defence Force Operations

Defence Forces Pardons

Departmental Properties

Illicit Trade in Tobacco

Proposed Legislation

Tax Reliefs

Pension Provisions

Banking Sector Regulation

Departmental Properties

Tax Code

Banking Sector Regulation

Pension Provisions

FÁS Training Programmes

School Accommodation

School Curriculum

FÁS Training Programmes

School Patronage

Schools Refurbishment

Site Acquisitions

Vocational Training Schemes

Special Educational Needs

Schools Amalgamation

Special Educational Needs

Higher Education Grants

School Curriculum

School Accommodation

Physical Education

Departmental Schemes

Schools Refurbishment

Departmental Properties

Schools Building Projects

School Accommodation

Higher Education Grants

Schools Building Projects

Departmental Expenditure

Departmental Properties

Flood Relief

Wage-setting Mechanisms

Employment Rights

Transfer of Undertakings

Departmental Properties

Departmental Bodies

Community Employment Schemes

Employment Support Services

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Private Rented Accommodation

Sochair Leasa Shóisialta

Social Welfare Appeals

Social Welfare Benefits

Social Welfare Appeals

Departmental Properties

Social Welfare Code

Wildlife Protection

Turbary Rights

Special Areas of Conservation

Departmental Properties

Turbary Rights

Energy Resources

Departmental Agencies

Departmental Properties

Telecommunications Services

Seirbhísí Sláinte

Foreshore Licences

Local Authority Charges

Local Authority Funding

Environmental Policy

Local Authority Housing

Local Authority Funding

Waste Management

Local Authority Charges

Local Authority Housing

Noise Pollution

Departmental Properties

Local Authority Charges

Residency Permits

Commercial Rents

Liquor Licensing Laws

Garda Reserve

Road Traffic Offences

Garda Transport

Crime Investigation

Departmental Properties

Ministerial Travel

Departmental Properties

Army Barracks

Overseas Missions

Defence Forces Reserve

Defence Forces Recruitment

Defence Forces Personnel

Defence Forces Equipment

Defence Forces Training

Army Barracks

Emergency Planning

Proposed Legislation

Departmental Staff

Animal Welfare

Forestry Sector

Poultry Industry

Farm Waste Management

Planning Issues

Animal Identification

Grant Payments

Departmental Properties

Grant Payments

Fishing Industry Development

Grant Payments

International Agreements

Departmental Properties

Health Services

Drugs Task Forces

Water Quality

Health Services

Departmental Reports

Mental Health Services

Medical Cards

Proposed Legislation

Hospital Services

Medical Cards

Health Services

Departmental Properties

Medical Aids and Appliances

Health Service Staff

Accident and Emergency Services

Universal Health Insurance

Medical Cards

Hospital Accommodation

Hospital Staff

Search and Rescue Service

Railway Maintenance Contracts

Road Project Contracts

Departmental Expenditure

Tourism Industry

Rail Network

Taxi Regulation

EU Funding

Departmental Properties

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

Paidir.

Prayer.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  In the past few weeks there have, to say the least, been mixed messages from the Government in regard to Ireland’s obligations on the promissory note issue. As the Taoiseach knows, the promissory note mechanism was created and agreed as banks were not allowed to fail. Depositors needed to be protected and no other European Union facility existed at the time to facilitate the recapitalisation of banks.

There is no doubt that fairness and justice require Ireland gets a fairer deal on the restructuring of its bank debt. However, in the past number of weeks up to six Government Ministers, including the Taoiseach, have been to the fore in upping the stakes and raising expectations. Most notable was the intervention of the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, in the Financial Times where she clearly linked a deal on the promissory note to the forthcoming referendum. Whether the Taoiseach likes it, that link has now been embedded in the public mind because of that intervention and those of others.

There is no doubt the ECB read the article with considerable interest. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, told The Wall Street Journal some time ago that a deal would be struck in the next few weeks and before the repayment deadline of 31 March. Media reports, undoubtedly led by Government sources, have referred to the Government still being hopeful of a deal on the promissory note before the end of March.

Yesterday, Commissioner Olli Rehn very unambiguously said such a move would be unacceptable. His stance mirrors that of the ECB, it would appear, which is also resisting any delay in payment. We were led to believe that the Governor of the Irish Central Bank would raise the issue with the ECB, only to be told afterwards it would not. The Taoiseach uses what has become a well worn phrase, namely: “Paddy likes to know.” With the greatest of respect, Paddy does not know what is going on in regard to this issue.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Maybe Paddy would put his question.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Could the Taoiseach confirm to the House what exactly he has been looking for? Has the Government formally sought a deal that would involve, for example, extending the obligation over 30 years? Is it seeking a write-down of the money owed to the Irish Central Bank? I ask the Taoiseach to answer those basic questions. Can he confirm that the commentary by the Minister, Deputy Burton, in the Financial Times led to the ECB pulling [400]down the shutters on any deal on this issue? Can he confirm to the House that the Government will pay the money due on 31 March?

The Taoiseach:  What is required is a period of calmness and patience. As the Deputy is aware, I have been very clear from the outset. The troika, in its analysis of Ireland meeting its conditions of the memorandum of understanding, undertook to provide a troika paper in regard to the promissory note and its consequences. Discussions have been ongoing with officials for quite some time in the troika. It is a complex and technical issue. There are quite a number of moving parts.

I have been clear to the Deputy, in respect of his questions, that there is a requirement to allow negotiations to proceed. I have never set a timeline on them. The matters under discussion are completely separate from the fiscal stability treaty in respect of which the people will be asked to vote in due course. I always take the view, as I am sure the Deputy does, that when negotiations about a matter as sensitive and complex as this are ongoing they should be allowed to run their course. For that reason I have been very careful not to raise expectations, insert time limits or stray outside the confines of what is being negotiated.

I have noted the comments made. The Deputy can take it from me that the Government has sought greater flexibility in respect of the legacy debt it and our people inherited in the negotiations. It is for that reason that the negotiations are ongoing. Deputy Martin is also aware that not only has Ireland met all its conditions but has exceeded them in a number of areas.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach did not answer the question I asked. Has the Government formally sought a deal that would involve extending the obligation over 30 years or is it seeking a write down of the money owed to the Irish Central Bank? It is technical, complex and sensitive, but boils down to that fundamental question.

The Opposition cannot be accused of raising expectations. The only people who have raised expectations are Government Ministers competing with each other on what this is about, what will happen before the end of March and linking it to the fiscal compact treaty. No one on this side of the House has raised expectations. Cabinet Ministers are speaking left, right and centre to whoever will listen to them and are saying different things about a deal being imminent.

With the greatest of respect, I do not believe the Taoiseach needs me to tell anybody here to calm down. Perhaps he should tell his Cabinet members to speak with one voice if it is his view that negotiations should be allowed to run their course. He should say this to his Ministers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Could we have a question please?

Deputy Micheál Martin:  They should shut up and allow the negotiations to run their course, if this is what the Taoiseach wants. He should not be messing around over this issue.

Will the Taoiseach confirm that the paper will be published? Has he sought an extension of the obligation over 30 years or is he seeking a write-down of the money owed to the Irish Central Bank?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Martin seems to have forgotten his days in the Department of Foreign Affairs. When negotiations take place, one does not give a conclusion before it is arrived at.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  The Taoiseach should tell his Cabinet that.

[401]The Taoiseach:  Let me say as Head of Government and Taoiseach that Ireland is involved in negotiations within the troika in respect of the promissory notes because of the scale of the legacy debt. I am not going to tell the House the particular issues that arise or the nature of the discussions taking place because the negotiations are far too sensitive and technical, and they are very complex.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Government is telling everybody else, however. Every morning on the front page of The Irish Times, the Irish Independent and the Irish Examiner, Ministers are saying, “Here is the deal.”

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please, Deputies.

The Taoiseach:  Suffice it to say that what we made very clear is that we want greater flexibility shown to Ireland and its citizens in respect of the legacy we inherited from the crowd on the other side of the House.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  More arrogance.

The Taoiseach:  In that regard, there are discussions taking place as a result of an initiative taken by the troika comprising the IMF, the European Central Bank and the European Commission to produce a paper on the question of flexibility in regard to Ireland and the promissory notes.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  He is talking about moving parts.

The Taoiseach:  It would be wrong of me to stray outside the confines of the discussions that are taking place.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  What about the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton?

The Taoiseach:  I have never raised expectations in this regard.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Members of the Taoiseach’s Cabinet did.

The Taoiseach:  I have never put a time limit on the matter because it is far too important for our people.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach should tell that to his colleagues. They have done so.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Cá bhfuil Joan?

The Taoiseach:  The officials engaged in the troika negotiations deserve the opportunity to be allowed to continue, in a spirit of patience, such that we can arrive at a position where Ireland can have greater flexibility shown to it. By that, I mean we have made it clear that a longer period and a lower interest rate would be of enormous importance to Ireland in terms of its deficit and capacity to pay back its debts.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  What about a write-down?

The Taoiseach:  I have made the point that Ireland has always met its commitments. As was recognised internationally, we exceeded them in some cases. A period of calmness, understanding and patience is required. The negotiations are ongoing and I, as head of Government, want them to continue. They are complex, technical and very important.

[402]Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach should tell his Ministers that.

Deputy Gerry Adams:  I assure the Taoiseach at the outset that I am very calm, just in case he is concerned. Last evening, Commissioner Rehn told the Taoiseach bluntly, despite all the Government’s leaks and spin, that Ireland must pay the €3.1 billion promissory note in two weeks. He arrogantly claimed that respecting commitments and obligations is a key tradition under EU law. Since when? This law was never applied to France or Germany which, year after year, regularly breached their Stability and Growth Pact rules. French and German leaders stand up for themselves and their people, just as the Spanish Prime Minister did.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Gerry Adams:  Seachas a bheith ag seasamh leis an diktat ón mBruiséil, tá dualgas ar an Taoiseach seasamh lenár bpobal.

The Taoiseach will not do this. He acquiesces at every turn and expects Irish citizens to pay for his folly. He is very clear about this, and this is evident from stealth taxes, cuts, VAT increases, septic tank charges and the household charge. He insists that the Irish must pay for the greed of bankers and developers, irrespective of the social consequences. The €3.1 billion the Taoiseach will pay at the end of this month is the equivalent of 19 years’ worth of household charges. It could create jobs and stop young people from emigrating. It works out at approximately €688 for every man, woman and child in the State this year. We cannot afford it. Why does the Taoiseach not start a real negotiation? If he does not ask, he will not receive. He should tell the ECB now that he will not and cannot pay the €3.1 billion.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Deputy Adams wants to pull the plug.

The Taoiseach:  I want the Deputy to understand in his calmness and patience that this Government is quite prepared to stand up for Ireland and its citizens.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  In that case, why does it not do so?

The Taoiseach:  That is why we already acquired an extra year in which to meet our target of reducing borrowing to 3%. This is why €10 billion in savings were brought about for the taxpayer by the interest rate reduction.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Thank the Greeks for that.

The Taoiseach:  We are well able to stand up for ourselves. In the context of the process — we are democrats, as the Deputy is aware — it is important that we allow the ongoing negotiations which were initiated by the troika to conclude. I am not entering this House to be drawn into circumstances that would have me stray outside that remit. We know what is important, as does the Deputy and everyone else. We have made the point quite openly——

Deputy Peadar Tóibín:  Pay everybody.

The Taoiseach:  ——that it would be an encouragement arising from the troika’s initiative if flexibility in respect of the promissory notes, which are a legacy debt to our people, were brought about. To achieve that, there is a need for discussions and negotiations. Those negotiations have been under way for some time. From that perspective, I want the officials and personnel on all sides who are dealing with the matter to be allowed to do their work.

[403]Deputy Gerry Adams:  The Taoiseach says this is about terms and conditions and not about a write-down. In other words, he is going to pay the €3.1 billion; it is just a question of the period over which he pays it and the number of generations who will have to put up with it.

The Taoiseach said the negotiations are detailed and technical, as if we did not understand what the negotiations are like. Last night, the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, stated the promissory note did not feature on the agenda at this week’s Finance Ministers’ meeting and will not feature at the next one. The elephant in the room is that Irish citizens are paying for the greed of Anglo Irish Bank, big bankers and developers. The Taoiseach keeps saying this is how it must be and that we never looked to a debt write-down. I did not get this but got it after having listened to the Taoiseach. He will not get a write-down because he is not looking for one. Tá an Taoiseach ar an slí mhícheart agus ar an taobh mícheart. Tá a fhios aige go bhfuil slite eile ann, ach tá sé ag glacadh rogha. Níl an t-airgead againn.

The Taoiseach also says we will not have the name “defaulter” written on our foreheads. The Taoiseach is defaulting; he is defaulting on his election commitments.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should ask a question.

Deputy Gerry Adams:  He is defaulting on his office as Taoiseach and his responsibility to the people of this State and island. He needs to say very loudly and clearly that we will not pay and cannot do so. He will then see a real negotiation.

The Taoiseach:  No. The Deputy keeps harping on about investing the national pension reserve fund and all the moneys of the European Investment Bank in his own hare-brained schemes to sort out Ireland, but this would ruin Europe and the whole lot of us together.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:  Is next-generation broadband hare-brained?

The Taoiseach:  I have listened to Deputy Adams, an experienced negotiator——

Deputy Gerry Adams:  The Taoiseach would not be on my team.

The Taoiseach:  ——on many occasions over the past 30 years when his own words were indecipherable and could not be understood. They were incomprehensible.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Just like the Taoiseach’s now.

The Taoiseach:  He should understand mine now.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  The troika, comprising the IMF, the European Commission and the European Central Bank, undertook to produce a paper on flexibility being shown to Ireland in regard to the promissory notes. To achieve anything in this regard, negotiations and discussions have to take place. It is only right and proper that all the personnel involved in the discussions be allowed to do their work.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, was at an ECOFIN meeting. All the representatives of the troika do not sit around the tables discussing questions raised by the Minister for Finance at such meetings. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, is perfectly correct when he meets with his colleagues from all sides around that table in bilateral discussions and comments that take place. That is not the forum of the troika where all the discussions take place. Deputy Adams will understand that bilateral discussions between Ministers are always very [404]important. However, the personnel in these discussions involve a much broader group than just the Finance Ministers.

This country has had five intensive analyses by the troika in respect of the memorandum of understanding. We have achieved renegotiation of elements of that memorandum such as the minimum wage, the interest rate and the period to reduce the debt to 3%. These are questions with which the troika agreed with Ireland. For instance, if the Government decides to sell State assets at an appropriate time for an appropriate amount, then 33% of that can be used for investment in job creation and sustainable employment.

In the same manner, the discussions on the paper undertaken by the troika are ongoing. I have never set a time limit on these. I have never tried to raise expectations about their conclusion. I understand that people who are given a responsibility should be allowed to conduct it in respect of their negotiations. Ireland is conscious of the fact that the flexibility shown to us in respect of the deficit and our repayments of our debt will be of great encouragement to our people. I have never tried to raise expectations or enforce a time limit here.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  The Taoiseach’s colleagues have.

Deputy Robert Troy:  The Cabinet has.

The Taoiseach:  I want to see the personnel involved allowed to do the job they have been given to do.

Deputy Shane Ross:  I see this problem with the Anglo promissory notes as symptomatic of something even more fundamental. Yesterday, when the EU Commissioner, Olli Rehn, was asked about the promissory notes, he embarked upon a kind of lecture to us and the rest of Europe about our obligations. First of all, the Taoiseach should tell the Commissioner that we are not given to taking lectures from him. He said each and every member state respects the commitment it has undertaken and this is valid in the case of Ireland as well. He went on to tick us off in Latin, no less, about our obligations. Before he breaks into Latin, I suggest he should brush up on his Greek.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  He should learn a bit of Irish as well.

Deputy Shane Ross:  That is because Greece was the first exception to the rule he made yesterday. The Spanish were the second exception to the rule as Spain was given leeway on its budget deficit.

Deputy Eric Byrne:  What about Hungary?

Deputy Shane Ross:  The danger I see is that when we are entering the fiscal treaty, we are entering into a kind of à la carte Europe in which the big countries and the malingerers will be allowed to pick and choose where they will breach the treaty and where they can make exceptions while Ireland and Hungary will be at the poor man’s table — the table d’hôte. We are going to do what we are told by Olli Rehn. It was patronising of him to speak to Ireland in that way yesterday after what the Taoiseach has done. The Taoiseach is the most compliant leader in Europe.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Yes, he is.

Deputy Shane Ross:  I do not think the Taoiseach should take this from Olli Rehn.

An Ceann Comhairle:  A question please.

[405]Deputy Shane Ross:  Is the Commissioner privy to these negotiations? Does he know what is going on or is he just giving a general overall lecture to the Taoiseach and other members of the European Union on our long-term obligations?

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Ross is one of the most erratic economists I have ever come across.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  The Taoiseach praised him last week.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Answer the question.

The Taoiseach:  Spain has to comply with the 3% rule by the end of next year. Ireland was given an extra year from the end of 2014 to the end of 2015. The Commissioner, Olli Rehn, was speaking in regard to Hungary, Spain and Greece. He holds the same status as every other Commissioner. Ireland’s Commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn represents the Commission at the same level.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  They do not all make statements like that.

The Taoiseach:  These negotiations are being conducted by the troika. I do not know whether all of the Commissioners know all of the details of the discussions taking place.

Deputy Ross referred to Latin, Greek and Spanish. He should always remember the old Gaelic tongue was one of the prime languages of Europe in ancient times. It has an old saying which is important for everyone to remember when negotiations are under way: Is binn béal ina thost.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Shane Ross:  The Taoiseach has been very successful in doing that this morning. I congratulate him on practising what he preaches.

Deputy Robert Dowds:  Na habair é arís.

Deputy Shane Ross:  No one answers fewer questions in this House than the Taoiseach does. He has succeeded this evening — this afternoon. I meant this morning——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Dinny McGinley:  Deputy Ross is off his stroke this morning.

Deputy Ann Phelan:  Deputy Ross was caught out.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  With the way the Taoiseach answers, it could be nearly evening.

Deputy Shane Ross:  The Taoiseach is good at giving no answers to any of the questions asked. On the promissory notes, does the Taoiseach stand behind the statements made by two of his Ministers that these promissory are relevant to the referendum? Does he stand by the statement by a Labour Minister that there will be delivery on the promissory notes by 31 March?

Deputy Robert Dowds:  That is not true.

Deputy Alex White:  That is not true.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Deputy Ross has said some funny things in the past himself.

[406]Deputy Shane Ross:  It is true. I read into the record of this House what he said to The Wall Street Journal.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy Ross, please speak through the Chair.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  It was said to The Wall Street Journal.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  It is on the public record.

Deputy Shane Ross:  I read what the Minister said on that issue into the record of the House. He said there would be delivery by 31 March. Deputies opposite can read the record themselves. If they were not here in the Chamber at the time, that is not my problem.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Will the Taoiseach tell us whether the Cabinet is in line about this 31 March deadline? It is important because the nation is watching to see if the Taoiseach delivers before that date on some alleviation of the debt or the promissory notes.

The Taoiseach:  I read what Deputy Ross said about Anglo Irish Bank on many occasions.

  11 o’clock

I speak for the Government here. The Government has never set a deadline nor raised expectations. It is involved through personnel, both at official level and through the independent Central Bank, with the IMF, the ECB and the European Commission in regard to the negotiations arising from the initiative of the troika. I have no intention of raising any expectations. There was never a timeline set by the Government on this. I understand these negotiations are ongoing and that they are complex and technical. As Head of Government, I expect the personnel on all sides involved in these discussions to be allowed to do their jobs without interference. That is their remit and responsibility. There is no timeline or expectations but an understanding that Ireland wants to be involved——

Deputy Micheál Martin:  We will read in the newspapers tomorrow morning.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Or the Germans will read it before we do.

The Taoiseach:  ——in bringing about a situation where we can get a conclusion with flexibility. In that regard, these discussions and negotiations continue. Deputy Ross should understand that as Head of Government I am not raising expectations or forcing time limits. His comments in that regard are irrelevant.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  That is a slap down for Labour.

The Taoiseach:  It is proposed to take No. 12a, Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2012 — Financial Resolution; No. 3, Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012 — Order for Second Stage and Second and Remaining Stages; and No. 20, Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 — Order for Report Stage, Report and Final Stages. It is proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. and Private Members’ business shall, if not previously concluded, be brought to a conclusion after 107 minutes; and No. 12a shall be decided without debate.

In regard to the sitting of the Dáil on Thursday, 15 March, oral questions will not be taken, matters may not be raised under the provisions of Standing Order 32, Topical Issues may not be raised under the provisions of Standing Order 27A, business shall be interrupted no later [407]than 1.30 p.m. and the Dáil, on its rising, shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 21 March 2012.

Private Members’ business shall be No. 47, motion re lending rates and arrangements (resumed), to conclude after 107 minutes tonight if not previously concluded.

An Ceann Comhairle:  There are three proposals to be put to the House. Is the proposal that the Dáil shall sit later than 9 p.m. agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for dealing with No. 12a agreed to? Agreed. Is the proposal for the sitting and business of the Dáil tomorrow agreed to?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  No. I accept that St. Patrick’s Day is an important and valuable opportunity for the promotion of Ireland internationally. I also welcome the fact that——

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  And fund-raising.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy McDonald without interruption, please.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I am not sure that the Taoiseach is engaging in fund-raising, but he might inform us to the contrary.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I also welcome the fact that Thursday provides an opportunity for the debate on the barbaric practice of symphysiotomy. We have been pressing for this debate for some time. However, there is a problem with the Dáil sitting when no Ministers are present and there is no opportunity for oral questions, Topical Issues or votes. One must question the value of such a sitting. Surely some Ministers will be in the country to step into the breach and make themselves available to answer questions tomorrow.

The Taoiseach:  As I understand it, a number of Ministers will be present tomorrow and available to answer questions.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Does that mean that ministerial questions will be taken?

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Let the fund-raising continue.

A Deputy:  We will be plucking the shamrock.

Question, “That the proposal for the sitting and business of the Dáil tomorrow be agreed to”, put and declared carried.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  One could say that I am in search of clarity and certainty on a number of issues this morning.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Deputy Martin is wasting his time.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I am getting none so far. Regarding the forthcoming fiscal compact treaty and the legislation that is required to facilitate it, it is fair to say at this stage that, in the context of the entire constitutional reform programme, there is an absence——

(Interruptions).

[408]An Ceann Comhairle:  Will Deputy Martin hold on one moment, please? Will Deputies please allow the leader of their party to speak? We will get to everyone if people are patient. Could we have some order, please? I can assure Deputy Boyd Barrett that I can see him.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Can the Ceann Comhairle see me?

An Ceann Comhairle:  You, too. Will the Deputies allow Deputy Martin speak?

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Tá ainm agam.

An Ceann Comhairle:  To whom was I referring?

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  The Ceann Comhairle stated, “You, too”.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I apologise. Deputy Martin should proceed.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  In terms of the constitutional reform programme, there seems to be an absence of any clarity or certainty from the Government. My question relates to the legislation to facilitate the referendum on the fiscal compact treaty. Yesterday, the Taoiseach was not in a position to answer the question on whether the legislation to establish the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, would be introduced before the fiscal compact treaty legislation.

We have a related situation in respect of the fiscal responsibility Bill. We have a situation in respect of the legislation to give rise to constitutional referendums on the Seanad and children’s rights, which have been promised by the Government. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Fitzgerald, has been adamant all year that the children’s rights referendum will be held this year. During the course of one Question Time after another since entering into office, the Taoiseach has been adamant and categoric that the referendum to abolish the Seanad will be held this year. Arising from his reply yesterday, it now seems that this might not be the case and that we might have a Seanad referendum next year, if we are to have one at all.

To respect the House, it is about time that we be given a timeline on constitutional reform. The Government’s proposals on the constitutional convention are underwhelming. On the face of it, it is farcical to suggest that, after bringing 100 people together, the first two items on their agenda would be to decide whether the voting age should be reduced from 18 years to 17 years and whether the presidential term should be reduced from seven years to five years. The Government does not need to bring 100 people together to decide on those two issues.

In terms of referendums on and fundamental reforms of various constitutional provisions, the Taoiseach needs to bring greater clarity to what his Government intends to lay before the House and the people during its lifetime. This situation is incoherent. There is no certainty around what will occur and when. Will the Government lay before the House a clear timeline for its objectives?

The Taoiseach:  This is about promised legislation. In regard to the Government’s programme, it is very clear that there will be two referenda held — one in respect of child protection, the other in respect of the abolition of the Seanad — outside the remit of the constitutional convention. In setting up the constitutional convention, the Government is anxious that this will work properly and that the structure will work properly. For that reason, the drafting of primary legislation to give effect to being able to call citizens from the register of electors to involve themselves in the citizens’ constitutional convention is what we have to consider. To see that it works properly, two issues should be chosen in the first instance. The question of a reflection on the length of the presidential period of service and the question on reducing the [409]voting age will allow us to see whether the structure works effectively. If it does, fine. If it does not, we will make changes before it moves on to the other elements that are mentioned in the programme for Government as being for consideration by the constitutional convention.

I put together a memo for Government. The Government discussed it and then asked the representatives of the different parties to attend a meeting. They were very good and made a number of suggestions. I invited them to send in written submissions and said that we would meet again before I finalised this and brought it back to Government and that we would go ahead with the constitutional convention.

When we set out this timeline, the question of a referendum on the fiscal stability pact was never mentioned because the deliberations had not taken place at European level. The Attorney General has informed the Government formally and we are getting on with the process of putting that in train. This is of primary importance in the sense of our country’s future and our economic well being.

The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is preparing the legislation in respect of children’s issues and I do not want to set a date for either a referendum on child protection or for the abolition of Seanad until I know that everything is right and proper to have that determined.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach already did.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue:  The Taoiseach’s Ministers did that already.

The Taoiseach:  When we said that we would like to have them in the first 12 months, no one was aware of the discussions that would follow through from Europe and that we would have a referendum in respect of the fiscal stability treaty. That is the first referendum that is going to be held.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach stated it as recently as one month ago.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue:  That was three weeks ago.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  There are 12 months in the year.

The Taoiseach:  My view — I need to talk to Deputy Martin and others about it — is that we need to reflect seriously on whether we can hold a referendum on its own or with another in future. In my view, the child protection referendum is sensitive, in which there are different arguments and which should be held on its own, as should the question regarding the abolition of the Seanad. I think the Deputy can agree with that. Whatever recommendations the constitutional convention may make in respect of the presidential period of service, the reduction in the voting age or the other issues, at least it requires a definitive answer from the Government on them. In other words, if it recommends that the presidential period should be reduced from seven to five years, the Government will make a decision either agreeing with it or not. We will not have a situation where the constitutional convention, hopefully working effectively, will not make a series of recommendations that are never referred to or acted on.

I would like to deal with the process of the current referendum. The Minister is preparing legislation for the child protection referendum and the preparations are ongoing in respect of the abolition of the Seanad. I will speak to the Leaders about that. I have prepared a memorandum for Government and I will bring it there in due course.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  Will the Taoiseach publish a realistic indicative timeline? The referendum on the fiscal compact treaty clearly has to take place. We need to know whether it will [410]then be possible to hold the referendum on children’s rights and when that will be held, and then there is the referendum on the Seanad. The Taoiseach has an opportunity to include the Seanad issue in the remit of the constitutional convention. It would be logical to do so if we were serious about a fundamental and radical look at our political system.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot have a debate.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Taoiseach said he was up for that.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Numerous Deputies are asking to contribute.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  I just want a timeline on all three.

The Taoiseach:  In regard to the latter matter mentioned by the Deputy referred, the programme for Government states clearly that a referendum will be held on abolition of the Seanad. I will certainly give him a timeline but I want to be clear that it can be adhered to. This is why I have not set out dates or months. The legislation on child protection has to pass through the Houses and, as he will be aware, the all-party committee went from a position of broad difference to one of agreement on a form of wording that was rejected by the then Attorney General. It is not an issue on which one can say “I expect to have this by date X” and then discover that people cannot agree on sensitive issues.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Government has indicated the timeline.

The Taoiseach:  When I get clarity I will publish the timeline and tell the House and everybody else.

Deputy Micheál Martin:  The Minister said it take place this year. That is why I am asking.

The Taoiseach:  It is not that easy.

Deputy Gerry Adams:  Confusion arose yesterday in respect of two items of legislation, namely, the treaty to establish the European stability mechanism Bill and the European Communities (amendment) Bill. Given the scale and significance of the European stability mechanism and the massive financial contribution of more than €11 billion we will be required to make if we sign up to it, has the Taoiseach sought the advice of the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the treaty and the amendment to the European treaty on which it is based? Given that ratification of the treaty requires amendment of Article 136 of the European treaty, is it his intention to bring the two Bills before the Dáil prior to the referendum on the austerity treaty?

The Taoiseach:  The three heads of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill were approved by the Government on 13 December 2011 and are scheduled for implementation this session. The treaty establishing the European stability mechanism Bill, which will enable Ireland to ratify the treaty establishing the European stability mechanism, is also scheduled for this session.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Given the speedy passage of the final stages of the Finance Bill 2012, the Dáil may have to suspend during the course of today because the schedule as originally set down——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry Deputy, a significant number of Deputies wish to contribute. I am aware that we will have time but what is the Deputy’s question?

[411]Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I have only started.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It should be about promised legislation.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I ask whether another matter of public interest may be debated to fill the time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not on the Order of Business. It is a matter for the Whips.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  It is on the Order of Business today.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It s not on the Order of Business. It is a matter for the Whips to decide.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I have made the request. I would like to have a debate on housing if that is at all possible.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I suggest the Deputy get in touch with his Whip.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Given what many of us regard as the humiliation of this country and its Government in the aftermath of the Spanish derogation on its deficit targets, can the Taoiseach use the Order of Business to stiffen our negotiating position?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not on the Order of Business.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  It is on the Order of Business. I have not yet finished.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to make his point on the Order of Business.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  I ask the Taoiseach to announce that the legislation——

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy is not listening to me.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  ——dealing with the European stability mechanism and the European Communities (amendment) Bill will be introduced subsequent to the treaty. That would send a clear message to the European authorities that we will not allow them to put a gun to our head ——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Fourteen Deputies wish to speak during the 13 minutes remaining in the Order of Business.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Will the Taoiseach give a commitment that the legislation on the European stability mechanism will not be introduced before the referendum to ensure a gun is not put to the head of the people during the referendum campaign?

The Taoiseach:  I do not accept the Deputy’s comment about humiliation. The Spanish Government has to comply with the reduction to 3% by 2013. Ireland was given an extra year to the end of 2015. As I have pointed out to Deputy Martin, we also negotiated a serious reduction in interest rates which led to the equivalent of €10 billion in savings for the Irish taxpayer, as well as a number of other elements within the memorandum of understanding which are of particular interest to lower paid workers in this country. I replied to Deputy Adams in respect of the European stability mechanism and the amendment to the European Communities Act 1972. From that point of view we will proceed with the preparations for a referendum on the fiscal stability treaty and the Government will further progress that work at its next meeting.

[412]An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Mattie McGrath.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  Which comes first?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Resume your seat.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett:  If the Taoiseach could indicate which comes first, it would make a major difference to the context in which the referendum will be held. Can he not tell us which comes first?

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  What legislation allows the Minister for Justice and Equality to close down Army barracks around the country, including Clonmel?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy, please.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  There is no location to train the FCA.

An Ceann Comhairle:  How often do I have to tell the Deputy we are dealing with promised legislation?

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Is there promised legislation that he is not ——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is there promised legislation in respect of the closure of Army barracks?

The Taoiseach:  I suggest that the Deputy should table a question or Topical Issue matter.

Deputy Robert Troy:  Deputy Mattie McGrath will not get an answer.

The Taoiseach:  Legislation is not required in respect of the closure of an Army barracks.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Grealish.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  What about the ones that were closed 15 or 16 years ago? Deputy Mattie McGrath said nothing about them.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Deputy Durkan was here then.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Allow Deputy Grealish to speak.

Deputy Noel Grealish:  Will the Government propose legislation to deal with the liquidation sales that are costing the Exchequer and local authorities millions of euro and which are having a serious effect on retail businesses? Companies are coming in from the United Kingdom and using derelict buildings without securing proper fire certificates or paying rates. I ask the Taoiseach to bring forward legislation to control these activities, which take place every weekend.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  That is against Progressive Democrats policy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The Deputy should raise the matter as a Topical Issue because it does not involve promised legislation.

The Taoiseach:  No legislation has been promised but I will ask the Minister for Finance to respond to Deputy Grealish’s inquiry.

[413]Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:  In regard to the European Communities (amendment) Bill, a number of Ministers have already warned that we will have to sign up to the treaty to avail of the European stability mechanism. The Taoiseach has an opportunity to decide against putting this legislation before the House. He does not have to agree to the proposed amendment of Article 136. Will the Taoiseach refuse to bring this legislation in order to carry through the logic of his Ministers’ arguments?

The Taoiseach:  No, I will not. I have already said to Deputy Adams, the leader of the Deputy’s party, that his party is opposed to Europe. We propose to deal with the Bill to amend the European Communities Act 1972 in this session.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have only ten minutes left. I call Deputy McGuinness.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:  Does the Taoiseach agree that he has a veto on this matter?

An Ceann Comhairle:  I have called Deputy McGuinness.

The Taoiseach:  I am telling the Deputy that we will do it in this session.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The microphone should be switched off. I have called Deputy McGuinness.

Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn:  He does have a veto.

A Deputy:  He did not say that.

A Deputy:  The Deputy should not be putting words into his mouth.

Deputy John McGuinness:  I wish to ask about three pieces of legislation. I understand that the first part of the companies Bill has been completed and a second part is to be prepared. When will we see the second part of that Bill? When are we likely to debate the Bill given that it has approximately 1,300 sections? Given the complexity of the Bill we should be given plenty of time to debate it.

The Taoiseach:  There are two Bills: the companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which has 20 heads; and the companies Bill which has more than 1,270 heads. The heads of that Bill were approved on 25 July 2007. It is expected to be published later this year. It is an enormous Bill. The companies (miscellaneous provisions) Bill, which deals with the extension to 2020 the period for which companies can present their accounts in accordance with American generally accepted accounting principles, will also be published later this year.

Deputy John McGuinness:  Given that the companies Bill has approximately 1,300 sections can the relevant committee debate it in order to provide an input? As it is such complex legislation, it would be worthwhile for the House to have a debate on it.

Will the Minister review SI 99 relating to the National Minimum Wage Act 2000 as it giving rise to serious difficulty with inspections by NERA, in particular with regard to apprentices to hairdressers and barbers? It is causing considerable distress in that sector and will cause difficulty for those who are serving their apprenticeships on the basis of the practice that has grown up regarding the serving of that time. NERA does not acknowledge the apprenticeship and therefore there will be problems for those engaged in the apprenticeship and their employers.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, Deputy——

[414]Deputy John McGuinness:  Can the Taoiseach give a guarantee that this legislation will be reviewed immediately and that any pending cases will be withdrawn?

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot debate the issue. When is the legislation due?

The Taoiseach:  In respect of the companies Bill with 1,270 heads, which was approved in July 2007, I am sure the Minister would value the input of the committee in this regard and I will have him respond to the Deputy on that issue. SI 99 will require secondary legislation and we will get back to the Deputy on that.

Deputy John McGuinness:  Finally——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Come on, Deputy. We have six minutes and approximately——

Deputy John McGuinness:  It is impossible for the House to debate the legislation that established the special investigations unit in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine.

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not for the Order of Business.

Deputy John McGuinness:  Currently, the unit——

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not for the Order of Business. I must move on.

Deputy John McGuinness:  ——is closing down legitimate businesses——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Sean Fleming.

Deputy John McGuinness:  ——and challenging them in a very unfair way.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We cannot debate these issues on the Order of Business.

Deputy John McGuinness:  I would ask——

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

Deputy John McGuinness:  I ask that we debate that legislation again with a view to amending it or——

An Ceann Comhairle:  We do not talk about that. We deal with promised legislation.

Deputy John McGuinness:  ——that the Minister would get involved——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to co-operate and resume his seat.

Deputy John McGuinness:  ——in the difficulties businesses are having with that unit——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Deputy——

Deputy John McGuinness:  ——because it is destroying businesses at this stage.

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

The Taoiseach:  Does the Deputy mean from the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, Taoiseach, if he is out of order, he is out of order.

[415]Deputy Sean Fleming:  In light of the difficulties facing many viable but vulnerable businesses owing to cash-flow difficulties, primarily as a result of not being paid——

An Ceann Comhairle:  I ask the Deputy to cut out the preliminaries.

Deputy Sean Fleming:  I will be the quickest person to ask a question in this Chamber this morning.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Sean Fleming:  Given that the banks are not extending credit and people are not being paid for work carried out, when will we see the legislation dealing with payment to contractors for work being carried out?

The Taoiseach:  As far as I know that is ready and it is a matter of bringing it into the House. This has been asked by a number of Deputies. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, did extensive work on the matter and I understand it is a question of the Whips making arrangements to introduce it. It is an important issue.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I wish to ask about two matters. This time last year we were promised a major road traffic Bill to include provision for the graduated driver licence, clamping and road safety issues. Does the Taoiseach ever remind the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Varadkar, to stick to the knitting? We have been awaiting this legislation for a long time.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I have a second very brief question. When the Taoiseach walked into his office yesterday, he may have come across the people from Priory Hall.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Now Deputy——

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  They are awaiting an announcement from the Taoiseach or the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan:  I know he is meeting people who are involved in the pyrite issue this morning. Is it possible finally to bring forward a solution to this incredible problem on the north side of Dublin?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Not on the Order of Business.

The Taoiseach:  The road traffic Bill is due this session. I got some further correspondence from the residents of Priory Hall. As the Deputy knows, the Supreme Court case is due to be heard on 24 April and I cannot interfere with that process. I am aware of the obvious interest of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the contacts that are ongoing between Dublin City Council officials and residents. This is a terrible situation. As the Deputy will understand, I cannot interfere with the judicial process, which is due for hearing on 24 April. These people deserve to have their homes restored to them to allow them to get on with their lives. I am completely constrained until the court case is heard.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I will be brief.

[416]An Ceann Comhairle:  I thank the Deputy.

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  I wish to ask about four Bills: the Solas Bill, the civil registration Bill, the transgender Bill and the social welfare and pensions Bill. When will those Bills be published? I seek a commitment from the Taoiseach. In the past it was practice to publish the heads of a Bill once the Cabinet had approved them in order to make the work of the Dáil more effective. Will the Government return to that practice to allow the Dáil to be more effective in its preparation for dealing with Bills?

The Taoiseach:  I did not catch them all. I will deal with the Solas Bill. The Minister will shortly bring a memorandum to Government on that — probably by the end of March or early April and the legislation will follow that. What are the other ones?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The other Bills are as follows. The civil registration Bill and the transgender Bill are indicated for this year, but I wish to know at what time this year. The final one is the social welfare and pensions Bill, which is indicated for this session.

The Taoiseach:  The civil registration Bill is being drafted and is due later this year. I will need to come back with a more accurate line if I can. The heads are being drafted on the transgender Bill and it is due this year. What was the fourth one?

Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh:  The social welfare and pensions Bill was to be published this session. Is it due in the next week or two and if not when in this session will we see it?

The Taoiseach:  I suppose in the next couple of weeks. The Minister is away. I will give the Deputy an up-to-date line on that later in the day.

Deputy Seamus Kirk:  The Hunt report deals with the possible reconfiguration of third level colleges in the country. Assuming agreement will eventually be reached on the national configuration, will it require primary legislation? I ask for the Taoiseach’s advice. How can I convince the Minister for Education and Skills to add to the schools building programme three primary schools in County Louth that have been excluded?

An Ceann Comhairle:  The answer to the Deputy’s question is that he should raise it as a Topical Issue.

The Taoiseach:  In respect of whether legislation will be needed, I understand the HEA has given all the colleges six months to respond with their views and proposals for the future. I am informed by the Minister for Education and Skills that the probability is that primary legislation may well be required. It is important to wait until the proposals come back from the colleges and to wait until they are assessed and analysed in the first instance. If legislation is required after that, then it will be brought in.

An Ceann Comhairle:  I wish to interrupt proceedings for one moment to ask Deputies and colleagues to join me this morning in offering a warm welcome to the Honourable Nancy Pelosi, former speaker and current minority leader of the United States House of Representatives, and her congressional delegation.

(Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  The clapping is somewhat premature because I have some other things to say. I speak for all Members when I say that it is a great honour for us to have such a [417]distinguished delegation with us in Leinster House. It goes without saying that the relationship between our two countries is deep and meaningful. We have a rich tradition of mutual respect and friendship, borne out by the long history and association we share.

In Ireland, we look west to America with pride when we consider the contribution made over centuries by the Irish to the richness of American society. We need look no further than some of the names of the visiting delegation today to see this. There is no denying the ancestry of surnames such as Neal, Markey, Doyle and Maloney. I do not believe we can claim the former speaker as one of our own but you can be assured that the welcome you receive here is not diminished by this in any way. On behalf of the Members of the 31st Dáil, I welcome you and your delegation and I thank you for attending.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We have only a short period left. I call Deputy Nulty.

Deputy Patrick Nulty:  There is a commitment in the programme for Government to legislate for companies which clamp vehicles on private property. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the consultation process for this will be finished? When will we see the promised legislation before the House?

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is this promised?

The Taoiseach:  I know that the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, has been interested in this question. This is now called the vehicle immobilisation regulation Bill. I will have to come back to the Deputy with a more accurate timeline.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Tá trí cheist agam. Will the Taoiseach indicate when items Nos. 57 to 59, inclusive, will be taken? Each relates to misinformation given to the House by the Taoiseach, the Tánaiste, the Minister for Education and Skills——

An Ceann Comhairle:  What legislation are you talking about?

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  What about the Deputy’s years of misinformation?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  It relates to items under Nos. 57, 58 and 59 on the Order Paper.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  What about the lies they told for 14 years?

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  The Taoiseach used the phrase “Is binn béal ina thost”. However, it is more a question of ciúin ciontach.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  Tá mé ag éisteacht leat.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I am asking when these items, that is, Nos. 57 to 59, inclusive, will be taken on the Order Paper.

An Ceann Comhairle:  They are not on today’s Order Paper, are they?

The Taoiseach:  These are common arrangements for the gas Bill. There are 16 heads in section C.

An Ceann Comhairle:  He is referring to the Order Paper.

The Taoiseach:  Sorry. Gabh mo leithscéal.

[418]An Ceann Comhairle:  These are not matters for the Order of Business.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I will read them out. I was informed——

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will you resume your seat? These are not matters for the Order of Business.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I was informed that anything in the Order Paper can be taken during the Order of Business.

An Ceann Comhairle:  We are not having a debate on it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I am asking when the debate will take place.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Your time allowed for the items is up. Your colleagues are waiting to ask about promised legislation.

The Taoiseach:  Deputy Ó Cuív has been around long enough to know how to find out when matters will be debated. Any such questions should be raised through his Whip at the Whips’ meeting and the order is determined in advance. That is how these things apply, as the Deputy knows well.

A Deputy:  He is incommunicado.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Will you please co-operate, Deputy Ó Cuív? We are over time and I want to allow your colleagues in.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Will the Taoiseach indicate when the regulations under section 70L of the Water Services (Amendment) Act will be published by the Minister? We were told they were to be published a fortnight ago but they were not.

In the schedule outlined by the Taoiseach, he stated he would introduce the Bill dealing with the European Stability Mechanism, ESM, this session. This would put an obligation of €9 billion on the people.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Sorry, Deputy, that is not for the Order of Business.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  In view of the timing proposed by the Government — this is very relevant——

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, it is not very relevant.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  ——does the Taoiseach accept that the President would be correct not to sign such a Bill into law until the people have made a decision on the fiscal compact?

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

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Otherwise, we could wind up with a liability of €9 billion without any possibility of drawing down the funds.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Please resume your seat, Deputy. I call Deputy O’Dea.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I believe the Taoiseach wants to answer.

An Ceann Comhairle:  No, he does not want to answer because it is out of order.

[419](Interruptions).

An Ceann Comhairle:  We do not debate issues such as that on the Order of Business and we all know it. I call Deputy O’Dea. I am being liberal now because we are over time.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his liberality.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  What about the regulations?

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  There is a commitment in the programme for Government to establish a statutory register of lobbyists. Is it the Government’s intention to go ahead with that? When will we see the legislation?

The Taoiseach:  The intention is to go ahead with that. I do not have an accurate timeline of when it will be produced. We will come back to Deputy Ó Cuív in respect of the statutory instrument raised by him.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  Thank you.

The Taoiseach:  I note Deputy Ó Cuív waited until his leader left before he came in here. I dealt with the question on the ESM from Deputy Ó Cuív’s leader when he was here.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:  I was here a long time before he left. I was here before Leaders’ Questions. The Taoiseach should go to Specsavers.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  The Taoiseach has told us that the legislation in respect of the ESM will be brought before the House shortly. Will the Taoiseach indicate whether the Attorney General has been consulted in respect of the constitutionality of that Bill and the appropriate method of its ratification?

An Ceann Comhairle:  That is not a matter for the Order of Business.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  The Taoiseach was asked a question earlier and it was not answered.

An Ceann Comhairle:  It is not a matter for the Order of Business anyway.

The Taoiseach:  We will be taking that Bill this session.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  Has the Taoiseach consulted with the Attorney General? That is the question.

The Taoiseach:  Of course. We do not bring in Bills here that are unconstitutional.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  The Madden Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance reported in 2008 that regulation was required for the licensing of health care facilities. There is growing concern with regard to Poly Implant Prothèse breast implants and that the fact that 1,500 women in Ireland have had breast implants of that nature. There is genuine disquiet on the matter. When will the licensing of health care facilities Bill come before the Dáil? It is due to provide a mandatory system of licensing for public and private health care facilities. The other issue of major concern is registration for medical practitioners engaged in clinical practice and the need for them to have in place adequate clinical indemnity. When will these tranches of legislation come before the Dáil? There is genuine concern among many people who have used invasive cosmetic surgery.

[420]The Taoiseach:  The second one has been approved by Cabinet and is due for publication shortly. I cannot give the Deputy an answer in respect of the timeline for the first query but I will come back to him on it.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  It has been reported that management at Aer Lingus and a US carrier have entered into discussions on a disposal through a trade sale of the State’s ownership of 25% of Aer Lingus. Is the Taoiseach aware of this and will he provide some details, if possible? When does the Taoiseach expect legislation to give effect to this event?

An Ceann Comhairle:  You could put down a parliamentary question on that.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  Can we expect to see the protection of the Heathrow slots as part of the legislation?

An Ceann Comhairle:  What legislation are you talking about? It is not clear to me.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I assume the State airports and aviation Bill will be used as a vehicle to give effect to that eventuality. The protection of the slots at Heathrow is of the greatest concern to all.

An Ceann Comhairle:  When is this Bill due, Taoiseach?

The Taoiseach:  I think Deputy Timmy Dooley is flying a kite here.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I will be staying at home on St. Patrick’s Day, unlike most of those on the Taoiseach’s side.

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  I am aware of the reports of the interest of Aer Lingus in this matter. The Bill mentioned by the Deputy is due later this year.

Deputy Ray Butler:  When is publication expected of the noise nuisance Bill allowing for on-the-spot fines and mediation between neighbours and giving local authorities more powers?

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach:  That one has been rumbling along for a long time. No date is fixed for it to be brought before the Dáil.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Next on the list is Deputy Griffin.

Deputy Brendan Griffin:  When will the Criminal Justice (Fines) (Amendment) Bill be published? It is a common sense proposal and something that would be beneficial to the State should it become law. I ask for time to be set aside to discuss the deplorable humanitarian situation in Syria and the shocking human rights abuses taking place there currently. It is crucial we discuss this in the House.

The Taoiseach:  With regard to the criminal justice fines (amendment) Bill, work on the draft heads is proceeding. On the question of Syria, we have had a number of interventions and questions and the issue may have been raised at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade. I responded to Deputy Timmins on this issue yesterday. It is a subject of serious and ongoing discussion at European level and was discussed at the European Heads of Government meeting. We support the decision taken by Europe in this regard and the clear [421]statements made by the American Secretary of State in respect of the humanitarian crisis and the massacre that has been taking place in Syria.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue:  With regard to the children’s referendum and the children’s Bill, which needs to be published in order to proceed with the referendum, the Taoiseach outlined earlier his reason for withdrawing from the commitment that it would happen in 2012 as being the complexity of the issue and the importance of getting it right. This issue is no more complex now than it was three weeks ago, when the Minister went on a big PR blitz announcing the fact that the referendum would happen in 2012. Three weeks later — and not for the first time — the Taoiseach is now rowing back on that and is once again using the rationale that it is a complex matter. Since the Taoiseach is no longer sticking to the commitment that this will happen in 2012, will he at least ensure that the legislation and the Bill will be published? There is no reason for that work not to proceed. We are now three months into the year. Will the Taoiseach give us a timeline for when the Bill will be published? That work should proceed and hopefully, once it is published, we can then push on with the referendum. I would hope that would happen in 2012 but having listened to the Taoiseach, I am not too confident of that.

The Taoiseach:  The Deputy is wrong. I have not withdrawn from any of the timelines I have mentioned. What I said clearly was that it is very important that we get this right. Therefore, the legislation being prepared by the Minister is important. I will not say here that we will have a referendum on either of the two issues raised earlier until I am absolutely clear that we can do so within a specific period. Therefore, it is not true to say that we have withdrawn from either having a referendum in respect of the abolition of the Seanad or child protection in 2012. What I am concerned about is that we have clarity before we set out our horizon. I am sure the Deputy would agree with that.

Deputy Charlie McConalogue:  The Minister does not agree with that.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  In view of the successful fight against organised crime in New York over a long number of years and in view of the obvious growth in that sector in this country over the past ten years, would it be possible to introduce two Bills for discussion in the House at the same time, perhaps on a Friday? These Bills are the money laundering Bill and the bail Bill, both of which are pivotal in the determination of the extent to which we can put a halt to this serious growing business of organised crime.

The Taoiseach:  I have spoken to the Minster for Justice and Equality about the bail Bill which is a big piece of legislation. The Minister is interested in advancing it and work is ongoing on it. I do not have any date in respect of the money laundering Bill.

Deputy Dessie Ellis:  Five families have been in caravans for the past two years in Avila Park in Finglas, having been moved there on health and safety grounds due to pyrite in their homes. Recently, officials from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government met with Dublin City Council and the capital project has been cut from €1.3 million last year to €50,000, a devastating cut. Will the Taoiseach outline when the committee that is responsible for discussing the pyrite issue will report back to the Government and whether legislation will be required as a result? Also, is there any legislation planned for the sell-off of Iarnród Éireann in the future? This issue has arisen recently.

The Taoiseach:  What was the Deputy’s second question?

[422]Deputy Dessie Ellis:  I asked about Iarnród Éireann. The other issue concerns pyrite and the committee set up to examine the issue. It is due to report back but do we know when it will report back and if legislation will be required to deal with this major issue.

The Taoiseach:  I understand from Deputy Broughan there is a meeting on that issue today. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has an interest in this issue and we are waiting for his report. On the other issue, as far as I understand, there is no legislation required in respect of not renewing the derogation in respect of Iarnród Éireann.

Deputy Pearse Doherty:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Freedom of Information Act 1997 and the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Act 2003.

This Bill will give effect to bringing NAMA under the Freedom of Information Act and will return the pre-structure and appeal structure to pre-2003 levels.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

The Taoiseach:  No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Since this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

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

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to provide for the repeal of Article 78 of the Local Government (Superannuation) (Consolidation) Scheme 1998 in order to end the provision of added years and special severance gratuity payments for city and county managers of local authorities.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

The Taoiseach:  No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Since this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald:  I move: “That the Bill be taken in Private Members’ time.”

Question put and agreed to.

Deputy John McGuinness:  I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the law relating to the Comptroller and Auditor General.

This Bill covers the remit of the Comptroller and Auditor General and introduces various timeframes for response to the Committee of Public Accounts.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Is the Bill opposed?

The Taoiseach:  No.

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Since this is a Private Members’ Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members’ time.

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

Question put and agreed to.

The Taoiseach:  I move:

That provision be made for the amendment of the Schedule to the Finance (Excise Duties) (Vehicles) Act 1952 to provide that vehicles that are currently charged motor tax on the basis of whichever of the two systems of charging (engine capacity or carbon emissions) has the lower prevailing rate pertaining to those vehicles are, from 1st May, 2012, fixed on one system of charging for vehicle licences taken out commencing on or after that date.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill entitled an Act to provide for the procurement and making available of clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products, including recombinant protein preparations, for the purpose of treating coagulation and other disorders and to provide for related matters.

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I move: “That Second Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I move: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

The purpose of the Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012 is to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrate products and other biological medicinal products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, to St. James’s Hospital, which is the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders and the national haemophilia centre. Clotting factor concentrates are used in the treatment of [424]haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders such as von Willebrand disease. Over €37 million was spent on the purchase of these products in 2011 and the bulk of products purchased were either factor VIII or factor IX concentrates. My Department, the Health Service Executive, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, and St. James’s Hospital are all in agreement that procurement of these products should be transferred from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital. Administrative arrangements have already been made to prepare for this, which will ensure that the changeover happens as smoothly as possible and that there will be no disruption to the supply of products for patients.

Clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products are almost all non-blood or blood product based and are classed as medicines, so it is appropriate that the responsibility for their management moves from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital. Furthermore, the IBTS has no role in the management of patients to whom these products are administered.

Enabling St. James’s Hospital to become the contract holder for the procurement of these clotting factor concentrate and other biological medicinal products will result in a more streamlined system of procurement for the products and will also achieve financial savings for the health budget in relation to their purchase. I will say more about that principle later.

If usage patterns are maintained, compared to 2009 the cost of these products should be reduced by 19% by 2013. This would result in a total saving of approximately €7.9 million relative to 2009. When the country is in such financial strife and when our health service has had to suffer budgetary cutbacks of €2.5 billion over the last three years, this is a serious quantum of money which can be used for other purposes. For example, vaccinating our female children with the HPV vaccine against the scourge of cervical cancer costs €3 million. That puts this saving in perspective. However, usage patterns have increased. Even so, savings have been realised, as the IBTS mark-up has been removed in anticipation of the transfer of procurement to St. James’s. For example, purchase of factor VIII increased by roughly 5 million units and usage of factor IX by 3 million units between 2009 and 2011, yet the cost of these products to the health system has decreased from almost €40.8 million to €37.6 million in the same period, a decrease of €3.2 million.

To protect the health of consumers of the clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products, the IBTS at present and St. James’s Hospital into the future, as the contract holder, must take the advice of the Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board in relation to safety and efficacy of all products prior to selecting the successful tender bid. This board was set up on an ad hoc basis following the Lindsay tribunal of inquiry by the then Minister. Its membership includes the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the HSE and my Department. Deputies can see that there has been wide consultation on this issue.

It is also important to note that a very small number of private facilities currently obtain clotting factor concentrate products from the IBTS. All hospitals, in the public and private sectors, will be contacted to confirm the new arrangements for procuring these products into the future.

The issue of savings is critical in the current economic situation. It does not relate to this area alone. The principle of procuring both medicines and services more cost effectively if we are in a position to do so must be followed. I have long been a critic of the failure of the HSE to transpose good practice across our system. In other words, when we find an area that is delivering good practice and efficiency, we have not been able to transpose that across the [425]system. That will no longer be the case. It is the purpose of the special delivery unit, in particular, to ensure that where best practice has been identified it is put in place across all our hospitals. This does not relate only to hospitals, but to primary care, mental health and social care.

We have rostering issues. We have asked, through the Croke Park agreement, that those working in the health service would look at this situation and agree to change. The Croke Park agreement is clear. There will be no further pay cuts if there is an increase in productivity. One of the clearest ways of increasing productivity and of having a better and safer service is to ensure that when there is a surge in activity, which is often predictable, we have the maximum number of staff available. There is a historic situation whereby one can work three 12 hour days and have four days off. Although this is convenient for those who avail of those rosters, who have become used to them and find it difficult to change, nonetheless change is essential. Without this change we cannot continue to deliver the efficiencies we must deliver or to give the care we want to give.

We have undertaken to reduce the waiting time for inpatient treatment. Last year, every person who had seen a consultant and been put on a waiting list was treated within 12 months, except in Galway. This year, that waiting time is to reduce to nine months. To achieve that with a reducing budget will be particularly challenging, but it must be done. We need and appreciate the co-operation of those working in the service. Many of our medical consultants now come in to do ward rounds at weekends. In one instance, where we were faced with a critical number of people on trolleys, one consultant came in at midnight to do a ward round and allow people to be discharged.

We are achieving change through the clinical programmes and the special delivery unit because of co-operation from the front line. This is critically important. The success in reducing the number of people on trolleys in our emergency departments is due to the fact that, unlike before, those on the front line are being listened to. Their suggestions are being taken seriously, analysed and, if found to be cost effective and workable, being implemented in consultation with the clinical programmes. In Drogheda, for example, there was a serious problem with the number of people waiting in the emergency department for admission. It took more than one particular action to resolve that problem. It took a host of actions, including opening up additional medical beds, opening more beds in the community, availing of long-term beds and wards in Louth County Hospital and Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan, more intervention by the community intervention teams so that people who were seen in accident and emergency could continue their intravenous therapies through nurse visits at home, more home help and more home care packages.

  12 o’clock

We require a holistic approach, taking into account all the services we have available to us. I have always said no part of the health service works in isolation. We cannot fix an emergency department problem if we do not fix the problems within the hospital itself and in the broader community. These include long-term care, home help, home care packages and tiered support. In the south east we have some excellent models where people who do not need to be in a nursing home live in a setting where they have considerable support. It has been put to me that HIQA needs to address this issue in relation to its standards for nursing homes because these are not, strictly speaking, nursing homes. We have spoken to HIQA. It has a clear understanding of this issue and it will be addressed. There will be a different set of standards for those facilities because they provide a different type of service, but a very valuable service just the same. It is a case of using all the community supports to facilitate as many people remaining independent and out of long-term care for as long as possible. I know of nobody who wants to be in long-term care, as in a nursing home, before he or she needs to be, yet a survey of 1,200 patients in long-term care found that many such [426]patients had not been offered home care packages and a majority had not been assessed for home care packages. If one third of people in long-term care institutions are low dependency with another one third who are mild dependency and one third who are high dependency, it is perhaps not too extreme to say we have condemned people to long-term care before they need it. In my view this is not right; it is certainly not cost-effective for the taxpayer and it is not fair on those people who find themselves in that situation. In the next few weeks our clinical programmes are examining a number of initiatives involving emergency and acute medicine and care of the older patient, particularly the frail older patient over the age of 70 years. It is planned to have specialist wards providing aggressive early treatment so that patients can move within a number of days to a different facility where their treatment could continue and which would provide rehabilitation. The final details will be announced in the next few weeks and this will have a major impact on treatment and will allow for an increased throughput of patients so that they will not have to linger on trolleys in emergency departments for longer than necessary. I have made it clear that we are moving from merely counting the number of people on trolleys in the mornings to a real time patient experience so that from the middle of this year, anyone who registers at the desk of an emergency department will either have been sent home, discharged or admitted to a ward within nine hours and this should be the case for 95% of clients within six hours. I visited between 15 and 18 hospitals before the 29 February deadline for retirements under the old scheme. I was very pleased to note that most hospitals were reasonably confident of being in a position to meet that target. Some hospitals will need particular support and this is what we will provide by supporting the front line and the hospitals that have had legacy issues going on for years, in some cases. Doctors are doing ward rounds at the weekends to expedite patient care but this needs to be formalised through the Croke Park agreement and I believe this will be done in the near future.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Tom Hayes):  May I remind the Minister to return to the matter in hand?

Deputy James Reilly:  Yes, I will return to dealing with the clotting issue. However, this also relates to the treatment of patients with haemophilia in that if they are left for long periods——

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  The Minister is enlightening us in what he has spoken about.

Deputy James Reilly:  I thank the Deputy. I may have strayed slightly from the matter in hand but I reiterate that these patients are prone to risk and to infection and the duration of time spent in an emergency department has an impact; that is acknowledged by all. It is not suitable to have immuno-compromised people in crowded conditions in an emergency department when, as now, there has been an outbreak of the winter vomiting bug in one hospital with 69 in-patients at one stage suffering from this bug. This is an in-hospital problem and it makes hospital a more scary place for people coming into hospital. If they are then to be kept in crowded conditions in emergency departments this will be a significant risk.

All these matters are related to the care of people with haemophilia, those who are immuno-compromised and cancer patients. The clotting factors we use and the health system as a whole are all related. One aspect cannot be considered in isolation, as I said at the outset.

Before I deal with the provisions of the Bill, with the indulgence of the Acting Chairman, I wish to put on the record my gratitude to all those who are working with us in the health service, all 102,100 who remain and who are trying to do their best to look after their patients and give the care that we have all come to expect and have a right to expect. Our spend on health is still a considerable sum, at more than €13 billion.

[427]Section 1 of the Bill gives St. James’s Hospital board the authority to procure and make available clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products used for the treatment of coagulation disorders such as haemophilia. Until now, while it could procure products for its own use, it could not procure and supply to other hospitals. It states specifically that the commission charged by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service for managing the procurement of products will be removed and the hospital will pay for the product from its own budget so it will be incentivised to obtain competitive tenders. This will be of benefit, as I stated at the outset of my contribution. Section 2 reassigns the legal responsibility for every contract entered into by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service or its agents for these products alone to St. James’s Hospital board. Article 4.3 of the St. James’s Hospital Board (Establishment) Order 1971 provides that St. James’s Hospital may provide such other services and facilities as may, from time to time, be approved by the Minister after consultation with the board. This enables me as Minister, following consultation with the board of St. James’s Hospital, to reassign additional functions to St. James’s Hospital in addition to those explicitly specified in this legislation. As the legal basis used to establish the St. James’s Hospital Board was the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961, legal advice received was that any amendment to the St. James’s Hospital Board (Establishment) Order to confer additional functions to St. James’s Hospital should be by means of primary legislation. While St. James’s Hospital could, in line with its specified functions, purchase clotting factor concentrates for use in the hospital, it could not procure these products on behalf of other hospitals. Primary legislation is therefore necessary to effect the transfer of responsibility for procuring the national stock of clotting factor concentrates from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’ Hospital. Given the significant volume of clotting factor concentrates procured each year and the associated significant cost, it was considered more transparent to assign the functions of procuring these products by means of a stand-alone Bill rather than assign this function under section 4(3) of the St. James’s Hospital (Establishment) Order.

Section 3 revokes paragraph (1) of regulation 4 of the Blood Transfusion Service Board (Establishment) Order 1965, as amended, which assigned the function of procuring clotting factor concentrate products to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. These clotting factor concentrate products are now almost all non-blood-product-based and are classed as medicines so it is appropriate that the responsibility for their management should move from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital, which treats the majority of patients in the country and is the location of the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders, including haemophilia.

This is technical, straightforward legislation, which will give St. James’s Hospital the authority to purchase and supply the national stock of products. The procurement process, which includes an assessment of all products by relevant clinical and scientific experts, provides assurance to the consumers of the products, mainly members of the haemophilia community, that they are getting the safest products possible. This had been a cause of great concern in the past and it underscores the need for continual vigilance in this area. A haemo-vigilance unit ensures the safety of all blood products coming into the country and the Irish Medicines Board ensures that medicinal products are safe. People must have confidence the treatment they receive is safe and this Bill will go a long way towards achieving that. With St. James’s Hospital procuring the products, there will be no further need to provide commission to a third party, which had a huge cost impact. The State will get much better value for money without any impact on the service it provides to patients with haemophilia and other coagulation disorders. Perhaps this will be the first of many Bills and statutory instruments to help us change the way we deliver care, get better value for money and provide safer and more monitored treatment to patients.

[428]A number of procedures are being carried out and occasionally we need to audit them to ensure they are necessary and of benefit. There has not been enough of that in the past and we need to see more of it through the Irish Medicines Board and the Health Information and Quality Authority.

I know the VHI is not directly related to this but it must address the cost of care in the private sector. It is far too expensive and there are major savings to be made. I commend the fact the VHI has engaged with the clinical programmes to see that the new procedures brought into our public hospitals, which are saving considerable sums of money, are also in place in our private hospitals to ensure the private and the insured patient is getting value for money too. I commend the Bill to the House. It is simple legislation and it will enable St. James’s Hospital to become the procurer of the blood products we need and that are essential to treat many of our citizens at much better value.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  I welcome the Bill and support its passage through the House as quickly as possible. I suppose it could be described as a technical Bill but in the context of what the Minister said and in the broader context of the provision of health care in this country, the issue of ensuring that standards and integrity of treatment are protected and maintained at all times is critically important.

As the Minister knows, we did not crown ourselves in glory in how we treated a group of people whose lives were destroyed many years ago as a result of contaminated blood products. I know we are talking about clotting products here and that they are synthetic but it is important that when we are talking about these issues, we acknowledge the damage done by the State to many people from the haemophiliac community who were given contaminated blood products years ago.

I mention the Lindsay tribunal, which was established in 1999 to investigate that, and all that followed from that in the context of the hurt and the pain caused and the forms of redress. Some people still feel aggrieved, and rightly so. They believe there has not been full acknowledgement of the damage done to them in terms of services, supports, medical cards and access to other medical treatment they may require because of the complications resulting from the contaminated blood in the 1980s and before then. Clearly, when we talk about these issues, we must also accept that great wrongs were done previously and that we must always learn from them.

This Bill is quite short and, as the Minister said, it is technical in nature. He stated:

To protect the health of consumers of the clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products, the IBTS at present and St. James’s Hospital into the future, as the contract holder, must take the advice of the Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board in relation to safety and efficacy of all products prior to selecting the successful tender bid. This board was set up on an ad hoc basis following the Lindsay tribunal of inquiry by the then Minister. Its membership includes the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the HSE and my Department.

Is it necessary to include in this legislation a provision which would legally oblige St. James’s Hospital to take the advice? Perhaps we could include a provision on Committee Stage so that St. James’s Hospital would be legally obliged to take the advice. It may be included in another health Bill but I cannot see it.

[429]The Minister spoke about efficiencies, which we welcome given the amount of money being spent. He said transferring good practice across the health services is critical in the area of clinical care but it is also important in terms of administration. The Minister said there were savings to be made in this context, which we welcome.

If this procurement process is being transferred from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital, will there also be a transfer of staff? Will support staff be made available? Will staff leave the IBTS and transfer to St. James’s Hospital or will St. James’s Hospital be given additional support for the procurement of the various clotting factor concentrates and other biological products? Obviously, it will involve a tendering process, vetting of tender documents and all that flows from that. Will supports be put in place in St. James’s Hospital to assist on the administrative side? Obviously, the quid pro quo would be, will the same number of staff be required by the IBTS given the loss of this procurement process?

The Minister referred to ensuring best practice is transferred across all health services. It is critically important that is the case but it is also important that worst practice is not transferred across all health services. That is something of which we must be very conscious. The Minister said it is important to listen to front line staff. I accept that and I never question anybody’s bona fides in trying to make things better but front line staff are telling me different stories in terms of the supports being given to them to carry out their functions as clinicians, nurses and key front line staff to ensure the best care is provided in our hospital system.

The Minister talked about the reduction in the number of people on trolleys, the special delivery unit, the clinical programmes, the interaction between the various sections and groups which provide health care but I genuinely believe there are still areas which need much work in the context of ensuring there is a flow of patients through hospitals.

When the Minister talks about best practice in the context of this Bill, he must ask himself whether reducing the number of community nursing home beds in the public system will have an impact on acute hospitals and admissions through accident and emergency departments. Many of those suffering from haemophilia or immunodeficiency disorders are the most vulnerable and need critical care very quickly. The people about whom we are talking, who would avail of the clotting factor concentrates and other biological products, are very vulnerable at certain times and have weaker immune systems.

I refer to the movement of patients out of the acute hospital system into residential and long-term care or, more important, back home. When we talk about trying to move people through hospitals, we must look at the key area of home help and home care packages, which are very often for people who are older and moving towards long-term residential care. However, many people go through the acute hospital system, have very invasive surgery and require supports for a period of time afterwards at home. A key area that must be addressed is to ensure there are home care packages which can assist.

Embracing the technology which is now available and working very effectively is another area we should examine. One need only look at what some Irish companies are doing with Enterprise Ireland. Many of the software companies are now exporting wonderful solutions in the area of diagnostics and treatments worldwide and we should look at that.

There is also the idea of the virtual hospital system whereby people can move from hospital to step-down facility to home and where, using technology, proper supports and services are put in place in the home environment in order to have the patient monitored, and all that flows from that. That system would use key supports in the community through primary care teams and units, public health nurses and even through voluntary organisations that could assist to ensure that all the resources are used efficiently and effectively. We have been very slow in this area. Even though we have some of the best software solutions providers in the world in [430]health care we are slow to adopt the idea of the virtual hospital in the community where people who need care for a period of time after heavy surgery would have those facilities installed in their home through the Internet or satellite television, something that is now common throughout the world. That is a key area if we are talking about best practice and ensuring people can move through the hospital system.

The reason we are doing all of this, of course, is to ensure we free up the emergency services, the accident and emergency wards and the front line staff involved to deal with patients who are vulnerable and who need critical care at very short notice when they present. As the Minister noted, many of the people who suffer from haemophilia or immuno deficiencies are those who present in vulnerable states. That they should lie on trolleys for hours, possibly even days, as is the case, is simply unacceptable.

More broadly, the Bill is a simple technical piece of legislation and it has been welcomed and supported by the haemophilia societies. It is important we listen at all times to this vulnerable group which was betrayed and neglected by the State for many years in the aftermath of the blood contamination scandal. We must ensure the people concerned are included in any decisions made in the context of services being changed or moved or enhanced. They should be involved in all levels of discussion in those key areas. We must ensure we provide a proper consultation platform for those who represent haemophiliacs.

If the Bill does what it says in ensuring there is proper procurement, with efficiencies and savings, these savings must not fall into the deep black hole of the central Exchequer and be lost but must be put towards benefitting those who need the health services. The health budget must be protected and those savings and efficiencies that are brought about must be used to facilitate and enhance health services in other areas.

While the Bill is broadly welcome I would like to have clarity on the point I raised about the product selection and monitoring advisory board. We must ensure this area is covered in the legislation to bring about clarity and certainty rather than have an ad hoc board established on foot of the Lindsay tribunal’s recommendations. We are trying to change legislation for the better but I would have concerns about the administrative side of it. Supports should follow the legislation and not be left behind in another area. As the Minister acknowledged, all hospitals are under pressure, even on their administrative side, and this is clearly a big undertaking. They have been involved previously, as the issue affected them, but now they will be the agents for all other medical facilities and the supports must follow. I support the Bill.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I welcome this Bill. Any legislation that offers a streamlining of services and greater efficiencies within the health sector is deserving of welcome and commendation and I fully support the Minister’s efforts in this regard.

The Bill transfers responsibility for the procurement of clotting factor concentrate products used in the treatment of haemophilia and other disorders from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, to St. James’s Hospital where, as the Minister explained, the national haemophilia centre is based. The logic of this is self-evident. I welcome that agreement was reached last year to facilitate the transfer arrangements agreed between the IBTS, St. James’s Hospital, the HSE and the Minister’s Department. I also welcome that this change has been supported by the Irish Haemophilia Society.

When this change was first reported last year it was stated that, based on the same volume of products being used, savings of the order of some €3 million would be made in 2011, with an increase of €1.5 million to come in 2012, amounting to €4.5 million, and by a further €1.5 million in 2013. My reading of that is €6 million. In the Minister’s opening remarks on Second Stage he indicated that product use has increased rather than remaining static; there is certainly [431]no decrease. He also stated that in spite of the additional demand actual savings in respect of the specific products have been recorded. This poses a question. Not to be in any way obstructive but, for clarification, is this work in progress, is it a proposition in the offing to follow the passing of this legislation or has it already happened? The Minister might clarify the position and state what the up to date actual savings are in 2012 and the projected future savings.

The savings involved are considerable. On the face of it they indicate a serious lack of efficiency in past practice. I note from the Minister’s remarks that this example must encourage further exploration, investigation and examination of practices across the board within the Department in order to identify and establish what other areas of greater efficiency and savings can be undertaken. It is reasonable to ask, given all the knowledge there is and the many years this practice was the case, why it was allowed to continue. We must also ask if there are other inefficiencies and potential savings within the system. I welcome the Minister’s indication that he will pursue these matters. I hope they are identified and that many such savings and improved streamlining of services across the board can be identified and rectified in a clinical manner. I emphasis “clinical manner” because I believe it is a far preferable way of achieving savings than the current slash and burn approach of the Government across so many Departments, not least in health services.

I cannot let the occasion go by without making reference to that small group of women who received contaminated anti-D products through the Irish Blood Transfusion Service on the birth of their children. They have developed health issues consistent with those testing positive for hepatitis C even though they test negative. We are talking about a cohort of fewer than 30 women. I have raised this matter with the Minister on a number of occasions and he responded on 6 December. I asked the Minister to take action to provide to these women the cards issued under the Health (Amendment) Act 1996, which offer additional health and social supports over and above what they would normally enjoy as holders of medical cards. This is of great importance and the card also has a lifetime application. There is no review process and the cards are for the lifetime of the designated holder. That cannot be addressed in the context of this legislation but we are talking about the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and products that came through that organisation into our health services. It would be remiss of me if I were not to appeal to the Minister to recognise the serious situation these women find themselves in, showing all the symptoms of those who test positive but, for whatever inexplicable reason, they are recorded as negative for the virus. The Minister should re-examine this with a real heart and a wish to be as accommodating as possible. I hope the Minister will respond favourably before we conclude the debate on Second Stage. I have no doubt that we will have to address this again unless, at some point, the nettle is grasped and these women's needs are provided for.

I support this Bill on Second Stage and I will support it as it proceeds through each of the remaining Stages. There is nothing further for me to say but that I wish it a fair wind. I am anxious to hear the Minister’s response on the particular question I raised about the current position, the transfer and the up-to-date information on the assessed savings currently and in the future.

Deputy Finian McGrath:  I propose to share time with Deputy Mattie McGrath. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak on the Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill. This is important legislation and an opportunity for a debate on blood and its importance for patients, hospitals and the whole country. This is not just an item of legislation being passed by the House, but part of an important broader debate. The supply of blood is of major service in saving lives, which is why it is important not to lose sight of the issue. I pay tribute to those who voluntarily donate blood to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and thank them for saving the lives of thousands of people every year in this country. People [432]giving blood are doing a patriotic service for the patients of this country, which should never be forgotten by Members of this House and the Seanad. They are giving blood to keep people alive and to provide an excellent service. It is noble and should be encouraged and appreciated.

The Bill transfers responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products used in the treatment of haemophilia and other congenital and acquired disorders from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital. I welcome the legislation, which is a sensible, progressive and common sense idea. It is also an opportunity to broaden the debate to consider the health service. We must consider whether we want a top-quality health service and whether we are prepared to pay for it. Some 53% of people pay for private health insurance but many of them would be open to the idea of a universal health service if they were guaranteed a quality service. We should think about this.

Earlier today, Nancy Pelosi visited the House and she is now touring Ireland. She is one of the people who dealt with the health issue in the United States while getting hammered and crucified. She kept fighting for health reform and we in this House must also show leadership and face up to reality. If we are to have a universal health service, we must deal with the tax issue. Nowadays, there seems to be cross-party consensus on running away from taxing people to provide for services. We should use the tax system to provide health services and services for those with disabilities. Running away from the issue will not solve the problem. The same applies to improving services for blood in this debate. If we want to have quality services and if we do not want to put people’s lives at risk, we must invest in the service and pay for it.

Those who say the money is not in the State were proved wrong when it emerged that 300 people in this country are worth €62 billion. Many people, including me, did not realise that despite the bailout, the downturn and the troika, people in this country have such resources. Imagine a 10% tax on these people, which would amount to €6.2 billion. One could do a lot for a blood transfusion service, disability services or health services. I raise these issues because they are linked to the legislation. This money and taxes should be provided to back up the health service and to back up hospital such as Beaumont Hospital and cystic fibrosis services.

The purpose of the Bill is to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrates products used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital, which is the national centre for hereditary disorders. The legal advice is that primary legislation is needed in order to transfer responsibility for procurement of the national stock. That is why we are debating the Bill. The Department of Health, the HSE and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service agree that the function should be transferred to St. James’s Hospital. Administrative arrangements have been made to prepare for the change in the expectation that the legislation can be enacted as quickly as possible. The consensus is that we want to get on with the job because it is a serious issue and there can be agreement on it. The key point in this debate is the patient and the quality of the blood service for these people. It is important to note that St. James’s Hospital, where the national centre is based, will become the contract holder. The national haemophilia centre is based in St. James’s Hospital. The national centre treats the majority of the patients and the new arrangements will remove a third party, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, from the product procurement process. The products are almost all non-blood product based and are classed as medicines. It is appropriate, therefore, that responsibility for their management moves from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.

Enabling St. James’s Hospital to become the contract holder for the procurement of these clotting factor concentrates will result in a more streamlined system of procurement for the products and will also achieve financial savings from the health budget in respect of their purchase. Two issues arise, therefore. Reform and the financial issues, which are important.

[433]It was projected that the cost of these products to the health Vote will be reduced by 19% between 2009 and 2013 resulting in savings of approximately €7.9 million relative to 2009 by 2013 if 2009 usage patterns were maintained. While the percentage reduction in unit costs has been realised because the volumes used have increased, the savings that will be achieved will not be as high as projected. Two factor concentrate products, factors VIII and IX, comprise the bulk of products procured.

That is the strategic plan in regard to the €7.9 million issue but I emphasise that when we talk about reform, improving blood services for people and professionalism in our health service, we must be careful not to take the angle of saving money in the current economic climate. Health is one of those issues that must be excluded from any talk about the deal with the troika or the euro crisis nationally and internationally.

To protect the health of consumers of factor concentrate products, the contract holder takes the advice of the Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board in regard to the safety of all products prior to selecting the successful tender bid. That board was set up on an ad hoc basis following the Lindsay tribunal inquiry by the then Minister for Health and Children. Its membership includes representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicine Board, the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health. Its membership represents a cross-section of society.

The purpose of this board is to advise the Minister, the contract holder and the Health Service Executive of any matter relating to products on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister, the contract holder or the HSE. That is the purpose of the legislation and this debate but in considering the amendments and different sections of the Bill, the focus must be on the patient and an improved supply of high-quality blood.

I mentioned the Lindsay tribunal. The tribunal was established to inquire into the infection of haemophiliacs with HIV and hepatitis C by contaminated blood products. When that happened it was one of the saddest days in Irish history. There is a warning in that for all of us that we must ensure maximum safety and protection of these people. We must ensure also that we never again end up in a position where blood is contaminated and many good people suffer and die as a result. Our responsibility as Members of this House is to protect the citizens of this State and anybody who does not do their best in regard to good practice in this area has no right to be involved in politics or in this area.

Clotting factor concentrates are used to stop or prevent bleeding in the treatment of people with haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders. When one examines the details of what happens in that regard, they can be frightening. According to the National Haemophilia Council the general term “haemophilia” describes a group of inherited blood disorders in which there is a life-long defect in the clotting mechanism of the blood. Blood contains many proteins called clotting factors, which work to stop bleeding. The lack of clotting factor causes people with haemophilia to bleed for longer periods of time than those whose blood factor levels are normal. It is important that we remind ourselves of that and the trauma and difficulties experienced by these patients.

It is important that we concentrate on the numbers of people involved. The Irish Haemophilia Society estimates that there are approximately 613 people with haemophilia and another 1,418 with other bleeding disorders. We are talking in the region of 2,000 of our citizens being affected.

Another product touched on in the legislation and in the debate is plasma dry factor concentrates. These are manufactured from blood plasma, which is the liquid part of the blood taken from a donor. They are manufactured in a laboratory using genetically engineered cells to [434]carry human factor genes. There is a great deal of science and technology work going on in that regard.

I spoke about the patients earlier but it is important that we commend the staff who are on the front line. As a result of failures in the past, we must ensure that best practice and the highest standards are adhered to in respect of this issue. We must learn from serious mistakes made and ensure that lives are protected, but the vast majority of staff in this service do an excellent job. They adhere to best practice and international standards, which is something of which we should always be reminded. We must also understand the reason mistakes happened in the past.

As to the reasons for the transfer of responsibility for procurement, the Department has stated that the legal advice is that primary legislation is needed to transfer responsibility for procuring the national stock of these products from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital. Primary legislation is needed to make amendments to the functions of bodies such as St. James’s Hospital that were established under the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act 1961. Changes made by statutory instrument may be ultra vires or beyond the legitimate power of the Minister for Health.

The Department has outlined a number of reasons behind the proposals to transfer responsibility which are primarily that they will result in a more streamlined procurement system and lead to savings. St. James’s Hospital, as the national haemophilia centre, treats the majority of patients.

Those are the details of the legislation. Two issues are important. First, we must reform the health service but the most important aspect is to ensure best practice in terms of the provision of high-quality blood services for all patients in this State.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I am delighted to speak on the Clotting Factor Concentrates and other Biological Products Bill 2012. I compliment the Minister on bringing forward the Bill to protect the health of consumers of clotting factor concentrates and other biological medicinal products and to transfer responsibility for the procurement of such products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and St. James’s Hospital, which will be the contract holder and will take the advice of the Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board, which is important.

Size does not matter but a group of our citizens were betrayed by the system of governance. I refer to haemophiliacs. The Lindsay tribunal was a sad episode in our history. There have been many failures of governance but that was one of the saddest. I welcome the setting up of the product advisory board to support the people affected, and the ongoing supports which are badly needed.

I have been a critic of the Minister but I welcome his open, honest and frank contribution, even if he strayed somewhat from the Bill. It was enlightening to hear his ideas and I welcome his honesty. His expertise in that area must be acknowledged also because he is a practitioner of some renown and must understand, better than me as a lay person, many aspects of the functioning of the Health Service Executive and the delivery of patient care.

I have been critical of the failure of the HSE to transpose best practice. When it was set up it amalgamated health boards. It is too big with too many managers and not enough front line services. The Minister referred to that. He also said all patients treated for blood disorders or other ailments last year were seen by a consultant inside 12 months. That is not a proud boast for any Minister but I compliment him on the slight improvement. He is hoping to reduce the time to nine months this year. I wish him well with that, especially given the huge reductions in public service numbers which came about on 29 February.

[435]The Minister also mentioned the Croke Park agreement. I hope and pray it will allow enough flexibility to reduce waiting times on trolleys, which is the bottom line for any service user who has to leave a place of work, home or whatever and avail of front line services. The Minister, I understand, said 101,000 staff remain in the HSE. They get a lot of criticism, even from me, and many do not deserve it. The system hides the many positive and good things that happen.

While the Bill may be described as technical and simple, it will give St. James’s Hospital the authority to purchase and supply the national stock of products. The procurement process includes an assessment of all products by relevant clinical and scientific experts, which we should never forget, and provides assurance that the consumers of the products, who are the most important people and mainly comprise those from the haemophiliac community, are getting the safest products possible. That cannot elude any of our thoughts or words. There was a great betrayal of trust and safety in the past and we must never allow that to happen again to any group, let alone those with haemophilia.

With St. James’s Hospital procuring products and no further need to provide commission to a third party, the State is getting much better value for money, which must be welcomed. There are projected savings. The Minister alluded to the fact that consumption of these products had increased, which is understandable. There will be ebbs and flows. The previous Minister tried to implement savings in pharmacy services and saw resistance to that. They do a good job on a seven day a week basis on the front line. She also tried, with some difficulty, to achieve savings from the main suppliers of generic drugs. The more savings we can achieve the better. Sadly, there was a lot of waste over the years. The safe delivery of products to the public is vital, along with value for money.

The Minister alluded to VHI costs and the survey of 12,000 patients in nursing homes. I am pleased the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, is in the House because I fought with her over proposed community services in Tipperary. I am not opposed to them; rather, I want to see them in place before institutions are closed. Fewer than half of the 12,000 patients in elder care were consulted on whether they had facilities at home or could avail of step-down facilities in the community which could deal with them efficiently rather than placing them in long-stay nursing homes. None of us like to see any families in such situations and I am sure that patients concerned would not like to end up in them. We have all been in nursing homes and while the staff do their best it can be a lonely existence. We have to support the different facilities available, which may not be nursing homes. Different types of therapies are available outside institutional care.

The Minister referred to home helps and home care packages. However, such services are being reduced and until the situation is sorted out there will be huge costs to the State. The system would work better and people are happier when they are at home in their own environment, no matter what they are suffering from. There must be tiered support. People who do not need to be in nursing homes should not be there. I welcome the commitment of the Minister to reduce waiting times on trolleys.

South Tipperary is the home of the pharmaceutical industry. It is an area with innovators, innovative ideas and new medicines. I compliment Merck, Sharp and Dohme, Boston Scientific and Abbott Vascular which do great work and produce outstanding products. They create huge employment and provide valuable expertise in the delivery of medicine. I also compliment Clonmel Healthcare and Pinewood Healthcare. I am not being parochial; some of the companies I referred to are world leaders.

I am pleased the Bill is being introduced because the different sections are all relevant and pertinent. I understand we are trying to amend the 1961 Act. It is a pity primary legislation is required but I welcome the fact the matter is being dealt with. Section 1 refers to the transfer [436]of powers to St. James’s Hospital from the IBTS, which did a good job for which it must be recognised. St. James’s Hospital has more expertise and is more qualified to deal with blood products but could not supply them to other hospitals and service users. It is very important such products are readily available and the hospital has in-house expertise.

The Minister also said hospitals can be very intimidating. Nobody goes to hospital unless he or she has to. He also mentioned the winter vomiting bug. Hospitals can be thronged with people and if people do not need to be there they should not be.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joe O’Reilly):  The Deputy should return to the Bill.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I am ag trasna an bóthar but the Minister was as well.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joe O’Reilly):  That did not happen during my watch.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  It happened during the watch of the last Acting Chairman who tried to stop the Minister. We wished him to carry on because he was very enlightening. The Minister gave us the exact numbers in the HSE, which comprises 102,100 staff and costs €13 billion, which is not a small amount of money.

Section 2 refers to a legal contract. Each contract that goes to St. James’s Hospital from the IBTS now has to be done separately. The section clarifies that this will be done freely and slowly. Blood clotting is a serious issue for those patients suffering.

Section 3 contains the main thrust of the Bill. It revokes section 1 of the Act and allows the IBTS to transfer to St. James’s Hospital. On behalf of the Technical Group and my colleague, Deputy Finian McGrath, I support that. I thank the Minister for being so open and diverse. He did not come in and read a prepared script but enlightened us on many areas of his thinking on the reform of the HSE. It has been criticised around the country. I was delighted to hear what he said.

  1 o’clock

This is the primary forum for the Minister to outline his strongly held views on cost savings and, more importantly, the safe delivery of health care. That has to be paramount for all those working at the coal-face, the Department and everybody else, including those involved in community care, hospital care, psychiatric care and other areas. I welcome the passion of the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, on the need to transfer services to the community and have better home care delivery. It is a matter of getting senior HSE officials to put their ducks in a row, bring us all on side and not have fear engendered in people of the change that is being progressed.

I am sure the Minister of State is wondering if I have changed completely. I have not but, when I hear a Minister that is willing to come to the House and speak I acknowledge it. I salute him and wish him and the Minister of State well. I support this short technical Bill.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joe O’Reilly):  I understand Deputy Neville wishes to share time with his colleagues. He has ten minutes.

Deputy Dan Neville:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this Bill, which is to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrate products and other biological medicinal products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital, the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders, and also the national haemophilia centre.

[437]Clotting factor concentrates are used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders such as von Willebrand disease. I have experience of the difficulties that can be experienced in the absence of clotting factor. By enabling St. James’s Hospital to become the contract holder for the procurement of the clotting factor concentrates and other biological medical products, we will have a more streamlined system of procurement of the products. There will also be health budget savings in their purchase.

When a person’s blood cannot clot properly, the condition is generally known as haemophilia. Many use the term but do not understand the full implications of the condition. A person with haemophilia will not bleed any faster than anyone else following an injury, but can bleed for far longer. There is a misconception that there is faster bleeding.

Worldwide more than 305,000 people have haemophilia. In 70% of all cases, there is a family history. In as many as 30% of cases, either the mother may not be aware that she is a carrier, or the condition may have occurred spontaneously. The two most common types of haemophilia are haemophilia A and haemophilia B. The blood of people with haemophilia A has reduced levels of a protein called factor VIII. The people with haemophilia B have reduced levels of a protein called factor IX. Haemophilia is classified by how much of these proteins, known as clotting factors, there are in one’s blood. Mild haemophilia usually means a factor VIII or IX level of 10% to 50% of the norm. Moderate haemophilia usually means levels of 2% to 10% and severe haemophilia means levels less then 2%. Once established, the severity of haemophilia does not usually change during a person’s lifetime and people in the same family normally inherit haemophilia of the same level of severity.

Everyone’s body is made up of tiny cells, each of which contains 46 chromosomes, arranged in 23 pairs. These chromosomes, and in particular the so-called genes they contain, decide many of the things which make us into unique individuals — for example, the colour of our hair and eyes. We inherit half of each pair of chromosomes from our mother, and the other comes from our father. Consequently we have a mixture of our mother’s and father’s genes. Whereas we may have blue eyes like our mother, we may have brown hair like our father. One of the pairs of chromosomes decides which sex we become. The individual sex chromosomes are called X and Y. Women have two X chromosomes and men have an X and a Y chromosome.

Haemophilia is a sex-linked disorder. This means the gene for haemophilia is found on one of the sex chromosomes — the X chromosome. A woman carrying the haemophilia gene has a 50:50 chance that her son will have haemophilia or that her daughter will be a carrier. All the daughters of a man with haemophilia will be carriers, but none of the sons will have haemophilia. If one is not aware of any history of haemophilia in the family, one’s doctor may recommend that the whole family be tested. This will not only help to identify any carriers in the family but will also spot any other, as yet undiagnosed, case of haemophilia.

Typically when the body is injured, blood clots to form a scab. This stops the bleeding and provides protection while the body repairs itself. In mild and moderate haemophilia this also happens, but sometimes the clot is weaker and breaks down before the repair process is finished, which can mean that the bleeding restarts. The clotting process is very complicated and is often described in books using relay races or toppling dominos to help explain it.

To illustrate the difference between severe, moderate and mild haemophilia, it might help to think of the amount of clotting factor in a person’s body like the amount of air in a football. Usually the ball is fully inflated, in which case it can be kicked long distances and bounced really high. With mild and moderate haemophilia, the ball is not fully inflated; it is less than half full. The ball can still be kicked and bounced, but not as far or as high. It is not as easy to use as the fully inflated ball, but it still works. This is different to severe haemophilia where [438]there is so little air in the ball that it is barely inflated at all. It cannot be used and it needs pumping up. This is why, in severe haemophilia, more treatment with factor is needed.

People with mild or moderate haemophilia do not usually have bleeding problems in everyday life. They tend only to have problems after an injury, an operation or dental treatment. Those with moderate haemophilia should nevertheless be aware that bleeds could happen from less severe injuries and that nosebleeds may be more frequent and last longer. One is advised to ensure that one learns from the staff at the haemophilia centre how to recognise a bleed and what to do. By contrast with those with mild or moderate haemophilia, people with severe haemophilia have spontaneous bleeds into joints and muscles even when they have not been injured. They need treatment to stop these bleeds or to prevent them.

I recognise the work of the Irish Haemophilia Society, which has been in existence for decades doing excellent work, giving advice and carrying out research on haemophilia.

Haemophilia is inherited but it can appear in any family. The diagnosis can be made from the blood of a newly born baby in mild, moderate and severe cases. The first symptom of haemophilia is usually in the form of extensive bruising as the child learns to crawl or walk. Unfortunately, this is sometimes suspected to be a result of non-accidental injury, but increasingly in such cases it is automatic that coagulation tests are used to investigate the possibility of a child having haemophilia or a bleeding disorder.

Moderate and mild haemophilia may not be diagnosed until later in childhood or, in some cases, adulthood. The process of diagnosis involves many complex laboratory tests on blood samples and takes several days to complete. The time around diagnosis can be a difficult period for parents, particularly when there is no family history of the condition. It is important parents become informed about haemophilia and the impact it will have on their child and other family members. The Irish Haemophilia Society does excellent work in offering support to all family members affected and provides a range of education and support programmes for all age groups.

Most cases of minor injury and scratches do not pose any problem for a haemophiliac, contrary to the general view. A little pressure is usually enough to stop the bleeding. A person with a bleeding disorder does not cut more easily, bleed more profusely or faster than normal. They simply bleed for longer.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on and support this Bill.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer:  I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to the House and commend this Bill. In the course of his address, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, spoke about health service models. The key word in this is responsibility and the transfer of it which is contained in this Bill. It is incumbent on everyone in the health service that they take responsibility for actions taken and the provision of services. This Bill speaks about streamlining procurement procedures and making financial savings in both medicines and services. I hope it will be a precursor to many more models of change in the health system. At the heart of this change must be patient-focused delivery of services as well as access to and quality of health care.

Many hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens require access to health services every year. This Bill, as the Minister stated correctly, is about the transfer of good practice and efficiencies which must be repeated across the health system. The Minister referred to the Croke Park agreement. As Chairman of the Oireachtas health committee, I have met with many of the stakeholders in the HSE, Health Service Executive, and health services. I must pay tribute to the 102,000 health service workers, those front line staff as well as back office [439]workers, who are focused, have shown flexibility and willingness to embrace changes to their working arrangements such as in rostering and other areas.

The Minister described the Bill as a technical one but it is more than that. It is about changing how we deliver a health service. Members opposite can give out about reductions in budgets and there is a legitimacy in their protests. However, we still spend €13.2 billion per annum on the health service. Ireland is the size of approximately 4 million people, the same as the population of the city of Manchester. Will someone explain to me how we have difficulties with the disparate parts of the health service?

I applaud the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, and Ministers of State, Deputies Kathleen Lynch and Shortall, for being agents of change in the health services. This Bill is not just about cost-saving measures but continuing the provision of the same quality of service. I must pay tribute to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, in particular to, Dr. Joan Power and her team in Cork, for being innovative and transforming the sector.

The issue of tendering, contracting and purchasing of blood clotting agents is carried out by the IBTS. As a consequence of the Lindsay report findings, we have put in place a robust system in which, as Deputy Neville pointed out, the IBTS takes advice from the haemophilia product selection and monitoring advisory group. The group advises not just on the safety and effectiveness of products prior to selection, but the amounts to be purchased and the evaluation criteria regarding the tenders. It is important when responsibility is transferred to St. James’s Hospital that this robust system is maintained to ensure patients can have confidence in the procurement process and in the quality of the product they receive. It is widely accepted that St. James’s, as the national haemophilia centre, is the correct body to be the lead agent in the delivery of this important function of procurement and quality control. It shows that with the removal of a third party, we are streamlining services to make savings of between €3.2 million and €7.9 million.

Up to 1,500 people are born with haemophilia every year. It currently affects 613 people while 1,000 people have bleeding disorders. It is worth noting that most clotting factors are now not blood-based which historically was not the case. The Lindsay report examined how and why people with haemophilia received contaminated blood and blood products which resulted in an increase of 250 cases of HIV and hepatitis C. While this figure may seem small, it involved one in eight of people with bleeding disorders. The Lindsay report is a benchmark. Changes in the procurement of blood products have been made since the 1980s. Despite this, it is imperative we have high standards of care.

It is also important that the co-ordinating committee, representing key stakeholders, organisations and interest groups, for the treatment and care for persons with haemophilia should be established. It is important communication failure does not happen again either.

The new haemophilia centre at Cork University Hospital will cater for people with bleeding disorders. It is important to have appropriate facilities for such patients in the Cork region, treating patients with privacy and giving them the care they deserve.

This Bill offers a streamlined procurement system and cost savings for the health budget. More important, it contains the current procedures to ensure that we provide a quality service to those with bleeding disorders. It is important that the competing forces within our health service recognise that everything they do is for the patient. We must all live up to the call for change and the need to put the patient first.

Deputy Dara Murphy:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute on the Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012. I acknowledge the presence of the Minister [440]of State, Deputy Shortall, and compliment the Minister, Deputy Reilly, on the outline he provided.

The Bill’s purpose is to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrate products, which are used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders, from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, to St. James’s Hospital, which is the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders. The legal advice is that, to transfer responsibility for these products, primary legislation is required. The Department of Health, the HSE, the IBTS and St. James’s Hospital are all in agreement that this function should be transferred. The administrative arrangements have already been put in place in the expectation that the legislation will be passed as quickly as possible.

The Bill follows a theme adopted by the Minister and Ministers of State since entering into office, that is, the requirement for a more streamlined system of procurement for products, thus enabling national savings for the health budget. It has been projected that, by 2013, the cost of these products will have decreased by 19% since 2009, resulting in savings of approximately €8 million. While it is expected that the 19% reduction will be achieved by 2013, the level of usage has increased.

Given the fact that St. James’s Hospital is the national haemophilia centre and it sees the majority of patients, the new arrangements will remove a third party. I acknowledge the opening of the haemophilia centre in Cork, which was mentioned by my colleague. It is important that we move towards putting the facilities that people need in the areas with the largest populations.

Almost all of these products are not blood-based and, thus, are classed as medicines. It is more than appropriate that responsibility for their management be moved from the IBTS. However, it must be said that a significant dependence on natural blood products remains. I will take this opportunity to acknowledge the great work done by the many people who donate blood, which is a vital act. The Minister should continue to engage with as many groups as possible to encourage people, particularly young people. Evidence shows that, once people commence donating blood, many continue to do so throughout their lives. It is a wonderful gift to give people who are ill and in difficult circumstances.

Regarding the products’ cost, two factor concentrate products, namely, factor VIII and factor IX, form the bulk of sales. It is interesting to note that their usage has increased by 2 million units in the past two years. I welcome that the products’ cost has decreased by approximately €4 million in that period. This is a significant saving, particularly given the increased usage.

The Minister referred to the special delivery unit, SDU, and the ambition to identify and implement best practice across a broad range of medical services. I refer in particular to primary care, for which the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, has responsibility, mental health and social care. We must acknowledge the SDU’s success in the past year, particularly in respect of waiting lists and the time people spend on trolleys. It is refreshing to see a Minister with the ambition to set targets through the SDU to start reversing some of the trends of recent years in our health services. Despite the €1 billion reduction in the Department’s budget, more products will be made available to patients at a net cost reduction. Notwithstanding the difficult economic circumstances and smaller health budget facing the Minister, there can be improvements for patients and progress can be achieved.

To protect the health of consumers of factor concentrate products, the contract holder must take the advice of a product selection and monitoring advisory board. This relates to the safety and efficacy of all products prior to their tender bids being selected. The board was set up following the Lindsay tribunal of inquiry by the then Minister for Health and Children. [441] Included in its membership is the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, NDSC, consultants, nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the HSE and the Department of Health. The board’s purpose is to advise the Minister, the contract holder, and the HSE on any matter relating to the products, which it does on its own initiative or at the Minister’s request.

The board may perform a broad range of functions. It advises the contract holder on national product requirements and on the products available to meet those requirements. It advises the contract holder on the selection and monitoring of products, including advice on product delivery and distribution, taking account of national and EU procurement laws and product regulatory and licensing laws. It advises and makes recommendations to the contract holder on the evaluation criteria to be used for the tender processes for products. It advises on the tenders received according to the recommended criteria. It recommends to the contract holder the products that may be published. It requests reports from the contract holder on product delivery and information from pharmaceutical companies in respect of product development. It advises the contract holder on emergency procedures in terms of product safety, supply and availability. It advises the contract holder on national and international trends in respect of product safety, including reported incidents of adverse reactions, efficacy, quality and supply. It advises the Minister and the HSE on the risk of infection from viral or other sources associated with products within its remit and on appropriate action to minimise risks. It also advises the contract holder on the process of product tracing and recall.

The board, which is chaired by the national haemophilia director at St. James’s Hospital’s national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders, may perform these functions as a body or it may delegate to one or more of its members to carry out specific tasks or give specific advice.

Debated adjourned.

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

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I understand Deputy Calleary, who tabled two priority questions, is unavoidably absent. The Ceann Comhairle, as an exceptional measure, has agreed that Deputy Troy may deal with his questions in his place.

  1.  Deputy Dara Calleary    asked the Minister for Defence    if any approach has been made from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in relation to defence force involvement in a potential UN peacekeeping mission in Syria and the procedures that would be involved in assessing the involvement of the Defence Forces in such a mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14578/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd):  The Government is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Syria. Almost 3 million people have been affected by the civil unrest in Syria since it began in March 2011. The population of the Homs district of Baba Amr has been displaced. While exact figures are difficult to ascertain, the number of fatalities thus far is at least 8,000, with 2,500 killed in the past month alone. A further 200,000 people have fled their homes and 30,000 are now living as refugees. The Government shares the widespread regret at the Security Council’s failure in February to adopt a draft resolution, which otherwise commanded extensive [442]support, due to the veto by Russia and China. The five permanent members of the Security Council are continuing their consultations on a new draft resolution on Syria without any sign of an imminent breakthrough.

Intensive international efforts have continued, however. The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, has been appointed joint special envoy of the UN and Arab League. Mr. Annan held two days of talks with President Assad, during which he presented concrete proposals for a ceasefire and humanitarian access. No agreement emerged at the meeting, however. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the lead Department in this issue. To date that Department has not been approached by United Nations for assistance. At this time there is no provision in the draft Security Council resolution for a military operation. It is envisaged that any intervention by the UN will be humanitarian in nature and, therefore, the Defence Forces would not play a role.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to deputise for Deputy Calleary. The Arab League sent in an observer team to help reduce the violence that has swept across Syria in the past year, with anti-Government protestors being massacred by forces under the control of the Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad. The President agreed to the team in order to end ongoing violence and avoid the need for a UN-led mission to the country. As we now know, however, the month-long Arab League mission left in January. Its departure points to the failure of regional efforts to deal with the problem and the need for an international solution.

UN sources estimate that 7,500 protestors have been killed by the President’s attempts to stamp out civil dissent. The influential US Senator, John McCain, has called on the international community to arm the Syrian opposition and the prospect of military intervention increases. Has the Government prepared contingency plans for involvement in Syria if the triple-lock procedure is satisfied? What other national organisations could be called on in the event of UN humanitarian intervention in Syria?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Unless the triple-lock requirements are satisfied we cannot deploy Defence Forces personnel overseas in a military capacity. This would require a unanimous UN resolution but in the absence of such a resolution we cannot get involved in a military mission. A decision of the Government and a vote in the Dáil is also required if the number of personnel to be deployed is greater than seven. However, even in the absence of such a resolution there is still hope. I understand discussions have taken place between Kofi Annan and the Syrian Government and a statement may issue later today regarding proposals that have been put to the latter.

In the meantime the Irish Government is actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance. It proposes to spend more than €500,000 in supporting humanitarian organisations in Syria and camps in adjacent countries. Our efforts will be concentrated in that area.

  2.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans to consolidate Defence Forces formations in to fewer locations; the timeframe over which this will occur; the properties he intends to sell as part of this; the locations he intends to rent as part of this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14580/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Department of Defence’s property portfolio is kept under review to ensure the most effective use of military resources, having regard to the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces. As the Deputy is aware, on 15 November 2011 the [443]Government approved a proposal from the Minister for Defence to proceed with a further phase of consolidation of Defence Forces personnel into fewer locations with the closure of the barracks in Clonmel, Mullingar, Cavan and Castlebar. The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective in the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports over the past several years. This was a key consideration of Government in addressing this issue because releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained notwithstanding the fall in strength.

Arising from the comprehensive review of expenditure, the Government decided that the strength of the Permanent Defence Force should be 9,500. In response to the revised strength ceiling, a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces, including the Reserve Defence Force, has been initiated. This will encompass a reduction in the number of Army brigades from the current three to two. The primary focus of the re-organisation is to maintain operational outputs and capabilities to best effect, within a reduced strength.

The Minister has asked the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence to bring forward detailed proposals for consideration. These will include proposals regarding territorial areas of responsibility. In advance of the receipt and consideration of the options available, it is not possible to answer detailed questions on possible outcomes. However, further barracks closures are not envisaged as part of this process.

The Reserve Defence Force in each of the four barracks being closed at the end of this month will be provided with alternative rented accommodation prior to the closure of the barracks. This is a normal arrangement for Reserve units in other locations around the country and is consistent with how the previous Government dealt with the matter.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  Will the Minister of State indicate when the report will be finalised and presented to the Minister for Defence?

It is disheartening for the families of personnel in areas where barracks are closing to see advertisements in their local newspapers seeking to rent premises for the Reserve Defence Force. Representatives of a number of families have sought the publication of the feasibility studies we are told were carried out on the closure of the barracks. Will the Department release the studies and why are we closing barracks when we must then find alternative premises for the Reserve?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I understand the advertisements pertain to members of the Reserve Defence Force, or what used to be called the FCA. These are not full-time military personnel and as they train once or twice per week on average they do not have the same requirements for permanent accommodation. Where Reserve units are based in these towns they will be provided with space for training and other necessary activities. The advertisements placed in newspapers pertain to that issue.

The current strength of the Army is at the same level as in 1970. In the context of the requirements of a modern Army, this reallocation process makes best use of resources, notwithstanding the issues raised by Deputy O’Brien.

I will ask the Minister for Defence about the report to which the Deputy referred but I assume it ought to be available under the Freedom of Information Act.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  While the personnel may be part-time, we will, nonetheless, be renting premises for them on a full-time basis. Was a cost-benefit analysis carried out on the potential savings to be made from closing the barracks compared to the cost of leasing long-term accommodation prior to the decision to close the barracks?

[444]Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Some €84.98 million has been realised to date from the disposal of six barracks and part of another. The money is ring-fenced and returned to the Defence Vote as appropriations-in-aid. Under some of the major programmes, light tactical armoured vehicles, armoured APCs, two EC135 helicopters, six AW139 helicopters and two new offshore patrol vessels have been purchased. I believe €100,000 will be spent on the Reserve Defence Force. That frees up all the personnel who otherwise would look after barracks.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  Will the Minister of State arrange to get that additional information to me?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I will.

  3.  Deputy Mick Wallace    asked the Minister for Defence    when Irish Defence Forces personnel will be withdrawn from Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14581/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I have a good briefing on this one.

The Defence Forces are primarily deployed on overseas missions in support of international peace and security under UN mandates. On 20 December 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1386 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, authorising the establishment of an International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan. Ireland has participated in the NATO-led UN-mandated mission since 5 July 2002, following the Government decision of 2 July 2002, authorising the provision of seven members of the Permanent Defence Force for service.

With the increasing use of more robust Chapter VII missions, the UN has turned to regional organisations such as the European Union, the African Union and NATO, to launch and manage operations on its behalf and under its authority. Since 2002, the Government has reviewed and approved, on an annual basis, the continued participation by seven members of the Permanent Defence Force in ISAF. On 28 June 2011, the Government agreed to continue to provide seven members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with ISAF for a further period from July 2011, subject to ongoing review by the Minister for Defence. Currently there are no plans to withdraw the Defence Forces personnel from the mission. Participation in the mission is subject to ongoing review by the Minister for Defence.

Throughout the years, Ireland has and continues to contribute highly qualified Defence Forces personnel to UN-mandated missions in small numbers or for short durations. This is a tangible and visible expression of Ireland’s continued support for organisations such as the United Nations.

The seven Defence Forces personnel currently participating in ISAF are all located in ISAF headquarters in Kabul and work in staff appointments in planning and administrative roles. The Minister for Defence is satisfied that the work carried out by these personnel, particularly by those in the counter-improvised explosive device cell, represents an important contribution to this UN-mandated mission.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  Most people would agree that the war in Afghanistan is one of the madder ones in which anyone has got involved. After 11 September 2001, the Americans were looking for someone to bash and even though no one from Afghanistan was involved in the bombing of New York, they decided to pick on Afghanistan, leading to tens of thousands killed, millions displaced, society destroyed, billions of dollars worth of destruction and the entire region destabilised. It has been one of the most historic tragedies in the past 100 years [445]and Ireland should not be associated with it. The latest atrocity involved a US soldier who was said not to be well when he went out and killed 16 civilians. Of course he was not well, but nor were the people who went to war in the first place. Does the Minister of State not believe the lives of the Irish people there are more at risk now given that the situation is becoming even more unstable? The level of civilian deaths is at its highest since the war began ten years ago.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The key point is what I said at the beginning. I appreciate the Deputy’s comments and I support his point about any civilians being killed in a tragic and appalling manner as happened with that one soldier doing what he did. The photographs of the child victims of that extreme and appalling action are shocking as are the deaths of all civilians. The key point is that we are there supporting a unanimous UN Security Council decision. We are not there as combatants but as part of a United Nations force. The actions of our seven soldiers there are mainly in support but also getting and giving great experience in improvised explosive devices. When a UN decision is made to withdraw the force, we will withdraw our troops at that time.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  Having a UN mandate does not change the fact that it is completely immoral and is an absolute disaster — it does not make any sense. At the moment the British and Americans are clamouring to get out of the place, which is more unstable than ever. World security has reduced because of the experience in Afghanistan and nothing has been gained. The Taliban is stronger now than it was ten years ago and even the dogs in the street know it will take over the country once the others move out. The Government keeps reminding us that we have no money. Since the Government came to power in March 2011, what has been the cost to the State of keeping those people in Afghanistan in the most ludicrous war we can remember?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We have seven personnel there as part of a UN-mandated force. The Deputy spoke about the Taliban and the situation in Afghanistan. The Taliban have been involved in abuses of human rights in denying women the right to be educated and people to enjoy a normal life. The Irish personnel there are rotated every six months. We are part of a group of other neutral and non-aligned countries, including Austria, Finland and Sweden. I believe the annual cost is approximately €300,000. I can confirm that to the Deputy later.

  4.  Deputy Dara Calleary    asked the Minister for Defence    the total number of retirements from the armed forces at the end of February 2012; the number of senior positions that are now vacant in the armed forces; the number of positions that have been or will be filled; his plans to maintain military capacities in view of these retirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14579/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The number of personnel who left the Defence Forces in the period 1 January to 29 February 2012 was 551. The total number of vacancies at all ranks as at 29 February, 2011, and based on the current employment control framework, ECF, is set out in the tabular statement. The ECF is being revised in the context of the reduction in personnel to 9,500 and the reorganisation announced recently by the Minister for Defence. The reorganisation will ensure that, within the strength level of 9,500 personnel, the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force is prioritised. Pending the reorganisation, priority posts will be filled.

[446]Following recent promotion competitions, the vacancy which existed at the rank of major general was filled by the Government on 6 March. Vacancies at the rank of brigadier general have been also filled. Competitions and promotion procedures are currently in train to fill essential prioritised vacancies at all other ranks and this process will be completed as quickly as possible.

As the Defence Forces are currently more than 500 below the agreed serving cadre of 9,500, phased recruitment of in excess of 500, I believe, will be undertaken in 2012. I am advised by the military authorities that a new recruitment competition will be advertised shortly.

Permanent Defence Force — 29 February 2012

LT GEN MAJ GEN BRIG GEN COL LT COL COMDT CAPT LT SM BQMS CS CQMS SGTS CPLS PTES CADETS TOTAL
ECF 1 2 9 44 151 370 494 280 48 48 260 280 1,425 1,825 4,763 10,000
Strength at 29 Feb 2012 1 1 5 29 125 291 443 361 34 32 152 175 1,094 1,657 4,518 8,918
Vacancies at 29 Feb 2012 0 1 4 15 26 79 51 +81 14 16 108 105 331 168 245 1,082

Army — 29 February 2012

LT GEN MAJ GEN BRIG GEN COL LT COL COMDT CAPT LT SM BQMS CS CQMS SGTS CPLS PTES CADETS TOTAL
ECF 1 2 7 40 124 289 348 191 34 37 129 251 1,068 1,462 4,037 8,020
Strength at 29 Feb 2012 1 0 3 25 100 230 325 279 24 25 78 158 814 1,324 3,821 7,207
Vacancies at 29 Feb 2012 0 2 4 15 24 59 23 +88 10 12 51 93 254 138 216 813

Air Corps — 29 February 2012

LT GEN MAJ GEN BRIG GEN COL LT COL COMDT CAPT LT SM BQMS CS CQMS SGTS CPLS PTES CADETS TOTAL
ECF 0 0 1 2 14 36 65 48 8 4 56 14 131 183 324 886
Strength at 29 Feb 2012 0 1 1 2 13 27 58 35 6 3 30 8 109 161 305 759
Vacancies at 29 Feb 2012 0 +1 0 0 1 9 7 13 2 1 26 6 22 22 19 127

Naval Service — 29 February 2012

LT GEN MAJ GEN BRIG GEN COL LT COL COMDT CAPT LT SM BQMS CS CQMS SGTS CPLS PTES CADETS TOTAL
ECF 0 0 1 2 13 45 81 41 6 7 75 15 226 180 402 1,094
Strength at 29 Feb 2012 0 0 1 2 12 34 60 47 4 4 44 9 171 172 392 952
Vacancies at 29 Feb 2012 0 0 0 0 1 11 21 +6 2 3 31 6 55 8 10 142

[449]Deputy Robert Troy:  I am pleased there will be a phased recruitment to the Defence Forces. I ask the Minister of State to enlighten the House and tell us more precisely when this will be happen. In December the Minister for Defence announced he would maintain the Defence Forces personnel at 9,500 and the recruitment is in keeping with that commitment, which is welcome.

The Minister of State alluded to the reorganisation of the Defence Forces. PDFORRA and the RACO, which represent enlisted personnel and officers, expressed disappointment and surprise at the Minister’s move to reorganise from three to two brigades. How many senior positions will be removed under the restructuring of the Defence Forces? What specific amount of cadetship will be opened up this year under the rearranged structure?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I cannot give the Deputy all the facts he has sought. However, I assure him they will be brought to him as soon as possible. The key point is the Government will maintain Army personnel numbers at 9,500 and it will recruit up to 600 as soon as possible. The Army must assess where this recruitment will take place and at what rank. The table supplied to the Deputy outlines the vacancies at present across all ranks.

The key point relates to strategic workforce planning. This has been under way for the past 18 months. The operational capacity of the Defence Forces within the reduced figures takes account of the large numbers of staff leaving. Initiatives have been taken, including the establishment of a barracks closure working group to manage issues relating to barracks closures and consolidation. The Croke Park agreement implementation group deals with recruitment and promotions and it prioritises appointments required to be filled in the organisation to maintain essential output. While the reduction in personnel will be challenging within the military system, procedures have been and are being put in place to ensure that all vacant posts are covered pending the filling of essential vacancies. The situation is being monitored closely. As the Deputy acknowledged, the Government remains committed to ensuring that the Defence Forces retain the capacity to operate effectively in all roles assigned to them.

Deputy Robert Troy:  Is the Minister of State suggesting that it has yet to be decided exactly which recruitment will take place in the various ranks? If so, when will this be decided and when will it be advertised? The Minister of State indicated there would be a recruitment of up to a maximum of 600 personnel. However, the Minister has yet to identify which ranks will be recruited and when this will take place.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It is important to get this exactly right in view of the reorganisation that is pending. There is no point in having the wrong rank of person doing a given job. Those recruited must fit the vacancies deemed to be essential. This is a fundamental reorganisation and a significant undertaking. A range of approaches must be considered. The experience from previous reorganisations has shown that time is required to formulate options and to evaluate each of them and, subsequently, to decide on the best option to ensure that the organisational structures are fit for purpose. The Minister will not pre-empt the ongoing work on the potential future of organisational matters in advance of receiving the final report or the making of recommendations. I assure the Deputy that the numbers will be filled up to 9,500 personnel. The key message is that there will be active recruitment as soon as possible up to a figure of 9,500 for the Defence Forces. I understand up to 600 new, younger people will be employed in the Defence Forces.

  5.  Deputy John Halligan    asked the Minister for Defence    his views in relation to possibly [450]making the services of some of the Defence Forces, that is intelligence, available to help combat the illegal drug trade, in order to free up the Garda to deal with other aspects of crime prevention. [14653/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I thank Deputy Halligan for his question. The Customs and Excise service of the Revenue Commissioners has primary responsibility for the prevention of drug smuggling into the country. Responsibility for the prevention of crime rests primarily with An Garda Síochána. However, the White Paper on defence from 2000 provides for a security role for the Naval Service and the Air Corps to assist and support the civil authorities in this important work.

While Defence Forces personnel and resources are not dedicated solely to drug interdiction operations, assistance in the prevention of drug smuggling is nevertheless recognised as an important, core part of their many duties. The Defence Forces directorate of intelligence provides regular assessments, reports and briefings to the Chief of Staff, the Minister for Defence and the Secretary General of the Department, relating to internal or external threats to the security of the State and to national interests. The Secretary General and the Chief of Staff are members of the national security committee, which also comprises the Garda Commissioner, and the committee advises on security and defence matters. The directorate also maintains a close and effective working relationship with its counterparts in An Garda Síochána.

The task force on drug interdiction was established in 1993 as a Government measure to improve law enforcement in respect of drugs and consists of An Garda Síochána, Customs and Excise and the Naval Service. Drug interdiction is carried out by Naval Service vessels on receipt of intelligence. The Naval Service operates eight general purpose patrol ships tasked with coastal and offshore patrolling and surveillance for the State. The Naval Service is committed to having at least three vessels on patrol within the Irish exclusive economic zone at any one time. All vessels are multi-tasked in the sense that they also undertake general surveillance, security and other duties. However, as the need arises, Naval Service vessels are deployed to other duties including drug interdiction operations.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

As part of the joint task force, the Naval Service is also committed to an international initiative, the maritime analysis and operations centre — narcotics, MAOC-N. The centre, established in 2007, has led to a greater focus on intelligence exchange among countries to tackle large drug shipments by sea. MAOC-N was set up by seven European countries and is designed as an international co-ordination force with access to national tasking agencies and requires participation and resources from all active members. An Garda Síochána and Customs and Excise have full-time officers based at the centre in Lisbon. Irish Naval Service personnel travel to the centre when requested by the joint task force.

Air Corps personnel and resources are also involved in efforts to prevent drug trafficking. The Air Corps maritime squadron carries out aerial surveillance of our exclusive economic zone using the two CASA maritime patrol aircraft which are equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance and communication equipment. On occasion, the Air Corps has also carried members of the customs national drugs team in an observational capacity for the purposes of monitoring vessels suspected of smuggling drugs.

Deputy John Halligan:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Garda cutbacks and the loss of resources are greatly hampering the State’s response to what is taking place in the illegal drug trade. This is the view of the Garda Representative Association. It maintains that the [451]reduction in the number of gardaí and the reduction of armed back-up is recklessly endangering its members. Further, it takes the view that this is an unacceptable gamble with society. I asked the Minister of State’s view on this question because many communities believe they are no longer governed by the democratic institutions. This is obvious given what is taking place especially in Dublin where criminal gangs almost have control of some estates. It would be futile for me to call on the Government to increase Garda resources under the current economic restraints. However, as a Deputy, I am obliged to ask what other resources can be used.

Some time ago, a journalist stated that the greatest threat to the State at present, apart from what is taking place economically, is criminal activity and gangs. We are committed to reducing Garda numbers from 14,500 to 13,000 by the end of 2014 but this is unacceptable to the Garda. I spoke to members of the force before I tabled the question. Can we not use other resources? I accept that we deploy the Air Corps and the Naval Service to deal with the illegal drug trade. However, perhaps we could discuss the use of surveillance that would free up other Garda resources. I am not calling for the Army to go on to the streets of the country, nor would the Garda wish for it. However, it is a relevant question and I am keen to hear the Minister of State’s view on it.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I thank the Deputy for his comments. He is perfectly correct in his comments on the Defence Forces providing intelligence. As I stated earlier, a national body deals with this issue. This involves the Garda, the Army and the intelligence people. There is a great pooling of resources. Notwithstanding what Deputy Halligan stated in respect of the Garda representative body, this is not a question for the Department of Justice and Equality but for the Department of Defence and I can only speak to that.

Deputy John Halligan:  I understand that.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  As Deputy Halligan stated, he is not calling for the Army to be on the streets and this is not what the Army wants either. The Army is in place to aid civilian power and this is what it has always done. I agree with the Deputy, as does everyone else, that the drug situation continues to be a major priority for the Defence Forces. They play a full part in this regard.

  6.  Deputy John McGuinness    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans he has to procure or update military hardware in the Defence Forces over the next year; the specific items involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14184/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Given the current economic situation, the acquisition of defensive equipment is carried out on a strictly prioritised basis to ensure that the Defence Forces can carry out their roles at home and overseas. In this regard, a ten year equipment development plan for the Defence Forces was completed in 2009. This plan provides the way forward and will ensure that modern and effective equipment is available for both domestic and overseas operations, such as, for example, the UNIFIL deployment in Lebanon.

Investment in new equipment and upgrading of existing equipment for the Defence Forces is provided for under various subheads of the Defence Vote relating to defensive equipment, transport, aircraft, Naval Service ships and stores and communications and information tech[452]nology equipment. The provision allocated in 2012 for the purchase of defensive equipment is €27.5 million. This allows for the acquisition of a range of priority defensive equipment such as force protection equipment and chemical detection equipment and the implementation of a rifle enhancement programme. It also allows for the acquisition of ammunition types needed to maintain stocks given the training and overseas requirements throughout the year.

Deputy Robert Troy:  The Minister is right to acknowledge that the past decade has seen a significant investment in the military hardware used by the Defence Forces. We have also seen the use of the proceeds of the barracks consolidation programme pursued by the previous Government in the aftermath of the Northern Ireland peace programme. They have been used to update the obsolete military hardware of the Defence Forces.

  3 o’clock

Different challenges on overseas missions demand specific investment and equipment and along with the ongoing needs of the Naval Service, further investment may be required into the future. The Minister of State has acknowledged today that some €27.5 million will be spent in 2012. Will the Government use the proceeds from sales following barrack closures in Mullingar, Clonmel and Cavan to fund hardware investment or will they be returned to the Exchequer? I was totally against the closure of these barracks because I do not believe their closure represents value for money for the State. Also, they are a significant loss for their local towns. I do not believe they will be sold, because the market is dead. How does the Minister intend to fund future investment in hardware?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  As I said in response to an earlier question, over €87 million has been spent already from moneys received from the sale of barracks closed and sold under the Fianna Fáil Administration. That money was ring-fenced and any moneys received from future sales of barracks will continue to be ring-fenced to the Defence Forces Vote. With regard to how the money will be spent this year, some €2 million will be spent on purchasing force protection equipment to further enhance capability to protect personnel, some €3 million has been allocated for an upgrade and modification of 6,000 current in-service rifles. The commencement of the rifle enhancement programme is a priority and it will run for from two to three years. Some €16 million has been allocated this year for the continued acquisition of various categories of ammunition needed to maintain stocks, given the training and overseas requirements. For operational and security reasons, it is not appropriate to specify in any further detail what it is intended to purchase in the coming months. However, some €14.5 million has been allocated in 2012 for payment to the Naval Service and to Babcock Marine under the contract for the provision of two new ships for the service. The first ship is scheduled for delivery in 2014 and the second a year later.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I am aware of and acknowledge the funding that was used from the previous consolidation. Times were different then and the sales then came about as a result of the Northern Ireland peace process when barracks along the Border were closed. Does the Government intend to sell the barracks in the three locations mentioned? If there are successful sales and money is generated, will that money be ring-fenced for future development in the Defence Forces?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Absolutely. Perhaps I did not make it sufficiently clear but all money that comes from the sale of barracks will be ring-fenced for the Defence Forces and for the purchase of equipment. With regard to barracks that are supposed to be closed, the Department has been in contact with various statutory agencies around the country and discussions [453]are ongoing on those properties. If other agencies, such as county councils, wished to take over some of these existing properties, that would be considered good use of the properties.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  The Minister said there was a ten-year equipment development plan put in place in 2009.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I said a ten-year equipment development plan for the Defence Forces was completed in 2009 to provide a way forward.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  Has that plan been reviewed in light of the current economic situation and has it been adjusted to take into account the reduction in the numbers of personnel in the Defence Forces and the consolidation of barracks?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The key point is that the provision in the budget for 2012 is €27.5 million. This takes everything into account and is a significant amount of money to be spent in this area this year.

  7.  Deputy Barry Cowen    asked the Minister for Defence    the total number of personnel currently serving abroad; the location at which they are serving; the total amount spent on foreign missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14167/12]

  20.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Defence    the countries around the world to which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed; the total number of Defence Forces personnel who are currently deployed around the world; if he will outline each mission in which members of the Defence Forces are deployed; if he will report on any upcoming missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14026/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 20 together.

Ireland has offered, through the United Nations standby arrangements system, UNSAS, to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time. This demonstrates Ireland’s commitment to the cause of international peace. This is the maximum sustainable commitment that Ireland can make to overseas peacekeeping operations. Ireland is currently contributing 526 Defence Forces personnel to 11 different missions throughout the world. Full details of all personnel currently serving overseas will be listed in the following tabular statement.

The main overseas missions, in which Defence Forces personnel are currently deployed, are the United Nations interim force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, with 455 personnel, the NATO-led international security presence, KFOR, in Kosovo with 12 personnel, the EU training mission, EUTM, Somalia with seven personnel, the EU-led operation ALTHEA in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with seven personnel, and the NATO-led international security assistance force, ISAF, in Afghanistan with seven personnel. Participation by the Defence Forces in these missions is subject to annual review by the Government and ongoing review by the Minister for Defence. As regards participation in UNIFIL, which is our largest mission, Ireland’s participation is expected to continue for three to four years. The net additional costs to the Exchequer for the UNIFIL mission in 2011, taking account of UN reimbursements and cost reduction initiatives on other deployments amounts to approximately €5 million.

Members of the Permanent Defence Force Serving Overseas as of 1st March 2012
1 UN Missions
(i) UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) HQ 10
UNIFIL 105 Infantry Battalion 435
Sector West HQ 8
(ii) UNTSO (United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation) – Israel, Syria and Lebanon 12
(iii) MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara) 3
(iv) MONUSCO (United Nations Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) 3
(v) UNOCI (United Nations Mission in Ivory Coast) 2
TOTAL 473
UN Mandated Missions
(vi) EUFOR (EU-led Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina) 7
(vii) EUTM Somalia (EU-led Training Mission in Uganda) 7
(viii) KFOR (International Security Presence in Kosovo) –HQ 12
(ix) ISAF (International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan) 7
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING WITH UN MISSIONS 506
2 Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)
(i) OSCE Mission to Bosnia & Herzegovina 2
(ii) OSCE Mission in Belgrade - Serbia 1
(iii) Staff Officer, High Level Planning Group, Vienna 1
TOTAL NUMBER OF PERSONNEL SERVING OSCE 4
3 EU Military Staff
Brussels 6
4 Austro-German Battlegroup
EU BG Rep (Deployed 5th December, 2011)
1
5 Military Representatives/Advisers/Staff
(i) Military Adviser, Permanent Mission to UN, New York 1
(ii) Staff Appointments, Irish Delegation to OSCE, Vienna 2
(iii) Military Representative to EU (Brussels) 3
(iv) Liaison Office of Ireland, NATO/PfP (Brussels) 2
(v) Military Representative to NATO/PfP Co-ordination Cell/Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), Mons, Belgium 1
TOTAL NUMBER OF DEFENCE FORCES PERSONNEL SERVING OVERSEAS 526

Deputy Robert Troy:  I take this opportunity to acknowledge the good work being carried out by the men and women of the Defence Forces in their various peace-keeping missions abroad. These people are great ambassadors for our country through the work they are doing and the work that has been done by those who went before them on the first peace-keeping missions decades ago.

Is there a danger any of our overseas missions will be downgraded? There appears to be capacity in the Defence Forces for another UN mission if available. International pressure should be brought on the UN to intervene in Syria and if the triple-lock requirement is met, [455]we would have the capacity to send peace-keeping troops to a country in great need of an international peace-keeping force. People there are being massacred by the hour.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Deputy Troy is right judging by what we see in the media every day. The number of deaths is appalling and civilians are suffering significant casualties. It is not the UN that is the problem. The problem lies with two countries, Russia and China because they have not consented to a UN security resolution. In the absence of the resolution, we cannot send forces to Syria. To attempt to do so, would be an invasion of that country and we cannot do that. What we are doing is investing over €500,000 in humanitarian aid through the Red Cross and other agencies. This is very important and is the area on which we must focus at this time.

In response to a request from the EUTM mission commander, this week the Government approved the deployment of three additional members of the Permanent Defence Forces for service in Somalia. Also, Ireland has received an invitation from the operational commander of operation EUNAVFOR Atalanta to contribute an autonomous vessel protection detachment, AVPD, for the operation. The Department is considering whether it will be in a position to contribute an AVPD to this operation. Apart from these request, no other requests are being considered at this time.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  With regard to personnel serving abroad, I would like to put a question the Minister of State may have forgotten to answer previously. Is the Government concerned about the safety of Irish personnel in Afghanistan, particularly given the current climate there? Aside from the 16 civilians, including nine children, killed this week, last month US troops were caught burning copies of the Koran. US marines have also been found to have been urinating on Afghani corpses and last year members of a US unit were convicted of killing Afghani civilians for entertainment. At present, British soldiers are on trial for filming their abuse of Afghani children. Also, US Wikileaks files record 21 separate incidents of British troops shooting dead or bombing Afghani civilians. The climate is getting terrible. If my son was over there I would be very worried about him.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The key point is that our seven personnel are not involved in combat. They serve in the headquarters where they provide services and information relating to the improvised explosive devices. All our army personnel are professional soldiers. They are military personnel and are effectively equipped to deal with their jobs as soldiers in whatever capacity they serve. Notwithstanding whatever else happens, any soldiers serving overseas on behalf of the Irish nation are not sent willy-nilly. They are sent on UN mandated peace missions. Our soldiers in Afghanistan are not attacking anyone. They are keeping the peace.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  There is no logical reason for them to be there.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  What percentage of costs are recouped? Are they recouped on a yearly basis or at the end of every mission?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I will be happy to get that information for the Deputy but I do not have it with me. That is an important question. I am quite sure I can get the answer for the Deputy.

  8.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent, if any, of discussions he has had with his EU colleagues in the context of overseas deployment of peacekeeping or peace-enforcement missions under the aegis of the EU or UN; the likely or anticipated location [456]of any such deployment in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14293/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  During each EU Presidency both formal and informal meetings of Defence Ministers are held. Last November my colleague the Minister for Defence attended the formal meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council with Defence Ministers. The operation commanders of the three current EU-led missions were also in attendance. Discussions were focused on these current operations and future proposed developments.

Ireland contributes Defence Forces personnel to two of the three current EU missions. Ireland contributes seven personnel to the Operation ALTHEA mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Ireland contributes seven personnel including the mission commander, Colonel Michael Beary, to EUTM Somalia, the EU’s mission to train Somali security forces in Uganda. The Government has this week approved the participation of a further three personnel to this mission.

The other EU mission, Operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA, is the EU’s first maritime operation which contributes to improving maritime security off the coast of Somalia and in the Indian Ocean. Ireland does not currently contribute personnel to this operation. Ireland has received an invitation from the operational commander of Operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA to contribute an autonomous vessel protection detachment, AVPD, to the operation. The Department is considering whether it will be in a position to contribute an AVPD to this operation.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

The EU is also planning a regional maritime capacity building mission to enhance the capacity of Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa region to fight piracy. The proposed mission will be complementary to and have close co-ordination with Operation EUNAVFOR ATALANTA and EUTM Somalia and international actors. This will be a civilian mission augmented with military expertise.

Ireland will participate in the Austro-German Battlegroup which will be on standby for the second six months of 2012. The other members of the Austro-German Battlegroup are Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM. Training and planning is currently ongoing in preparation for a battlegroup deployment if such a decision is taken by the council.

Regarding UN missions, Ireland currently contributes 453 personnel to the UNIFIL mission. Other personnel are serving as monitors and observers with several United Nations missions. Discussions are currently ongoing with Finland regarding the planned deployment of a contingent of some 170 personnel of the armed forces of Finland to UNIFIL and the formation of a joint Irish-Finnish battalion from May 2012. The number of Irish Defence Forces personnel deployed with UNIFIL is scheduled to decrease to 332 personnel as a result of the Finnish deployment.

The Department of Defence constantly reviews the deployment of Defence Forces personnel overseas. However, following the deployment to UNIFIL, it is not anticipated that there will be any major deployments of troops to further missions in the foreseeable future.

Within the EU itself, a number of committees, including the Political and Security Committee and the EU Military Committee, keep the issues of troop deployments, including rapid response, under constant review in consultation with all EU member states.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. Can he indicate the extent of ongoing negotiations relating to anticipated deployments, given the various hot spots [457]existing on the borders of Europe and worldwide? Can he indicate whether mention has been made of the western Balkans in this context, with particular reference to the concerns expressed by those permanently deployed on peace negotiations exercises in that area? Has that issue been drawn into conversations with a view to further possible deployments in that area?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  When a request is made for Ireland to participate in a mission, the issues that arise are dealt with on a case by case basis. They are an assessment of whether a peacekeeping operation is the most appropriate response; consideration of how the mission relates to the priorities of Irish foreign policy; the degree of risk involved; the extent to which the required skills or characteristics relate to Irish capabilities; the existence of realistic objectives and a clear mandate which has the potential to contribute to a political solution; whether the operation is adequately resourced; and the level of existing commitment to peacekeeping operations and security requirements at home. When all of those issues are taken into consideration the decision is taken.

I will ask the Minister for Defence to respond directly to the Deputy regarding his specific query about the Balkans.

Deputy David Stanton:  Has there been any request for naval support in the Indian Ocean, given the levels of piracy there and our dependence on the sea for much of our import and export trade?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I take Deputy Stanton’s comments on board. I agree that is a serious issue. This is the first time we have been asked if we can assist in the provision of an autonomous vessel protection detachment, AVPD. I will bring the Deputy’s comments to the attention of the Minister.

  9.  Deputy Dara Calleary    asked the Minister for Defence    the progress he has made in implementing his decision to reduce the number of brigades from three to two; if he has met with various stakeholders; if so, with whom and when; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14159/12]

  17.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for the restructuring of the Defence Forces organisation, in particular concerning the number of brigades; the resulting implications for the levels of rank establishment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14295/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 17 together.

Arising from the Government’s comprehensive review of expenditure, the strength ceiling of the Permanent Defence Force, PDF, was reduced to 9,500 personnel. In response to this reduced strength ceiling, my colleague, the Minister for Defence, initiated a major reorganisation of the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve.

A three brigade Army structure was adopted in the 1990s when the strength ceiling of the PDF was set at approximately 11,500 personnel. It was retained when the White Paper on Defence of 2000 revised the strength ceiling of the PDF to 10,500 personnel. However, it is no longer viable to retain a three brigade structure within a strength ceiling of 9,500 personnel.

In this context, the re-organisation of the Defence Forces will encompass a reduction in the number of Army brigades from the current three to two. It will also ensure that the organisational structures of the Reserve Defence Force dovetail with those of the PDF.

[458]The re-organisation will ensure that, within the strength level of 9,500 PDF personnel, the operational effectiveness of the Permanent Defence Force is prioritised. A reorganisation to two brigades will bolster the availability of operational personnel by reducing the numbers of military personnel assigned to administrative and support functions.

The Minister for Defence has requested the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department of Defence to bring forward detailed proposals for his consideration. The Secretary General and the Chief of Staff have initiated work in this regard and are keeping the Minister informed of developments on an ongoing basis.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

This is a fundamental reorganisation of the Defence Forces. It is a significant undertaking and there is a range of alternative approaches that must be considered. The Minister previously outlined that this work will take some months to complete. Accordingly, the detailed effects of changes arising from the reorganisation, including the implications for the levels of rank establishments, cannot be specified at this point. In advance of receiving a final report and recommendations, the Minister does not intend to pre-empt the ongoing work by commenting on potential future organisational matters.

The representative associations and other relevant stakeholders will be consulted on matters that fall within their remit when options on the reorganised structure are considered and the likely impacts are known.

Deputy Robert Troy:  As has already been said, PDFORRA and the RACO were completely surprised and disappointed last December by the Minister’s shock announcement. There had been no indication that this was coming down the stream.

I asked if the Minister has met the various stakeholders. The Minister of State did not say whether or not he has done so. If he has, whom has he met and when?

Which barracks will be the headquarters for the two new brigades? Given its central location and that it is served by a good road infrastructure, Athlone would be an ideal location for one of these headquarters. When will the Minister announce which brigade will be downgraded and where the new headquarters will be located? What number of senior armed forces positions will be removed in the new restructure?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I thank Deputy Troy for his comments; I will inform the Minister that his location of choice is Athlone.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I agree with Deputy Troy.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I am sure the Minister of State is not surprised.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I am not surprised.

This fundamental reorganisation of the Defence Forces is a significant undertaking and a range of alternative approaches must be considered. The Minister previously outlined that this work will take some months to complete. Accordingly, the detailed effect of changes arising from the reorganisation, including the implications for levels of rank establishments which the Deputy raised, cannot be specified at this time. In advance of receiving a final report and recommendation, the Minister does not intend to pre-empt the ongoing work by commenting on potential future organisational matters.

[459]The representative associations and other relevant stakeholders will be consulted on the matters that fall within their remit when options on the reorganised structure are considered and the likely impacts known. There will be consultation.

Deputy David Stanton:  What is the situation regarding the consultative Green Paper on Defence which I believe was to be part of this process?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I do not have a briefing note on that matter but the Minister has instructed both the Secretary General of the Department and the Chief of Staff to present options. I will bring the issue of the Green Paper to the attention of the Minister.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I gather from the Minister of State’s reply that there will be engagement with the various stakeholders when the decisions have been made——

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  No, they are options.

Deputy Robert Troy:  This seems to me to be a repeat of what happened when the barracks were being closed in the various locations before Christmas. Representatives from the various barracks were called in after the decisions were made and there was no engagement beforehand. I humbly suggest that the Department should engage with the various stakeholders so that they could contribute to the process when the Minister is considering his options. They are the people on the ground who know what is happening and they are best equipped to contribute to this process. I ask the Minister of State to ask the Minister to engage with the stakeholders before any decisions or options are put on the table and to let these people have their say.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  This is exactly what the Minister is doing. The Chief of Staff is in charge of the Defence Forces and it is right and proper that the Minister has requested the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General of the Department to come back with options. It is not the Minister’s job to micro-manage every aspect as this is the responsibility of the Chief of Staff. However, any good commander will engage in consultation with the professional organisation and with others. I do not envisage any lacuna in the information as regards the options. When the Minister is presented with those options through the proper and correct channels, and by the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General, all those options will be on the table for discussion and their implications will be clearly known.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  One of the options will be a decrease in the number of brigades from two to three and this will be a difficulty. In hindsight, the Minister handled this matter badly. He made a decision to reduce the number of brigades from three to two. He is giving the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General the task of coming up with options which fit into the decision which has already been made. This was the wrong way to go about it and in hindsight, the Minister made a mistake. It should have been announced there was a decision to reorganise the Defence Forces and that all options were up for discussion. At that point there should have been engagement will all the stakeholders but that did not happen in this case and that was a mistake.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister will consult with the Secretary General who benefits from the collective wisdom of the Department and also with the Chief of Staff who represents the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. Therefore, everybody is being consulted. As a result of this reorganisation and other changes, at least 500 people will have the opportunity to apply to become full-time members of the Defence Forces as soon as possible and this is a good news story for those 500 people and their families. This is a great opportunity for young people and I know it will be taken up enthusiastically.

[460]Deputy David Stanton:  The Minister proposes a restructuring from three brigades to two brigades. This will result in a significant change in the senior ranks. I ask the Minister of State to say when those proposals will be available and to give a timescale in months. Is it true that promotions in the Defence Forces are not going ahead because of this current review? I suggest it would be preferable to conclude this review sooner rather than later.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Minister is awaiting the report from the Chief of Staff and the Secretary General. They want to proceed with proper discussion of all the options and the necessary changes as expeditiously and as effectively as possible. I do not envisage a protracted delay.

  10.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans he has developed for the future of closed Army barracks sites in Mullingar, Clonmel, Castlebar and Cavan; if any progress has been made on these plans; the consultations that have occurred with the local community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14191/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Tá an Teachta as láthair inniu. Ní fheadar cén fáth.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Táimid anseo.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  When the Government took the decision to close a number of military barracks, my colleague, the Minister for Defence asked his Department to enter into discussions with other Departments, local authorities, State agencies and community groups regarding the possible purchase of the properties to benefit the local community as a whole but with particular emphasis on job creation measures. In this regard, officials from the Department of Defence have met with officials from the various agencies and discussions are ongoing.

I can assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to dispose of the barracks so as to maximise the benefits to the local community.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this matter. It is a pity it has to be raised at all. The Minister of State visited the constituency last week and I hope his local organisation gave it hot and heavy to him about the closure of the barracks.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I heard the Deputy was watching us outside.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  The same as in 1998.

Deputy Robert Troy:  This day week, the Army personnel in Mullingar will be walking through the town of Mullingar for the last time. The Minister of State has referred to the proposal to make Army barracks available to the community. Four years ago, Longford town barracks was closed and at this stage negotiations are still ongoing between the Department and the local authority. There is no funding available from the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to the local authority which has been told it must come up with the funding itself. The only way to generate funding is from the local rate payers. Is this what will need to happen with regard to the barracks which are being closed before Christmas, that if the local rate payers wish to maintain ownership of their barracks they will be the ones who will have to pay? This should not happen. Unfortunately it has been decided that the barracks will be closed but the Department of Defence should engage with the local authorities and local groups in these towns to make the barracks available free of charge. These are the people’s barracks and not the property of the State. The Reserve Defence Force has advertised for premises in an area where the barracks is to be closed in a week’s time. Last night, the [461]Reserve Defence Force in Mullingar met for the last time in Mullingar barracks and they do not know where they are going. I understand this is not the direct responsibility of the Minister of State but no premises has been sought for the Reserve Defence Force. The Department of Defence has shown little flexibility to allow the Reserve Defence Force to remain in the barracks at least until an alternative location is found. However, there is no need for an alternative location. The barracks should be given back to the local community and the Reserve Defence Force should be allowed carry out its good work.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That was a very lengthy supplementary question.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The Reserve Defence Force is a very important part of the Army infrastructure. The Department has advertised as late as this week in its search for space adequate for its needs. A full-time barracks is staffed with full-time members of the Defence Forces. I am a former member of the Reserve Defence Force — as is Deputy Brendan Smith. I was a long-serving member of B Company, 8th Battalion and I was a good sharp-shooter in my day. Deputy Durkan is a good sharp-shooter still. The Reserve Defence Force has an important role as a part-time reserve but it does not require the facilities to which Deputy Troy refers. As regards the issue being debated by Longford County Council, this is a matter for discussion. I will mention it to the Minister.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  The decision to close Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan town is absolutely the wrong decision. I debated the matter with the Minister, Deputy Shatter.

It is the most modern barracks not only in Ireland but in Europe. It is also the most cost effective barracks in Ireland. The Minister of State, who comes from a neighbouring consistency, will know that the personnel based in Dún Uí Néill did us proud in dealing with the difficulties on our Border during the troubled times in this country and in serving on missions abroad with great distinction. It is most disappointing that the personnel in Dún Uí Néill will march through Cavan town on St. Patrick’s Day for the last time and that 140 personnel will be lost to the town. It breaks a long military tradition in Cavan town, admittedly, under a different regime dating back to the 1700s.

There will be a huge cost involved in getting a location to house and provide a training centre for the Defence Forces Reserve. As the Minister of State is aware, their equipment must be stored and it just cannot be moved and collected when it is needed. There are huge costs involved in providing an adequate centre for the Defence Forces Reserve whose members do excellent and unsung work.

Sadly, this is the last day we will have the opportunity in this House to refer to the outstanding contribution of so many members of the Permanent Defence Forces in all of the locations mentioned, although the people of whom I am aware are based in Dún Uí Néill in Cavan. I had the opportunity twice in the past fortnight to attend different functions in that most modern barracks which is an integral part of County Cavan and of the wider Cavan-Monaghan-Meath-Leitrim-Longford area. This is most disappointing.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I do not know if the Minister of State is aware that the Estimate in regard to the so-called saving on the closure of Dún Uí Néill is in the order of €300,000. However, that does not take into account the rental arrangement that must now be entered into in regard to the Defence Forces Reserve and the ongoing security of the site which will be a requirement on the vacation of Dún Uí Néill by the serving members. All of these arguments point to the ill-thought out proposition in the first place and the fact there is no real saving involved and that that has not been the agenda all along.

[462]Very understandably and very correctly, there has been a key and critical focus on the serving military personnel based in Dún Uí Néill but what is the Department of Defence’s position in regard to non-military personnel based in Dún Uí Néill, namely, those involved in maintenance and upkeep, some of whom were transferred from other closed military installations? The closure of the Monaghan military barracks some years ago saw the relocation of very qualified maintenance personnel to Dún Uí Néill in Cavan. Where do those personnel now stand? What is the prospect for their continued employment or relocation? Will the Department of Defence proactively assist their transfer within departmental interests in the Cavan-Monaghan area rather than force them to relocate to what most likely will be impossible distances for their very rooted family interests in Monaghan and Cavan? If the Minister of State is not in a position to fully respond, will he please undertake to put this question to the Minister, Deputy Shatter, on his return and advise this Deputy of exactly what is intended in that area of concern?

Deputy Robert Troy:  When the Minister for Defence met the various representatives from the barracks and Oireachtas Members, he gave an indication that a foreign college was interested in locating in the premises. This foreign college seemed to have been interested in locating in Mullingar, Cavan and in Clonmel. Will the Minister of State confirm if three foreign colleges are interested in locating in the barracks or whether one college may be interested in locating in one barracks? What progress has been made and when can we expect enrolment into these colleges?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I would like to refresh the memories of Deputies opposite, in particular. Since 1998, ten barracks have been closed. In July 1998, the then Government, of which Deputy Smith was no doubt a Minister, announced the closure of six barracks, including Ballincollig and Fermoy in Cork, Devoy in Naas, Magee in Kildare, Castleblayney, which is in Deputy Smith’s constituency, and Clancy in Dublin. It involved 880 personnel.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  Will the Minister of State read out that again?

Deputy Brendan Smith:  We are not deaf.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I am not finished. In 2009, the then Minister announced the closure of four barracks, including Monaghan in Deputy Smith’s constituency, Lifford in Donegal, Longford in Deputy Troy’s consistency, and Rockhill House in Donegal. Notwithstanding that——

(Interruptions).

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We are in this situation because of the policy of Deputy Smith’s party in government and the way the economy was run.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  However, I will address this issue if I may. We all know of the issues along the Border and Deputy Smith and I, in particular, know there were significant events north of the Border which demanded that we needed such a response.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Some south of the Border, unfortunately.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Thankfully, that is all over now. That is a very important issue. We must now reorganise our Defence Forces in a practical and realistic way. Irrespective of [463]whether Deputy Smith believes it, we all know change must happen. Change is never easy but we must talk about the positives. In the reconstruction taking place, at least 500 young people will have the opportunity to become full-time members of the Defence Forces in the next year or so. That is very positive and constructive. That is what this Government is doing. It is making those decisions in light of that.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  Does the Minister of State have the number of those who took early retirement?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  The Minister of State did not reply to my question.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  What about Deputy Ó Caoláin’s question?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I apologise. I did not hear what the Deputy said.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I thought the Minister of State was listening to me.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I was listening but did not hear what the Deputy just said.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I asked about non-military personnel in Dún Uí Néill barracks in Cavan and, presumably, in the other locations. They are a particular area of interest that has had little or scant attention heretofore and I would like to know exactly what the Department of Defence intends to do to facilitate their continued employment.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I have not been asked that question officially and it is not on the Order Paper. I have not been briefed on it but I will ensure the Deputy gets a reply as quickly as possible because it is an important question and it should be fully and promptly responded to.

Deputy Robert Troy:  All we got was a history lesson from the Minister of State. He did not outline what his future plans or proposals are for the barracks.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I have to take the next question.

Deputy Robert Troy:  We do not know what will happen in regard to the colleges, or what negotiations——

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  We do not have much time.

Deputy Robert Troy:  ——or consultation he has had with the community groups.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  That is enough, Deputy.

Deputy Robert Troy:  We are talking about the present and the future for the personnel of these barracks. We are no wiser.

  11.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Defence    the role the Defence Forces will play in the annual 1916 commemoration this year; the budget for the commemoration; the role that the Defence Forces has in the organisation of the 1916 centenary celebrations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14175/12]

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  In 2006, a large military parade in Dublin marked the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising. Since then, a simple dignified military ceremony has taken place in front of the GPO each Easter Sunday. The ceremony starts at noon and lasts approximately 25 minutes. The President lays a wreath and the Taoiseach and the Minister for Defence also [464]have officiating roles. The event involves participants from the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and the Defence Forces Reserve. The ceremony consists of a reading of the Proclamation by a member of the Defence Forces, the laying of a wreath by the President and a flag raising ceremony. Details of the 2012 ceremony will be published shortly in the national newspapers and the ceremony will be open to the general public.

The Department of Defence has no overall budget for the annual 1916 commemoration. The Defence Forces are not paid additional salaries or expenses for participating at State ceremonies. Expenditure by the Department of Defence normally consists of overtime and travel and subsistence expenses which amounted to approximately €3,300 in 2011 and postage costs which totalled just under €600.

It is felt that a ceremony of this nature is appropriate and constitutes a sustainable commitment in the coming years towards the centenary in 2016.

Special arrangements for the centenary anniversary will be addressed in the context of the forthcoming Decade of Centenaries. The role of the Defence Forces in the organisation of the 1916 centenary celebrations will be considered by the all-party Oireachtas consultation group, which is chaired by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Deenihan. The group has met on three occasions, the most recent meeting being on 6 March last.

Deputy Robert Troy:  The Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, said the 1916 Rising centenary commemorations will highlight Ireland’s culture, language and poetry rather than the military ceremonies of the past. The Taoiseach stated he was keen to involve all parties in the State and wished to set up an inclusive structure that will have an all-Ireland dimension. It remains unclear what role the Defence Forces, heirs to those who fought in the Rising and the War of Independence, will have in the commemoration if emphasis is to be placed on other elements. Will the Minister of State confirm whether British military personnel will be involved in the commemoration, if the Minister for Defence sees the 1916 Rising as having primacy of place in the various centennial anniversaries in the coming years and if the Defence Forces will play a central part in that?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The question I was asked is the one I am answering, namely, what happens annually. I do not wish to be rude but the Deputy might listen again to the key point in my response. I reiterate that there is an all-party group dealing with this issue. It is not only one side of the House, but all sides that will put their perspectives on the commemoration.

The Defence Forces will have a critical part to play, as they always do. As one who attends as often as I can, I can state it is an Army officer who reads the 1916 Proclamation. The President has a very important place in our Constitution in regard to the Army. He — or she, as was the case last year — is present. As one who has a relative who fought in the Old IRA, I am very proud of this ceremony and I hope to be present on the day to commemorate all those people.

As to the Deputy’s reference to the British Army, the history of this country shows that this year, when the Queen of England attended in the Garden of Remembrance, in the presence of the Army, proper and due respect was shown by all sides to our history. Our past — our history — was properly and respectfully addressed on that occasion so I do not see any commemoration as being confrontational in respect of anybody else. Our Oireachtas will make the recommendations to the Minister. The ceremony will be all-inclusive in terms of our nation and its parties and it will honour and respect the great sacrifices Irish soldiers have made throughout the years in the service of our country, both here and abroad.

[465]Deputy Brendan Smith:  As one who has attended regularly at the GPO, I can state it is always a dignified and very appropriate occasion. The one that marked the 90th anniversary was most appropriate.

In recent years there have been ceremonies in other major urban centres throughout the country at which our Permanent Defence Forces and our Reserve Forces have participated. Does the Minister of State know whether there are such plans for 2012?

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  Notwithstanding the role the Defence Forces will play in the upcoming commemorations, I put to the Minister of State that the best way of commemorating is to finish the job those involved set out to achieve, namely, to unite this country, respecting all traditions and cultures. If we are true and serious about commemorating those who fought in 1916, it is incumbent on all of us in this House to continue that journey and achieve those goals.

Deputy Robert Troy:  To clarity for the Minister of State, part of the question referred to the annual 1916 commemoration but part referred to the centenary element which is coming up in 2016. That was the element on which I focused. I also referred to the budget the Department of Defence would have for the centennial commemoration of 1916.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We are at cross purposes here. Question No. 11 asked about the role of the Defence Forces in the annual 1916 commemoration which I addressed; and the budget for the commemoration, which we discussed.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I asked about the role and the Minister involved. I ask the Minister of State to read on.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It is envisioned that the framework for commemorations of the decade of centenaries relating to the period 2012-2022 will be developed by officials and approved by Government. Particular commemorative initiatives and arrangements for them will be brought to the all-party group. That is the key point I wish to make. There has been a significant level of engagement with various interested parties in regard to the programme, on both a North-South and an east-west basis. From an overall perspective, the Government’s approach to these commemorations will seek to respect historical accuracy, promote tolerance, respect and inclusiveness, and recognise the all-island and east-west shared past nature of the decade.

One of the cornerstones will be the military service pensions archive project, the purpose of which is to make the records in question available to both the public and to historians in good time for the centenary.

To finish the job of the men of 1916 is to have peace on this island, which we have, and unity of purpose, North and South. It is not to finish the job in a military sense——

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  I never said that.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  My point is, that is not what it is, lest there be any doubt about it on either side of the House. I am glad to hear the Deputy state that. There is no room in this country for militarism. What we want is unity, North and South. We have cohesion and contact, North and South, in a very progressive way. Long may it continue the way it is going.

Deputy Jonathan O’Brien:  It is important to clarify what I stated, which was that we should unite the country and make it inclusive of all traditions and cultures.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 27A and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Michael Healy-Rae — the establishment of Irish Water; (2) Deputy Willie Penrose — the review of the domiciliary care allowance; (3) Deputy Charlie McConalogue — the impact of cuts to teachers allowances on new entrants to the teaching profession; (4) Deputies Michelle Mulherin, John O’Mahony, Dara Calleary — the need to ensure an adequate infrastructure of post office services and for Knockmore post office, County Mayo, to remain open; (5) Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin — the need to find an appropriate site for the Dublin City Central Library; (6) Deputy Brendan Griffin — the future of Valentia community hospital; (7) Deputy Mary Lou McDonald — the impact of the decision to cut rent allowances and increase the minimum contribution paid by tenants; (8) Deputy Patrick O’Donovan — the impact of tweets and text messages from anonymous contributors being read out on live programmes on television and radio; (9) Deputy Mattie McGrath — the threatened closure of St. Anthony’s long stay and respite unit in Clonmel, County Tipperary; (10) Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn — the strategy for addressing the emigration crisis and the devastating impact on so many of our rural communities; (11) Deputy Denis Naughten — the non inclusion of Cloonakilla national school, County Roscommon, in the recently announced multi-annual building programme; (12) Deputy Tom Hayes — the future of public nursing homes in south Tipperary; (13) Deputy Patrick Nulty — the decision to close 21 beds in James Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin; (14) Deputy Jack Wall — the availability of funding in respect of women’s refuge centres; (15) Deputy Seamus Healy — the threatened closure of St. Anthony’s long stay and respite unit in Clonmel, County Tipperary; (16) Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív — the need to ensure the inclusion of a new school building for Clifden community school, Galway, in a five year building programme; (17) Deputy Áine Collins — the need to amend noise pollution to place restrictions on crow bangers; (18) Deputy Pearse Doherty — the ongoing negotiations on the promissory note, the impact on the economy and society arising from the payment of €3.1 billion to IBRC on 31 March 2012 and the need to reduce the burden on the taxpayer; (19) Deputy Peter Mathews — the need for the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, to raise the need for a write-off of the emergency liquidity assistance provided by the Central Bank of Ireland to IBRC with the ECB; (20) Deputy Sean Fleming — the exclusion of Ballyroan schools amalgamation and Kolbe Special School, County Laois, from the school building programme for 2012 to 2016; (21) Deputy Charles Flanagan — the proposal by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to categorise cheese as a so-called junk food product; (22) Deputy Joan Collins — the need to provide adequate hospital facilities in respect of sick children; (23) Deputy James Bannon — the need to ensure that the scale is balanced in favour of communities, as opposed to developers, under NAMA legislation; (24) Deputy Terence Flanagan — the need to intervene with the banks to provide breathing space to the residents of Priory Hall, Dublin; (25) Deputy Thomas P. Broughan — waste disposal services in Dublin city; (26) Deputy Seamus Kirk — the non-inclusion of Ballypousta national school, Ardee, County Louth, in the primary school building programme; (27) Deputy Brian Stanley — the use of utility bills to access information for household charges; (28) Deputy Robert Troy — the number of schools listed in the school building programme for 2012 to 2016 which are new and had not been in planning process, and the expected amount to be spent on the school building programme in 2012; (29) Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett — the proposal to transfer 2000 residential units from NAMA to local authorities for leasing; (30) Deputy Billy Kelleher — the proposed closure of the gynaecological theatre at University College Hospital, Galway; (31) Deputy Mick Wallace — the possibility that banks may be granted greater powers to contact customers who are in mortgage difficulty; and (32) Deputy Dessie Ellis — the effects of cuts to capital funding on the Traveller community, especially in the case of the five families in Avila Park, Finglas, Dublin.

[467]The matters raised by Deputies Charles Flanagan; Michelle Mulherin, John O'Mahony and Dara Calleary; Jack Wall; and Billy Kelleher have been selected for discussion and will be taken now.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I realise the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland has been particularly busy in recent times but I refer the Minister of State to a suggestion in the form of a proposal currently under discussion by the BAI, namely, the children’s commercial communication code, under section 42 of the 2009 Act, which, if implemented, will in effect ban the advertising of cheese on television and radio before 9 p.m. This is a case of regulation and bureaucracy gone mad and I ask the Minister of State present to use his good offices to introduce an element of common sense into this debate.

I agree with a recent submission by the National Dairy Council and with the Irish Farmers Association that in this case the BAI should row back. There is very little in terms of link between moderate consumption of cheese products and obesity. I am very surprised at the level of bureaucracy involved in that cheese, as a product, should be treated in the same way as sugary confectionery or Coca-Cola. There is a certain nutritional value attached to cheese; I refer specifically to the calcium content therein. If cheese is banned as unsuitable viewing before 9 p.m. we are sending out the wrong message, with particular reference to our thriving dairy industry, jobs, targets and investment under Food Harvest 2020.

There are 34,000 jobs in the dairy industry. Its exports are worth €2.6 billion to the economy and the target under Food Harvest 2020 is to double this in the coming eight years. Teagasc recently invested €1.5 million in the development of new cheese products, mainly for our export market. If we put cheese in the same bracket as junk food, we will do ourselves and our industry a great disservice.

I ask that the importance of the dairy industry be fully recognised, as it is by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. I ask that this recognition extend to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, whose Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, is present. I ask that before this regulation takes effect — we are informed it is beyond the control of the House and we cannot do anything about it — there is ministerial intervention and that each and every party and Independent Member in the House join me in issuing a clarion call to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to stop this madness.

Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd):  I thank Deputy Charles Flanagan for his comments. His clear message is that what makes sense should happen. The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is an independent statutory body, which has as one of its functions the preparation of broadcasting codes or rules. Accordingly, the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has no function in this matter and his Department has no role in the consultation process or in the actual drawing up of codes.

However, I can give a brief overview of the origins of this consultation and the developments over the coming weeks. Regulations on advertising to children have a long history but the most recent developments stem from the audiovisual media services directive, which obliged member states to encourage broadcasters to develop codes of conduct regarding commercial communications for products containing fat, trans-fatty acids, salts or sugars, which accompany or are included in children’s programmes. On a national level, section 42 of the Broadcasting Act [468]2009 obliges the BAI to prepare and monitor compliance with certain broadcasting codes, including the children’s commercial communications code, as well as reviewing these codes from time to time. In line with this legislative obligation, the BAI commenced the process of reviewing this section of the children’s code, publishing a consultation document in August of last year. In this regard, the BAI may prohibit the advertising to children of foods and drinks that contain fat, trans-fatty acids, salts or sugars — often known as high-fat, sugar and salt or HFSS foods — under the terms of the Act. There is parliamentary oversight of these codes and under section 45 either House of the Oireachtas may annul a code by passing a resolution on the subject. That may be helpful to Deputy Flanagan.

The public consultation invited views on a range of matters, including types of regulation that should be applied. In addition, the consultation invited views on the recommendations of an expert working group, including a recommendation that the scientifically validated and peer reviewed nutrient profiling model developed by the Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom would be a suitable mechanism for defining HFSS foods in the event that regulation is introduced in Ireland. Under this model, certain cheese is categorised as being high in salt, fat and sugar. The expert working group consisted of nutrition and public health experts from the Department of Health, the HSE, safefood and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. Importantly, the expert working group expressly considered the question of whether an exemption should be granted to cheese on the grounds of its calcium content and concluded that such an exemption was unwise. Neither the BAI or the nutrient profiling model categorises cheese or other products as junk food.

The BAI has analysed the responses to the original consultation document and is planning to publish a draft code at the end of this month, for a further phase of public consultation to last eight weeks. The draft code has been informed by the submissions to the original consultation, by the BAI’s regulatory obligations and by the conclusions and recommendations of the expert working group. Accordingly, I encourage all stakeholders to engage positively with this second round of public consultation. The health of Irish children should be a matter of central concern, and a robust, fair and balanced set of codes around advertising food to children has a key role to play in dealing with a range of childhood and lifelong illnesses.

Deputy Charles Flanagan:  I do not doubt the sincerity of the Minister of State in this matter. Does the Minister of State agree that this is an example of the nanny state gone mad? Will the Minister of State advise the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland to listen to the industry and engage with it? Can I remind the Minister of State of the commitment in the programme for Government to reduce red tape and bureaucracy? This is a prime example of excessive bureaucracy. Banning the advertisements of cheese before 9 p.m. as though it is somewhat dangerous is sending out the wrong signals.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I agree with the thrust of what Deputy Charles Flanagan says and that people have strong views on this. The advisory group, the health specialists and the nutritional experts came to a view but, as I said earlier, it is a matter for the Oireachtas to make up its mind on these regulations. The Oireachtas has powers to do so and the Minister has no statutory role in this respect. However, I will bring the views of the Deputy to the Minister and I suggest that the industry engages with the Minister for Health and the advisory bodies if it has not already done so. The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources does not have a function in this matter but there is a role for the Oireachtas.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The next matter concerns the need to ensure adequate infrastructure for post office services and for Knockmore post office, County Mayo, to remain open. Deputies Mulherin, O’Mahony and Calleary have two minutes each.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin:  Knockmore post office will cease operations on 1 May. I understand the Minister will tell us this is an operational matter for An Post, a State company charged with running postal service, but that is not good enough. An Post has not acted in the interests of the community in Knockmore. It is a State company set up to provide a postal service throughout the country, including Knockmore. An Post has taken the approach from the start that it was a foregone conclusion that the service was to be pulled from Knockmore. An Post has been acting like a secret society. The closure decision was made in January and was kept hush until the news broke earlier this week. No elected representatives or people in the community were made aware of the decision. There was no consultation. The local shopkeeper wants to take on and grow the service to the mutual benefit of the shopkeeper and An Post but has received no response from An Post to the letter expressing an interest, which was sent at the end of February. Why has An Post refused to engage? If An Post had concerns or required changes to make the service viable all this could have been teased out by consulting with the community and, at the very least, advertising for expressions of interest.

I have contacted An Post. It can offer no facts or figures why the service in Knockmore is being discontinued other than that it has a general policy throughout the country to reduce the number of post offices. However, Knockmore is a thriving rural community serving a population of about 4,000 with six national schools in the parish, local businesses and amenities including 40 community and voluntary groups. It is not in rural decay and losing population, like so many rural areas where no one is in a position to run a post office service. The attitude of An Post is a disgrace. I hope that the Minister will take An Post to task for its cavalier attitude in dealings with the people of Knockmore.

After a conversation with the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, he gave me a commitment that he will require An Post to lay bare the mechanisms and reasons for the decision so that this issue can be dealt with in an open and transparent way. We can then know the issues that need to be overcome to retain the post office service in Knockmore and to give the interested shopkeeper and the people of the community a fair opportunity to do so. Fair play is required here. I will continue to pursue this matter in conjunction with Councillor Seamus Weir and the people of Knockmore who are fighting to retain their post office, which has been in existence since 1849.

  4 o’clock

Deputy John O’Mahony:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter. I wish the retiring postmasters, Ann and Billy Rodgers, well in their retirement. They have given long and distinguished service. Knockmore is the largest parish in Mayo and the parishes of Knockmore and Rathduff stretch from Foxford to Ballina and Crossmolina. There are 1,200 homes and between 3,000 and 4,000 people. Two post offices, in Corroy and Cloghans, were closed in the past ten years in the parish. The real issue is the criteria used to arrive at this decision. The decision was taken in secret and news broke over the weekend. An expression of interest was made by the local shop, Corcoran’s, but was not responded to by An Post until the announcement that the decision had been made.

That is not good enough. How will elderly people who do not have transport access services to the local post offices in Foxford or Ballina if this post office closes and there is no public transport? Local businesses or interested parties should be allowed run the post office on a trial basis and let the people of Knockmore demonstrate the need for the post office in the [470]area. That would be transparent, measurable and would not need to be confirmed until the end of that two year period.

I ask the Minister to instruct An Post to conduct a public consultation not just in Knockmore, but in any other area of the country. There is a need for transparency, openness and consultation but in this case we have an example of the direct opposite.

Deputy Dara Calleary:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this issue. I join with Deputy O’Mahony in praising Billy and Ann Rodgers for the service they have provided. There has been a post office in Knockmore since 1847. That is the tradition we are discussing. As Deputy O’Mahony stated, there are 1,200 homes in Knockmore with a large and vibrant parish and, therefore, commercially An Post is turning its back on a revenue raising opportunity and a revenue source that has been very good to An Post and its predecessor for all of that time.

Knockmore parish has done its bit in terms of the reorganisation of postal services in that two of the three post offices in the parish have already been closed. As other Deputies stated, a business in the area has indicated it is willing to consider hosting the post office and if An Post was to bother advertising that I have no doubt that other community-based commercial interests would come forward with the same proposals.

I accept this is an operational issue for An Post but the Minister is the shareholder. He represents shareholder interests in the organisation, and shareholder interests in any organisation seek to ensure that the commercial income is maximised. However, in the case of An Post the commercial income should be maximised with respect and an acknowledgement of its community responsibility.

Everybody can win in this case. If An Post turns its back on the parish of Knockmore, it is turning its back on substantial revenues as well as on its community responsibility, which it must adhere to for having the monopoly on the various services. The parish of Knockmore has shown itself on the football field, in boxing and in many areas to be a fighting parish. An Post should be aware that it has a fight on its hands but in fighting for this the parish of Knockmore, if it is given the opportunity, will show that the investment it wants to make in its post office is a commercial one. We are not doing anyone any favours in that respect. This is not a public service. It is an investment that will show a commercial return. That is what we want An Post to do. That is what the Minister, as the chief shareholder in the organisation, should seek. Rather than it being an operational issue for An Post, we need the Minister to intervene and ask it the reason it is turning its back on this revenue.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I thank the Deputies for their comments and assure them that the Government is committed to a strong and viable An Post and supports its maintenance of the maximum number of economically viable post offices. I take particular note of what the Deputies said regarding the length of time the post office has been open, the services it provided historically and currently in the community and the impact this is having on the people. I will bring their concerns directly to the attention of the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte.

The Government also appreciates the importance of the rural post office infrastructure. The programme for Government recognises that the universal postal service is an essential public service, especially in the case of rural communities and those disadvantaged communities affected by the digital divide. The importance of the postal business and the post office network was recognised by Deputies during the comprehensive debate on the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Bill last year. Deputies will be aware, however, that the commercial operation of An Post’s post office network is a matter for the board and management of the company and not one in which the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has a direct statutory function.

[471]An Post advises that on the resignation of a postmaster, a post office is reviewed in terms of business volumes and the geographical proximity of neighbouring offices. On that basis, An Post takes a view on whether or not the post office should be advertised. It is understood from An Post that the closure scheduled for the post office at Knockmore, County Mayo with effect from the 1 May arises due to the retirement of the postmaster there. Customers will be transferred to offices in Foxford, approximately four miles away, and either of An Post’s two offices at Bury Street and Ardnaree in Ballina, which is approximately six miles away. Department of Social Protection customers will be catered for at Foxford initially but will be assisted in moving to any other post office of their choice. An Post advises there will be no change to mail services locally.

I fully understand the concerns of Deputies about post office closures or any changes to services offered in their constituencies, and concerns about the financial viability of the post office counters service in general. The importance of An Post to rural communities is well recognised and as a company it must seize all opportunities to innovate and remain relevant to its local customer base. An Post management has succeeded in growing business at post office counters generally but the counter business is not immune from the threat presented by the development of electronic alternatives to traditional counters services.

It is clear that An Post is facing challenges in both its postal and mail business. It must build on its intrinsic advantages such as the scale of the network, brand name and strong connection between postmasters and their local community to re-invent itself as a dynamic and sustainable business. I understand that the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, is confident that the management and staff are capable of doing that.

The Minister will continue, where possible, to facilitate business expansion by the post office counter business because it is only that growth that can provide a sustainable basis for its survival. In this regard, the Minister will pay particular attention in the months ahead, with our colleagues, the Ministers for Finance and Social Protection, to the development of a universal basic bank account product which could be accessible in the post office network nationwide.

The Government recognises the strategic importance of the postal sector and the central role that An Post plays. Reflecting that role, it has been long-standing policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company in a position to compete in a liberalised market and continue to provide a wide range of services to both urban and rural communities.

Deputy Michelle Mulherin:  I thank the Minister of State. I would like to think the Minister would take An Post to task for the manner in which it is conducting its business on this issue. That is at the core of the problem. It is not a private company that can keep all its affairs private; even private companies cannot do that. It is working to deliver a service we see not only as economic, but that has social value. It should be consulting with the community, particularly in a situation where somebody is willing to take over the service. Sadly, in many rural communities there is nobody to do that because of rural decline and an aged population. That is not the case here and as has been described, this is a vibrant community that is very interested in holding on to this service. We need figures to show the reason this is not viable but none of that is forthcoming. It appears to be in keeping with some general policy but I would like it to be particular because the people of Knockmore are particular about retaining their service.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I understand it is not a ministerial decision to close any post office but whatever decision is taken must be taken in a transparent and open way, with consultation. That is not happening and that is relevant in Knockmore. In terms of the financial crisis, we saw last week the likelihood that some banks will close in various small towns. In terms of the household charge, for instance, many people would like to pay it in their local post office but that has not been possible. That is a wider debate but the people in Knockmore have not been given a chance to access some of the [472]services the Minister of State spoke about and which I would support putting into the network of post offices. I understand the Minister cannot reverse the decision but he can ask the board to re-examine the position, and I ask the Minister to do that.

Deputy Dara Calleary:  I thank the Minister of State for his response. There are ministerial representatives on the board of An Post to represent the interests of the Minister as a shareholder. The Minister of State referred to facilitating business expansion by the post office counter business but An Post is turning its back on 4,000 customers by closing the post office. That will not expand any business.

Expanding the services available within An Post is all very fine, but when the source of the service is closed it flies in the face of such a policy. An Post has replaced post offices in smaller communities in recent times across Mayo. We want it to put an advertisement in a newspaper and ask people if they are interested in providing a post office service. At least then there would be some sort of transparency. An Post has given the Minister of State a response stating it is only four miles to Foxford or six miles to Ballina. Older people who do not have buses or a DART service are affected. Families are already stretched in terms of providing services. We talk about expanding the business of An Post but this policy will lead to a decline in its business.

If any business turned its back on 4,000 customers, as a shareholder the Minister has the right to ask questions. It is not an area of overarching ministerial responsibility. The Minister represents shareholders and has the right to ask why An Post is abandoning potential customers.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I would be very happy to take the views of the Deputies and convey them to the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte. I know he will take account of them and ensure they are communicated directly to An Post. Would it make sense to arrange a meeting with it to discuss the business propositions made by the Deputies? If there is an alternative it ought to be considered. If it has not been aware of what it might be——

Deputy Dara Calleary:  It is aware of it.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  There may be information which has not been given, apart from sensitive commercial information, such as the number of transactions and activities which should be made available.

Deputy John O’Mahony:  There is a public meeting in the village on Friday night and I expect An Post will be invited to it. It will have an opportunity to explain, in a transparent way, what has happened.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  It should be accountable to the community. I will ensure the views of the Deputies are expressed to the Minister and communicated to An Post.

Deputy Jack Wall:  I thank the Ceann Comhairle for putting this matter on the list today and thank the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, who is fully aware of Teach Tearmainn in Kildare, having visited it a number of weeks ago. It was established in 1999 to develop a women and children’s domestic violence service in Kildare. It has established and operated successful information, support and counselling services for the past 11 years for women and children from Kildare and its hinterland.

At the behest of the HSE and based on identified needs for service provision and minimum Council of Europe’s standards, it began developing a refuge facility in 2001. After many hurdles over the past 11 years, a state-of-the-art purpose-built refuge was completed in January 2012. [473] Teach Tearmainn took ownership of the facility on 17 January 2012. To date, in excess of €900,000 has been spent on the building, the majority of which came from the State. The magnificent facility unfortunately remains unopened today despite the fact it has everything one would need to ensure protection, comfort, assistance and everything else for those unfortunate enough to have to use them. There is CCTV and monitoring.

Since 17 January, a total of 14 women and 37 children from the county have sought refuge there. It is most likely that some of those children still remain at risk. Of these cases, eight were referred from State personnel, such as the Garda, social workers, community welfare officers, etc. At least six women and 16 children from Kildare have received refuge in other parts of the county. One family, I understand, had to go to Kerry. One can imagine the damage that does to a family. They have been taken from their own environs and moved 120 miles away.

The lack of refuges in Kildare further isolates women and children. Children are unable to continue to attend schools and are moved from their friends. It is a huge problem. The international research consistently shows women most at risk of leaving abusive relationships need a conduit of safety. Research shows that increasing women’s social support in their localities also increases the capacity to live free from violence.

The board of management of Teach Tearmainn requested funding of €413,000 from the HSE in March 2011 and to date the request has not been answered. I received a number of e-mails in recent weeks stating that the HSE is offering €100,000 to open the facility. As a result of the technicalities, problems and staff required, €100,000 will not be enough to open the facility which was demanded in the first instance by the HSE.

When the key was due to be handed over the HSE determined it had no more funds. A magnificent building is lying idle. I am delighted the Minister of State is in the House because she knows exactly what I am talking about. I cannot understand why, if a commitment like that of the HSE is given to fund a facility, it is not being honoured. I received e-mails from the HSE but those involved in the refuge did not.

We talk about things happening. I cannot understand why permission is given to a group to proceed with a facility when people are being sent to Kerry and the building cannot be opened to allow people in. It is amazing, to say the least.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  I thank Deputy Wall. Before this ever became an issue he asked me to visit the building. As he has described, it is a building any of us would live in. It is an incredible five-star building. We are not addressing the central issue in the reply but perhaps we can in the supplementary questions.

Domestic violence is a serious health and human rights issue. In March 2010 the Government launched a four year strategy to provide a framework for sustainable intervention to prevent and effectively respond to domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. Cosc is the national office established in 2007 under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure the delivery of the Government’s strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The HSE also launched its own policy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in 2010. The principal actions of this policy are in line with Government strategy. International and domestic research, as the Deputy said, indicates the health care system is usually the first route through which domestic violence victims seek support. In recognition of this, the HSE has reviewed various models to support staff to recognise, respond and refer appropriately regarding domestic violence.

The HSE, through its primary care and hospital services, manages the significant impact of domestic violence or sexual violence on the health and well-being of victims. HSE staff and allied health professionals provide a range of services to people who experience domestic viol[474]ence. Nationally, the HSE funds 45 front line domestic violence service providers, of which 20 provide refuge accommodation. The services provide a wide range of supports, such as advocacy and counselling, and were funded to the tune of €14.6 million in 2011, of which €10.4 million was granted to 20 refuges. In addition €4.5 million was provided by the HSE to fund sexual violence services in 2011.

Every HSE region in Ireland has at least one refuge available providing crisis emergency accommodation. All but one, located in the western region, are accessible on a 24 hour basis. There are ten counties in which refuge facilities are not located but the support service providers in these locations may refer clients to refuge services in neighbouring counties. There are currently 138 emergency accommodation units funded by the HSE nationally. These units may offer accommodation to a single client or a client with accompanying children, and are intended to provide emergency or transitional crisis accommodation.

National statistics on domestic violence for 2010 published by Safe Ireland, the national representative body for 39 women’s front line domestic violence services, show a substantial increase in demand for services in 2010 compared to 2009. It is within the context of this increased demand for domestic violence services that the HSE is currently in the process of conducting a national and regional review of domestic violence service provision. Its aim is to ensure that funding is allocated according to need and that areas of high demand are appropriately resourced. Findings from the review will inform service development.

I reassure the Deputy that the Government is fully committed to addressing the problems of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

Deputy Jack Wall:  That reply certainly did not address my issue on Teach Tearmainn in Kildare. It will make disappointing reading for its board. When will the national review be completed? I understood from the last meeting that it would be completed very soon and that many of the black holes identified, affecting ten counties, would be addressed. Kildare has a facility but the HSE will not give us the money to open the door. Common sense ought to prevail. We cannot continue to spend Exchequer money through the HSE and not use this facility. We have spent almost €1 million on the facility, yet we cannot open it and instead send people to Kerry and elsewhere, at a total loss to the unfortunate families affected. They face extra costs financially and otherwise.

Can the Minister of State arrange a meeting with the Minister for Justice and Equality, the Minister for Health and the HSE to resolve this matter in order to have a beneficial service? It is a matter of seeing results and satisfying the families in question, and of ensuring that only nine of the ten counties will be affected because Kildare will have a facility of which it can be justly proud. The board of management is totally committed to the facility. I thank the Minister of State for her efforts on behalf of the board. We have met with deaf ears in the HSE, unfortunately. Where in the report is the reference to the €100,000 promised for Teach Tearmainn?

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I thank Deputy Wall. The meeting can be arranged. During the negotiations on the budget, the Minister for Justice and Equality made it quite clear that Teach Tearmainn was one of the issues dealt with in regard to domestic violence. He made it quite clear he intended to invest whatever additional money he could gather into service provision. Service provision at the front line is the key. This can be arranged.

We cannot provide services and then have them funded insufficiently. While there may be some negotiations on funding, negotiations need to take place nevertheless.

On the last occasion on which I answered a question on domestic violence, not necessarily on Teach Tearmainn, I stated this matter lies firmly under the equality remit of the Department [475]of Justice and Equality. Why are we not tackling the abuser? Why are affected women and children being driven from their homes? They have to go to Kerry and other places rather than remain in their own homes, yet we do nothing about the elephant in the room. We continue to pour money into services and the sums invested are significant.

It is never a once-off occasion when one is beaten in one’s own home. The problem does not just affect women. Domestic violence is domestic violence and a small, but significant, proportion of men are abused domestically. We must really get serious about it and treat those who commit this heinous crime exactly as one would treat somebody who beat one up going down the street.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  I appreciate being selected. The reason I raise this issue is because I want clarity on the closure of the gynaecological theatre in University Hospital, Galway, to all procedures other than emergency operations and caesarean sections. The INMO expressed serious concern about the recent closure of the theatre. We are trying to get to the bottom of why there is talk of suspending elective surgery for five weeks in the theatre.

As the Minister of State, Deputy Lynch, is well aware, the nursing staff who have worked extra time are owed 2,700 hours, comprising 1,000 hours in annual leave and 1,700 hours for on-call work. The nurses have been told to take time off during the five-week period. If this is true, it is evident that there was no capability to plan for the loss of seven nurses due to early retirement and sick leave, which also resulted in some difficulties. It is quite clear that the theatre is not working at full capacity. The staff have been told they must take their time off over the next five weeks while the theatre is closed to elective surgery or else lose their entitlement.

The staff have worked exceptionally hard. They have put their shoulders very firmly to the wheel and have assisted in trying to deal with the backlog and difficulties faced by underfunded health services. I do not expect the Minister of State to wave a magic wand on this issue. We all realise that budgets must be adhered to, but the difficulty is that there was no planning to ensure there would be no loss of expertise and capacity required to run a gynaecological surgical theatre on foot of the loss of front line staff. The Minister’s statement in the House that there was a plan for all eventualities is threadbare.

Why is a theatre being closed to elective surgery for five weeks? Why have the staff been told that if they do not take off the hours they are due during the five-week period, they will lose them. I refer to the staff who have been at the front line dealing with challenges continually and working under extremely difficult conditions.

I visited the hospital last year and noted a hugely committed staff. They were willing to put in every effort to ensure the hospital ran as smoothly as possible. Obviously, there are capacity issues and the reduction in the hospital’s budget is exacerbating the problem. In recent weeks, due to staff shortages, it has not been possible to run the theatre at full capacity. On occasion, the gynaecological staff must use the main theatre in the hospital and theatre time in Mayo General Hospital and Portiuncula Hospital in Ballinasloe for urgent elective surgery. Despite this, a theatre remains idle in University Hospital, Galway.

All I ask for is clarity, not for me but for the staff. The INMO has expressed serious concern over the manner in which this matter has been handled. The staff deserve better.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health. I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue.

The Government has determined that, in line with its commitment to reduce the size of the public service, health sector employment numbers must be reduced to approximately 102,100 [476]whole-time equivalents in 2012. The end-2011 outturn was 104,400 whole-time equivalents. Therefore, a net reduction of 2,300 whole-time equivalents is required during 2012. The cumulative impact of staff reductions from this year and previous years presents a significant challenge for the health system in delivering services.

The priority is to reform how health services are delivered to ensure a more productive and cost-effective health system. The 2012 national service plan sets out what actions will be taken in the context of reduced staffing levels and a reduced budget. Staff in University Hospital, Galway, and, in particular, in the gynaecological theatre, are working very hard to ensure continuity of service. To ensure the maximum service possible is provided to patients, theatre sessions have been provided and utilised in the main theatre in the hospital and also in the theatres in Mayo and Portiuncula hospitals to support operations for women.

I must emphasise all emergency and urgent operations, including cancer-related procedures, have been carried out and all patients requiring caesarean sections have also been accommodated. Several minor elective procedures have been deferred and will be rescheduled when the gynaecological theatre resumes full capacity in the first week in April. In recent weeks, staff shortages due to the moratorium on recruitment and retirements have meant that it has not been possible to run the theatre to full capacity.

Two and a half agency staff have been recruited recently to cover the staff shortages and are being trained. This will lead to greater flexibility with rostering. It is important to note the staff will not lose annual leave, as has been reported in the media. Planning for staff exits from the health services commenced in October last year and is now being intensified at regional and local service level. The focus of these plans is on maintaining essential front line services such as emergency departments, intensive care and maternity services.

The Health Service Executive is seeking to mitigate the impact of the retirements on front line services by using the provisions of the public service agreement to bring about greater flexibility in work practices and rosters, redeployment and other changes to achieve more efficient delivery of services. It will also deliver greater productivity through the national clinical programmes to reduce the average length of stay, improve day of admission surgery rates and increase the number of patients treated as day cases. There will also be some limited and targeted recruitment in priority areas to help limit the impact of retirements on front line services.

Deputy Kelleher is correct that the flexibility shown by health service staff and the way in which they have filled in for other staff members who exited the public service deserves recognition. We owe them a debt of gratitude and they have been working very hard in ensuring the delivery of the type of service we want. That includes the staff at University Hospital, Galway.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  I thank the Minister of State for her reply. In part, it gives comfort that annual leave will not be lost by staff at the hospital. The issue of 1,700 hours for on-call work is another matter which the Minister should relay to the HSE to be clarified. As she said, these are the staff who have worked above and beyond the call of duty to provide care and ensure the theatre in question operated at premium capacity.

While the Minister of State did not say it, we talk in general about the cancellation of elective surgery as if it were not urgent. It is urgent to the person who requires it, particularly with gynaecological and cancer-related procedures. Will the Minister of State ensure the recruitment and training process continues unabated to ensure there is a return to full capacity at the theatre in question rather than patients having to travel to other hospitals in the region for surgery? We must get back to providing excellent care at University Hospital, Galway, which the staff want to do too. Will the Minister of State clarify the position on the 1,700 hours for on-call work?

[477]Deputy Kathleen Lynch:  I do not have the information on the on-call hours to hand. If the matter of the on-call hours is clarified, I will ensure the Deputy receives information on it. As he knows, however, some times there might not be clarity around an issue.

Up to eight hospitals have been identified as having particular challenges with staffing, of which University Hospital, Galway, is one. This is being worked on intensely which is why there was an immediate recruitment of two and a half agency staff to fill staffing gaps. An outside group is conducting a serious review of how the service can be improved, as well as to see where staffing gaps occur because it is not always about the service needing tweaking.

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

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick:  I wish to share time with Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy.

An Ceann Comhairle:  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Peter Fitzpatrick:  I welcome the opportunity to debate the Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Products Bill 2012. It is a short Bill which contains only three sections and provides for the transfer of responsibility for the procurement of clotting factor concentrate products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, to St. James’s Hospital. There will be no substantive changes to the functions of the two institutions. The Department of Health, the HSE, the IBTS, St. James’s Hospital and the Irish Haemophilia Society all agree with the proposals and administrative arrangements have been made to prepare for this change to ensure the legislation can be enacted as quickly as possible.

The Department of Health has also stated that the transfer of responsibility will achieve a more streamlined procurement process, resulting in financial savings for the health budget. It was projected the cost of these products to the health Vote would be reduced by 19% between 2009 and 2013, resulting in savings of approximately €7.9 million relative to 2009 by 2013, if 2009 usage patterns were maintained. Two factor concentrate products, factor VIII and factor IX, comprise the bulk of products procured. However, increasing usage of the products has led to some revision of the scale of the savings.

Clotting factor concentrates are used to stop or prevent bleeding in the treatment of people with haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders. St. James’s Hospital, as the national haemophilia centre, treats the majority of patients so the new arrangements will remove a third party, the IBTS, from the procurement process. The products are almost all non-blood product based and are classed as medicines so it is appropriate that responsibility for their management move from the IBTS.

Clotting factor concentrate may be administered at home, as well as in hospital, and may be used as emergency treatment to stop bleeding. Use of the product is demand led. If a child has a bad fall or bleed, it can necessitate a long course of treatment. While the volume of products used has increased each year the removal of the IBTS mark-up on the products, however, has resulted in overall savings to the health system. According to the World Federation of Haemophilia:

Clotting factor concentrates for the treatment of people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders are essential, life-saving medicines that are expensive and complicated to manufacture. Setting up a national system for the purchase of clotting factor concentrates can help ensure that the best products at the best price are selected.

[478]To protect the health consumer, the contract holder for the purchase of factor concentrates takes the advice of the haemophilia product selection and monitoring advisory group on the safety of all products prior to the selection of the successful tender bid. This board was set up following the report of the Lindsay tribunal by the then Minister for Health and Children. Its membership includes representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the HSE and the Department of Health. The purpose of the board is to advise the Minister, the contract holder and the HSE on any matter relating to products, on its own initiative or at the request of the Minister, the contract holder or the HSE.

I have no hesitation in recommending the Bill to the House.

Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this technical Bill, which transfers the procurement of national factor concentrates from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS, to St. James’s Hospital, which is home to the national haemophilia centre. The administrative arrangements have already been put in place in expectation of the legislation, which is an indication of the level of importance attached to Bill. I understand that all key stakeholders have been consulted and are in agreement on the matter. I hope that this will ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements.

Those of us who have normal clotting blood usually do not spend much time thinking about haemophilia or other blood coagulation disorders. However, according to the Irish Haemophilia Society, more than 2,000 people in Ireland live with these challenging conditions and need access to clotting concentrates. Thankfully, ongoing research and development has meant that essential life-saving medicine is available to them, improving their quality of life and increasing their lifespans.

Figures for the past three years show an annual spend of approximately €40 million for factors VIII and IX. While we recognise the need for this medicine, we also need to maintain the best possible product for patients at the best possible price. A national system of procurement that removes the commission paid to the IBTS will ensure vital savings are made in the health services.

Transferring procurement should increase cost effectiveness and efficiencies for the State, the hospital and, ultimately, the patient. Most patients are treated at St. James’s Hospital. As the medicines in question are not blood-based, it is appropriate that a hospital should procure and dispense them. It is also important to note that all contracts with the IBTS will continue at St. James’s Hospital. The legislation changes the hospital’s functions in no way.

An Ceann Comhairle:  The next group of speakers comprises Deputies Derek Keating, Jim Daly, John Paul Phelan and Regina Doherty, each of whom will have five minutes.

Deputy Derek Keating:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this short Bill, which contains three vital elements in keeping with the Minister’s plan to make our health services more effective, efficient and focused on the most important aspect, namely, the needs of the patient. Transferring the management of clotting and biological products from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital, which houses the national centre for coagulation disorders, will provide benefits. In preparation, the administrative arrangements have been made in expectation that this legislation will be enacted. I hope for a unified approach and response from all Deputies, including Opposition Members, to facilitate the Bill’s passage without delay.

As outlined by the Minister, the purpose of the Bill is to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stocks of clotting agents and products used in the treatment of haemophilia. The legislation will result in a more streamlined system and help to establish a [479]more efficient and financially viable contribution to our health budget, particularly in terms of the purchasing of the products. To protect the health of those who receive transfusions and so on, it is important that we have an effective monitoring and advisory board to ensure the safety and efficacy of all products. I am pleased that this is also provided for in the legislation.

I will move on to a subject that is close to my heart, namely, the voluntary donation of blood. I never want Ireland to go down the road taken by other countries, that is, people who donate blood being paid for that bounty. I strongly object to such an approach. In some Far Eastern countries, some people who find themselves in financial difficulty, for example, the homeless, people on low incomes and people with health issues, queue to sell their blood. They do this to the point at which their health is affected. We in Ireland have a brave and proud tradition, in that our committed population supports the IBTS and our health services, particularly when we see the need of haemophiliacs, anaemia sufferers and others for products derived from donated blood.

The donation of bone marrow to those who have been diagnosed with certain cancers does not fall under the Bill’s remit, but it is another example of our nation’s commitment to supporting the health service and, thereby, people who find themselves in difficulty and in need of blood. Ireland has another brave and proud tradition. Where tragedy strikes, families donate various organs to ensure the health and welfare of stricken patients. Those patients can benefit from that tragedy.

The efficiency of the health service is close to my heart. My daughter, Niamh, works as a nurse in London, where she studied and trained. We often exchange notes on the health services of Ireland and the UK.

There is one certainty, that being, our citizens’ commitment to supporting the health service in terms of organ and blood donations and fund-raising, for example, for the hospice movement and the Alzheimer Society of Ireland. It is important that we continue to monitor the percentage of people who donate blood. It is not as high as it should or could be. The Dáil and Government could address this matter, as doing so would help to promote blood donation and the overall health of Ireland’s citizens. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Jim Daly:  Fáiltím roimh deis labhartha ar an mBille seo. I welcome the Bill, which is necessary to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrate products from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital, which houses the National Centre for Hereditary Coagulation Disorders, NCHCD. I understand that to transfer responsibility, primary legislation is necessary. I welcome the opportunity to discuss this matter and I appreciate the House’s co-operation in facilitating the legislation.

These types of necessary changes are part of the Minister, Deputy Reilly’s ongoing efforts to put in place a more streamlined system that delivers reform and value for money for the taxpayer, a central part of what we as a House are endeavouring to do. The Department of Health, the HSE and all interested parties agree that this function is best placed at St. James’s Hospital.

In general, I welcome changes that make practical sense and save money for the taxpayer. Any cost saving that is made in the health sector is secondary to care. In the current budgetary situation that we find ourselves, however, the cost of all treatments and care must be scrutinised to ensure that we get good value for money for the taxpayers funding the service. With the money saved, we must provide the best service possible. This is a net benefit to the service user.

Given the fact that the national haemophilia centre based at St. James’s Hospital treats the majority of patients, the new arrangements will remove a third party, namely, the IBTS, from the product procurement process. In any arrangement, third parties cost money and increase the cost of the service. Any step to remove an unnecessary third party, as in this case, is a [480]welcome development. Almost all of the products are not blood-based and are classed as medicines. As such, there is no reason for the IBTS to continue to be responsible for their procurement. Enabling St James’s Hospital to become the contract holder for the procurement of these clotting factor concentrates will result in a more streamlined system of procurement. The savings of approximately €7 million over a four year period should not be taken lightly. Spread across the vast area of the health service, this type of initiative will deliver real savings while also improving the services provided.

I welcome the Minister’s focus on these issues since taking office. The issue of consultants’ pay is a typical example. One can either look for the quick solution or implement real reform. This is indicative of the Government’s overall approach to reforming how we do our business. It would be easy for the Minister to enforce cuts of 10% or 15% on consultants’ pay and walk away with a newspaper headline. However, it is more important and constructive to engage all the parties in the health service in reform. The consultants could be to the fore in weekend discharging, for example. I was told recently by several consultants that it is in their interest to avoid discharging patients on Fridays because beds may not be available on the following Monday. In a cavalier fashion it can be easier for them to hold the bed over the weekend and discharge the patient on the Monday to ensure they can access it. That is not the norm but it happens in a minority of cases. It highlights the importance of reforming the system.

I commend the Department of Health’s efforts to reform the health service under the stewardship of the Minister and Ministers of State. Deputies on all sides of the House have welcomed the practical changes provided for in the Bill and all the interested parties are in agreement on the proposals. Protecting the health of consumers of factor concentrate products is a priority and the contract holder will take the advice of a product selection and monitoring advisory board prior to selecting a successful tender bid. I welcome the Bill and the speedy timeframe in which it is being enacted.

Deputy John Paul Phelan:  I welcome the opportunity to speak briefly on the Clotting Factor Concentrates and Other Biological Concentrates Bill 2012. I concur with the previous speaker in regard to the sensitive issues that arise. When the debate on Second Stage commenced this morning, the Gallery was filled with secondary school students. The events which led to the establishment of the Lindsay tribunal occurred while I was in secondary school. A number of women found themselves in a particularly harrowing situation when they suffered severe damage to their health after being infected by inferior and contaminated blood products. I acknowledge the good work done by Judge Lindsay in that tribunal, the findings of which led to the establishment of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS. The Bill transfers responsibility for procuring the national stock of clotting factor products from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital, which is the home for the hereditary coagulation disorders unit and the national haemophilia centre.

While this is an important and sensitive issue, significant savings can be achieved for the State. The most important issue is the health and welfare of those who rely on clotting factor products. They are dependent on the arms of the State in dealing with their serious illnesses. We must do everything we can to ensure their safety. However, it also will be possible to save money by reducing outgoings on these products.

In dealing with the costs of health service procurement, the most important issue is retaining front line services, whether for haemophiliacs or those who suffer from other illnesses. Procurement costs are a significant part of the HSE’s budget and if savings can be found in this area, I do not see why similar savings cannot be found elsewhere. The Department is aware of the potential for savings on health expenditure, particularly given that we are unlikely to be able [481]to increase funding for health care in coming years. Services could be maintained at the necessary standard by finding savings in procurement and other areas.

I support the Bill because all the stakeholders have agreed to the transfer of this service and it will lead to significant savings for the Exchequer and the HSE.

Deputy Regina Doherty:  This Bill will allow St. James’s Hospital, at which the national haemophilia centre is based, to procure and supply the national stocks of clotting factor concentrate products used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders. The new arrangements will result in a more streamlined system of procurement for the products and will also achieve significant financial savings for the health budget in their purchase.

There are approximately 600 patients with classic haemophilia type A and B in Ireland, with a further 900 patients with von Willebrand’s disease and a couple of hundred patients with other similar rare blood disorders. The Department of Health, the HSE, the IBTS and St. James’s Hospital all agree that this function should be transferred from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital. Crucially, the Irish Haemophilia Society is also supportive of this change. Administrative arrangements have been made to prepare for the change in the expectation that the legislation can be enacted quickly.

The level and quality of the outpatient services delivered from the national haemophilia centre is as good as can be found anywhere in the world. The centre is a model for the outpatient management of any chronic disease. It offers a service to patients with a wide range of bleeding and clotting disorders on an inpatient and outpatient basis, from investigation and diagnosis to long-term management of severe coagulation disorders. It also provides comprehensive care with a multidisciplinary approach involving nursing, physiotherapy, social work, counselling and dentistry.

There have been a significant number of developments in the care of haemophilia patients since the dark days of the 1980s and the blood infection scandals which resulted in the Lindsay tribunal. The subsequent report made a number of recommendations about improving the medical care of haemophiliacs and making it more patient centred. The National Haemophilia Council was set up in 2004 on foot of the tribunal’s recommendations. Its membership includes representatives from the Irish Haemophilia Society, the HSE, the Department of Health and relevant medical personnel.

Health services for haemophilia patients have a chequered past in Ireland but services have dramatically improved, including the major new haemophilia health centre which the Minister opened in Cork last year and the new inpatient centre for Dublin.

The chairperson of the National Haemophilia Council, Professor John Bonnar, recently stated:

The problem at the coalface is we are dealing with a condition that is rare and a patient could present at an emergency unit, which will likely be very busy, but patients with haemophilia have to get treatment as fast as possible so there has to be a system [for that], and clearly that is being recognised, but a large number of doctors may never have come across a haemophiliac.

With this Bill, and the subsequent new arrangements, haemophiliacs can bank on improved services.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Paul Connaughton, who is sharing time with Deputies Joe Carey, Seán Kenny and Andrew Doyle.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton:  I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this Bill, which provides for the transfer of responsibility for procuring blood clotting factor products from the [482]Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital. The Bill aims to result in a streamlined procurement process and save much-needed funds in the health budget, but the fact that the use of such clotting products is increasing significantly means that the volume of savings is somewhat diminished. Nevertheless, every opportunity to save the State money without diminishing the quality of service must be taken in the current context.

Safety is paramount when it comes to the procurement of such blood clotting products. The Irish Haemophilia Society estimates there are approximately 613 people with haemophilia as well as another 1,418 people with other bleeding disorders. There are many others with low platelet numbers and this creates difficulty and requires the availability of increased blood clotting products during operations and immediately after giving birth.

The volume of factor concentrate products being used is steadily increasing, up from just over 40 million units in 2009 to 45 million units in 2010 and 48 million units last year, yet the spend in that time has fallen significantly from €40.7 million in 2009 to €37.6 million in 2011. Hopefully, this downward pressure on spending will continue once responsibility for provision of these products switches to St. James’s Hospital and it will continue the commendable work of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service in this regard.

No one needs reminding of the safety concerns that surround the procurement of blood products. It is just 11 years since the Haemophilia Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board was established by the then Minister for Health and Children following the Lindsay tribunal of inquiry, which was established to inquire into the infection of haemophiliacs with HIV and hepatitis C by contaminated blood products.

  5 o’clock

That advisory board, which features representatives of the Irish Haemophilia Society, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, the HSE and the Department of Health, has done tremendous work in ensuring that the safety of blood products is the paramount consideration when it comes to procurement and it is important in any discussion on this issue that the work of that group is recognised and commended. The body procuring blood products must take the advice of the advisory board on the safety and efficacy of all products prior to selecting a successful tender bid. The advisory board also advises on evaluation criteria and the amount of product to be purchased.

One worrying trend in recent months is that many very necessary cost-saving exercises have resulted in increased centralisation of services and perhaps in future more consideration should be given to a wider spread of such services. However, I have every confidence in the staff of St. James’s Hospital to conduct this vital service in a safe and efficient manner. The rationale behind the decision to transfer responsibility to St. James’s Hospital deserves to be explored. The hospital, as the national haemophilia centre, treats the majority of patients and this proposed transfer has met with approval from the HSE, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, St. James’s Hospital and the Irish Haemophilia Society.

The Bill is essentially a common sense measure, saving the State money while the quality of the service provided to the many end users is protected. It is a model of the way our business should be done, as unnecessary spending is steadily stripped out of the system. Already, the procurement of blood clotting products has been significantly streamlined and I look forward to continued savings in coming years from this measure. New thinking and courage to make changes will be increasingly necessary in coming years as Ireland faces the many economic challenges ahead. While money will have to be saved, the quality of vital health services will also have to be protected and this is one very appropriate example of how willingness to change can create a more efficient health service.

[483]Deputy Joe Carey:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which is of major importance to the estimated 613 Irish people with haemophilia and the other 1,418 who suffer from bleeding disorders. Two different types of factor concentrates are used to deal with bleeding episodes. People are treated by an intravenous infusion of the different clotting factors, factor VIII or factor IX. The two different types of factor concentrates are plasma-delivered factor concentrates, which are manufactured from the blood plasma — the liquid part of the blood taken from donors — and recombinant factor concentrates, which are manufactured in the laboratory using genetically engineered cells which carry a human factor gene. This is used in the treatment of factor VIII and factor XI deficiencies in Ireland.

According to the World Federation of Haemophilia, clotting factor concentrates for the treatment of people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders are essential life saving medicines that are expensive and complicated to manufacture. Establishing a national system for the purchase of clotting factor concentrates can help ensure the selection of the best products at the best price. That is why the Government has prioritised the legislation we are debating today.

Primary legislation is required in order to transfer responsibility for the procurement of the national stock of clotting factor concentrate products used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital, which is the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders. The passage of this legislation will facilitate the streamlining of procurement for the products and will also achieve savings for the health budget. As St. James’s Hospital is the national haemophilia centre and treats the majority of patients, the new arrangements remove a third party, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, from the procurement process. As these products are essential but are not classified as blood products, it is wholly appropriate that the responsibility for their management moves from the Irish Blood Transfusion Board.

Prior to selecting the successful tender bid and in order to protect the health of consumers of the factor concentrate products, the contract holder must take the advice of the Haemophilia Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board on the safety of all products. This board was established following the Lindsay tribunal on an ad hoc basis and includes representatives from the Irish Haemophilia Society, clinical consultants and nurses, the National Disease Surveillance Centre, the National Virus Reference Laboratory, the HSE, the Irish Medicines Board and the Department of Health. I support the legislation and look forward to its swift passage.

Deputy Seán Kenny:  The Government has approved the drafting of legislation to transfer responsibility for the procurement of clotting factor concentrate products from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to St. James’s Hospital, where the national haemophilia centre is based. I pay tribute to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service and to the people who worked for that service. For many years I was a blood donor to the service. I pay tribute to the courtesy of the people who deal with blood donors and the valuable work they do.

The Department of Health, St. James’s Hospital and the HSE have reached an agreement on the transfer arrangements for the products, which are used in the treatment of haemophilia and other clotting factor disorders. The Irish Haemophilia Society supports this change. Legislation will be drafted as a priority, allowing the new arrangements to commence, which will result in a more streamlined system of procurement for the products and will also achieve significant financial savings for the health budget in their purchase. Clotting factor concentrates for the treatment of people with haemophilia, von Willebrand disease and other inherited bleeding disorders are essential life-saving medicines that are expensive and complicated to manufacture. Procurement of factor concentrates help to ensure that people with inherited [484]bleeding disorders have access to treatment that is not only sufficient in quantity, but also meets the required standards of safety, efficacy and quality.

I am no expert on blood borne diseases and I doubt many in the House are either. In Ireland, a Haemophilia Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Group was established on an ad hoc basis in 2001 to advise on the national tender for the purchase of factor concentrates. The group was set up on a statutory basis in 2005 and is currently operating under a draft statutory instrument and detailed terms of reference. The contract holder for the purchase of factor concentrates is the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, which issues the call to tender and receives the tender documents. It is intended that this will change to St. James’s Hospital, where the national haemophilia centre is located.

The mandate is to advise on the selection and monitoring of all plasma-derived products used in the treatment of haemophilia, von Willebrand disease and other inherited blood deficiencies. The group decides on the amount of products to be purchased and the award criteria to be used in the evaluation of tenders. Following receipt of the tenders the group meets and evaluates the tenders received based on the specified criteria and then recommends which products to purchase. The group also advises on monitoring the product used, on delivery, tracing and on recall procedures. Membership consists of the national haemophilia director, two additional consultant haematologists, two representatives from the Irish Haemophilia Society, a representative from the contract holder, a transfusion medicine expert, a representative from the Irish Medicines Board, a representative from the Department of Health and a virologist with expertise in blood-borne infectious diseases. The group also includes the external reviewer of the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders and an external adviser to the Irish Haemophilia Society. The group is appointed by the Minister for Health for a renewable term of five years.

The tender process is normally for a period of two years. Tenders follow the EU procurement rules and are in line with the terms of reference of the haemophilia product selection and monitoring advisory group. A call for tenders is issued in the Official Journal of the European Union. Prior to the call for tender the award criteria are decided by the HPSMAB and the criteria are listed in the tender documents. I support the legislation.

Deputy Andrew Doyle:  I was somewhat surprised to note that the transfer of responsibility for the procurement of blood clotting and other biological products required primary legislation. However, the fact that it does offers an opportunity for Members to display at some level the ability to do something right and to do something which everyone is prepared to buy into. This buy-in is shared by all the experts, the end users, who are the most important, and all the various political hues in the House. It also allows us to save money at the same time. Such opportunities do not arise often. We should demonstrate that this is possible, achievable and doable.

More than 2,000 people require blood clotting products. In the past 20 years recombinant factor products have become the norm. They are genetically engineered in a laboratory.

The Lindsay tribunal resulted from a time when most blood clotting products were sourced from blood by-products, including plasma. Issues regarding the quality, the scrutiny by which these products were secured and procured and the way in which they got into the system arose.

Haemophilia and other blood disorders are serious conditions. However, they are manageable. I speak as someone who has lived with an endocrinological disorder for more than 20 years. This means every day a small amount of product keeps everything functioning perfectly. However, on a given day when I do not get it or on other occasions when episodes arise it is necessary to have access to a safe, secure product which can deal with it.

[485]In the same way as a diabetic needs insulin, a haemophilic needs factor VIII. We take for granted the fact that there are only approximately 2,000 people in the country with the disorder. This results in a focused and specific tranche of medicine and medical technology. It must be properly scrutinised to ensure the sufferer has the comfort of knowing that they will get the product to deal with their needs at all times.

The move away from the Irish Blood Transfusion Service makes sense because the recombinant product is no longer sourced from blood products. Therefore, there is no longer a need for the Irish Blood Transfusion Service to be involved. Moving the operation to St. James’s Hospital, home to the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders and the haemophilia centre, makes perfect sense. St. James’s Hospital is a large teaching and tertiary hospital. It has all the facilities needed. Most patients with the conditions in need of factor VIII and factor IX will be familiar with St. James’s Hospital and its surroundings and will have built up a relationship there. My experience at St. Vincent’s Hospital is similar: it becomes easy after a little time to get swift access. People tend to know if someone arrives in an emergency that must be dealt with straight away. In such cases, people will be treated notwithstanding the pressures in accident and emergency services, etc. This is why the change is important.

It probably would have made sense to do this any time during the past ten years. However, like everything else, it has taken some time. We should not do this simply because it will save between €6 million and €8 million over four years. However, the fact that it does is a considerable help.

Perhaps we should examine this model when it comes to the delivery of health services in other areas. We should streamline services and create not independent silos rather centres of excellence for everything. This debate will probably resurface when it comes to the review of the national children’s hospital and whether it should be co-located with a main national hospital or linked to the location of a new maternity hospital.

The Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, the first female Master, has four children all of whom were born there. She stated that we do not live in a perfect world but an imperfect one. She was asked what happens if the normal rate of baby deliveries is 25 per day but, on a given day, some 40 babies are delivered. She said that they cope and that everyone works a good deal harder. When it comes to the location of the national children’s hospital we should try to get the best available model given that it will be with us for the coming 60 to 80 years.

This small tranche of legislation demonstrates how common sense and buy-in from all stakeholders can be of benefit and, at the same time, save money, reassure the patient and deliver a better service. I commend the Bill to the House.

Deputy Bernard J. Durkan:  I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill. I note in particular the comments of my colleague, Deputy Andrew Doyle. If an analogy is to be drawn and lessons are to be learned on how to run services, surely the maternity services are the appropriate comparator. These services cannot be postponed. One cannot be put on a waiting list for births. They must take place whether we like it or not and they must be provided for. This should be the hallmark of all the heath services provided in the country and the sooner we recognise this, the better. Certain services must be provided at a given time with very little variation in time and these must be provided regardless and in the best possible surrounding and circumstances.

The introduction of this Bill is rather interesting, although I am unsure why the issue must be dealt with by way of primary legislation. I understand legal issues could arise due to the lack of legislation.

[486]This service, like all others, must be a service of quality and reliability. It must be state of the art and a centre of excellence service and nothing else is acceptable. Numerous infections and diseases are blood borne and the number of occurrences of these infections increases from time to time and when people travel from here to elsewhere and from elsewhere to here. This brings new risks. I would like to be assured that the service will be updated and upgraded in line with requirements on an ongoing basis. Over the past number of years there has been quite a lot of criticism of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Many dedicated people have worked in that service over the years and have suffered as a result of the criticism that resulted from an aberration, which may have been temporary, but which gave rise to difficulties that should not have arisen. If we ran the service as it should have been run, there would have been no difficulties. We need to ensure we maintain traceability, accountability, high quality and standards and that these criteria are universally applied to the service, whether in the macro or major sense. The proposed legislation should be of significant benefit to the provision of an important service throughout the country.

I hope that when the service is set up, it will have access to the highest quality and standard of international research. Without this access, we remain in a bubble of our own and we can no longer afford that. Over the years, I have repeatedly raised questions in the House on the access to scientific advancements and statistics. These are hugely important if we are to evaluate the degree to which we have the capability to meet requirements now and in the future. One of the failures of the health service over the years is the degree to which we have been incapable of projecting and predicting what is required, even a couple of years down the road and, more particularly, for the mid-term. It is for that reason we have the ridiculous situation of having long waiting lists. I cannot understand why we have waiting lists for services.

It is just as easy to do this right at the beginning. It is just as easy to do it quickly and just as easy to do it now rather than tomorrow, next week, next year or never. I raised this question with a number of people in the HSE recently when they addressed us in Leinster House. They admitted the lack of statistical information. I cannot believe that a vital service like health services should have a lack of statistics. By measuring the statistics from time to time, one can get a clear impression of how issues are being dealt with and what the likely requirement for the future will be. Equally important, one gets an impression of the quality and standard of service required for the future. All of the lessons we have had to learn from events over the past ten or 15 years here have pointed up these areas as ones needing improvement, but I cannot understand how this came about in an era when we aspired to centres of excellence. I hope this service will be a centre of excellence and that we will not need to look at it again five or ten years down the road because it did not work out the way we thought it would.

Deputy Andrew Doyle drew attention to the issue of possible savings. I am aware the savings projected will not be achieved now because of unpredicted increased usage. This illustrates once again the need for statistics. This usage should not be unpredicted, especially over a three-year period. It should be quite simple to make the predictions. Any requirements in any area as sensitive as the health services should not be unexpected. I do not want to go over the various problems that have existed in this country over the past ten or 15 years, such as failure to read X-rays properly, failure to diagnose properly, failure to examine diagnoses properly and a general failure to provide the quality and standard of health service in keeping with the modern era, regardless of our aspirations. There are and remain a significant number of dedicated people in the health services committed to the highest quality and standard of service throughout the service. Unfortunately however, there have been a number of glitches. We hope [487]that in a sensitive area like blood transfusion or, as in this case, coagulants, we have eliminated any such possibilities.

We need to take another look at the centres of excellence. Hopefully, this Bill will give rise to a centre of excellence in St. James’s Hospital. All centres should be centres of excellence. All of the services we provide should be top class services. There is no excuse for having second class services. It is dangerous to have anything other than state-of-the-art, first class services in the health services, because the weakest link becomes the common denominator and brings everything down to that level. Like Murphy’s law that is what will happen. We should be warned from our experiences in the past of that.

It is necessary to have major debates in this House on the health services. If there is one issue with which the public gets frustrated, it is the health services. On a daily basis we are told we must have long delays and waiting lists. These are simple issues that only require good management. There are more managers involved in the health services now than ever before. We had a huge increase in the numbers employed in the health services over the past ten years, but now we are seeing a huge reduction in numbers. The question arises now as to whether we can continue to provide the same quality of service and whether we can improve the quality of service. There is a question as to whether we can change the structures to try to ensure that accountability and quality are provided in such a way as to provide the public, which elects us, with the service they require. We are not talking about a service they demand, but one they require. I do not wish to go into the issues that come to mind in this regard.

The Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board has a wide remit and covers this area. It must advise the contract holder on national product requirements and the product surveyor on how to meet requirements. This is where research comes in. There must be access to international and scientific research and state-of-the-art advancements. It is simple to do this. We should not necessarily be reliant on product based information. We should have access to independent research alongside research associated with the product. Advice must be available to the contract holder on the selection and monitoring of products, including advice on product delivery and distribution and taking account of national and EU procurement product regulatory and licensing laws.

We must take a deep breath in this country when we talk about regulation, but it is important. However, it is the enforcement and recognition of the standards laid out in the regulations that are most important. If we do not recognise the necessity to keep to the standards, the standards mean nothing. Again, we are only as good as our weakest link. I know the Minister of State will have answers on these issues in her response. I do not suggest for a moment that any of the issues I have raised relate to the Minister or the Minister of State. These are issues that have arisen in this House over the past ten years and from which we have learned harsh and bitter lessons. As time goes by we should learn from each of those lessons and make sure the same mistake is not made again. We must not repeat our mistakes.

We need to comply with the EU regulations to which other speakers have referred. I hope that will be done. From time to time I submit parliamentary questions probing compliance with various national and EU standards. The information I get is often rather vague. I will repeat to the Government what I often said to Ministers when I stood on the opposition side of the House. Ministers must have available to them the highest quality of information regarding product reliability. The quality of replies to parliamentary questions must be high. This is a serious issue. When a Member submits a parliamentary question on any issue, that Member is entitled to a reply, because the public are entitled to a reply. We must be open and accountable. The public must be able to say a process is working properly and can be relied on if the Minister says so. When you and I first came into the House, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, a huge [488]degree of reliability was placed on the word of a Minister in a reply to a parliamentary question. I am not sure that has improved over the years. It is hugely important to the Government, the Opposition and the country to restore that confidence.

It is equally important for a Minister to be able to stand over the information he or she gives to the House. There should not be a vague area or mistakes. There should not be a need for a subsequent apology. It should not arise. I am sure this issue is being correctly addressed at present. I do not mean to reflect on personnel, present or past, but the question must be raised. If this matter is dealt with it will be of considerable importance to the wider community outside the House.

I have referred to statistics. The Bill will require the contract holder to be advised on national and international trends in respect of product safety, including reported incidents of adverse reactions, efficacy, quality and supply. We must be absolutely certain we can rely on available scientific information. It is quite simple to follow up on all these issues, to converse with our colleagues in other jurisdictions and, through modern technology, to get the information almost instantly. Before the introduction of modern technology it was much easier to get information. Colleagues on all sides of the House will recognise this. Many Deputies have been members of local authorities or health boards. In my time on such bodies, it was possible to access any information on file within 30 seconds or one minute. That can no longer be done. Nowadays, if one seeks what are called old files, one finds they have been transferred to microfiche and the information they contain cannot be made available for two or three weeks. I can hardly believe that.

Over the years, I have been repeatedly told in replies to parliamentary questions that the statistics I require are not retained by the Department concerned. That should not be the case. All statistics relevant to all possibilities related to running the health service should be available to the Minister. Otherwise, the Minister will have difficulty providing information to Members of the House and to the general public and creating the sort of structures the public deserve, particularly in relation to a life affecting service.

I welcome this development. I hope it puts in place something we can rely on in the future. I have no doubt of the commitment of the Minister and of those providing the service. It is, however, important to realise that we live in changing times. Demands and standards change from time to time, and sometimes overnight. It is hugely important that a service develops in a way that allows it to identify new requirements long before the need arises. That is good projection and good management. It is how health services must be managed in the future.

In the near future, I hope we can have an unlimited debate on the delivery of this vital service to people who depend on it and that it will deliver ever increasing efficacy, reliability and safety in the future.

Deputy Tom Hayes:  I appreciate the opportunity to speak on the Bill, which will allow the Minister, Deputy James Reilly, and his team of Ministers of State, Deputies Shortall and Lynch, to continue their work in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Department of Health. This is something the public want and that we all know is needed.

I welcome the legislation. The purpose of the Bill is to accommodate the transfer of responsibility for the procurement of clotting products used in the treatment of various clotting disorders. Responsibility for this procurement will now lie with a national centre based in St. James’s Hospital, having previously been dealt with by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, IBTS. The transfer of the service will be streamlined and the current system of procurement will reduce costs and provide a far better service. We must welcome these savings and improve[489]ments in the service. That is what being in Government is all about. We were elected to implement such changes. Today’s Bill is another example of our commitment to that change. Change is so important. Change to how we do our business, particularly in the health area, is what people are crying out for.

The new medical card procurement system is another example of change. It has caused much stress for many people in recent months. I see improvements. I raised this matter some weeks ago and the Minister responded. There have been steady improvements. However, we still have a few steps to go in this regard. I urge the Minister of State, Deputy Shortall, to continue with these improvements. They are what the public want. So many people are unemployed and in need of medical cards. There should be a simple way for people to access their medical cards. I hope the method of doing so will improve.

The projected cost of these medical products to the Health Vote will be reduced by 19% between 2009 and 2013. That is a huge saving and I welcome it. I urge the Government to continue on this road and to make savings wherever they can be found. The pot is not as big as it was. We need to make savings wherever we can to provide a better service. We must give the public a better service, whether in bigger or smaller hospitals.

I am pleased the Government is concentrating its efforts on improving all hospitals. The hospital service plan announced some weeks ago left us in a strong position, and I acknowledge that. I believe the plan will be very effective in most cases. I commend the work of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service over the years. Its employees work late at night and travel the country to obtain blood. I encourage the giving of blood even though some people are a little anxious about the process of giving blood. A blood bank is needed in emergency situations and I encourage young people in the full of their health to donate blood to ensure a satisfactory supply of blood is always available.

The Irish Blood Transfusion Service will continue to be a priceless asset to the State in other fields of health care. I hope it continues its great work over the coming years and it has the continued support of this Government. Most Deputies who have spoken in this debate welcome the Bill and it is good to see Bills which are supported on all sides of the House. This Government is doing its best to provide a better health service and this House should support the Government in this regard. I commend the good people in the HSE and in the Department of Health and those public servants working on the front line. We should all work together to provide a better service which is not a burden on the taxpayer.

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  I thank all Deputies who spoke on this issue and for their valuable contributions to the debate. This is straightforward legislation which transfers responsibility for the procurement of clotting factor concentrates and other biological products from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital where the national centre for hereditary coagulation disorders, including haemophilia, is located. The House has heard that the Bill will enable the procurement of these products to be undertaken in the most cost-efficient and cost-effective way possible without compromising their quality and safety.

In response to Deputy Kelleher who spoke this morning, we all acknowledge the human misery and suffering caused by the infection of blood and blood products in the past. As a result of inquiries into this infection, the Product Selection and Monitoring Advisory Board was established on a non-statutory basis to advise the contract holder on the health and safety aspects of all products. The board has been working very effectively on this issue since it was established in 2004. As stated by Deputy Murphy, the contractor also takes the advice of the board under the terms of reference for the procurement process. There are therefore no plans to change this arrangement.

[490]Deputy Kelleher also referred to the need to transfer resources from the IBTS to St. James’s Hospital to manage the procurement process. However, St. James’s Hospital procures a large volume of other products and already has the resources to manage this additional work associated with contracting for these products.

Deputy Ó Caoláin asked for confirmation of the actual savings resulting from the change in contractor. In anticipation of the passing of this legislation, the IBTS removed its commission of 19% on products. Projected savings were based on usage patterns being maintained but usage has actually increased, as noted by the Minister earlier in the debate, by 5 million units for factor 8 and 2 million units for factor 9. Even so, the cost of the products to the State has actually decreased from almost €40.8 million in 2009 to €37.6 million last year.

Deputy Ó Caoláin also raised the issue of a small number of women who received potentially infected batches of anti-D but who have never tested positive for the hepatitis C virus. Under the Health (Amendment) Act, the HAA card is given to men, women and children who contracted hepatitis C from the administration within the State of blood or blood products. The entitlement of an individual to a HAA card rests with the chief executive officer of the HSE who is bound by the definition of eligibility in the Hepatitis C Compensation Tribunal (Amendment ) Act 2006, which requires a positive diagnostic test for applications received by the tribunal after the specified date of 20 June 2006.

A great deal of consideration has been given to the issue of women who have neither tested positive for hepatitis C nor had a positive tribunal decision in their favour. While a number of these women who have tested negative for hepatitis C, have had and may indeed continue to have a variety of symptoms, there is, in fact, no scientific proof that the symptoms are specific evidence of hepatitis C infection. Some symptoms of hepatitis C such as, for example, fatigue, fibromyalgia and depression, are common conditions occurring in the general population. It is estimated that up to 16,000 women were exposed to potentially infectious batches of anti-D and approximately 1,000 of these women were infected with hepatitis C.

I thank Members who contributed to this debate and for facilitating the Bill’s passage today.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill reported without amendment, received for final consideration and passed.

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I move: “That Report Stage be taken now.”

Question put and agreed to.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Amendment No. 1 in the name of Deputy Ó Caoláin arises out of committee proceedings. Amendments Nos. 1 and 4 are cognate and may be discussed together.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I move amendment No. 1:

In page 4, to delete lines 5 to 7.

We have been through all of these before and I wish to revisit them as best I can but without labouring the situation. We divided the Committee on this amendment. I wish to again put the proposition to the Minister and the House that section 2(2)(d), lines 5 to 7, allow for what I [491]would call a deficiency in the legislation to continue. It provides for women only under 18 years of age in terms of the absolute banning of female genital mutilation and allows a situation occur where women of 18 years and more are not deemed to come under the terms of this legislation.

It is wrong to say a person is not guilty of an offence under subsection (1) if the woman is 18 years of age or more. As I said on Committee Stage, women on attaining their 18th birthday are no less vulnerable to the pressures that would present when they are 17 years and 364 days old. It is a flaw in our approach and I am not at all taken by the counter-argument in support of retaining this statement that it could be carried out on women who would wish for cosmetic or other surgical reasons to embark on this act. It is a barbaric act and it is wrong and women without exception are being compelled because of forces within their family, community and culture.

This, of course, has become an area of concern to us because of the growing number of women and people from other cultures and countries coming to this country over the past short number of decades. I appeal to the Minister to again reflect on this because the same pressures and forces will apply post-18 years of age that would apply pre-18 years of age and that the young woman of whatever age will be no better able to resist those forces on attaining her 18th birthday than previously. We must give absolute support, guarantee and protection to women of all ages against this horrific and absolutely unnecessary procedure.

Deputy John Halligan:  The Minister is probably aware that over a three year period the number of women affected by FGM in Ireland rose from 2,585 to a staggering 3,170 and the figure continues to increase. The UN international day of zero tolerance to female genital mutilation was two weeks ago and Amnesty International and its Irish section raised questions concerning the exemption of women over 18 years of age. Its legal counsel has said the section in question is problematic and on that basis, I ask the Minister to reconsider.

My problem is that the section states that a person is not guilty of an offence if the act concerned is done to a woman who is not less than 18 years of age and there is no resultant permanent bodily harm. Are we considering the potential psychological and emotional harm which apparently — I have spoken to members of the community — affects many women later in life even though there is no physical bodily harm?

Amnesty International, of which I am a member, has put much effort and resources into dealing with this problem worldwide. It has found that a high percentage of women over 18 years of age are still forced to have this procedure. They do not have free will even though they are over 18 years of age. A huge proportion of them suffer deep psychological scars in later years as a result of this procedure. Like Deputy Ó Caoláin, I ask the Minister to reconsider the age limit of 18 years of age.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I support the previous speakers in regard to this amendment. A loophole is being left open by not dealing with women over the age of 18 years. The reality is that the probability of somebody being prosecuted under this legislation is very slim. What is critically important is the message it sends.

  6 o’clock

I have spoken to some of the people who are very involved in this and we need to put in place strong legislation in Ireland and in other European jurisdictions. When families which are educated and know the issues involved return home, the level of family and peer pressure they face in their home country, or country of origin, is substantial. The best argument a family which is well educated and concerned about the health of the its female members can make is that if this practice is carried out, they could be prosecuted when they return to Ireland. People involved in fighting against FGM inter[492]nationally argue that this is a very strong argument which people can put forward in their home community.

Other than the issue with which we will deal shortly in regard to girls under the age of 18 years, this issue of women over 18 years of age needs to be closed off. A clear message must be sent that no matter what the age of the woman involved is, prosecutions can take place in this jurisdiction.

That can be then used by families when they return to their country of origin in that they can state there is a strong probability they will be prosecuted when they return to Ireland because of the way the legislation there is constructed.

We do not envisage that female genital mutilation, FGM, will be physically practised in this jurisdiction. In all probability it will be practised in a third country. It is important we give the families who do not want this practice done to the female members of their family the tools to make that argument. One hopes that as a result of the education process that must take place the majority of such families who live in Ireland or within the European Union will be of that view when they return to their country of origin.

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  As much of the extra-territorial issue will be dealt with in the following amendment, I will leave that aspect until then. I propose to consider together amendments Nos. 1 and 4, proposed by Deputy Ó Caoláin. These amendments relate to exemption from prosecution when a person performs an act on a woman who is aged over 18 years and there is no resultant permanent bodily harm. It was decided to use the broad WHO definition of what constitutes FGM, which includes Type 4. This category subsumes all other practices not included in Types 1, 2 and 3, and usually refers to pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterisation. This decision was made to ensure that all forms of FGM are covered by the Bill.

It is not, however, the intention of the Bill to criminalise certain forms of genital piercing and cosmetic surgery for aesthetic purposes. Unless the exemption is included, piercing and cosmetic surgery would be counted as female genital mutilation because of the definition of acts of FGM we have already adopted in the Bill. This wording was chosen following extensive consultation with the offices of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. It acknowledges that adults have the freedom of choice over cosmetic and other procedures that do not violate their human rights. Following a further review of the matter recently and additional advice sought from the Attorney General, the exemption, as currently worded, stands.

Under this exemption no offence is committed if an act of FGM is committed against a woman of 18 years or more and where no permanent bodily harm is done. However, it should be borne in mind that if a woman undergoes FGM which does not result in permanent bodily harm and she has not consented to the procedure, the act can be prosecuted as assault under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997. This rationale also applies to the other instances of this exemption present in the Bill in section 3(2)(c), when a girl or woman has been removed from the State for the purpose of FGM and section 4(2)(d) when the acts are done outside the State. Therefore, I ask Deputies to reject Deputy Ó Caoláin’s amendment.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  For me, this was a very important matter. I hold very strongly to the view that, for those women and families I have met from the newcomer communities who have found a home in our country in recent years, there is no age of maturity as we would understand it. That age was once 21 years and is now 18 years. It is when young women go through a passage to adulthood, something they can assert very strongly in Irish cultural terms. [493] This is not replicated in these other cultures because it is not the reality. The attainment of the 18th birthday does not offer any, let alone sufficient, protection for the young woman or others of her family who wish to defend her against the pressures that have been applied in so many cases, compelling women to subject themselves to female genital mutilation.

By allowing subsection 2(d) to stand, we are undermining the essence and message of the Bill. An earlier speaker was right. This Bill will not necessarily, of itself, protect women in all cases but it certainly signals a weakness in that we do not apply the message to women on the attainment of their 18th birthdays. This is a significant failing. I regret the Minister did not take up my proposition on Committee Stage to come back with an amendment of his own. I note there are no amendments from the Minister in spite of the fact that we pressed ours well and, I believe, explained them well. They were not views of our own construction only but were reflective of people with whom we have engaged, a number of whom were present in the Visitors Gallery on Committee Stage.

This is a very important matter. For me, it is one of the key elements in the Bill and I feel strongly enough about it to take the same course today as I have done previously. Again, I appeal to the Minister to recognise that other legislation in terms of criminal acts does not join with this legislation in giving a clear and unequivocal statement to all who may be considering involvement in this heinous practice. They need to be told very clearly that women of any age should not, and cannot, be subjected to FGM in this country, whether they are citizens of this country or resident in it long term.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I refer to the Minister’s response in which he stated that in regard to actions against those aged more than 18 years, under legislation currently in place under the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act, a person could be charged with assault. Would this cover a situation where the procedure was carried out outside this jurisdiction? That has been part of the difficulty up to now. I realise we will deal with it in a much more substantive way in the next set of amendments. Here, however, what we want to do is ensure that no matter whether a person is aged over or under 18 years, wherever this vile procedure is carried out against her will, it is possible to secure a prosecution, followed, one hopes, by a conviction. The reason is that it sets into the Statute Book a very strong deterrent. The clear message that comes from the international community is to set down very clear strong deterrents in this regard and to leave in place no possible loophole. The concern is that if a potential loophole is left in place it could end up being exploited.

I accept what the Minister stated in regard to medical and cosmetic procedures and so forth, but it is important that what is applicable in respect of something that happens in our jurisdiction also applies if these procedures are carried out elsewhere and that persons can be prosecuted in this country.

Deputy John Halligan:  I seriously doubt if there is much difference between the pressure applied to a young girl when she is aged 17 years and that applied when she is aged 18 or 19. Surely if we are introducing legislation it should protect all ages. I reiterate that all the statistics worldwide show that many women on the verge of becoming 18, just over that age, or even 19 years of age, are still being forced into having this procedure done. Significant analyses have been done by many organisations in the United Nations showing this.

The legislation is too vague. If by chance we find that FGM has been done to a woman aged more than 18 years, that she has been mutilated by force in this country or another but is present in this country, this legislation is so vague no prosecution could take place, based on my interpretation of the legislation. I ask the Minister to reconsider this carefully. We are [494]speaking about vulnerable women between 17 and 19 years of age. There is not much difference between the pressure placed on girls of 17, 18 or 19 years of age.

Deputy James Reilly:  It is unfortunate that we are having a long debate on this aspect of the Bill. I strongly dispute what Deputy Ó Caoláin said. A strong message is coming from the Government and this House to anyone thinking of performing female genital mutilation, namely, that it is unacceptable and punishable by law, whether carried out here or where the victim is taken to a foreign jurisdiction to perform what Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described as a heinous act. Let there be no dilution of that. We have laws in this country and the highest law officer in the land, the Attorney General, has reviewed both legal opinions provided by Amnesty International and is clear on the situation. We received legal advice that if, hypothetically, a woman was drugged and the police in another state intervened and prevented her from undergoing female genital mutilation, a person could be prosecuted for an attempt to carry out female genital mutilation under section 2 of the Bill or section 2 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997.

We have covered the situation where there is medical necessity for intervention. We cannot take this matter in isolation. Legal advice was received that it is insufficient to examine this section 2(2)(d) in isolation. Section 2(2)(a) provides that a person is not guilty of an offence if the person is a medical practitioner and the act is a surgical operation necessary for the protection of the woman’s mental or physical health. Similarly, section 2(2)(b) provides that acts that would technically be female genital mutilation but are required for labour or delivery are not female genital mutilation. Section 2(2) is part of the context that should be considered for the interpretation of the paragraph. I cannot accept the amendment and I ask that it be withdrawn.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  There is a significant difference of opinion between the Minister and others. Sadly, I know from the debate on Committee Stage that such is the strength of numbers that there is no prospect of having the amendment successfully pressed as I did on Committee Stage. It is most regrettable. Time will show, too sadly, that there is a serious flaw in the legislation. I wish that otherwise would be the case but I regret that time will show this is a failure on the part of the drafters to recognise the fundamental flaw. I have recorded my belief and pressed it strongly on Committee Stage. I repeated my view today and the Minister’s remarks do not change my opinion.

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

Amendment declared lost.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Joe O’Reilly):  Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5 are related and may be discussed together.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I move amendment No. 2:

In page 5, line 18, after “State” to insert the following:

“or has been issued with or in possession of a permit to reside within the State”.

I apologise to the Minister for not being present during the debate on Committee Stage. Amendment No. 2 clarifies the definition of who might be prosecuted for carrying out or attempting to carry out an act of female genital mutilation in a place other than the State. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure people from outside the European Union, who have a legal right to reside in the State but may not be ordinarily resident within the State, come [495]under the terms of the law. The Minister is using the standard format in Irish criminal law for applying the extraterritorial jurisdiction to specific offences that has been used in other statutes. During the debate on Committee Stage, the Minister said the intention of the amendment was to encompass any non-Irish national who has for permission to reside within the State. If so, it is already provided for within the current wording and the proposed text is unnecessary. If the Minister can clarify this is the case, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. My understanding is that it includes the additional test that the person must be ordinarily resident in the State. If someone has a valid permit to reside here but is not an EU national and is not ordinarily resident within the State, can that person be prosecuted under the legislation? If not, will the Minister accept the amendment?

I accept where the Minister is coming from in respect of current criminal law. The difficulty is that the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, is introducing new types of residency and permits to reside here or work in this jurisdiction. The Minister for Justice and Equality is about to outline the detail on immigrant investors who can come into this jurisdiction. There is great potential to bring new investment and new capital and create new jobs in the economy and the Minister is correct on that point once proper checks and balances are in place. We all want to see that in place but we could have a situation where someone is between categories and does not meet the criteria of being ordinarily resident in the State yet has a valid permission to reside in the State, as the Minister said on Committee Stage. Can the Minister clarify whether the situation is as he stated on Committee Stage? When someone has a valid permission to reside in the State, can the person be prosecuted in this jurisdiction? If that is the case, I will withdraw amendment No. 2.

Amendment No. 5 is my attempt to address a loophole with regard to dual criminality. The concern is that the legislation as drafted could be circumvented by female genital mutilation being performed in a country where it is not a crime. There are many countries where the practice has not been defined as a crime. Some people were mischievous about this point on Committee Stage. The issue should be addressed by ratifying the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. Then, the issue of dual criminality and female genital mutilation would be removed from the legislation. I urge the Minister and the Government to ensure the convention is signed into law as a matter of emergency. The Minister is committed to ensuring it happens and I ask him to use his good offices to ensure it happens. If the convention is signed, the hurdle we must get over with regard to dual criminality can be taken out of the statute. I understand the difficulty arises because we have not ratified it. The Minister has stated that in order to conform with both our own Constitution and international law requirements we must have that threshold within the statute. Can he clarify the difference between this jurisdiction in the Republic and the position in Northern Ireland and throughout the United Kingdom where there is no dual criminality threshold to overcome? The extra-territorial limit we have here is not in place north of the Border. The Minister might clarify the reason that is the case.

This issue was raised in the Seanad and on Committee Stage and I am aware the Minister and his officials sought clarification from the Office of the Attorney General on foot of those concerns to determine if it possible to address the issue of dual criminality. However, in both the Seanad and on Committee Stage the Minister insisted that it is not possible to put in place an alternative mechanism because of the need to have the threshold of dual criminality in that it must be an offence in the country where female genital mutilation is performed. In light of that and accepting what the Minister said about his hands being tied regarding this matter I have tabled this amendment. It comes back to the point I made earlier about sending out a clear message on this issue, something the Minister has reiterated as being a core objective of the Government. We need to clarify the law on this issue.

[496]Irish citizens will not be able to avoid coming under this particular procedure because under section 3 removing someone from the State could ensure that they can be prosecuted. However, the amendment ensures that where the act is committed in a country where female genital mutilation is not defined as being illegal, and where a person is avoiding a prosecution because of the dual criminality threshold, the Minister can, in those circumstances and under the legislation, ensure the matter is brought to the attention of the Minister for Justice and Equality, and we are talking about third country nationals in this case, who can then instigate deportation procedures. There is a clear set of procedures and a number of checks and balances in that regard in our immigration law but we do not want someone to get away scot free with having FGM performed purely on the basis that it is not a criminal offence in the country in which it is carried out. If we cannot prosecute them under the criminal law we must ensure that, at the very least, have them considered for deportation. It puts that additional threat in place. That would assist many families returning to their country of origin in that it may not be illegal in their country, and because of that they cannot be prosecuted under criminal law in Ireland, but as a result of the way the legislation has been drafted their immigration status could be withdrawn and they could be deported from Ireland. That would provide for a significant deterrent, although it is not enough. I would like to see actual prosecutions taking place but we cannot get away from the fact that a huge amount of pressure is being put on those indigenous communities, both in the country of origin and, sadly, in this jurisdiction on occasions, to bring girls back to their country of origin to have female genital mutilation performed.

As it stands the legislation before us, based on what the Minister said both on Committee Stage and in the Seanad about the dual criminality threshold remaining in place pending the signing of the Council of Europe convention, leaves a loophole in those particular countries. It is important to remember that in the countries in which the practice of female genital mutilation is not illegal there is even greater pressure on families to have this procedure performed on their daughters. We do not want those families to return to their countries of origin with the best intentions in the world where a substantial amount of peer pressure is put on them and, as a result, the procedure is performed on their daughters.

In terms of the people who are campaigning on this issue, there is a strong belief at international level that the threat of some sanction, preferably a prosecution under criminal law or at least the potential for the withdrawal of residency and deportation from this jurisdiction, will help families make a strong argument in their country of origin that this practice should not be carried out on their daughters.

We all want a clear message to be sent from this country that people who perform or facilitate the carrying out of female genital mutilation in any jurisdiction in the world are not welcome here, that we will use the letter of the law and every avenue open to us to prosecute them and that if they can get around the law because of this dual criminality loophole in the legislation, we will deal harshly with them and deport them from this jurisdiction. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the arguments put forward by other speakers, including Deputy Ó Caoláin, on the issue of dual criminality I ask him to seriously examine this alternative option which at least gives us some stick to hold over individuals who may try to carry out this practice.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  I record my support for amendment No. 2 in Deputy Naughten’s name and urge the Minister’s favourable consideration of amendment No. 3.

The Minister indicated on Committee Stage that this is something that could be revisited in the context of the Government signing the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women. Can he give us an indication of the status of that? I [497]understand that was in draft form. Can we get an indication of the position on that and could the Minister reiterate for the Official Report what he said on Committee Stage if that was his intention and that of the Government? Are we looking at a hiatus period from the time of the passage of the legislation, which will happen altogether apart from the arguments Deputy Naughten, I and others may offer? I would like to get a sense of some certainty into the future on the issue of dual criminality, if the Minister is not prepared to remove it as my amendment seeks in terms of page 5, section 3(15)(c) where I propose the deletion of the words “and would constitute an offence in the place in which it is done”. This dual criminality in regard to FGM is yet another significant flaw and get-out clause for some.

It is not suggested that a flood of people will head for the option of avoiding this country’s laws after the enactment of this Bill, but there is clearly a loophole for those who are already intent on performing, facilitating or encouraging the practice of FGM. It is very important that we recognise the concerns of a number of organisations representative of newcomer people in our communities. I refer in particular to Akidwa. To leave this flaw within the Bill will allow for those whose intent is to avoid the law to circumvent it by opting for a country where it is not currently legally prohibited.

We went through the arguments at great length on Committee Stage. Deputy Naughten has spoken passionately about them today. I again urge the Minister to consider my proposal in amendment No. 3 favourably. I support amendment No. 2. I am not sure about amendment No. 5, but that is not the point. The issue is dual criminality, what the Minister is prepared to do about it and if he will reiterate his commitment on Committee Stage on the Council of Europe convention on preventing and combating violence against women.

Deputy Joe O’Reilly:  I welcome the opportunity to speak to these amendments. Their intent is to remove loopholes from the Bill which might allow an escape clause for any individuals concerned with this barbaric crime. It is an excellent intention and I welcome it.

I fully agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Naughten on the Government adopting the Council of Europe convention on domestic violence. It is necessary that we do so and as I support the view that we should do so. It is of great importance and is very urgent. I had the privilege of leading the Irish delegation to the Council of Europe and parliamentary assembly. Having been a member of it during its last term, I am aware there is huge regard for Ireland and our record on human rights in Europe. We have a five-star rating on human rights in the eyes of most criticisms.

To further consolidate and enhance that we should sign up to the convention as a matter of urgency. It is the right thing to do for Ireland within the Council of Europe and internationally, and is ethically, morally and, by any criteria, the right thing to do. I hope to hear the Minister, Deputy Reilly, give a commitment in the Chamber to sign up to the convention with great urgency.

I support the tenor of the amendments. Any loophole which would allow people to go to a country where FGM is not illegal and thus escape the law should be prevented and everything possible should be built into the Bill to copper-fasten the law. At a minimum we should be in a position to deport people involved in FGM. In an ideal world we should be able to go further than that and prosecute them. It is the view of the representatives of the communities involved from newcomer populations, as outlined by Deputy Ó Caoláin.

I am strongly of the view that we should remove any potential for duplicity, malpractice or escape hatches in that regard. I am also strongly of the view that we should, as a matter of absolute urgency and within the shortest possible period of time, sign up to the Council of Europe convention on domestic violence. That is a sine qua non for the Government in terms [498]of our great record and standing within the Council of Europe. It is important to maintain and consolidate it, and continue to adhere to its noble objectives.

Deputy James Reilly:  I accept the bona fides of the Members opposite in regard to trying to close off any possible loopholes. On a general note I have to make it clear that I operate under the best advice from the Attorney General. It is my intention to address amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 5 together.

Amendment No. 2 relates to the definition of who might be prosecuted for doing or attempting to do an act of FGM in a place other than the State. The current text of section 4(1)(c) is a standard format in Irish criminal law for applying extraterritorial jurisdiction to specific offences and is used in other statutes such as section 8(1)(c) of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Act 2010. In conjunction with section 4(4), it extends jurisdiction over any Irish citizen as well as any EU or non-EEA citizen for whom Ireland is the principal centre of residence.

The proposed amendment would seem to extend the scope of the extraterritorial offence provision to any non-EEA national who has been issued with a residence permission or who is in possession of one. The amendment does not specify whether the permission should be valid and its current format would extend jurisdiction over anyone who has ever been issued with a residence permission by the Minister for Justice and Equality, irrespective of whether that permission has been withdrawn or expired or the foreign national in question has ever availed of the permission to actually reside in the State. If Deputy Naughten’s intention is to encompass any non-Irish national who currently has a valid permission to reside in the State, that is already provided for in the current wording and the proposed text is unnecessary. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.

Amendment No. 3 proposes to remove the requirement for dual criminality from the Bill. As the Deputies might be aware from previous Oireachtas debates on this Bill, this requirement has been included to conform to constitutional and international law requirements and was inserted into the Bill on the advice of the Office of the Attorney General. The issue has been considered in some detail by my officials and the Office of the Attorney General, and following a further review and additional advice sought from the Attorney General, the current provision on dual criminality stands.

A Deputy referred to the different laws in the UK. The UK FGM Act of 2003 does not include a dual criminality requirement because its Government is not bound by the requirements of a constitution that demands it, such as ours. The Bill does, however, provide for offences that relate to removing a girl or woman from the State for the purposes of doing FGM to her and this section mitigates the need for a dual criminality requirement.

Only in exceptional cases are extraterritorial offences in criminal law provided for without a dual criminality requirement. Under international law only offences jus cogens, that is against the conscience of the world, such as piracy, war crimes and terrorist acts, carry universal jurisdiction. At the current time FGM, when carried out privately, is not an international crime but general principles of international law are developing all the time. Therefore, the view that FGM is not an international crime is open to change depending on development in the area.

In addition, Cosc, the national office for the prevention of domestic, sexual and gender based violence is currently examining the Council of Europe’s convention on preventing and combating violence against women. Under terms of this convention the practice of FGM is condemned and it provides that there should not be a dual criminality requirement. The removal of dual criminality from female genital mutilation legislation could be revisited if and [499]when the convention is ratified by Ireland. To ensure we would be in a position to prosecute a person who takes a girl to a country where female genital mutilation is legal, that is, a case which could not be prosecuted under section 4 because of the requirement of dual criminality, the Bill provides an innovative offence in section 3 — the offence of removal from the State of a girl for the purpose of female genital mutilation — to cover such conduct so that the offence provisions in sections 3 and 4, when read together, should cover all of the conduct which ought to be criminalised in relation to female genital mutilation. I do not, therefore, propose to accept this amendment.

Amendment No. 5, proposed by Deputy Naughten, would require the Minister for Justice and Equality to be informed that a person is not prosecuted for an offence of female genital mutilation because that offence has been committed outside the State in a jurisdiction where it is not criminally prohibited. Sub-paragraph (b) of the Deputy’s amendment provides that, on receiving this information the Minister will initiate proceedings under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 against any such person who is not an Irish citizen. If I understand the amendment correctly, this is an attempt to circumvent the dual criminality requirement by attaching some sort of sanction in cases where this requirement might prevent prosecution. However, this type of provision would go against the principle of legality, that is, that someone should not be punished for an offence which was not an offence in the jurisdiction in which it took place. Therefore, I cannot support the amendment and I urge the Deputies not to support it either.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe Costello):  I welcome the opportunity to say a few words on these amendments. I accept the Minister’s statement that he has taken the advice of the Attorney General, who indicates these amendments are unnecessary. Amendment No. 2 is regarded as too wide in its reference to residence within the State. It is very wide indeed and perhaps could be more tailored in regard to permits having been granted by the State.

I accept the broad thrust of what the Minister said. He has taken the Attorney General’s advice on this matter, which is that the wording on criminal matters of this nature is standard and that there is, therefore, no loophole.

This Bill, which will soon be passed, is very important. The Minister and I recall the first occasion on which legislation on female genital mutilation was introduced in this House. It was introduced by former Deputy Liz McManus in 2000. It has taken from then until 2012 to have legislation on this matter placed on the Statute Book. It is very disappointing for this House that legislation on a matter the importance of which was recognised in 2000 was not allowed to proceed until now. The legislation is so important because it deals with the very large number of people in new communities who are subject to what is now about to be declared a criminal offence. This House must look into its conscience every now and again to determine whether it is prioritising issues that need to be prioritised in areas of this nature. I would hate to believe they are not being regarded as urgent because they concern new communities, the diaspora from other countries, particularly those in Africa.

It has taken some time to get this legislation passed. I pay tribute to some of the very courageous people who have been to the fore in this regard. AkiDwA has been mentioned. Amnesty International has done tremendous work. Nobody has done more work than a young lady called Ifrah Ahmed, whom I believe is in the Visitors Gallery. She is a Somalian girl who was subjected to female genital mutilation. She probably would not have been able to keep working on the issue without the support of Dr. Shaheed, who offered an umbrella of protection from what would at times be considered a quite serious attack on the bona fides of those involved. Ms Ahmed established United Youth of Ireland. It includes young people from var[500]ious African countries and has done considerable work on raising awareness regarding female genital mutilation and how it comprises an assault on women and undermines their rights. At last the issue, which affects so many living in Ireland who are from countries in Africa, has been brought to the fore. We are taking responsibility for having it criminalised.

As Minister of State with responsible for trade and development, particularly development, I believe this issue is extremely important because all the work of Irish Aid is underpinned by the principles of the UN charter on human rights. When we speak to people in our various programme countries about good governance, our first point is that human rights underpin our business in regard to partnerships with them. If we do not put our own house in order first, it will be very difficult for us to expect others to do so.

There are many millions of people in countries in Africa, particularly Somalia and Nigeria, that practice female genital mutilation on a widespread basis. In the past, we have not been in a position to say this is an abuse of human rights. Female genital mutilation has been defended on all sorts of grounds, including cultural and religious grounds. The practice is simply an assault on the integrity and humanity of young women. This is the point we must assert in our legislation. Having done so, we can make it part and parcel of our human rights agenda as we engage with other countries.

I am delighted the Minister for Health has brought this legislation to the Dáil and that it is about to be passed this evening. I thank the Acting Chairman, Deputy Wall, for indulging me and allowing me to wander slightly from the amendments.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I am sure the Acting Chairman will allow me equal flexibility.

Let me return to the amendments that I tabled. I thank the Minister for his clarification on amendment No. 2 in respect of permission to reside in the State. When one is in opposition, one does not have the same resources as Members on the Government side. It is not as easy to word amendments perfectly on this side. We do not have the services of the parliamentary draftsman available. I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, has had plenty of experience of this over the years.

I will turn to amendment No. 5. My intention is as was outlined. I accept the point the Minister made on dual criminality. I do not necessarily agree with it but I see where he is coming from. In fairness to him, he has reviewed this on a number of occasions. However, I am providing him with an opportunity to put a safety net in place. There is far greater flexibility to deal with this issue in regard to our immigration law. Rather than considering it in isolation as a matter of criminal law, we have an avenue allowing us to put the safety net in place. Consistently, people are saying girls are being brought from Ireland back to——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Jack Wall):  The Deputy has a minute remaining but there are other Deputies who wish to contribute. I will give the Deputy a chance to wrap up at the end.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  Girls living in Ireland are being brought to their countries of origin to have female genital mutilation performed. Immense pressure is put on families by their overseas connections, particularly those which come from areas where female genital mutilation, FGM, is practised. Sadly, quite a number of these countries are the ones where it is not illegal. It is of the utmost importance that we put this safety net in place so that a clear message goes out that if it is the case that we cannot prosecute a perpetrator purely because of a loophole created by an international convention, then we will consider deporting him or her from this country. A heavy hand should be used to put out the clear message that Ireland will [501]not, under any circumstances, tolerate this practice being performed on any of its residents, no matter their age or background.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  This issue was raised on Committee Stage. There is obviously a legal argument being brought forward by the Minister using the Attorney General’s advice. It is one matter to put a provision into statute. The other matter is the symbolic sending of a message. We must be very clear with this legislation to send out the particular message in the event of people carrying out FGM abroad that they would be automatically debarred from re-entering the country and lose an entitlement to a work or residency permit.

While the legislation is welcome, I am concerned when we talk of criminality, we forget there are victims in FGM. We must say to these victims they should feel in no way that they had been involved in anything other than they are victims. A strong signal should be sent out to residents from abroad who have suffered FGM and who may not be familiar with our culture or our medical supports, that they are victims and supports are available to them.

While education and supports from voluntary organisations which support our migrant community are in place against FGM, there must also be a strong emphasis through GPs based in areas where there may be clusters of victims of FGM. I am concerned some of the victims may feel stigmatised by us describing it as a criminal act, feeling they were in some way involved in a crime when they were not. The last thing we need is for young girls who have difficulties with menstruation or intercourse feeling they are incapable of getting assistance because of the crime perpetrated on them.

We must say to Irish residents who go to other states to perpetrate this crime that while the legislation cannot deal with them, it could debar them from re-entry or militate against their access to a work or residency permit. Will the Minister bring some clarity to the issue?

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin:  It is important we make a clear statement of intent to sign the Council of Europe convention on FGM and the record shows that this is the Minister’s and the Government’s intention. Signing it would deal with the whole issue of dual criminality and leave the situation with certainty in the future. Will the Minister indicate if it is the Government’s intention to ratify the convention? When does he expect it will be concluded?

I must hand over to my colleague, Deputy Colreavy, for the remaining amendments as I have another meeting to address on another not too dissimilar issue of mutilation, namely symphysiotomy, a practice that was carried out years ago in hospitals here which we will debate tomorrow. Before I withdraw from the Chamber, I want to record my welcome and support for the Bill’s passage. While I have endeavoured to improve and strengthen it, I acknowledge we will not oppose its passage. We support the passage of this welcome and long overdue legislation. Well done that it is at this point. I hope it will cover all areas we want without exception. I hope my and other Members’ concerns will prove groundless over time.

I apologise for leaving but my colleague will advise me if the Minister was able to shed any further light on the ratification of the convention.

Deputy James Reilly:  The Health Service Executive has already engaged in significant steps to raise awareness and train health and social care professionals in this area by progressing the health-related objectives of the national action plan against FGM over the past several years. Its latest initiative in this field is the introduction of a national maternity health care record this year. This new form will be used for all women booking in for maternity care and includes, for the first time at national level, FGM as a risk factor for obstetric care.

Members want the law to send a loud message to people who use the duality loophole. We will be in discussions with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Shatter, around [502]immigration law. That is the appropriate area where this loophole can be covered off. Cosc is also examining this area and I cannot pre-empt what it will recommend.

Under the terms of the convention, the practice of FGM is condemned and it provides there should not be a dual criminality requirement. The removal of dual criminality in FGM legislation could be revisited if and when Ireland ratifies the convention. I am not in a position to inform Deputies when that will be, however. I hope Members will accept we are acting under the best legal advice. We want the strong message to go out that this act of violence against women is utterly unacceptable in this country and we will protect all our citizens and residents to the best of our ability both here and abroad. There can be no doubt as to our commitment to that.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I thank the Minister for his response. In fairness, he is trying to meet me halfway on my amendment. I take on board his point about immigration law being the appropriate place for such a provision to be introduced. The difficulty is that I have heard that so many times in the past, namely where another Bill is more appropriate for a particular provision. There have been three separate drafts of the immigration legislation but it still has not been enacted.

Will the Minister seriously consider taking the subsection of my amendment so the legislation will at least say where someone is not prosecuted for FGM that the Minister for Justice and Equality will be informed of it and will be allowed to take his own actions appropriate to that under immigration law?

  7 o’clock

My difficulty with not inserting subsection (6)(a) in the Bill is that someone might not be prosecuted purely on the basis of the dual criminality issue and the incident might not be brought to the attention of the appropriate immigration authorities. By including the provision in the legislation, the Minister for Justice and Equality can be informed, but the final decision on how to handle the matter remains with the Minister. The information could facilitate the Minister in making a decision under immigration law on whether to consider a deportation. Inserting this provision would send out a clear message of intent and strengthen, not water down, the Bill. Inserting the subsection would not tie the hands of the Minister for Health or the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Deputy James Reilly:  I am advised by my advisers and the Attorney General that is not the case. I regret that I cannot accept the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 not moved.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I move amendment No. 5:

In page 6, between lines 6 and 7, to insert the following:

“(6) (a) Where a person is not prosecuted under subsection (1) solely by virtue of the fact that it would not constitute an offence in the place in which it was done, then the Minister for Justice shall be informed of this fact.

(b) On receiving such information under paragraph (a) the Minister for Justice shall, where the person is not a citizen of Ireland or a European Union citizen as defined by Council Directive 2004/38/EC, shall immediately initiate proceedings under section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999.”.

[503]Amendment put and declared lost.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I move amendment No. 6:

In page 6, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:

“6.—A person shall be guilty of an offence if the person aids, abets or incites a girl or woman to do to herself an act of female genital mutilation.”.

We urge the inclusion of this amendment. It may be difficult to prove such an offence, but the provision’s inclusion would send out a strong message to the effect that female genital mutilation, FGM, and efforts to circumvent the law cannot be tolerated. This issue is concerned with the disempowerment of girls and women. Often, such is the power exercised over them that they can be coerced into carrying out this act on themselves. Our amendment would strengthen the Bill in this regard.

Deputy James Reilly:  The amendment relates to the exemption from prosecution under the Bill for a girl or woman who self-mutilates. I am pleased to clarify that it is already the case that a person who aids and abets such a girl or woman to engage in FGM on herself can be tried for an offence under the general criminal law. This is because the exemption would only apply to the girl or woman herself and would not apply to create an exception for any person who aids, abets or incites her to the act.

The offences of aiding, abetting, counselling and procuring the commission of FGM are already provided for in the general criminal law acts on the grounds that a person is liable to be tried and punished where she or he aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission of an indictable offence. Section 51 provides that doing or attempting to do FGM is an indictable offence. The general criminal law Acts concerned are the Criminal Law Act 1997, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 and the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009. In a similar vein, the offence of conspiring with another person to do FGM is covered by the same general criminal law. Therefore, the amendment is unnecessary, but I thank the Deputy for the sentiment expressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I move amendment No. 7:

In page 11, between lines 13 and 14, to insert the following:

“15.—The Minister shall, not later than 5 years after the establishment day, carry out a review of the operation of this Act and shall make a report to each House of the Oireachtas of his or her findings and conclusions resulting from the review.”.

This is a reasonable amendment. The Bill has been widely welcomed but, in many ways, it is new legal territory and the question of how enforcement will operate is a little unclear. Therefore, it is important that we review the operation of the Act. The Mental Health Act 2001 contains such a provision and there is no reason that the same should not apply in this instance. There seems to be no good reason to prevent the amendment from being made and I urge the Minister to accept it.

Deputy James Reilly:  Amendment No. 7 sets out to establish an automatic review process for the Bill within five years from enactment. While the Bill does not make provision for a formal review within a specific timeframe, I assure the Deputies that the provisions contained therein will be subject to ongoing monitoring. Should any difficulty come to light, steps will be [504]taken to address it in the most appropriate way. Therefore, I urge the Deputy to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Bill received for final consideration.

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

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I thank the Deputies who spoke on the Bill for their useful contributions and continued co-operation in advancing it. The Bill will return to the Seanad for its consideration of the two amendments that the Dáil introduced on Committee Stage. One was a technical amendment to update section 14 and the other was recommended by the Parliamentary Counsel to make specific provisions in section 16 for the commencement of the Bill. These provisions are desirable to clarify that the Bill is not retrospective and to ensure that no one will be charged under the Act until it is published in both official languages.

I emphasise that we in Ireland are in the fortunate position of being able to take a proactive approach to the prevention of FGM. We have the opportunity and duty to protect girl children and women in practising communities living in Ireland from undergoing this procedure. While legislation alone is never sufficient to tackle a problem of this gravity, the enactment of this Bill, which specifically prohibits FGM and includes extra-territorial provisions, will be a vital step in preventing FGM from taking hold in this country. The Bill, if and when enacted, will act as a powerful deterrent and will potentially empower practising communities living in Ireland to resist pressure from their countries of origin to preserve this custom, which we know to be misguided.

From speaking with non-governmental organisations, NGOs, and public health services, we know that the summer is the time when girls are most at risk of being victims of FGM, with families travelling back to practising countries during the school holidays. Therefore, I hope that the Bill can be re-examined and passed by the Seanad, enacted and commenced before the summer recess.

Once more, I thank Senator Bacik for raising this issue in the Seanad, encouraging the Government of the day to commence the preparation of the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill 2011 and giving the current Bill her continued support during its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Deputy Denis Naughten:  I welcome the passage of this legislation. I thank the Minister and his predecessor, Mary Harney, for their co-operation on the Bill, as well as the officials who facilitated our deliberations.

I have had an opportunity while attending an international conference on this issue to speak about the legislation. I explained that we were considering the use of extra-territorial jurisdiction. Few other countries have gone down that road but the Government is to be commended on the approach it has taken. The Members of this House are unanimous in their desire to see this brutal act outlawed not only in Ireland and Europe but internationally. The Council of Europe convention must be implemented internationally to deal with the issue of dual criminality. I hope we can ensure that happens.

I thank the Minister for the clarification he provided on certain aspects of the Bill. I urge him to work with his colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, to ensure that it is clearly understood from an immigration perspective that the practice will not be tolerated. This House has sent a clear message that Ireland will not tolerate it, whether it is performed in this juris[505]diction or by those who have a legal right to be in this jurisdiction. I hope the Bill will be dealt with expeditiously by the Seanad and enacted into law before the summer because that is the time of the year when young girls are most at risk. Sadly, a substantial number of people within the African community who come from countries in which this is practised have been affected. Let us hope the next generation of those who are grow up in Ireland will not even know what FGM is.

Deputy Billy Kelleher:  I acknowledge those who campaigned in this area for many years in Ireland and across the globe. That fight is not yet over because we have a long way to go in ensuring the international community steps up to the plate to stop this barbaric act. I commend the Minister and his officials for prioritising this Bill despite the pressure they are face. I appreciate their efforts in terms of fitting the Bill into the House’s heavy legislative schedule and ensuring its swift passage.

Question put and agreed to.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  The Bill, which is considered to be a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann in accordance with Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution, will be sent to the Seanad.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  The Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government has completed its consideration of the Motor Vehicle (Duties and Licences) Bill 2012 and has made amendments thereto.

Sitting suspended at 7.15 p.m. and resumed at 7.30 p.m.

The following motion was moved by Deputy Michael McGrath on Tuesday, 13 March 2012:

That Dáil Éireann:

notes that:

the level of mortgage repayments, negative equity and mortgage arrears is imposing a significant burden on many thousands of Irish families;

the latest mortgage arrears statistics from the Central Bank show that the level of arrears is increasing at an accelerating rate;

the standard variable interest rate for residential mortgages charged by State-owned Permanent TSB is substantially out of line with that charged by other mortgage providers in receipt of State support and is placing unacceptable financial pressure on the bank’s variable rate customers;

[506]

normal competitive forces which would allow customers with high mortgage costs to switch to an alternative provider are not currently present in the marketplace, effectively trapping customers with high standard variable rate mortgages;

the Government put AIB under considerable public pressure to reduce its standard variable interest rate in line with the ECB rate reduction in November 2011 but is applying a “hands off” approach in relation to Permanent TSB;

the lack of credit for small and medium enterprises, SMEs, is having a detrimental impact on economic activity, is impeding the country’s economic recovery and is costing jobs;

the Governor of the Central Bank has recently commented that credit conditions are tougher in Ireland for SMEs than in any other country in Europe both in terms of costs and availability;

certain financial institutions are attaching unreasonable terms and conditions to offers of new lending to many businesses and are often making unilateral changes to the lending arrangements in place with businesses; and

the lending performance of the banks is currently being measured by the amount of new credit sanctioned rather than the amount actually drawn down and put into circulation in the economy; and

calls on the Government:

as the controlling shareholder in Irish Life & Permanent, to use all means possible to bring about a reduction in the standard variable interest rate being charged by Permanent TSB on its residential customers in order to bring it into line with rates being charged by other mortgage lenders in the market;

to measure the new lending performance of the banks by the amount of credit actually drawn down and circulated in the economy rather than by loan approvals or repackaging of existing loan facilities; and

to set out its overall implementation strategy in respect of the inter-departmental mortgage arrears working group, known as the Keane report, and to detail all other steps it plans to take to address the escalating mortgage arrears crisis.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

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

“recognises that the Government inherited a severe banking, fiscal and economic environment this time last year caused by the economic and financial policies of previous Governments;

[507]

acknowledges that, during its first year in office, the Government has taken a number of significant steps to stabilise the banking and wider fiscal and economic situation;

recognises that the Government is aware of the increasing financial stress that some households are facing arising from difficulty in meeting their mortgage commitments;

acknowledges that, in response to this situation, the Economic Management Council established the inter-departmental mortgage arrears working group and that the group subsequently produced its report in September 2011;

notes that:

the working group’s report indicated that the mortgage arrears problem is complex and that a range of measures such as personal insolvency reform, mortgage to rent, the provision of independent mortgage advice, direct engagement by banks and the development of sustainable options by banks for their customers who are experiencing mortgage difficulty will need to be advanced to address the problem; and

the Government has put in place a cross-Government high level group of officials to implement these recommendations;

notes and welcomes the fact that this implementation process on mortgage arrears will now be overseen and driven by a Cabinet committee, chaired by the Taoiseach;

encourages the Government to press ahead with this mortgage arrears implementation process to best support the mortgage holders, who cannot pay the mortgage on their home, in the most appropriate way having regard to the best interests of the taxpayer and society at large;

notes that:

neither the Central Bank nor the Department of Finance has a statutory function in relation to interest rate decisions made by individual lending institutions at any particular time; and

Permanent TSB did pass on, in full, the European Central Bank rate reductions in late 2011 to customers holding standard variable rate, SVR, mortgages and reduced further their loan-to-value standard variable rates to align them with the SVR;

acknowledges that the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each bank, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each bank, including deposit pricing, is under pressure;

notes that the Central Bank has not requested the power to have regulatory control over the setting of retail interest rates and rather proposes that, within its existing powers and through the use of suasion, it will engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds;

[508]

recognises that the Government has taken significant actions to ensure that credit is available to viable small and medium enterprises, SMEs, including the imposition of lending targets on the pillar banks which are more onerous than those imposed by the previous Government;

notes that:

the pillar banks have met their lending targets for 2011;

the Credit Review Office is available to ensure that viable businesses who are refused credit or offered it under overly onerous terms have a means of challenging the banks’ decisions;

the Government increased the threshold for reviews to the Credit Review Office to €500,000 to permit more decisions to be reviewed;

the public interest would not be served by granting credit to non-viable businesses;

and

the Government has committed to the introduction of a temporary partial credit guarantee scheme and to the introduction of a micro finance fund; and

calls on the Government to continue to ensure that policies implemented in relation to the SME sector provide that viable businesses can continue to access credit as appropriate.”

—(Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform)

Deputy Brian Stanley:  Last night, I mentioned that four out of ten local authority loans are 90 days or more in arrears. I urge the Government to take action on this; it has it within its power to do something about it. Some of the loans are shared ownership. One thing the Government could do would be to freeze the rent on the fraction that has been bought. Instead, the rent is increasing by 4% per year, including last year.

However, in the remaining time available to me I wish to focus my attention on a constituent of mine, Lee Wellstead, who was evicted today. It is the first eviction in the townland of Knockanina, in which he lives, since 1848. In 2003, he bought four acres and a house for €180,000. He made a down payment of €100,000 and got a mortgage from Ulster Bank for €80,000 which he subsequently topped up by €30,000 in the same year. In June 2006, following the breakdown of his relationship, he ran into difficulty with his mortgage. The balance at that time was €92,000. It should be borne in mind that this is a substantial house with four acres of land. Ulster Bank called in the full loan on 19 July 2006. It has since refused payment from him despite him making several written offers including a lump sum or weekly payments, or both.

I believe the bank is in breach of the statutory code introduced by the previous Government, whereby the banks are obliged to negotiate and reach an accommodation with the borrower. This did not happen in this case at all. The banks and the State are behaving like 19th century landlords, evicting this man this morning. Gardaí arrived with the bailiff and locked the gates of the house with a chain. It is terrible that this is happening. The banks have a free hand. It is a pity that no Minister or even Government Deputy is in the House to hear this. We are [509]being told we have the personal insolvency Bill and the Keane report. While that is happening, Mr. Wellstead and his family have been evicted from their house. As the Government has been in power for more than a year, I am appealing to it to take action on this soon.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Peter Mathews):  I call Deputy Martin Ferris, who is sharing time with Deputy Colreavy.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  Before I start, I draw attention to the fact that no Minister is in the Chamber, which is absolutely disgraceful. Nor is there any Government Deputy. It is an absolute disgrace when we are debating such an important issue.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Disgraceful. They have all gone to America.

Deputy Martin Ferris:  I wish to raise a number of issues in regard to the manner in which mortgage companies deal with their customers. I was almost tempted to use the word “victims” regarding some of the cases with which I am familiar. In one case, involving a constituent, the lending company, which would be one of the better known pursuers of repossessions through the courts, appeared to be unwilling to come to an agreement regarding payments. This is despite the fact that the person in question only got into difficulties after losing her job and after years of never missing a payment. Her income has since increased and she can now begin repayments. However, the company appears to be unwilling to restructure her repayments even though the loan was relatively small — well under €100,000 — and she has paid back a third of the original loan. This appears to be a common issue with this company, which despite putting on a show of being reasonable and open to renegotiations in the striking of interest only repayments with somebody who is in difficulty following a drastic drop in income, actually behaves in the opposite manner. It has attempted to intimidate that woman and telephones her at her place of work and at home. It sends texts to her mobile telephone. When she changed her mobile telephone number, it was able to get the new number. That is the disgraceful conduct of a so-called lending company.

The other issue I wish to raise is even more sinister and involves the Wise Mortgage Company, which I mentioned in the House several years ago regarding what can only be described as extortionate rates of interest being charged to people taking out loans with the company. In some cases Wise is refusing to meet the people concerned who are making reasonable offers, including in one case where the borrower is prepared to pay back the original loan. However, through taking court actions, Wise seems intent on securing possession of the lands involved rather than recovering its loans. Apart from its manner in doing business, the company’s owner, Mr. Ron Weisz, has several convictions for financial offences. In 1995, he was convicted in New York of fraudulently acquiring a bank loan. He also has a list of judgments against him in the US for unpaid debts. He also has a District Court conviction here from 1995 related to his advertising for people to deposit money with him. In a current court action which he is taking against a farmer, who, I believe, has made a reasonable offer, legal opinion is that Wise is in breach of 16 Central Bank guidelines.

How is he able to get a licence in this jurisdiction? In fairness, in 1999 the then Tánaiste, Ms Mary Harney, with whom I clashed several times, attempted to close some of the loopholes. However, despite that and despite the warning to farmers by the IFA and others, this company continues to operate, offering exorbitant interest rates, and continues to pursue repossessions aggressively, which would tend to suggest that in many cases the attraction of the deals it makes is that it senses the opportunity to get its hands on property.

While I welcome and commend the motion as a basis for debating the area of mortgages, I stress the need for legislation to deal with sub-prime lenders and also the need for the regulatory authorities to take steps to force certain companies to deal more sensibly with people in genuine difficulties, rather than pursuing them in the manner they do. I have seen evidence [510]that a solicitor acting on behalf or Mr. Ron Weisz and on behalf of the person applying for the loan was a director of his company. I cannot understand how any regulator would allow that man to continue to do what he is doing to unfortunate people who took out loans. In one case a 9% interest rate was being charged and because of one repayment being late, it was doubled to 18%. Such people are vultures and we need legislation to deal with them.

Deputy Shane Ross:  On a point of order, may I move the suspension of the Dáil until we get a Minister in the House?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  I cannot accept that motion now.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Why not? There is nobody from the Government and no Labour Party Deputies. There is no representative of the Government — neither a Minister nor a Member. Can we not suspend until they turn up? We have been sitting here now for ten minutes.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  The longer they are not there, I will——

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Speakers are offering to debate.

Deputy Shane Ross:  No debate is going on. How can we have a debate without a Minister?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Speakers are offering to speak on their time.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:  Who is offering?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  The next speaker is Deputy Colreavy and he has five minutes.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Is it in order?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  He has four minutes and 15 seconds.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I will withhold my contribution until there is a Minister or at least a Government Deputy on the benches opposite.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  I call a quorum of the House.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  I have been advised by the Clerk that under Standing Orders, a Deputy may not call a quorum in this debate — during Private Members’ time.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  We will all go home now.

Deputy Shane Ross:  How can we enforce having a Minister or a Government Member come to the House?

Deputy Michael McGrath:  On a point of order, this is an absolutely outrageous scenario. It is a measure of the Government’s abandonment not just of the customers of Permanent TSB, but of all distressed mortgage holders. It is an absolute disgrace that the Government does not have the courtesy to bring forward a Minister to sit, to listen to the debate and to respond. There must be some mechanism within Standing Orders to bring this charade to a halt. It is an absolute disgrace.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  I wish to intervene for one second. I have been asked to chair the meeting for the next 15 minutes.

[511]Deputy Mattie McGrath:  We appreciate that.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Something urgent has come up but I am unsure what it is.

A Deputy:  Is the Government after falling?

(Interruptions).

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Please, Deputy McGrath. I have been advised by the Clerk that I cannot call for the Dáil to suspend. I am unsure where the Ministers are and I cannot answer that question. Therefore, I must continue with the speakers in the order in which they are on the sheet before me.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I suggest we walk out because this is farcical.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  That is your choice.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I am walking out of here.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Okay. The next speaker is Deputy Michael Colreavy.

Deputy Shane Ross:  We are going.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I will not contribute to a debate where there is no debate. There is no Minister or Government Member on the benches opposite. It is a farce to call this a debate. It is no such thing.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  All I can do is rule as the Chair and as I have been advised by the Clerk of the Dáil. The next speaker is Deputy Michael Colreavy. If that is not possible then I can go to the next speaker in turn, Deputy Joan Collins.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Can we wait for a Minister?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  I assure you that the speaking time will lapse in the meantime.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Is it in order for a debate to go ahead without a Minister?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  Yes it is.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Can we wait for a Minister, please?

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  If you wait you will use up your time and some other people will not get the opportunity to speak.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:  It is an absolute disgrace.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  There is now a Government Member in the Chamber. Therefore, I will proceed under protest. A Minister should be listening to the debate.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Catherine Byrne):  I appreciate your comments. I thank you for continuing. You have three minutes.

Deputy Michael Colreavy:  I have five minutes. Yesterday, I read with horror a story in The Irish Times of an order for repossession of a home made against a man who had suffered a [512]stroke. According to the report the gentleman in question made sincere efforts to come to an agreement with his creditors. This may be an exceptional case in that not every person in mortgage arrears suffers the same debilitating medical condition as this homeowner. However, if lending institutions seek to pursue a man who has suffered a stroke, what hope do others have?

Those struggling from day to day perhaps due to loss of or reduction of income face the possibility of losing their homes. Figures released last month from the Central Bank indicate that the numbers of people falling behind on mortgage repayments had increased in the final three months of 2011. The figures reveal almost 71,000 residential mortgages, 9.2% of the total number of mortgages, were more than 90 days behind with repayments. In excess of 53,000 of these were more than 180 days behind and the arrears amount to more than €1 billion.

The Government can assist these people. It is within the Government’s power to do so because it is the controlling shareholder in Irish Life & Permanent. Permanent TSB has the highest standard variable interest rate in the market at 5.19%. The variable rate at Allied Irish Banks, AIB, is 3.04% and the high interest rate that Permanent TSB is forcing on its customers is crippling. A family on a variable rate mortgage of €300,000 pays €300 more per month than a family with the same size loan on a tracker mortgage. In these times, €300 is the difference between whether a family can afford to eat, whether a son or daughter can go to college or whether one can sleep at night.

The Government is the major shareholder in Permanent TSB and it should be concerned at the business prudence of having such a high interest rate. If the Government is propping up banks with the money of its citizens, the least people ask is that the Government runs the bank using acceptable business practices. Surely such a high interest rate is not a smart business move. A bank, the sole objective of which appears to be to build up its cash reserves, is not a functioning bank working for the benefit of our people.

Certain financial institutions in Ireland and further afield are not keen to see successful public ownership of a financial institution and would be pleased if any such publically owned institutions were to fail because they were unable to attract new customers. A basic understanding of economics would suggest that an essential part of getting any economy moving again is to get money circulating. The economy needs stimulus not cutbacks. The purpose of the Government should be to help to get money flowing and it has the power to do so in the case of Permanent TSB. It is time to give the people power over the banks instead of giving the banks more power over the people. The Government has the chance to make a real change in people’s lives and to offer them some glimmer of hope. There have been far too many stories of repossessions in Ireland in recent years. It is time to help to alleviate this problem.

I will finish with this thought: in any republic worth its name a banking system is either contributing to or a parasite on the back of society. Which description most accurately describes our banking system?

It is good to see Ministers, at last, turn up to hear the debate.

Deputy Shane Ross:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Joan Collins:  I wish to share time with Deputies Mattie McGrath, Stephen Donnelly, Clare Daly, Mick Wallace and Shane Ross. I wish to follow from Deputy Stanley’s contribution and I support the motion. I refer to the incident which took place this morning in Mountrath, County Laois. I stood with Mr. Lee Wellstead and 30 other people at his gate not long ago when the deputy county registrar appeared at his home. At that point the deputy county registrar walked away. However, this morning a reasonably large force of Garda arrived there and sealed off a country lane leading to the home of Mr. Lee Wellstead and his young daughter. [513] Fortunately, Mr. Wellstead and his daughter were not there when this occurred. According to neighbours, gardaí kicked in the front door, forcefully gaining entry to the property. Mr. Wellstead and his daughter were evicted — let us not use dishonest phrases such as “repossession”— from their family home this morning by the county registrar and the Garda on behalf of Ulster Bank, a subsidiary of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group, RBS, owned, in turn, by the British State. Where has the nation come to when the Garda acts as eviction bailiff for a British State-owned bank? Have those involved forgotten our history, our people and our past? Why were the Garda present? Was some threat posed to the deputy county registrar? Is it the job of the Garda to act as bailiffs’ assistants just as the Royal Irish Constabulary did during the Land League agitation? Furthermore, has any banker had his front door kicked in by the Garda in this county? No, yet this man and his family have been subjected to this treatment this morning. It is outrageous that this could occur in this day and age.

Senior staff at Ulster Bank agreed to meet me and Deputy Clare Daly this week in response to a letter we wrote on the case of Mr. Wellstead. We were in the process of arranging the meeting when this outrageous action took place this morning. Would it not have been a matter of courtesy and respect on the part of the bank towards two elected Members of Parliament to have stayed its hand until the meeting took place?

Serious legal questions arise. In this case the repossession order was granted not by a judge but by a county registrar. A case is due before the High Court in April challenging the right of sheriffs, county registrars and courts below the High Court to grant repossession orders. My understanding is that property valued above €36,000 should not be dealt with in this way by county registrars.

Once this man missed his first repayment within 18 days Ulster Bank foreclosed on his home. Although he made an attempt to pay moneys to the bank, it refused to accept the move. Where are we living? Why is this occurring? We should be outraged and horrified and we should stand up and bang our fists on this issue. This should not happen again and it should not have occurred this morning.

I demand that the Government move swiftly to try to introduce insolvency legislation. I do not believe that legislation goes far enough and my colleagues and I will try to intervene to attempt to tighten it up. The key issue is the write-down of debt in this country. The country will face economic strangulation over the next period and this is a key issue that must be addressed.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  I thank Deputy Michael McGrath for putting forward this motion. I welcome the people in the Visitors Gallery this evening, some of whom are suffering due to this State robbery. We cannot call it anything other than State robbery — the fact that 80,000 mortgage holders with Permanent TSB, a State owned bank, are being charged a rate of at least 2% more than are those with mortgages with AIB. Is this what the country has come to? I am appalled there was nobody on the Government side of the House earlier tonight. I do not know where the ladies and gentlemen who are there now were but I heard they were at parliamentary party meetings having rows over airline tickets and over who would be flying to the best parts of the world on junkets for St. Patrick’s Day. I heard they had to pull the names out of a hat.

The Members on the Government side have a Taoiseach leading them who will not stand up to the Europeans nor to the bankers. When gardaí in Bray wanted Seán Fitzpatrick, he was telephoned to come down by appointment but they kicked in the door today of somebody’s house in an eviction. They did the same in my county. Deputy McEntee was here when they came to my county and took machinery in the middle of the night. Thankfully, those machines were returned today, as a result of much hard work.

This is the type of thing over which the Government is presiding. It promised the people it would deal with everybody and would burn the bondholders and that hellfire would not be as [514]hot but it has done nothing. It has been sitting on its hands and is a disgrace. The Government Members did not even have the manners to show respect for this motion and for the thousands of people in negative equity by coming into the House this evening to listen to the debate. I have never seen the beat of this.

I apologise to Deputy Catherine Byrne, who did her best in the Chair. It was not her fault that not one Member of the Government had the manners or respect for the people of Ireland to come into the House. The people are waiting in the long grass and will not be waiting too long, judging by the kind of scraps I hear the Members on the Government side are having, where they cannot decide who will get the plum positions or who will get the best Waterford crystal to present abroad. What they are doing is a farce. They said they would cut out the junkets, but they are junket happy and junket hungry. They are a disgrace and some of them should never come home. The country would be better off if they stayed away.

Deputy Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine ( Deputy Shane McEntee):  On a point of order, I would like to apologise for what happened. I sincerely mean this.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  The Minister of State should apologise to the people in theVisitors Gallery.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  I am making a genuine apology.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:  I strongly support the motion before the House. What Permanent TSB is doing is straightforward rent seeking. Its variable rates are several percentage points higher than those of the other State owned banks. The variable rate mortgage holders are being squeezed again and again to pay the losses of professional investors, the bondholders. The Taoiseach said in Davos that what happened here was that people simply went mad borrowing. The late Brian Lenihan said, “Let us be fair, we all partied”. These people did not go mad borrowing. They did not party. They worked hard, saved their money and bought small properties in which to raise their families. The Government and the banks said at the time this was sensible.

This is the negative equity generation. These are the people in Ireland in their 30s and 40s. They hold nearly 90% of the negative equity in this country. They have growing families, but they cannot move to more suitable homes. If they lose their jobs or they want to seek more productive employment, they cannot do so, because they cannot move out of their homes. They have used up their savings to try to stay out of arrears. We now know that one in ten of these mortgage holders have arrears of more than 90 days. If we continue to move at the current rate, we will reach one in four in less than two years. These people are experiencing deprivation. In the past five years, deprivation in Ireland has doubled. This group of people accounts for 91% of that increase. The unemployment rate for this group of people has gone from 5% to 15%. It has trebled in the same time.

The Irish people own this bank. It is not enough for the Government to say that it will not or cannot act to help these people.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  Hear, hear.

Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly:  These people need help now. They are losing their homes now and we must act now.

Deputy Clare Daly:  The time for shrugging its shoulders on this issue has passed and the Government must take responsibility and intervene now. We have a situation where the banks are supposedly owned on our behalf and it is time for the Government to show them who is [515]master. Reading the papers, one would have to wonder who is calling the shots when we see the banks lamenting the fact that the Central Bank code of practice, which has only been in place for two months, is too stringent for them. They are weeping and wailing that they do not have enough harassment powers. They are limited to three opportunities a month to deal with and hound people in this situation. The idea that this would be acceptable behaviour to citizens experiencing severe distress with crisis mortgages is reprehensible and shows how far removed those running the banks are from the real lives of ordinary citizens. This is the same type of attitude which has Permanent TSB implementing such exorbitant interest rates. These further impoverish people and drive them into a mortgage arrears situation for no fault of their own but that they are with the wrong lender.

Meanwhile, banks like the Ulster Bank, which was mentioned with regard to the eviction alluded to earlier, have been awarding their officials millions in sterling in bonuses. This is a joke. We have a real crisis here of a publicly owned banking system being run privately. This does not benefit homeowners and small businesses. It is up to the Government to deal with this. Today in the constituency of the Minister who was here for a minute and then legged it, I dealt with a small and viable business which had to close because it could not get access to funding. This is a story we hear throughout the country. Those on the Government side cannot continue to talk out of both sides of their mouths. The banks must free up finance to keep small businesses going.

Deputy Mick Wallace:  I thought I heard it said here a few months ago that no people would be thrown out of their houses, but perhaps I misheard that. There is no funding available for small and medium-sized businesses. I do not understand how this is. We heard so much about a strategic investment bank, but there is still no sign of it. Professor Patrick Honohan said this month: “A key societal function of banks and other financiers is the gathering and processing of the information necessary to make good loan decisions and to continue monitoring the performance of borrowers, intervening promptly where necessary to protect the sums advanced”. It is clear this did not happen in the boom times and it is clear it is not happening now either. The effectiveness of any financial system relates to how it caters for firms when they are in need and is best evidenced by its capacity to service small firms.

There is no logic behind what is going on. It was interesting to hear the suggestion of the British politician, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Dr. Vince Cable this week. He suggested the RBS should be used as a new British investment bank, with a clean balance sheet and a mandate to lend to sound businesses. That would be a great idea here, would it not? We are prepared to use taxpayers’ money to throw at the banks lock, stock and barrel, but we cannot tell them what to do. They tell us they are meeting their lending criteria and guidelines but we know that is not true. Since when did the banks tell us the truth? Most of the banks only moved towards restructuring, not new loans. If people need money from a bank in this country, it is hard to get it but it is easy get it if one does not need it.

Deputy Shane Ross:  I would like to respond to some of the comments made by the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, last night. The Government seems to rely on its amendment in defence, on the credit being given to small businesses and on the Credit Review Office. I do not know whether anybody in the House knows anything about the Credit Review Office but we should put it under scrutiny before we accept what the Government has to say. The Credit Review Office receives virtually no appeals because of the process through which any small business must go. The first kangaroo court is a kind of internal banking appeal system and then the appeal goes to the Credit Review Office. The Credit Review Office is headed by a man called John Trethowan who, while he may be a good person, is a former big banker with National Irish Bank. There are 12 assistant reviewers at the Credit Review Office to whom small businesses must go and appeal one by one. The first nine of these I counted are all former bankers. Why, in the name of God, would a small business refused a loan by his bank manager, [516]by the bank’s internal review system, go to the Credit Review Office, which is full of former bankers?

  8 o’clock

It is a nice little number for ex-bankers who are retired to do their business and go away again. They are deeply embedded in the banking culture. They have three people on what I think they call a non-banking panel. I do not know much about these people because the office is very reluctant to identify the individuals who are on the panel. It is a kind of secret society. The only one I can identify is an ex-career banker. He has a different job now but he spent a large part of his career in J.P. Morgan. We are dealing with a bogus appeals system. Do not let the Government come to me and say the Credit Review Office works. It does not work. It does not work because it has ex-bankers on the board. If we want a real appeals system we should have consumers and people who have suffered in this crisis and who are more sympathetic.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Derek Nolan, who is sharing time with nine other Deputies.

Deputy Derek Nolan:  I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak on this evening’s motion. When I was elected to the House a year ago, there was profound uncertainty in the economy and among people and commentators about the state and likely survival of our banking sector. Let us not underestimate how far we have come in a year, to a point where the viability of our two pillar banks is no longer in question. They are now considered to be stable and working forward.

I acknowledge the severe financial stress being experienced by constituents of mine, and of every Deputy in the House. Last Monday, a gentleman came to my constituency clinic in Galway. He is involved in an insurance business but the work has gone through the floor. The pressure to repay the loan on an investment property he bought at the height of the boom is crippling him. The stress of trying to keep a business afloat and to pay mortgages, which are interest only mortgages at this point, is immense. We cannot leave the real life stories of our constituents out of this discussion.

The Government has made significant progress on this issue through the interdepartmental report, the Keane report, and through the strategies it has put in place. However, progress is not happening fast enough and I call on the Government to increase the speed with which it is implementing the Keane report in order that people have a timetable for when certain steps will be implemented. I do not take away from the complexity of the issue or from the cross-departmental problems to do with the Departments of Finance and Justice and Equality, with regard to legislation, and others, but this needs to happen faster.

In all our discussions in the House, the main issue is that the economy has gone through the floor and people are out of work. The solution to so many of the country’s problems is to get people back to work so they have money in their pockets, can afford to pay their bills and have some financial security.

The first part of the Fianna Fáil motion notes the issues. The three elements of the motion calling on the Government to use its influence on Permanent TSB, to measure the new lending performance of the banks and to set out an implementation strategy seem very sensible. While I will support the Government amendment, I call on the Government to take into account those three actions and to act on them. They are not unreasonable or counterproductive and they have merit.

Deputy Catherine Byrne:  Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle, for giving me the opportunity to speak on tonight’s motion. I believe the Government is acting on the mortgage crisis and taking huge steps towards addressing the country’s legacy of reckless spending. I welcome [517]the publication of the heads of the personal insolvency Bill and the fact that the Bill is due to come to the House at the end of April.

One of the reasons we are here this evening is that people spent because developers built apartments and houses that were completely over-priced. In my own area, the price of a corporation house, like the one in which I live, increased fourfold. The price of those houses has now gone back to a more realistic level. Deputies can talk about crystal balls and planes but the reality is clear. A huge number of young people are trying to keep their heads above water and to keep their homes.

I draw the Minister’s attention to the young people who bought into mortgage debt and negative equity and have been caught in a catch-22 situation. I refer to the young people who entered into shared ownership with local authorities. Many of these houses are worth a quarter of what their owners paid for them. For many of these people, meeting their mortgage payments has become a huge crisis. That is why I hope the personal insolvency Bill will give them the opportunity, through their local authority, to stay in their properties, keep a roof over their heads and not be put out on the street. It serves no one to put people out of their homes and back onto a local authority housing list.

Everyone in the Chamber is speaking this evening with much heart and understanding of the crisis of mortgage debt and related matters. It is time the banks listened. Above all, I ask the Minister to continue to listen to the voices of the people on the street and to the young people who are caught in mortgage difficulties, particularly those in local authority and affordable housing shared ownership schemes.

Deputy Martin Heydon:  I welcome this opportunity to speak on this motion. With unemployment, the issues raised in the motion are among the biggest facing the country and its citizens. The resolution of these issues would bring us a long way on the road to recovery, which is why they are a priority for the Government.

Like all Deputies, I deal with constituents every day of the week. This evening, I will note some of the financial difficulties experienced by some of my constituents. I know two experienced entrepreneurs who attempted to start a new business. Between them they have more than 60 years experience and have never missed a bank repayment, but they cannot get funding. A post-graduate student who has funded her years in college through loans which she has worked to pay off every year, in her final step to what would be a valuable post-graduate qualification has been refused any form of credit to complete her education. A working family man with five years remaining on his mortgage and no mispayments is unable to get a new mortgage to buy a larger home.

Changes must be made and I welcome the stability that has been brought to many elements of the banking system this year, but we must continue to improve the situation. The establishment of the Credit Review Office, CRO, is very welcome. It is a valuable resource for many small businesses and farmers. Deputy Ross took a pop at the office but he failed to mention that almost 50% of the cases that went to the Credit Review Office succeeded in having decisions overturned. Instead of knocking the CRO we need to see its remit growing and to put more resources into it.

I have already raised this point with the Minister and I call on him again to consider the extension of the services of the Credit Review Office to cover individuals who have been refused credit or given reduced credit facilities for a viable business proposition. A CRO for individuals would give them an alternative if they are refused by a bank and would make sure their voices are heard. It would encourage the banks to fully consider all applications received on a full commercial basis and would provide us with valuable information on the number of applications being refused and an indication of whether these refusals are based on valid commercial considerations.

[518]Our banks are still not lending enough money and this is affecting the growth of our economy which is so important. Businesses are going to the wall because of a lack of funding. It was recently reported in the media that banks are borrowing from the ECB at 1% and buying government bonds at higher rates to make a return, instead of using the funding for what it was designed, which is to get money circulating in the economy. This issue needs to be addressed. The purpose of the ECB money is to get money back into businesses and into the economy.

I am aware of the difficulties being faced by holders of variable mortgages with Permanent TSB. At present, neither the Central Bank nor the Department of Finance has a statutory function in the interest rate decisions made by individual lending institutions nor has the Central Bank requested additional powers over the setting of retail rates. There is a balance to be struck between a nationally controlled banking system which could end up answerable to many public interests and a system that would allow us to exert more control over the commercial decisions of banks. It is imperative that we get that balance right.

Deputy Joanna Tuffy:  With the agreement of the House I will share some of Deputy Dowds’s time.

The issue of negative equity is raised at my clinics and in constituency queries to me and to other Deputies. A number of Deputies have tabled parliamentary questions to the Minister for Finance requesting updates on what action is being taken to help people in negative equity. Not all people in negative equity will need to be provided for by the financial institutions but the provisions currently do not cater for all the kinds of cases that have arisen. In reply to my parliamentary question the Minister stated there had not been a significant number of inquiries to the Central Bank about negative equity mortgages. Time has moved on since I asked that question.

I refer to an article in the Sunday Business Post on 4 March. It reported that two banks, the Bank of Ireland and Permanent TSB, were offering negative equity mortgages. The article mentioned that the products being offered by those banks might have limited application and may not be relevant to all types of negative equity cases in which people might need assistance from the banks. Experts did not think there would be a significant take-up of these negative equity mortgages because the products have limited application and these type of mortgages would not be attractive to either the lender or the customer.

I have encountered varied cases. I cite the example of a couple who bought a house and who then separated but they are still owners of a house in negative equity. Neither party can move on, buy another property and continue with their lives. Another example is a person who relocated to another part of the country, is in negative equity in a ghost estate and is now unemployed. Such a person is stuck in that situation. Those of us who represent commuter areas know that many people bought houses outside their own area in places like Athlone and Carlow but they may now work in Dublin. They are in negative equity and they are unable to move out of their situation. The people who contacted me have not had a resolution of their case from the banks. I advise people to engage with the banks and hope that the situation can be improved.

The issue of negative equity is a social issue and the Government must do something about it; more needs to be done in this regard. It is not enough to advise people to engage with the banks. People in negative equity need a clear pathway so that they can move out of that situation, either to stay in their homes or to move on to another home.

Deputy Jim Daly:  I welcome the motion which is timely. Any focus on this issue is a good day for democracy and for Ireland. I understand and appreciate the negative equity generation [519]because I am a member of that generation along with many of my friends and colleagues. We all want to see the measures outlined in the Keane report brought to a head sooner rather than later in a bid to help these people. The Government has taken steps this week and even today with the establishment of an interdepartmental committee to oversee the work of the implementation body. I look forward to any resolutions from this committee.

The banks have been capitalised but the idea of any Member of the Oireachtas running a bank is a separate issue and one must be careful where to draw the line as regards governance, the Government and the banking sector. It may not be much comfort to the people in negative equity and struggling to pay their bills to know that the politicians were all of a sudden to dictate the interest rates for the banks and take an active role in the management of the banks. Interest rates are more complex. While the ECB is providing money at 1% and banks are charging 4% and 5%, the banks do not receive a full flow of money from the ECB and they rely for much of their funding on their deposit rate base which is a very competitive market. The situation is more complex than suggesting that the 1% should be matched because they cannot get their full funding from the ECB rate. An element of risk is built into many of the mortgages. Politicians sometimes get carried away as to dictating terms of reference for banks and how the interest rates should be set.

I support the efforts to provide credit finance for the small and medium business sector. In the past year, the banks have been restructured and recapitalised, a mortgage arrears resolution process is in place. The Irish Bankers Federation provided Members with an update today on the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. The personal insolvency Bill will be brought before the House by the end of April, in line with the troika commitment. Some of the failings of the Credit Review Office have been outlined but it is important to note that 50% of cases have been overturned and this decision has been honoured by the banks. The microfinance loan fund and the temporary partial credit guarantee scheme are examples of initiatives taken to address this very important issue.

Deputy Tony McLoughlin:  I welcome this brief opportunity to speak on this motion. All Deputies could give first-hand accounts on how many of the banks are dealing with constituents but the verdict would not be good. I refer to the wording of the Fianna Fáil motion —“the lending performance of the banks is currently being measured by the amount of new credit sanctioned rather than the amount actually drawn down and put into circulation in the economy;”. A recent Mazars survey, commissioned by the Department of Finance, has shown that demand for credit is low. However, this may be because many people do not bother to ask for credit as they believe they will be refused. The perception is that the banks are not giving out money. This perception needs to be changed. The only way a bank can make money and profits is to sell money and if this is not the case, they are like the proverbial pub with no beer.

Many banks were not part of the bank guarantee and they do not impress me. Some are half out the door, so to speak, while others operate as cashless banks, even though they are what are termed as high street banks. I know of one case in which one of these banks refused to issue a quote for a mortgage to a customer despite the fact that he had paid off an existing loan on a house which he had sold. He had been with the bank for more than 21 years, covering two mortgages. He had never missed a payment, was debt-free yet he was not even given a quote. I ask why is such a bank operating in this country.

A constituent told me about his experience in seeking a mortgage of €110,000 on a house valued currently at €320,000. The bank has taken more than three months to make a decision in this case and will now only grant him a loan of €90,000, well below the required amount, despite his large income and debt-free property worth €500,000 at current valuation, offered as security. Many similar cases have been brought to my attention as a public representative.

[520]Banks such as the Bank of Ireland are making efforts and are to be commended. The Government’s lending target for 2012 is €3.5 billion. I ask for a report from the banks next year on the delivery of this amount and a breakdown of how the money was loaned within communities.

I commend the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, the Minister for Jobs, Innovation and Enterprise, Deputy Richard Bruton and the Ministers of State, Deputies Brian Hayes, and John Perry, on the measures introduced to ease the difficulties such as the establishment of the Credit Review Office, the SME regional workshops and the recently announced details of a micro-finance loan scheme and a temporary partial credit guarantee scheme to assist viable SMEs on the margins of commercial lending decisions to access additional credit. I welcome the initiative by my constituency colleague and the Minister of State with responsibility for small business to hold a series of regional meetings with the Department of Finance Secretary General to hear at first hand the views and experiences of local business representatives, banking representatives and State agencies on access to bank lending. This is a very positive step by the Government and I appeal to the SME sector to use this opportunity so that it will give the Government real information which will ensure some banks will be challenged on their current assertions that they are lending.

I appeal to accountants, in particular chartered accountants, to ensure their clients put together the best possible business plans and that they become involved directly with Credit Review Office if they believe their respective clients are not getting fair treatment from the relevant bank.

Deputy Joe McHugh:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion and the fact Fianna Fáil tabled it to engage in constructive dialogue on it, although clearly we will differ on certain elements of it. We must, however, enter a new era in Irish politics, although we will always remember the past. Fianna Fáil contributed to the position we are now in but although it is part of the problem, it can be part of the solution. We must show maturity in this House and maturity of purpose in how we sort out the magnitude and array of problems we have.

A man once asked me, “How does one eat an elephant?” I did not have the answer but his answer was that one eats it bit by bit. That is the way we must progress in trying to sort out this country. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic but in another 100 years, people will still argue about whose fault it was and about how the ship sank. It still will not change the fact that it sank. We must look at a new way of working in this House and the only way to do so is through constructive dialogue.

When we talk about lending and the obstacles faced by many small businesses in accessing credit, we must acknowledge the difficulties of so many people who have millstones around their necks and who must deal with the daily nightmare of negative equity and of not being able to move out of an apartment despite having young children who are growing up. They face major difficulties as their lives progress. A constituent of mine contacted me in the past week. While she and her husband are glad to have jobs, they still pay 40% of their monthly income on their mortgage. That is a nightmare scenario which the Cabinet is attempting to deal with. I congratulate the Taoiseach on heading up the Cabinet sub-committee to deal with mortgages and the level of restructuring going on. I understand that upwards of 74,000 mortgages have been restructured to date and more will need to be dealt with.

We must provide reassurances to the public and to so many people who wake up in the morning not knowing if they will own a house next month or not knowing if they will ever be able to pay back the millstone around their necks.

[521]Deputy Áine Collins:  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. One year ago the banking system had all but collapsed. Since then this Government has restructured and recapitalised the banking sector despite the restrictions. Under the terms of the EU-IMF programme, the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the banks. Permanent TSB had a particular problem because of the number of tracker mortgages on its books which forced or encouraged it to increase its variable rates without any corresponding increase in the ECB rate. This has resulted in the standard variable rate charged by PTSB being substantially out of line with that charged by other State controlled providers such as AIB.

The Government in conjunction with the troika is currently looking at a way to deal with the tracker mortgages, in particular those held by PTSB. In the event of tracker mortgages being transferred from PTSB and other State controlled banks the argument for maintaining a high variable rate in PTSB would no longer be justified. If, as the Minister said, the Government is pursuing this course of action, part of the deal should be a reduction in PTSB’s variable rate to the same level as AIB.

With this new approach being considered for tracker mortgages, the Government should also look at taking advantage of the changes to boost the housing market. There are many young couples who purchased apartments or starter homes four or five years ago whose families have expanded since. These couples wish to up-size their homes but they are afraid to make a move because they are afraid of losing their tracker mortgage. When the Government is considering and, hopefully, completing the removal of tracker mortgages to holding banks, then it should take the opportunity to build in a system that would allow those people on tracker mortgages to up-size without the fear of losing their tracker mortgage.

The whole question of arrears is closely related to the fact that Ireland has the highest percentage of personal debt in the OECD. In the past number of years our personal debt increased by 245%. It is no wonder that there are increasing issues regarding debt. There are now many instances where mortgages taken out by some borrowers are no longer repayable as they currently stand.

Having said this, lending institutions and customers will have to co-operate to try to resolve the situation. There is responsibility on both sides. Until now the banks had the upper hand in these negotiations but the introduction of the new personal insolvency law should put negotiations on a more even playing pitch. This is a very difficult path for families but the new legislation would introduce some reality into the situation.

The Government is putting a number of things in place in the regard to the SME sector, some of which my colleagues spoke about such a microfinance loan, the temporary partial guarantee, the lending targets by the banks and the credit review board. Interestingly it is worth noting that a survey was done last year on the SME sector and lending. Only 36% of SME businesses looked for loans. Of the 36%, 70% of those applications were approved. Of the 30% which were not approved, 55% were approved by the Credit Review Office.

I support the Government amendment. The Government recognises that there are enormous challenges in the financial, economic and banking sector and the importance of resolving them with a sense of urgency.

Deputy Peter Mathews:  It is very important that capable and experienced teams are formed in all the banking institutions to deal with mortgage loans, arrears and the restructuring of clients’ situations. I visited constituents — a husband and wife — yesterday who had lived outside Dublin in a provincial town. They had good incomes but for family reasons, the illness of one of their children, they had to relocate to Dublin. They built their house in Dublin and had to take out a new loan. They had two loans and were on standard variable rates.

[522]It was very important that the bank would respond intelligently and quickly but that is where the problem lay. The bank should have dedicated sufficiently experienced teams. It would have been a no-brainer to have been able to restructure and set out a new arrangement for those customers. Unfortunately, because of the large number of arrears and non-performing loan books which this institution had, this case was sidelined and that added to the stress. It was a double stress because of the change of location and the illness of one the children.

I use this opportunity to remind the banks to do everything they can to put in place teams of experienced people to address the problems and to restructure the loans expeditiously.

Deputy Robert Troy:  I thank my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, for tabling this very important motion given the huge number of people affected. The motion essentially deals with three issues: the totally uncompetitive standard variable rate, SVR, currently being charged by Permanent TSB, a bank in which the majority stakeholder is the Government; the continuing difficulties small and medium-sized businesses are experiencing when they apply for credit; and the difficulties so many people face with regard to mortgage arrears.

I am sure that, like me, many Deputies received numerous telephone calls and e-mails today from PTSB customers all over Ireland pleading with us to do something about the unjustifiably high interest rates being charged — as if we did not know about them already. Although I accept the Government has no statutory function in this regard and cannot legally force the PTSB to reduce its STV, nonetheless, as a major stakeholder, it has the moral authority to intervene just as it did with AIB in November last year, an action on which I compliment the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan.

This issue is not about political point scoring but about creating awareness and highlighting the need for PTSB to acknowledge that the taxpayers of Ireland have supported this bank. It now has a moral obligation to support the more than 80,000 customers who find themselves trapped in totally uncompetitive mortgages. These customers do not even have the option to switch to an alternative, given the lack of real competition in the market.

We do not advocate that PTSB should offer rates on which it would lose money; that would not be in the taxpayers’ interest. However, the fact remains that although the ECB has reduced interest rates by 3% since June 2007, the PTSB has reduced its SVR by only 0.25% in the same time period. PTSB’s margin over the ECB rate has gone from 1.44% in June 2007 to 4.19% today. PTSB, a State-owned bank, is charging its customers 5.19%, or 2.19% more than AIB, another State-owned bank. On a €300,000 loan over 30 years a Permanent TSB customer will pay €1,666 a month compared to €1,264 for an AIB customer, a difference of €402 per month. One can imagine the difference this extra money would make to the quality of the lives of the people affected.

According to a recent Central Bank report, it appears some lenders are charging higher variable rates to compensate for the losses they are making on their tracker loans. In their contributions some Government Deputies seemed to think this was justifiable. It is not. The risk with such a strategy is that it may be counterproductive and may continue to exert upward pressure on arrears. In other words, PTSB is not only placing an enormous financial burden on families, which is the main issue, but its action is proving counterproductive for the company. Now that there are Ministers of State in the Chamber to hear the debate, I urge them to use their influence to ensure there is a reduction in the variable interest rate, thereby giving a lifeline to many struggling families.

I refer to the issue of SME access to credit. If the Government cannot see this is a major issue, it is even more remote from what is happening on the ground than I originally thought. I continually meet people from small businesses who say that this issue, along with that of commercial rates, is having a serious negative issue on their business. In the past year the [523]Government ignored the SMEs, a sector that involves more 655,000 people. First, it reneged on its commitment to abolish upward only rent reviews. It also failed to review how commercial rates are charged.

In regard to credit, on 1 March Professor Patrick Honohan stated that Ireland is the most difficult country in the eurozone when it comes to small businesses accessing credit. Some 92% of SMEs claim the Government is either making no difference or is having a negative impact on SME lending. The chief executive of ISME, Mark Fielding, stated: “We must put an end to the fiction that bailed out Irish banks are functioning properly. Access to credit is abysmal, the application process is getting longer and businesses are not being told their rights.” While the Government dithers and waffles, vulnerable small business owners are being terrorised by bankers, leading to a massive build-up of anger and frustration within the business community. These are not my words — they come from representatives of the business community.

The Government has made multiple announcements with regard to the loan guarantee scheme and the micro finance scheme but we still await the necessary legislation. That is nobody’s fault but the Government’s. Can we have less spin and more substance?

I would like to continue on the subject of mortgage arrears but do not wish to eat into the time of my colleagues. I am sharing time with Deputies John McGuinness, Willie O’Dea and Timmy Dooley.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy John McGuinness.

Deputy John McGuinness:  It has been a long time since I saw such an important debate in this House being completely ignored by Government. In spite of the apology from the Minister of State, it is an insult to the House and to the people of whom we speak that no Minister was present to take the debate. The Cabinet may have sent in two juniors to listen to us but all the Government benches are empty. That does not bode well for how seriously this debate is being taken. The Ministers of State should carry back that message to Cabinet and explain exactly what they heard in the debate.

I refer to Permanent TSB and the general debate we have heard on the SME sector, negative equity and the availability of finance. Most Deputies who spoke tonight stated what they have stated in other debates during the past 12 months. Nothing has changed. There is one thing that can happen. The Government can begin to wake up from its slumber and take this issue seriously. Why does it not call in Permanent TSB and tell it what to do? Like others, this bank received taxpayers’ money to keep its doors open. Our money went into those banks to keep them sorted. Some of that money was specifically tagged for the SME sector and to assist those in mortgage difficulties, yet there is a growing number of people in serious difficulty with their homes and businesses. The Government is doing nothing about it. All the talk in the world, in this debate or in any other in this House, will mean nothing to anybody if an action is not taken. The Government should bring in Permanent TSB, tell it what to do and tell it to backdate it.

The Credit Review Office should be given teeth and a function or it should be closed down. It is doing a disservice to the whole system within this country and only offers the illusion of giving assistance to people. They get no assistance.

Some €7 billion was given to the banks to give to the SME sector, but only €1.7 was lent in new funding. The rest went to restructuring. I ask both Ministers of State present to ask the Minister for Finance to take back that money and give it to the credit unions, which can work with the county enterprise boards, although the Government is beginning to scuttle these too, dumbing them down so that they cannot function. Let us do this now and let us give that money to the SME sector to create jobs.

The State is working against its own people and against the SME sector. I offer the example of the National Employment Rights Authority, NERA, in my constituency which is now mov[524]ing in on hairdressers and barbers, using SI 99 as part of the Minimum Wage Act 2000 in order to close them down. At a time when we want people to create jobs and apprenticeships, NERA is going into these businesses and tying up the people involved with red tape and bureaucracy, putting their apprentices out of work. What is the Government going to do about that?

I offer another example, this time concerning the Department of Agriculture and Food and relating to a special investigations unit that has moved in on veterinary practices. There is one such practice in Kilkenny now, fighting for its life with five jobs, receiving no word from the Department or the Minister, and no respect for its business. The unit has not explained to the business why it is being questioned and investigated. There has been only intimidation and bully boy tactics in regard to that business, a viable, well organised and well funded one that has respect in the local community. The Government is assisting the Department in what can only be described a Hoover-type instrument, similar to what the FBI had, to go into that business and close it down. It is not the first example and the Government has not changed it. That is what the State is doing to the SME sector. If it is not the banks, it is NERA or the special investigations unit. I ask the Minister of State to connect himself to the real world, to understand the difficulties facing mortgage holders and what is happening to families and their homes in terms of negative equity and to understand the struggle of small businesses to sustain the number of jobs they have. The Government is coming in with a heavy hand. As the Minister of State listens to this debate, I am not sure he will go back with the same passion and intention to the Departments causing these problems and effect some action to save the few jobs we have and to save the communities depending on the jobs.

I have heard people from both sides of the House talk about negative equity and people losing their homes. The Government is causing that to happen. In the election campaign, it promised reform and action but it has given nothing. I suggest the Government wakes up, pays attention and does something.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  On a point of order, I accept what Deputy McGuinness said and I hope he accepts what I said. On two occasions, I stood on the Government side while there was no one on the Opposition side of the House. Deputy McGuinness should not throw stones.

Deputy John McGuinness:  Deputy McEntee is here tonight but he was not here for the debate. I accept that Deputy McEntee has made an apology but it is a little too late. No Cabinet Ministers are present.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  I stood here on two occasions ——

Deputy John McGuinness:  How seriously is the Government taking the crisis in this country? Not that seriously.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  On two occasions I stood here and there were no Members on the Opposition benches. Deputy McGuinness should be careful what he throws.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I want to talk about the credit aspect of the motion. I am flabbergasted at the attitude of the Government. The three components of this topic include a burgeoning mortgage crisis, which is getting worse, delaying economic recovery and causing untold misery to hundreds of thousands of people. This includes those who can pay their mortgages at the moment but are worried about the future and what will happen if they lose their jobs or interest rates increase. The second component is a Government with a thumping majority, much of it due to votes as a result of promising to fix this problem or do something about it 13 months ago. The third component is that a ready-made solution exists in the report of the Law Reform Commission. This was available when the Government took office and was subsequently translated into legislation by my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, seven or eight months ago. [525] We have continuous prevarication, foot dragging, delay, committees, interdepartmental groups, reports and studies while nothing is happening.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  We are sorting out the mess of Deputy O’Dea’s party.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Like me, Governments Deputies are meeting people who are worried they will lose their houses, lose their jobs and wonder how they will pay their mortgages. I am in the unusual position of trying to justify the Government and trying to explain to people——

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Deputy O’Dea should explain what his party did.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  ——that the Government has not yet introduced necessary legislation. I try to explain that, even when the legislation is in place, structures must be put in place to implement it. We are perhaps 12 months from anything being put in place. Thankfully, for reasons that have nothing to do with the Government, very few people have lost their homes in this country but the Minister of State is aware of the number of people in arrears with mortgage payments. They are consumed with worry and anxiety about the future. The Minister of State is also aware of another cohort that we cannot count — those who ran into arrears over the past 12 months and, if we ever see the new insolvency legislation, could have been rescued. Now they have slipped beyond rescue and out of the net and they are guaranteed to lose their homes. There are also hundreds of thousands of people who can pay their mortgages but they are consumed by anxiety about the future.

The Government parties promised faithfully that they would sort out this problem quickly. It was a central plank of the election campaign. Towards the end of last year the jamboree at Farmleigh was conducted in a blizzard of self-congratulatory publicity. The most concise and direct advice I heard from that meeting of luminaries was from the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who said that we cannot solve the problems of this small country without unwinding the mortgage crisis and that we should give it top priority. The most concise, coherent and practical advice from the discussion at Farmleigh is the advice the Government is determined to ignore. Whoever said procrastination is the thief of time was not exaggerating. If anything, he understated the case because this Government’s procrastination has robbed people of peace of mind and their family homes and will continue to do so.

Anyone who harboured lingering illusions that the credit situation in this country was normal had the illusions dispelled by the recent bank watch report by ISME and by the words of the Governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, a few days previously. It is a century and a half since a potato Famine devastated the economy of this country. The effects of the credit famine, which we are now experiencing, are somewhat less pernicious but are no less devastating in their consequences for the economy of the country. It is ironic that the institutions whose financial promiscuity did so much to bring about the problem are now practising a new form of financial parsimony, which is preventing the crisis from being solved. The banks are engaging in an Orwellian exercise. The banks are behaving like former employees of the ministry of truth in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. They have issued a plethora of reports, studies, interviews and analysis that is encouraging us to disbelieve the evidence before our eyes every day of the week. They tell us there is no credit famine and that the credit situation is normal.

The banks and financial institutions, including Permanent TSB, were stuffed with capital, to use the words of the Minister for Finance. That capital did not come out of thin air but was borrowed on behalf of Irish taxpayers and must be repaid with interest. It was not borrowed because we like the banks, because they are venerable institutions we want to continue ad infinitum or because they are national monuments in need of preservation. It was borrowed because we want banks to lend to the economy as credit is the oxygen of business. The economy cannot grow without a proper supply of credit. The banks have failed to adhere to their side of the bargain. It is a contemptible insult to the intelligence of the electorate for banks to [526]produce reports, as they did until quite recently, saying that a certain amount of people applied for credit, 90% of whom were successful, and to conclude that everything is normal because we have 90% lending. There was not a word about the vast majority who were told not to bother wasting time and money applying or those told that, although they all satisfy the criteria, the bar will be raised to ensure they do not qualify. The attitude of the banks to Irish businesses seeking credit exactly mirrors that of the local Mafia chief in the famous scene from “The Simpsons”. The tavern owner approached the banks, who were unhappy with his collateral and did not like his profit projections. He then went to the local Mafia chief who agreed in principle to lend the money but, because he did not like the collateral or profit projections, he would have to smash the tavern owner’s arms and legs in advance. That is the attitude of the banks——

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy’s Government overruled the Central Bank in 2005.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  ——and the Government is doing zero, zilch, nothing about it.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy has a cheek, as a former Minister in the last Government.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The Government’s proposals——

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy was part of the Government that ignored the Central Bank advice in 2005 and 2006.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Minister. One voice.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I do not recall coming in here and interrupting the Minister, with his last minute arrival to cover the absence of the Minister.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy has a cheek.

(Interruptions).

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Keep chasing the stags. When I promised my electorate I would vote against the Government I did so, unlike you, Sir.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy let down his electorate.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Minister.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The Government’s proposals on the credit crisis is the longest running farce in the west end.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy’s Government ignored the Central Bank advice in 2005.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  I have counted them and 19 times the Government publicly promised a partial credit guarantee scheme, which is a carbon copy of the English scheme, yet it has not produced it. It promised a micro-finance scheme and the princely sum of €10 million a year for the small and medium business enterprise sector. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation said that would enable loans of up to €25,000 to be given to SMEs. That is fair enough, but according to my arithmetic €25,000 into €10 million goes 40 times. There are 200,000 SMEs in this country. That leaves 199,960 SMEs unaccounted for. Is that the Government’s approach to the credit crisis in this country?

[527]The strategic investment bank, according to the Taoiseach, has become a strategic investment fund. It is heading for a strategic investment fudge. My message to the Government is direct and simple.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Nobody is listening to the Deputy.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Stags are irrelevant. What is relevant are the people of this country who are consumed with anxiety and distress——

Deputy Shane McEntee:  Which the Deputy’s party caused.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  ——and are going to TDs in their clinics every day because of the inaction of this Government.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy’s party caused it——

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  My message to the Government is——

Deputy Shane McEntee:  ——along with his colleagues.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Please, Minister.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  ——that it is time to stop the prevarication, the delay, the platitudes, the excuses and the alibis. The time for action has long since passed.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  I call Deputy Dooley.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy should never forget that his party caused the problem. It sat on it.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  One voice, please. Order for Deputy Dooley.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  The Minister has been sitting on it for the past 13 months looking out at stags.

Deputy Shane McEntee:  The Deputy would not know a stag if he saw one.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate which is of critical importance. I suppose an element of banter across the floor of the House is appropriate but there is a much more serious issue underlying this motion, which is the reason it has been put down. The reason Members on this side of the House get exercised about it is because of the impact of these conditions on so many people.

The issues referred to in the motion affect almost every citizen of the State. There are probably close to 80,000 mortgage holders within the PTSB who are affected by this outrageous standard variable rate it continues to peddle. The standard variable rate charge is out of step with the marketplace and the Government has a duty to act because it is the principal shareholder.

An effort has been made by some within the Government to hide behind the standard lines that we cannot interfere in the operations of the day to day running of the bank or the profitability of the bank is a matter for the board. Those are the standard lines trotted out by Ministers and their squawk boxes on a day to day basis.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  They were the bondholders——

[528]Deputy Timmy Dooley:  That is not appropriate or acceptable. The fact remains that the PTSB is State owned and it has a duty of care to its customers. It also has a duty of care to its shareholders, who are all the citizens of the State, the taxpayers, and it is not in the taxpayers’ interest. The fact the taxpayer is now the shareholder is different from it being a bondholder or somebody who has it on their books as an investment. The taxpayer has a different set of criteria by which it would measure the way the bank should operate. The fact is that the bank, levying punitive charges on mortgage holders, affects spending and confidence in the economy and reduces demand in the economy in an overly aggressive way.

The normal rules of the marketplace do not apply now and therefore one section of society cannot be treated out of step with the other but that is what is happening here. AIB, which is largely in the ownership of the State also, has a different approach to its standard lending rate and it is not fair to say it has a different business or cost model. This crisis will have to be resolved in a protracted way over a period of time outside the normal market conditions because there are not normal market conditions. Properties cannot be sold and there is very little movement of property in the market. The reality, and the Minster of State knows this better than I do, is that houses are being sold under pressure on occasions at a lower cost than one could afford to build them. That is a clear indication that we are not working in a normalised marketplace, therefore, the principles have to be suspended. I do not want to go back into who did what, when and where but the Government must treat this as a serious issue. It must suspend normal market conditions or the normal rules that apply and assist these people in a manner that is relevant, appropriate and in step with the rest of the marketplace.

Neither is this in the interest of the mortgage holder. The punitive rates in place are forcing many mortgage holders into arrears, which is not good for overall economic activity. In many cases people have been forced into a position where they are unable to meet their repayments and that has a huge impact on their health. It has an impact on the lives of many people. It is making it virtually impossible for them to live in a normal way. It is putting pressure on families and reducing confidence in the economy. If we cannot restore confidence in the economy we will not get growth, and if we do not have growth we will not have confidence. It is a chicken and egg situation.

I accept that the banks must become free-standing. We all accept that they must restructure their balance sheets. They must be able to find a way in a stand-alone capacity in the years ahead but that must be viewed in the medium to long term; it cannot be done over night. The PTSB is involved in an aggressive resolution of a crisis that exists across the economy, and it wants to be first up and best dressed. Effectively, it is now within the control of the State and the State has a duty, in terms of the points I raised regarding its stockholder, who is the taxpayer, and the mortgage holder, to ensure the overall benefit to the economy. It must be viewed in a holistic way.

  9 o’clock

Confidence and growth are inextricably linked, and while we have punitive interest rates we will not get confidence or growth in the economy. All we will get is a continuation of the misery being inflicted on so many people. Forcing people into arrears will drive people deeper into misery. They are being forced into delinquency. Many people have made the lifestyle choices and the changes in their spending but they are not able to meet that level of payment, and we have a duty to help them. Some would suggest it is a relatively small institution by comparison to the others, but up to 80,000 people are affected and that number equates to more people because in many cases we are talking about 80,000 family homes. Some people can pay and if they can that is fine, but the bank is still putting a drain on the economy because they are putting money into it that probably does not need to be there in the first instance and could be used in other ways.

The Central Bank has suggested that some lenders are trying to square the circle of the tracker mortgage issue. I welcome what the Government has talked about in terms of [529]attempting to address the tracker mortgage issue. It has referred to creating a vehicle or some other means by which that issue can be parked which would allow the banks to strip away that problem and get back to taking a more aggressive approach to lending. That ties in with what Deputy O’Dea stated on the other book but the fact remains that in the short term the bank cannot balance between the tracker book and the standard book in an effort to resolve the mistakes it made in a manner that cannot be seen as acceptable to any sector of this society.

A more serious issue for many mortgage holders, and it goes to the root of the failure of the banking system, is their inability to switch between lending institutions. There is no marketplace and no capacity to do that because there is no competition among lending institutions, and that is probably one of the most serious issues that arises. There is no way out for these people. They are stuck, and they are looking to us. I do not want to get aggressive about this but I ask the Minister of State, the Minister for Finance and their entire team to find a solution to this issue.

It will not break the bank or the Government. It should get this done as quickly as possible and move on to the myriad issues we have to try to deal with.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Fergus O’Dowd):  People here seem to suffer from a rather significant absence of memory and seem to forget that Fianna Fáil was in power for 16 of the past 20 years.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  They want to know what will be done now.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  Whatever they might think, the public will never forget the way it was led into the current situation. An unsustainable housing and property boom was led by developers, their friends in Fianna Fáil——

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  We do not need a history lesson.

Deputy Timmy Dooley:  All your councillors.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I do not interrupt other speakers. Perhaps it is too much to expect that they might have manners now. The people will not forget why they are in the current situation and why people borrowed way in excess of what they could afford for properties that are now valueless.

Deputy Dara Calleary:  Tell us about the mortgages.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  You forgot to come into the House, or did not care.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I would like to speak, if I can.

Deputy Mattie McGrath:  Where was the Minister of State at 7.30 p.m.?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  People are in a very difficult position financially. They have mortgages they cannot pay and have lost jobs. The reason for that is the mismanagement of the country for many years.

Deputy Willie O’Dea:  What are you going to do about it?

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  We accept responsibility for what we have to do. One cannot wipe away 16 years of mismanagement.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  Look forward.

[530]Deputy Willie O’Dea:  Stick to the script.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  I do not have a problem sticking to my script but if the Deputy stuck to the facts it would be somewhat helpful. Perhaps it is time he did another show with the Rubber Bandits. He was most successful when he wore the mask and he should put it on again.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae:  This is not a laughing matter.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:  Order, please.

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd:  The issue of mortgage arrears is of the utmost importance to the Government. The establishment of a Government committee to co-ordinate and oversee the implementation of a whole of Government response to the problem is evidence of this.

However, there is no single or quick solution to deal with the mortgage problem. Each case is different and the circumstances of each household will be unique. A range of solutions across a number of Departments, and also from the banks, will be required. Progress has already been achieved. For example, personal insolvency reform was identified in the Keane report as central to the resolution of the mortgage arrears problem.

Deputies will be aware that the heads of a personal insolvency Bill have now been published. The views of the relevant Oireachtas committee, and other interested parties, will be taken into consideration by the Government in the formalisation of the Bill. Other aspects of this implementation agenda are mortgages to rent and Central Bank engagement with banks. The provision of a mortgage advisory function will also be advanced by relevant Departments and agencies in conjunction with the Department of Finance.

On the issue of the standard variable rate charged by PTSB, it should be noted that mortgage rates generally are rising to reflect the increased costs of funding being incurred by all banks. The higher cost of funding is being driven primarily through the increased cost of wholesale funding and high deposit rates, which are beneficial for consumers. As banks reduce their dependence on ECB funding, as they should do, the cost of funding naturally increases.

While we sympathise with the impact of the higher PTSB rates on consumers, it is important to reflect on the facts of the situation. The average standard variable rate loan in PTSB, including buy-to-let mortgages, is €82,600. The average tracker mortgage is far higher and these borrowers are currently paying historically low rates. The banks have to strike an appropriate balance between operating a viable, commercial bank which can make a return for the taxpayer on its substantial investment and meeting the needs of consumers. In arriving at their decisions, the banks have to take into account their ability to operate a business which can ultimately sustain itself without the need for taxpayer support. The taxpayer has already had to pay far too much to support banks. This is not sustainable as the taxpayer has to fund public services to those most in need in our society, namely the elderly, the unemployed and the disadvantaged.

Neither the Central Bank nor the Department of Finance has a statutory function in regard to interest rate decisions made by banks. The Deputy Governor of the Central Bank has stated to the Government that, within its existing powers and through the use of suasion, the Central Bank will engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds. Within this framework, we will continue to work with PTSB on the development of its future plans.

We need to be absolutely sure that we do not do anything which restricts or hinders the flow of credit. The Mazars survey found a reduction in the demand for credit. The level of application to the Credit Review Office, CRO, remains low. If people with viable propositions are being refused credit, they need to go to the CRO and nothing should discourage them from doing so. It overturns 50% of bank refusals and provides a user friendly service to borrowers. [531] It can also assist when there is a constructive refusal of credit which was referred to yesterday. I appreciate that business people are fatigued but they must follow through on refusals to force the banks to respond. In that context, when Deputies are approached by dissatisfied businesses that have been refused credit, such businesses should go directly to the CRO. This is much more likely to improve the situation. When considering such cases, it must remain the case that viability continues to be the key determinant in the decision to grant credit and this is a factor which has constantly been highlighted by the credit reviewer in his report on bank lending.

The Government continues to see the SME sector as a vital hub in the recovery and regeneration of the economy. That is why the important and vital new initiatives such as the loan guarantee scheme and the microfinance fund are being introduced. The Government has done more in the past 12 months to return the banks to a more stable level than the previous Government did in its entire period of office. We intend to build on this progress and make sure the banks are focused on the needs of their customers and the wider Irish economy. That is the only way they will be able to repay all of the support that they have received.

Deputy Brendan Smith:  I compliment my colleague, Deputy Michael McGrath, on the very constructive motion he put before the House yesterday dealing with mortgage difficulties and access to credit. As has been mentioned by previous speakers on this side of the House, access to credit is important for the economy, job creation and every household.

Public representatives are all very conscious that throughout the country businesses are finding it extremely difficult to access loans or maintain adequate credit facilities on an ongoing basis. Such credit facilities are essential to protect existing jobs and, in many instances, to help create much-needed new employment. The credit situation is, in many cases, preventing the creation of much-needed jobs and the lack of access to credit for many SMEs has caused some enterprises to reduce their workforce and, sadly, close.

Sole traders and people employing six, 50, 100 or more people want decisions and action to deal with this intolerable situation. They do not want to hear about reviews or reports, rather they want decisions from Government. The provision of adequate credit to businesses of all sizes is necessary and has to be addressed. The absence of credit is not hearsay and has not been exaggerated by the business community, householders or anybody else.

Such difficulties have been highlighted by the Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Honohan, when he said that credit conditions for SMEs are tougher in Ireland than anywhere else, both in terms of cost and availability. The difficulties facing SMEs and the impact on the national economy is clear when one considers over 655,000 people are employed in over 200,000 small businesses. Those businesses are involved in all types of enterprise and a significant proportion of firms employ fewer than 12 people. Fortunately, they are spread throughout the country.

Such enterprises are very varied and include those involved in manufacturing and the provision of services. They employ people with varied skills, experience and educational attainment. A recent report from the Central Bank highlighted the difficulties in achieving the right credit conditions, the right credit climate and the subsequent difficulties facing businesses. The survey was referred to earlier in the debate and is worthy of note. It reported that more than one third of SMEs sought loans in the past three months, compared to one quarter of companies in the same period a year ago. The Central Bank report is in a similar vein in that it demonstrates an increase in demand for trade credit and overdrafts over last year. The Irish Banking Federation claimed that the drop in credit to SMEs is due to depressed demand. That simply does not add up. ISME, a representative organisation for a very important sector of our economy, continuously highlights the lack of progress in addressing the credit deficit. A Central Bank report demonstrates that the issuing of new loans to the SME sector falls far short of the quantum lost through the closure of credit facilities.

[532]Last night, my colleague Deputy Michael McGrath outlined again the unacceptable imposition on people due to the standard variable interest rate charged on mortgages by State-owned Permanent TSB. The interest rate being charged can only be described as exorbitant and the Government ought to exert the necessary pressure on the institution to achieve a just and fair result for the mortgage holders.

I hope the partial credit guarantee scheme that the Government proposes to launch and which we heard about so often will be successful. It was promised that it would be in place by the end of the first quarter of this year but this promise will not be honoured. I understand that, to bring in the scheme quickly, one must opt for the de minimis State aid rule, but this would be very constricting. I understand that if an enterprise has accumulated grant aid totalling up to €200,000 over the preceding three years, it would be excluded. Who decides on the viability of the enterprise? We do not want our banking sector deciding on the viability of businesses in the country. It is very important that the scheme be brought forward as soon as possible and that it not be as constricting as would appear to be the case from what we have heard to date.

Deputy Seamus Kirk:  I am glad of the opportunity to support my party spokesman, Deputy Michael McGrath, in moving the motion to support a mortgage interest rate cut by Permanent TSB. In my constituency — I am sure the Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, will be familiar with it -- many people are directly affected by this issue. I am speaking on behalf of the estimated 80,000 people nationally who are seriously and adversely affected by the issue.

This House affords backbenchers, Ministers of State and Ministers the opportunity to debate in a practical and logical way the issues of the day. There is no issue more pressing than that of distressed mortgages, negative equity and people simply losing faith in their ability to hold onto the properties they bought and worked hard for. There are many who will find themselves in serious financial trouble for many years to come.

In a recent paper entitled Variable Mortgage Rate Pricing in Ireland, it is stated some lenders are charging higher variable rates to compensate for the losses they are making on their tracker loans. It states, “One bank’s [...] variable rates are significantly lower and another bank’s [...] variable rates are significantly higher than its peers, controlling for funding costs, arrears rates and other factors.” The reality is that this needs to be examined urgently. A plan needs to be put in place to find a solution. I call on the Minister to consider this very serious problem. We need action and we need it now. We need a commitment from the Minister that he will engage in discussion with Permanent TSB so it will reduce its standard variable rate. The standard variable rate charged by Permanent TSB is out of line with the market rate and the rates of other State-owned banks.

Deputy Michael McGrath asked last night why Permanent TSB can offer new customers a standard variable rate of 3.7% while existing customers are being charged 5.19%. That highlights very clearly that the cost of funds is not the issue.

One other area I would like to mention is a possible tax relief for those who help out family members with a distressed mortgage, be it in Ireland or the United Kingdom. I know of a case from the boundary of my constituency and that of the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, that concerns an individual working in the Untied Kingdom who is helping a family member in Ireland with a distressed mortgage. There is no tax relief available to the family member. A strong argument can be advanced that we should have a bilateral taxation agreement to cover this specific issue. Distressed mortgages can arise in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In the parish of Crossmaglen, people living 100 yd from one another on the Dundalk-Crossmaglen road may be living in two different jurisdictions. They could be related or members of the same family. There is no tax relief if one helps the other with a distressed mortgage.

[533]This needs to be examined. It is but another element of the problem we are discussing tonight.

Deputy Michael McGrath:  I thank the Members of all parties and none for contributing to this debate. There are some key themes associated with my party’s motion. The motion should not be objectionable in any way. It is designed to be constructive and to assist the Government in dealing with issues that clearly need to be dealt with.

With regard to lending to SMEs, we have called for a very simple change. Instead of measuring the lending performance of the banks by examining the amount of credit approved, we should measure instead the amount of money drawn down and put into circulation in the economy. At the very least, the Government should report those figures in a clear and transparent way and not simply accept what AIB and Bank of Ireland tell it about the amount of credit they have sanctioned.

On the issue of mortgage arrears, all we are asking is that the Government make a statement on its implementation strategy which pulls together all the various elements and sets out how to deal with the issue. To say, as the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, said last night, that the Keane report is being implemented is simply not true. I found out in the response to a recent parliamentary question that one of the key recommendations in the report, that we set up an independent mortgage advice function, is still being considered by the Government. It has not yet made up its mind as to whether it is a good idea. All we ask is that the Government come forward with its strategy, as some Government Members have called for over the past two nights.

The main purpose of the motion we have tabled is to put the spotlight on the standard variable rate being charged by State-owned Permanent TSB. Before I address this, I must mention the customers of the EBS, who are astounded that, despite the EBS now being wholly owned by AIB, they are paying a standard variable rate of up to 4.45%, which is well in excess of the rates charged by the parent company to its customers. They are asking why this is being allowed despite the Government having extolled the virtues and benefits of the merger of the two banks last year.

In setting out the debate on the question of Permanent TSB last night, I laid out in comprehensive detail the reasons the Government should be putting pressure on Permanent TSB to reduce the standard variable rate it is currently charging. That the customers are being treated unfairly is absolutely irrefutable. The Government should just accept that. It has not even said that much.

Up to 80,000 customers are being crucified by the rates being charged by a bank that was bailed out by the taxpayers through the guarantee and through recapitalisation of up to €4 billion. For the Government to hide behind the line that the bank is a commercial entity and state there is nothing it can do simply does not stand up to scrutiny. This is because it set a different bar for AIB last November. Very publicly, the Government hauled the bank into a meeting. There was a stand-off for a few hours and the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, emerged and stated it was pathetic that the bank was not passing on the ECB rate reduction. Eventually, however, the bank conceded and passed on the reduction. All we are asking is that the Government apply the same principle to the customers of Permanent TSB.

Many of the facts have been put on the record and there is no need for me to repeat them. The Minister of State and his colleagues know the real difficulties faced by families. The Minister of State, Deputy O’Dowd, said he and the Government sympathise with the customers of Permanent TSB. They do not want sympathy as it will not help them to make their mortgage repayments, clothe and feed their children and keep a roof over their heads. What they want is action.

[534]My party is calling on the Government to address the blatant anomaly in the interest rate charged by Permanent TSB to its standard variable rate mortgage customers. The Government should use the same zest and determination in dealing with Permanent TSB now that it showed with AIB last November. All Members should unite tonight behind this motion that sends a clear message to the banks that in their hour of need we came to their rescue with a bank guarantee and recapitalisation, allowing them to serve the needs of the economy. It should not be the other way around. I am calling on the Government to intervene in a proactive way and give the customers of Permanent TSB the relief they deserve. They should not be treated in any way differently to the customers of AIB or any other bank in which this State has a controlling interest.

I commend the motion to the House.

Deputies:  Hear, hear.

Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 42.

 Bannon, James.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Buttimer, Jerry.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Byrne, Eric.  Carey, Joe.
 Coffey, Paudie.  Collins, Áine.
 Conlan, Seán.  Connaughton, Paul J.
 Conway, Ciara.  Coonan, Noel.
 Creed, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deering, Pat.  Doherty, Regina.
 Dowds, Robert.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Farrell, Alan.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Anne.  Fitzpatrick, Peter.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Griffin, Brendan.  Hannigan, Dominic.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Heydon, Martin.  Humphreys, Heather.
 Humphreys, Kevin.  Keating, Derek.
 Keaveney, Colm.  Kelly, Alan.
 Kenny, Seán.  Kyne, Seán.
 Lawlor, Anthony.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  Lyons, John.
 McCarthy, Michael.  McEntee, Shane.
 McFadden, Nicky.  McHugh, Joe.
 McLoughlin, Tony.  Maloney, Eamonn.
 Mathews, Peter.  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
 Mulherin, Michelle.  Murphy, Dara.
 Murphy, Eoghan.  Nash, Gerald.
 Neville, Dan.  Nolan, Derek.
 Nulty, Patrick.  Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Donovan, Patrick.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Reilly, Joe.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Phelan, Ann.  Phelan, John Paul.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Brendan.
 Sherlock, Sean.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Spring, Arthur.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Wall, Jack.  Walsh, Brian.
 White, Alex.  


Níl
 Adams, Gerry.  Boyd Barrett, Richard.
 Browne, John.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Niall.  Colreavy, Michael.
 Crowe, Seán.  Daly, Clare.
 Doherty, Pearse.  Donnelly, Stephen S.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.  Fleming, Tom.
 Grealish, Noel.  Healy, Seamus.
 Healy-Rae, Michael.  Higgins, Joe.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  McConalogue, Charlie.
 McDonald, Mary Lou.  McGrath, Finian.
 McGrath, Mattie.  McGrath, Michael.
 McGuinness, John.  McLellan, Sandra.
 Martin, Micheál.  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 Joe Carey and John Lyons; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Amendment declared carried.

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

The Dáil divided: Tá, 79; Níl, 42.

 Bannon, James.  Broughan, Thomas P.
 Buttimer, Jerry.  Byrne, Catherine.
 Byrne, Eric.  Carey, Joe.
 Coffey, Paudie.  Collins, Áine.
 Conlan, Seán.  Connaughton, Paul J.
 Conway, Ciara.  Coonan, Noel.
 Creed, Michael.  Deasy, John.
 Deering, Pat.  Doherty, Regina.
 Dowds, Robert.  Doyle, Andrew.
 Durkan, Bernard J.  English, Damien.
 Farrell, Alan.  Feighan, Frank.
 Ferris, Anne.  Fitzpatrick, Peter.
 Flanagan, Charles.  Flanagan, Terence.
 Griffin, Brendan.  Hannigan, Dominic.
 Harrington, Noel.  Harris, Simon.
 Hayes, Brian.  Hayes, Tom.
 Heydon, Martin.  Humphreys, Heather.
 Humphreys, Kevin.  Keating, Derek.
 Keaveney, Colm.  Kelly, Alan.
 Kenny, Seán.  Kyne, Seán.
 Lawlor, Anthony.  Lynch, Ciarán.
 Lynch, Kathleen.  Lyons, John.
 McCarthy, Michael.  McEntee, Shane.
 McFadden, Nicky.  McHugh, Joe.
 McLoughlin, Tony.  Maloney, Eamonn.
 Mathews, Peter.  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
 Mulherin, Michelle.  Murphy, Dara.
 Murphy, Eoghan.  Nash, Gerald.
 Neville, Dan.  Nolan, Derek.
 Nulty, Patrick.  Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
 O’Donnell, Kieran.  O’Donovan, Patrick.
 O’Dowd, Fergus.  O’Mahony, John.
 O’Reilly, Joe.  O’Sullivan, Jan.
 Phelan, Ann.  Phelan, John Paul.
 Ring, Michael.  Ryan, Brendan.
 Sherlock, Sean.  Shortall, Róisín.
 Spring, Arthur.  Stanton, David.
 Timmins, Billy.  Tuffy, Joanna.
 Wall, Jack.  Walsh, Brian.
 White, Alex.  


Níl
 Adams, Gerry.  Boyd Barrett, Richard.
 Browne, John.  Calleary, Dara.
 Collins, Niall.  Colreavy, Michael.
 Crowe, Seán.  Daly, Clare.
 Doherty, Pearse.  Donnelly, Stephen S.
 Dooley, Timmy.  Ferris, Martin.
 Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’.  Fleming, Tom.
 Grealish, Noel.  Healy, Seamus.
 Healy-Rae, Michael.  Higgins, Joe.
 Kelleher, Billy.  Kirk, Seamus.
 Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.  Martin, Micheál.
 McConalogue, Charlie.  McDonald, Mary Lou.
 McGrath, Finian.  McGrath, Mattie.
 McGrath, Michael.  McGuinness, John.
 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 Joe Carey and John Lyons; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Seán Ó Fearghaíl.

Question declared carried.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 15 March 2012.

————————

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

————————

Questions Nos. 1-11, inclusive, answered orally.

  12.  Deputy Derek Keating    asked the Minister for Defence    his views on developing a community-based Reserve Defence Force service; if he will consider lowering the age from 17 years to 15 years and work with local youth services and youth leaders to make available the experienced services of the Equestrian School, the Naval School, the Military Cadet School, the Air Corps School, the Engineering School and the Infantry Divisions throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14023/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Defence Forces comprise both the Permanent Defence Force and the Reserve Defence Force. The primary role of the Reserve Defence Force is to provide a capacity to augment the Permanent Defence Force, the State’s regular force, in the event of a major crisis. In this context, members of the Reserve Defence Force may be called out on permanent service or in aid to the civil power, in accordance with the provisions of the Defence Acts 1954-2011. Accordingly, the minimum recruitment age to the Army Reserve and Naval Service Reserve is 17 years and there are no plans to revise this downwards. Arising from the Government’s Comprehensive Review of Expenditure, the strength ceiling of the PDF was reduced to 9,500 personnel and the Defence budget was further reduced. In response to the reduced strength ceiling, I initiated a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces, both permanent and reserve. This is to ensure that, within the reduced personnel numbers, the operational outputs of the Permanent Defence Force are prioritised and that the organisational structures of the Reserve Defence Force dovetail with those of the PDF.

Given the reductions in strength and resources, there is limited scope to broadly engage the Defence Forces in community based activities. However, the Defence Forces will continue to provide support to communities, within the available resources and subject to operational imperatives.

  13.  Deputy Patrick Nulty    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of members of the [538]Irish Defence Forces currently serving in Afghanistan; the cost to the Exchequer of this deployment; if a timetable exists for the withdrawal of these members of the Defence Forces currently serving in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14012/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Defence Forces are primarily deployed on overseas missions in support of international peace and security under UN mandates. On 20 December 2001, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1386 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, authorising the establishment of an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. Ireland has participated in the NATO-led UN mandated mission since 5 July 2002, following the Government Decision of 2 July 2002, authorising the provision of seven (7) members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with the force. With the increasing use of more robust Chapter VII missions, the UN has turned to regional organisations such as the European Union, the African Union and NATO, to launch and manage operations on its behalf and under its authority.

Since 2002, the Government has reviewed and approved, on an annual basis, the continued participation by seven (7) members of the Permanent Defence Force in ISAF. On 28 June 2011, the Government agreed to continue to provide seven members of the Permanent Defence Force for service with ISAF for a further period from July 2011, subject to ongoing ministerial review. Currently there are no plans to withdraw the Defence Forces personnel from the mission. Participation in the mission is subject to ongoing ministerial review.

The annual additional cost to the Defence Vote arising from participation by the Defence Forces in ISAF is approximately €320,000.

Throughout the years, Ireland has and continues to contribute highly qualified Defence Forces personnel to UN mandated missions in small numbers or for short durations. This is a tangible and visible expression of Ireland’s continued support for organisations such as the United Nations and the European Union.

The seven Defence Forces personnel currently participating in ISAF are all located in ISAF HQ, Kabul and work in staff appointments in planning and administrative roles. I am satisfied that the work carried out by these personnel, particularly by those in the Counter Improvised Explosive Device (C-IED) cell, represents an important contribution to this UN mandated mission.

  14.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Defence    the military properties he intends to sell in the future. [14021/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Defence property portfolio is kept under review to ensure the most effective use of military resources having regard to the roles assigned by Government to the Defence Forces. As the Deputy is aware, on 15th November 2011, the Government approved a proposal from me to proceed with a further phase of consolidation of Defence Forces personnel into fewer locations with the closure of four barracks, Clonmel, Mullingar, Cavan and Castlebar. The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective in the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports over the past number of years. This was a key consideration of Government in addressing this issue as releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained notwithstanding the fall in strength. This latest phase of consolidation will bring to fourteen the number of military barracks closed since 1998. A number of other smaller properties have [539]also been identified as surplus to military requirements. Some of these have already been disposed of whilst others are in the process of being prepared for disposal. These mainly consist of married quarters and Reserve Defence Force premises. I can confirm that no further barracks closures are envisaged at this time.

  15.  Deputy Brian Stanley    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will provide an update on any recent discussions he has had with Defence Forces representative organisations. [14018/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The most recent discussions I had with Defence Forces representative associations was on December the 12th last when he met with both the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) and the Permanent Defence Force Other Ranks Representative Association (PDFORRA) at separate meetings. At these meetings on the 12th of December the Representative Associations raised a number of issues of concern to their members, these included barracks closures, promotion, recruitment and the reorganisation of the Defence Forces. At these meetings I outlined the very difficult decisions facing the Government in the context of the extremely adverse economic and financial environment facing the country. I assured the Representative Associations that he was committed to maintaining the essential capabilities of the Defence Forces within the resource envelope available and acknowledged their contribution to secure economic recovery and renewal under the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014.

I am satisfied that there are sufficient and robust systems in place within the Defence Organisation to ensure that issues of concern to members of the Defence Forces are brought to his attention, as appropriate.

  16.  Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn    asked the Minister for Defence    the persons who will be responsible for negotiating recoupment of the cost to the State of deploying members of the Defence Forces on an EU mission through participation in the Austro-German battlegroup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14016/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  In 2010 the Government approved Ireland’s participation in the Austro-German Battlegroup, which will be on stand-by for the second six months of 2012. The other members of the Austro-German Battlegroup are Austria, Germany, Czech Republic, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM). Each country contributing to this or any other Battlegroup pays its own costs. However, there are certain common costs, for EU missions including Battlegroups, which are financed by the ATHENA mechanism. ATHENA is the mechanism which administers the financing of common costs of EU operations having military or defence implications, on behalf of EU Member States contributing to the financing of EU military operations. These costs can include transport, infrastructure, and medical services, as well as the Nation Borne Costs, which include lodging, fuel, and similar costs linked to the national contingents.

During the Polish Presidency, a detailed review of the ATHENA Mechanism was completed which resulted in a new Council Decision on ATHENA on 19 December 2011. A Council Declaration on common funding for Battlegroup deployment was also agreed which allows for the transport costs of the deployment of a Battlegroup to be paid for through the ATHENA mechanism. This will enable Member States contributing to an EU Battlegroup that is deployed to receive recoupment of these costs instead of funding the costs themselves.

[540]In the event that Ireland participates in the deployment of a Battlegroup, officials in the Department of Defence will be responsible for recouping the costs from ATHENA.

However, to date no battlegroup has deployed so the recouping of costs does not arise.

Question No. 17 answered with Question No. 9.

  18.  Deputy David Stanton    asked the Minister for Defence,    further to his announcement last year regarding Reserve Defence Forces promotions, the number of officer-level promotions he expects to be announced this year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14294/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  In considering the issue of promotions for the Reserve Defence Force I was mindful of the fact that a Value for Money Review of the Reserve is ongoing. Additionally I had to have regard to the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure which was underway at the time and which placed a requirement on Government Departments to identify opportunities for savings across all aspects of business. In October 2011, I agreed to sanction limited promotions within the Reserve Defence Force to bring the current strength in all ranks to 70% of the established strength in each rank as provided for in Defence Force Regulations CS 4. In the case of promotions from Private to Corporal, the sanction provided that promotions could be made which brought strength to 60% of the established strength as provided for in Defence Force Regulations CS 4. I also indicated that any ranks where the strength was at or above 70% (or 60% in the case of Corporal Rank) would not be considered for promotion.

The position agreed by me in October last remains in place. While it is not possible to put a figure on the actual number of promotions which will take place this year at officer level, in those ranks where strengths fall below 70% of the strength provided for that rank, promotions may take place to bring the officer numbers in the rank to 70% of the rank as provided for in Defence Force Regulations CS 4.

The table below shows the established strength of the officer corps of the Reserve Defence Force, the actual strength of the officer corps at 31 January 2012, the latest date for which figures are available, and the number of promotions required to bring each rank to 70% of its established strength at that point in time.

Lt Col Comdt Capt Lt Total Officers
RDF Established Strength 4 138 319 278 739
RDF Strength as of 31 Jan 2012 2 83 186 292 563
% of strength at 31 Jan 2012 v Established Strength 50% 60% 58% 105% 79%
70% of established strength 3 97 223 194
Actual No. of Promotions to level of 70% 1 14 (plus a further 1 consequential promotions) 37 (plus a further 15 consequential promotions) Nil

The total number of promotions required at officer level to bring those ranks to 70% of established strength is 68.

  19.  Deputy Sandra McLellan    asked the Minister for Defence    his plans for the Irish Red Cross; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14022/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Programme for Government provides for the initiation of a detailed legal review of the basis, structures and governance of the Red Cross in Ireland to improve its functioning in the light of changing circumstances. Work has commenced in the Department of Defence in this regard and the Heads of the Bill should be ready for publication later this year. In addition, officials from the Department and the Office of the Attorney General have now finalised the text of a proposed Government Order that will amend the Irish Red Cross Society Order 1939. The proposed amendments are the most wide ranging and fundamental set of changes to have occurred since the Irish Red Cross Society was established in 1939. These changes seek to provide corporate governance arrangements that will bring the Society into the 21st century and which will ensure compliance with a resolution that was passed in November 2007 by the Council of Delegates of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which urged all National Societies to examine and update their Statutes — the rules of the National Societies — and related legal texts by 2010.

Amongst the key changes proposed in the Amendment Order, which will be brought to Government very shortly, is provision for the Chairperson to be elected by the Society’s General Assembly in accordance with the rules of the Society. To date, the Chairperson has always been appointed by the President, on the nomination of the Government. Also, changes are to be made to the composition of the Society’s governing body, its General Assembly, whereby not more than 10% of its membership can be nominated by Government — the current position is that not less than one-third is nominated by Government.

Furthermore, provision has been made in the rules of the Society that a member of the Board of Directors must stand down for one full three year term once they have served on the Board for two consecutive three year terms.

These changes to the Constitution and Rules of the Society have been fully endorsed by the “Joint Statutes Commission” of the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Crescent Societies. Last year, the Head of Governance Support at the International Federation wrote to the Irish Red Cross congratulating the Society “for its continued efforts in revising its legal base” and, more recently, has confirmed in writing that the changes that the Society has made are in conformity with the requirements of its ‘Guidance for National Societies Statutes’. Furthermore, Dóchas (the umbrella body for Irish Development NGOs) has confirmed that the Society’s Governance Framework is consistent with its Code of Corporate Governance.

I believe there is quite clearly a very strong process of reform under way at the Irish Red Cross Society and I am very supportive of the substantial efforts that it continues to make in bringing about real and meaningful reform, particularly in the areas of financial control and corporate governance. The proposed Amendment Order and the changes recently made to the Society’s Constitution and Rules represent very important steps in this continuing process.

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 7.

  21.  Deputy Clare Daly    asked the Minister for Defence    the rationale behind closing Kickham Barracks in the context of remarks made by a spokesperson in relation to the importance of Kilkenny Barracks remaining open. [14027/12]

[542]Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  As I have previously outlined to the House the consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective in the ongoing defence modernisation programme and has been recommended in many reports over the past number of years. This was a key consideration of Government in addressing this issue as releasing personnel from security and support functions enables the operational capacity of the Defence Forces to be maintained notwithstanding the fall in strength.

As with previous rounds of consolidation under the Defence Forces modernisation programme any barracks, once vacated, will be disposed of with the proceeds being used to fund the upgrading of Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure. Since the announcement of the Government decision on barrack closures the Department of Defence has written to each Government Department and various agencies and local authorities seeking expressions of interest in acquiring any of the properties to benefit the local community as a whole but with particular emphasis on job creation measures.

There have been preliminary discussions between officials of the Department and some other State agencies in relation to Kickham Barracks Clonmel but these discussions are at early stages. I can assure the Deputy that every effort will be made to dispose of the barracks so as to maximise the benefits to the local community.

  22.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of staff within the engineering corps of the Permanent Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14024/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I am advised by the Military Authorities that the number of personnel in the Permanent Defence Force Corps of Engineers was 298 on 29 February, the latest date for which figures are available. The distribution of these personnel is contained in the following table:

UNIT NO. OF PERS
1 FD ENG COY 72
1 LOGS SP BN 4
1 S BDE — HQ 1
1 S BDE RDF — HQ 1
104 INF BN UNIFIL (OFFICERS) 3
2 E BDE — HQ 1
2 FD ENG COY 59
2 LOGS SP BN 3
31 RES FD ENGR COY 3
4 FD ENGR COY 69
4 LOGS SP BN 2
4 W BDE — HQ 1
54 RES FD ENGR COY 3
62 RES FD ENGR COY 2
ARW 1
CSC 13
D COS (SP) — COE SEC 8
LBC 48
MIL COL 1
AIR CORPS 1
NAVAL SERVICE 1
SSU 1
Total 298

The Corps of Engineers provides engineering and combat support to the Defence Forces in operations at home and abroad. The Corps also provides education and training for operations at home and abroad.

  23.  Deputy Brian Stanley    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of complaints of bullying in the Defence Forces that have been lodged in each of the past five years; the number of these complaints that were withdrawn; and the number of these complaints that resulted in disciplinary action. [14017/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  In the period since 2007, 25 complaints relating to bullying have been made through the Redress of Wrongs process. Of these:

7 were withdrawn by the complainants

7 were ruled on by the Minister for Defence

4 are currently with the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces

7 are resting with the complainants.

The Defence Forces have no record of any disciplinary action being taken as a result of any of these complaints.

The Deputy may wish to note that ‘A’ Admin instruction Chapter 1 — Interpersonal Relationships in the Defence Forces, allows for issues relating to bullying to be dealt with in an informal manner and is guided by the principles of the Defence Forces Dignity Charter and Defence Forces policy. The informal nature of these procedures means that there are no centrally maintained records of the number of instances of these types of complaints in the Defence Forces, which are separate from the Redress of Wrongs process.

Bullying behaviour is not tolerated within the Defence Forces. Every member of the Defence Forces has a role to play in ensuring that the crucial issue of bullying behaviour in the workplace is kept to the forefront in the activities and procedures of the Defence Forces.

The development and maintenance of a positive and supportive work environment is a key objective of the Defence Forces management. The Defence Forces have made great strides in that regard over the past ten years. In 2002 the Independent Monitoring Group was established to oversee the implementation of recommendations arising from the Doyle Report “The Challenge of a Workplace”. To date the Independent Monitoring Group has produced two detailed reports and good progress has been made with regard to implementing the recommendations contained therein. The most recent report of the Group which was produced in 2008 confirmed that the culture of the Defence Forces organisation is evolving positively and noted that the recorded number of incidents of unacceptable behaviour is low.

[544]My colleague the Minister for Defence is satisfied that the Defence Forces are on the right path and are to be commended for the major progress achieved to date. The Minister is confident that this process will be further advanced and consolidated in the coming years.

  24.  Deputy Denis Naughten    asked the Minister for Defence    his future plans for Custume Barracks in Athlone, County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14025/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  As the Deputy is aware Custume Barracks Athlone is the headquarters of 4 Western Brigade. The barracks continues to function as an operational military installation and will shortly provide accommodation for personnel relocating from O’Neill Barracks Cavan and Columb Barracks Mullingar following their closure at the end of March. There are no plans to close Custume Barracks.

  25.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Defence    if litigation has commenced against the Defence Forces relating to the use of Lariam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14020/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I wish to advise the Deputy that personal injury claims arising from the prescription of Lariam (an anti-malaria chemoprophylaxis) by the Defence Forces’ Medical Corps are managed by the State Claims Agency in conjunction with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office. To date, High Court legal proceedings have been served in respect of four Plaintiffs. Legal proceedings have issued but not yet served in one other case.

  26.  Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn    asked the Minister for Defence    the State’s role or interactions with the European Defence Agency. [14015/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The European Defence Agency (EDA) was established under a Joint Action of the Council of Ministers on 12 July, 2004. Following Government approval, Ireland joined the European Defence Agency (EDA) when it was established during the Irish Presidency in 2004. Ireland participates in the framework of the Agency and I represent Ireland on the EDA Steering Board along with Defence Ministers of all participating EU Member States.

The primary reason for Ireland’s interaction and participation in the European Defence Agency is to support the development of Defence Forces capabilities for crisis management and international Peace Support Operations. Since its inception, the Agency has made significant progress on many military capability projects and programmes in support of EU crisis management.

As part of the EDA’s annual work programme, Ireland participates in project teams and working groups engaged in the ongoing work in various capability development areas that will be of benefit to the Defence Forces. For example improved communication and network systems for use on the ground in operations; health and medical support for military operations, and the development of improved Counter-IED (Improvised Explosive Devices) capability to enable military forces operate safely in an environment where such devices are present. From [545]their experience in dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices, the Defence Forces provide technical advice and support to the Agency.

The four main initiatives that Ireland is currently involved in are:

the Joint Investment Programme on Force Protection (JIP-FP) which was launched by the Agency in 2007.

the Maritime Surveillance Project launched in 2011.

the Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear protection project launched in 2011.

Ireland has taken a lead role in a Naval Training study, involving a group of eleven Member States, launched in 2012.

In 2007 Ireland joined the Joint Investment Programme on Force Protection. The Programme covers 18 specific research and technology goals under 5 capability areas. An Irish Company was successful in two bids by a consortium and secured contracts to the value of €750,000. All of the studies in this programme will be completed in the coming year.

The Maritime Surveillance project involves a group of interested Member States joining together to further develop a Recognised Maritime Picture (RMP) exchange network. An RMP is a picture or map that shows all vessels and activities that are present in a particular maritime area. It links to national and international data and information on vessels, the marine environment, infrastructure etc. that has been compiled from various monitoring and surveillance systems.

In order to improve and enhance CBRN capabilities Ireland has joined a Joint Investment Programme on CBRN. The scope of the programme ranges from the identification of emerging technology to CBRN protection as an operational capability, aimed at developing detection, identification, decontamination and medical countermeasures. The programme will involve research, technology development and demonstration activities.

In January this year, a proposal presented by Ireland was accepted by the European Defence Agency, whereby Ireland will lead a study on Naval Mariner training. The objective of the study is to review and evaluate what training is currently available across the Union with a view to consolidating EU capabilities in this area and deliver value for money training for our naval mariners.

In conclusion, Ireland’s interaction and participation in the European Defence Agency means that we have access to research and information on developing and maintaining professional capabilities and research that we cannot self generate for crisis management and international Peace Support Operations. It also allows us to keep abreast of best practice and new developments in the defence environment particularly as it impacts on multinational crisis management operations.

  27.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Defence    the amount of money awarded in compensation for injuries or accidents involving military vehicles during 2011. [14019/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I wish to advise the Deputy that the State Claims Agency deals with all claims arising from accidents involving Defence Forces vehicles since November 2011. Previously, the Agency dealt with claims that occurred in Ireland only. The Agency has advised that €310,428 was awarded in 2011 as compensation in respect of 34 [546]injuries or accidents involving military vehicles. The Chief State Solicitor’s Office managed claims arising from overseas accidents involving Defence Forces vehicles up to November 2011. €49,431 was awarded in 2011 as compensation in respect of 2 claims managed by the Chief State Solicitor’s Office in respect of injuries or accidents involving military vehicles overseas.

The States Claims Agency works with the Defence Forces on an ongoing basis in order to identify and obviate, if possible, any risk of injury to civilians and Defence Forces personnel.

  28.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the method of disposal or alternative use to which military installations closed or decommissioned in 1998 have been put in the interim; if still in public ownership, if they have been disposed of by way of sale or otherwise; the extent to which any such receipts have gone to the upgrading of military facilities or establishments; his intentions for the alternative use or disposal of any such installations closed or scheduled for closure in the context of the McCarthy report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14292/12]

  150.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which he expects to dispose of military installations decommissioned or closed arising from the McCarthy report; the use to which any such funds are likely to be put; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14536/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 150 together.

On 15 July 1998 the then Government approved a programme of the closure and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question were located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Naas, Castleblayney, Kildare, and Islandbridge, Dublin.The sale of 97 acres approximately at Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig was completed in 2003 for a total of €42 million. The bulk of the lands were purchased by O’Flynn Construction. The sale of a site comprising c. 2.7 acres to the Southern Health Board for €1.73 million was completed in December 2004 and the sale of a further site comprising c.1.7 acres to the HSE South for a consideration of €1.1 million approximately was completed shortly thereafter. A half-acre site is being transferred to the Office of Public Works (OPW) for a consideration of €1.45 million to facilitate extension of the existing Garda Station located on Main Street, Ballincollig. As was agreed at the time of the closure and sale of Murphy Barracks, an area comprising approximately 27 acres of the property was transferred to Cork County Council for community use.

An area comprising 19 acres approximately at the former Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy, was sold to Cork County Council in 2001 for close to €1 million for economic development of the site in conjunction with the IDA.

Castleblayney Military Post, Co. Monaghan, comprising c. 10 acres, was sold to the North Eastern Health Board for €0.8 million approximately in 2002.

An area comprising 7 acres approximately at Devoy Barracks, Naas, Co. Kildare, was ceded free of charge to Naas Urban District Council, while a further 14 acres were sold to that authority for €8.9 million approximately. The balance of the Barracks lands — one acre — was sold to Kildare County Council for approximately €0.4 million in 2002. Lifford Military Post and St. Bricin’s Hospital Dublin was announced.

The sale of Monaghan to the local VEC for €3.1m was completed on 24 August 2010 while the sale of part of Longford to the VEC for €0.95m was completed on 16 July 2010. The [547]position with Lifford and Rockhill is that agreement has been reached with Donegal County Council on the basis of them acquiring both premises over a 3-4 year period. Agreement has also been reached with Longford County Council for their acquisition of the remaining part of Connolly Barracks in Longford.

The closure of St Bricin’s Hospital was linked to the decentralisation programme. It cannot be progressed until issues arising from the cancellation of the transfer under that programme, of Defence Forces Headquarters to the Curragh, have been addressed.

The total realised to-date in terms of sales of surplus property is €84m approx. This, together with income from the sale of other smaller military properties and married quarters has been re-invested in providing equipment and infrastructure for the Defence Forces.

  29.  Deputy Jonathan O’Brien    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of times the explosive ordnance disposal teams have been deployed in the past three years. [14013/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The number of times that Defence Forces Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) teams have been deployed in the past three years is set out in the tabular statement below:

Year: Callouts:
2009 196
2010 198
2011 237
2012 to date 38

  30.  Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin    asked the Minister for Defence    if he has considered the request from the Irish Soldiers Pardons Campaign to pardon Irish Defence Forces personnel who fought for the British Army during the Second World War; his plans regarding this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13483/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Deputy will appreciate that this is a very complicated issue and covers a wider range of individuals 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, I referred the matter to the Attorney General’s Office for advice. The matter required some further research by that office and detailed consideration of the wider implications of any proposed course of action. I recently received the advice of the Attorney General and as part of my consideration I am engaged in further contact with the Attorney General’s Office. Once the legal considerations have been fully examined, I expect to make an early decision in the matter.

  31.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, [548]with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14519/12]

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore):  My Department pays the rent on one office space which it occupies in Dublin, the ground floor of Findlater House, 27 -31 Upper O’Connell Street, Dublin 1. This property is leased by the Office of Public Works (OPW) on behalf of my Department. Consequently, all matters in relation to the lease are negotiated by the OPW. The rental costs were €417,450 in 2011. The space serves as a public office and volunteer centre for Irish Aid. Lease and rental commitments relating to all other properties in the State occupied by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are discharged by the Office of Public Works.

  32.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    if he will consider having a consumer awareness campaign to inform consumers of the consequences of buying illegal cigarettes in that the people who are involved in this activity are also involved in prostitution rings and other forms of criminal activity. [14378/12]

  33.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the fact the average fine for smuggling tobacco into Ireland is €1,726, whereas if a shopkeeper inadvertently sells tobacco to a minor the fine is €3,000 and they will be debarred from selling tobacco for three months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14379/12]

  34.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance why, out of 57 convictions for    the smuggling of cigarettes into this country, only six custodial sentences were imposed and 15 were suspended; and if he will introduce legislation which will ensure a statutory length of time, such as five years in prison, for the illegal smuggling of cigarettes into our country. [14380/12]

  35.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance why, out of 31 convictions for illegal selling of unstamped tobacco products,    the average fine was €2,803, in view of the fact that if a shop owner inadvertently sells tobacco to an underage person they must pay a fine of €3,000 and will be debarred from selling cigarette for three months; his views on whether a larger, standardised fine for the illegal selling of unstamped tobacco products would be more sensible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14381/12]

  38.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since he increased the cost of tobacco, persons selling illegal cigarettes on our streets have actually increased their prices from €4 to €4.50; his views that this makes a mockery of his policy of trying to price cigarette products out of existence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14383/12]

  41.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on the fact that in the Ukraine 20 cigarettes cost €1.05, while in Ireland a pack of cigarettes is €9.10; his views on whether the policy of taxation on cigarettes does not stop persons from smoking cigarettes but encourages smuggling; in view of fact that €500 million is being lost in taxes and VAT every year, if he will consider reducing the cost of cigarettes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14507/12]

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  42.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on whether practical and sensible legislation should be introduced with regard to the illegal importation of tobacco products, and that this should be done so as not to exacerbate the problem of the illicit tobacco trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14508/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive, and 38, 41 and 42 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners who are responsible for tackling the illicit trade in cigarettes and tobacco products that they attach a high priority to combating tobacco smuggling and have adopted a comprehensive strategy, underpinned by annual action plans, for this important work. This 3-year (2011-2013) strategy, which is published on Revenue’s website www.revenue.ie, includes a number of programmes, which are designed to complement each other in targeting the supply and demand sides of the market for contraband tobacco in Ireland. Key elements of this strategy include developing and sharing intelligence on a national, EU and international basis, development of analytics and detection technologies, and ensuring optimum deployment of resources at point of importation and within the country, in order to intercept the contraband product and to prosecute those involved.

One of the strategic actions in this strategy is to reduce the demand for contraband tobacco by educating the public on the negative aspects of contraband i.e. tax loss, criminality and increased health risks. Revenue optimizes media coverage for prosecutions, significant seizures and enforcement activities. Where large seizures are made, Revenue takes the opportunity to encourage members of the public to provide information to Revenue on the sale of illicit tobacco products.

I am informed that the penalties for the smuggling of tobacco products are contained in Section 119 of the Finance Act 2001 as amended and that the penalties for the illegal sale of unstamped tobacco products are contained in section 78 of the Finance Act 2005, as amended.

Where a conviction for an offence under section 119 of the Finance Act 2001 occurs following a summary prosecution, the fine that may be imposed is €5,000. A Court may also impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months, either instead of or in addition to the fine. For convictions following prosecution on indictment, the applicable fine is an amount not exceeding €126,970 or, where the value of the tobacco products concerned is greater than €250,000, not exceeding three times the value of the products. The Court may also impose a term of imprisonment not exceeding 5 years, as an alternative, or in addition, to the fine.

Where a conviction for an offence under section 78 of the Finance Act 2005 occurs a Court may, following a summary conviction, impose a fine of €5,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months, or both. The penalty following conviction on indictment is a fine not exceeding €126,970 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or both a fine and imprisonment.

The specific penalty to be imposed in any particular case is a matter for the Courts. Section 130(2) of the Finance Act, 2001 permits a trial judge, in his or her discretion, to mitigate a fine incurred for an offence under excise law, provided that the amount so mitigated is not greater than 50% of the amount of the fine.

In relation to the sale of tobacco to an underage person, Section 5(2) of the Public Health (Tobacco) Act, 2002, provides that a person guilty of an offence under Section 45(1) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months, or to both. In proceedings for such an offence it shall be a defence for the person against whom such proceedings are brought to prove that:

[550]

he or she made all reasonable efforts to satisfy himself or herself that the person to whom the alleged offence relates had at the time of the alleged commission of the offence attained the age of 18 years, or

that the underage person produced to them an age card, for the time being in force.

In addition, following the Public Health (Tobacco) (Amendment) Act 2009, the Court shall, in addition to any fine or term of imprisonment imposed by the court in certain circumstances, order that the registration of the person shall cease to have effect:

in the case of a summary conviction of the offence, for such period as is specified in the order not exceeding 3 months, or

in the case of a conviction on indictment of the offence, for such period as is specified in the order not exceeding 12 months.

The specific penalties for shopkeepers selling tobacco to underage persons are a matter for the Department of Health.

In 2011, 103 convictions were secured by the Revenue Commissioners via the Courts for cigarette smuggling. Custodial sentences were imposed in 31 of these cases, 21 of which were suspended. The jail sentences ranged from 1 month to 12 months imprisonment. Community Service Orders were imposed in 8 cases totalling 590 hours.

Also in 2011, 57 convictions were secured by the Revenue Commissioners via the Courts for illegal selling of unstamped tobacco products. Custodial sentences were imposed in 14 of these cases, 7 of which were suspended. The jail sentences ranged from 4 months to 24 months imprisonment. Community Service Orders were imposed in 2 cases totalling 140 hours.

In relation to the Deputy’s questions concerning the level of tobacco taxation, Ireland has the dearest cigarettes, and the highest cigarette taxation, in the EU. This reflects the long-standing commitment by successive Governments to using taxation as a central part of the overall strategy for discouraging smoking. The increase of 25 cent, inclusive of VAT, on a pack of cigarettes that was introduced in the last Budget is in line with that policy, and there are no proposals to reduce the tax.

The high price and tax levels make Ireland an attractive location for cigarette smugglers. I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that surveys undertaken in 2009 and 2010 estimated that 20% of the cigarettes consumed in the State had not been taxed in this jurisdiction, and that this broke down between 14% illicit product and 6% legally imported by passengers arriving into the State. Based on the estimate of 14%, the loss of excise duty and VAT to the Exchequer from illicit cigarette consumption in 2011 would be in the region of €250 million. A further survey is currently underway.

With regard to the level of penalties for illicit importation and sale of tobacco products, the threat to tax revenues from criminal activity in the cigarette market is viewed very seriously, and substantially increased penalties were introduced in the Finance Act 2010 as a deterrent. The need for further changes will be kept under review, taking account, among other considerations, of practical experience of the operation of the increased fines.

  36.  Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin    asked the Minister for Finance    when the proposed legislation [551]to extend the betting duty regime will come before Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14495/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The Finance Act 2011 provides for the taxation of bets that remote bookmakers enter into with persons in the State. This means, for example, that a business which engages in online bookmaking and which accepts bets from people in this country will be liable for betting duty on those bets, irrespective of where that business is based. The existing betting duty (1%) will be applied to such bets. The Finance Act also provides for the taxation of Betting Exchanges under the new arrangements; however the calculation of the tax will take account of their particular business model, in other words a tax on the commission charged. In addition, excise duties are being applied to the granting and renewal of remote bookmakers’ and remote betting intermediaries’ licences. The proposed Betting (Amendment) Bill, which is being drafted at present, will establish the regulatory framework for these licences. The tax changes provided for in the Finance Act can only be implemented once the Betting (Amendment) Bill is enacted. This Bill is well advanced and it is hoped that it will be published in the second quarter of this year.

  37.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Finance    if a person (details supplied) in County Kildare may be eligible for mortgage interest relief due to unavoidable circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14365/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the person in question is currently and has been receiving the maximum amount of mortgage interest relief payable in respect of his qualifying home loan. Accordingly, he does not have an entitlement to additional tax relief on a home improvement loan.

Question No. 38 answered with Question No. 32.

  39.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for Finance    if the deficit in the AIB pension fund will affect the ability of the bank to achieve the announced number of voluntary redundancies; the correspondence his officials have had with both AIB management and the AIB pension fund trustees on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14405/12]

  43.  Deputy Kevin Humphreys    asked the Minister for Finance    the current state of the pension fund or trust in AIB; if it is currently in surplus or deficit and by what amount; the type of schemes it operates; if it has the ability to absorb the required number of early retirements and announced redundancies; if the State will be exposed to any liability or deficit in the fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14510/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 43 together.

The Deputy will be aware that AIB, as part of its announcement of 8th March 2012 of a voluntary severance programme, stated “as required under the bank’s partnership principles with IBOA, a consultation process will begin immediately with trade union representatives.” It went on to state that “AIB will not be making any further public comment until the consultation process with staff representatives is concluded.” Accordingly, the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the issues raised by him in his questions. [552] Any issues concerning the AIB pension fund will have to comply with any relevant regulatory and legal requirements.

I am informed by AIB that the occupational pension schemes operated by them are a mixture of defined benefit and defined contribution schemes with the relevant pension benefit being in the main determined, for the most part, by when a member joined the respective scheme.

  40.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding electronic payments and a way to reduce costs for small business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14469/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  Each credit institution wishing to impose a new non-interest charge or increase an existing charge is required to notify this charge to the Central Bank under section 149 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 (as amended). Each notification is assessed in accordance with the criteria laid down in the legislation as follows:

promotion of fair competition;

the commercial justification submitted in respect of the proposal; and

the effect on customers or a group of customers.

The Central Bank has confirmed to me that the charges referred to in the details supplied to this question have been approved by the Bank in accordance with the provisions of the Consumer Credit Act.

As I have no statutory function in relation to such charges, it would not be appropriate for me to comment further on the details supplied which, subject to their approval by the Central Bank, are a commercial matter for the institution in question.

Notwithstanding the particular circumstances referred to in the question, Government policy is to promote the increased use of electronic methods of payments throughout the economy. Ireland continues to lag significantly behind our European peers in the use of cheaper, more efficient electronic payment instruments. This is not only a competitiveness issue for Ireland, but our dependence on paper-based payments has social costs and also has implications for consumer choice and for financial inclusion. In addition, it has the potential to significantly impede Ireland’s ability to take advantage of the foreign direct investment and indigenous growth opportunities that are likely to materialise from the advent of new technologies and from recent changes in the EU regulatory framework for payments.

In June of last year, I asked the Central Bank to develop a National Payments Plan, for Government consideration and approval, to achieve a decisive shift towards the greater use of electronic payments. The Central Bank has commenced its work in this regard and has convened a high level steering group to oversee this work, comprising representatives of consumers, businesses, the banking sector and the public sector. The Bank has engaged in a process of consultation with a broad range of stakeholders as well as undertaking the research that will be required to underpin a National Payments Plan. I am informed by the Bank that it expects to submit a draft National Payments Plan to me before the end of this year.

Questions Nos. 41 and 42 answered with Question No. 32.

Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 39.

  44.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Finance    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are not used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14518/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  The Office of Public Works is involved in most purchases and leasing of buildings by the State including buildings leased by my Department. In relation to any property occupied by the Department of Finance, this Department would always consult with the OPW before any agreements are entered into with landlords. This question has been put down to all Departments, so the reply from the OPW will include any buildings, rented by them, which are utilized by the Department of Finance.

  45.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Finance    his views on a submission (details supplied); the plans he has to address the issues raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14527/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  It was announced in Budget 2011 that the necessary arrangements are being made to ensure that bets placed on the internet by domestic punters are subject to the same level of betting duty as applies to high street betting shops. This will serve to broaden the tax base and increase betting duty receipts. The Finance Act 2011 provides for the taxation of bets that remote bookmakers enter into with persons in the State. This means, for example, that a business which engages in online bookmaking and which accepts bets from people in this country will be liable for betting duty on those bets, irrespective of where that business is based. The existing betting duty (1%) will be applied to such bets. The Finance Act also provides for the taxation of Betting Exchanges under the new arrangements; however the calculation of the tax will take account of their particular business model, in other words a tax on the commission charged. In addition, excise duties are being applied to the granting and renewal of remote bookmakers’ and remote betting intermediaries’ licences.

The proposed Betting (Amendment) Bill, which is being drafted at present, will establish the regulatory framework for these licences. The tax changes provided for in the Finance Act can only be implemented once the Betting (Amendment) Bill is enacted. This Bill is well advanced and it is hoped that it will be published in the second quarter of this year. I am hopeful that by including the high-growth area of the betting sector the tax base from betting will be boosted significantly. In addition, this measure conveys a positive signal to international betting operations that have expressed an interest in or have already invested in Ireland. A location with an appropriate licensing regime coupled with relatively low taxes provides real investment and employment opportunities in this sector, which ultimately can potentially be beneficial to all concerned.

  46.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Finance    the total drawdown of new loans by small and medium-sized enterprises in 2011 compared with 2010 from the two pillar banks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14574/12]

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  47.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for Finance    the total drawdown of new loans by small and medium enterprises from all credit institutions here in 2011 compared with 2010; if there are any plans to set targets for drawdown as opposed to approval of loans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14575/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 47 together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Government has imposed lending targets on the two domestic pillar banks for the three calendar years, 2011 to 2013. Both banks were required to sanction lending of at least €3 billion in 2011, €3.5 billion this year and €4 billion in 2013 for new or increased credit facilities to SMEs. I can confirm to the Deputy that both banks have achieved their 2011 targets.

I should stress that the targets are for approvals of credit. Targets have not been imposed for drawdowns and I have no plans to introduce such targets at this time. I would point out that the drawdown of funding is at the discretion of the borrower. There are many factors affecting whether or not funding is drawn down, such as changes in market conditions or company restructuring. The recent Mazars Survey of SME Lending, conducted on behalf of my Department, found that the most frequently cited reason for not availing of approved credit was ‘not needed at present time’. The two pillar banks have provided me with the relevant data on drawdowns but as this material is commercially sensitive I cannot share it with the Deputy. However, the Deputy may wish to note that the Central Bank gathers and collates statistics on a wide range of Financial Services Sector activities on an on-going basis. As a general rule, my Department does not engage in a separate exercise to collect such statistics, but has access to and relies on statistics provided and published by the Central Bank.

Data provided by the Central Bank indicate that the drawdown of new lending by non-financial SMEs from credit institutions in Ireland was €2.3 billion in the first 9 months of 2011. Figures for the equivalent period in 2010 show drawdowns of €2 billion. Excluding SMEs in the property related sectors these figures show drawdowns of new lending of €1.6 billion in the first 9 months of 2011, roughly equal to amounts drawn down in the first 9 months of 2010. Figures are not yet available for Q4 of 2011. For the Deputy’s information, the relevant statistics for credit made available to small business are accessible at:

http://www.centralbank.ie/polstats/stats/cmab/Documents/ie_Table_A.14.1_Credit_ Advanced_to_Irish_Resident_Small_and_Medium_Sized_Enterprises.xls

  48.  Deputy Alex White    asked the Minister for Finance, in    the context of a struggling domestic economy and limited access to investment funding, if he will explore the option of easing Revenue Commissioners rules governing the release of funds into additional voluntary contribution pension funds, allowing for a staged, earlier access to an individual’s fund, perhaps with an accompanying levy to claw back a ratio of the tax relief gained by the contributor. [14583/12]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Michael Noonan):  A number of proposals have been made that individuals should be allowed access to their pension savings prior to retirement. Various rationales have been advanced to justify these proposals including that such access would allow those individuals to pay down mortgage and other debt and would otherwise provide a boost to economic activity. This is not a simple matter. During 2011, at the request of the Government’s Economic Management Council (EMC), an Ad-hoc group was established under the chairmanship of the Department of Social Protection to consider the idea of allowing people to access [555]their pension savings before pension age in order to assist them in paying down debt. The ad-hoc group presented a detailed report to the EMC in September.

The conclusions of the Ad-hoc Group report were that:

There is no evidence that the group likely to be most affected by mortgage debt (or other debt) has access to sufficient pensions savings to make a difference to their situation.

The legislative and administrative implications for such a scheme would be extremely complex and would appear excessive given the overall impact.

Longer term difficulties whereby people are not making adequate provision for their retirement would be exacerbated, with potential for increased demands on the State.

Individuals cashing in their pension savings now would get poor value in current circumstances which they would struggle to replace in the future.

The “Keane Group” on mortgage arrears did not dispute these findings and early access to pension savings did not feature among the recommendations of that Group. A more general scheme of early access to pension savings would present significant problems in terms of the proper targeting of the use of accessed funds and controls over potential abuse.

The tax treatment of pension savings is only one aspect of the broad policy of encouraging people to provide for an adequate income in retirement beyond the basic State pension. This policy area is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, who I know is also aware of the proposals being made for early access to pension savings. I understand that the Minister for Social Protection intends to have a short and focused independent review carried out of broad pension policy in her Department. I have written to her asking that the issue of early access to pension savings be considered as part of that review.

  49.  Deputy Dominic Hannigan    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    when a person (details supplied) may expect to be called to the FÁS competency determination mechanism, CDM, scheme; if a person is able to get on a CDM scheme in a different part of the country, whether travel expenses will be provided if no CDM scheme is available near them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14402/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Ciarán Cannon):  I understand that the Competency Determination Mechanism (CDM) is a project based assessment which provides a redundant apprentice with the opportunity to demonstrate their skill and knowledge against the occupational standard for the specified trade. Those who pass the CDM are progressed for the award of the FETAC Level 6 Advanced Certificate — Craft. Eligible apprentices are contacted by the FÁS Services To Business Manager inviting them to register their interest in participating on the CDM. A waiting list of interested apprentices is then compiled in ‘date response letters received’ order and distributed to the Training Centre delivering the CDM.

The CDM is a relatively new scheme and the number of apprentices indicating their interest in CDM is quite high. Consequently, apprentices such as the person in question due to the high demand, can expect to be waiting up to a number of months to be called. FÁS is constantly monitoring the waiting lists and may offer CDM in other locations depending on demand in those locations. I am informed that apprentices will be paid the standard adult training allow[556]ance provided that they have been in receipt of Jobseekers benefit/allowance immediately prior to commencing the CDM. An accommodation or travel allowance (not both) may be payable to those who meet the qualifying criteria for those attending FÁS adult training courses.

  50.  Deputy Dominic Hannigan    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding a devolved grant application for a school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14376/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The school to which the Deputy refers submitted an application for grant-aid towards re-configuring its existing accommodation. This application was assessed and my Department was satisfied that the school has sufficient accommodation to cater for its current staffing needs. Funding was therefore not provided. The school was advised that it is open to it to prioritise works that it wished to undertake within the terms of the minor works grant provided to the school in November 2011.

  51.  Deputy Michael McCarthy    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his position on the reform of the junior certificate examinations and the effect this will have on certain core subjects (details supplied); the measures he will put in place to offset the impact of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14388/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  In the context of junior cycle reform, which will begin implementation on a phased basis from 2014 onwards, all of the existing subjects, including history, are being continued. Irish (except where there is an exemption), English and Mathematics will remain core full subjects. Schools will also have the option of providing locally developed short courses of 100 hours, supported by exemplars developed by the NCCA. All students will be required to achieve 24 statements of learning as part of their programme. These statements include valuing local and national heritage and recognising the relevance of the past to current national and international issues and events. It will be a matter for schools to determine, from the range of subjects and short courses on offer, how these statements of learning will be met. Overall, I am in favour of leaving the decisions on what is offered at the discretion of the school, and of students having a range of options to choose from. Good and enthusiastic history teachers have the opportunity to inspire a real interest in their subject and so ensure that pupils will want to sit the exam.

  52.  Deputy Dominic Hannigan    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will provide a list of all local training initiatives in the north east; the locations of same; the number involved in same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14403/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Ciarán Cannon):  I have set out below the information requested by the deputy which relates to the FÁS Local Training Initiatives in the North East.

Local Training Initiatives North East

Project name Location Number of Learners Number of Co-ordinators Number of Assistant Co-ordinators
Early School Leavers Opportunities Drogheda 16 1 1
Navan LTI Tabor House Navan 14 1 0
East Coast Career opportunity Duleek 14 1 1
Building your Future Drogheda 14 1 1
Cavan Genealogy Centre Cavan 16 1 1
Moving On, Monaghan Castleblayney 16 1 0
Drogheda Training Initiative Drogheda 16 1 1
North Monaghan LTI Monaghan 14 1 1
Muirhevnamor LTI Dundalk 14 1 1 P/T
4word Programme Dundalk 18 1 1
Navan Career Start Navan 16 1 0
Trim Forum for Employment, Meath Heritage Centre Trim 12 1 1
CREATE Dundalk 14 1 1

  53.  Deputy Peter Mathews    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    when a decision will be made regarding a school (details supplied) in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14404/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  As the Deputy is aware, in June 2011 I announced that 20 new post-primary schools are to be established up to 2017 across a number of locations to cater for increasing demographics. This announcement included a proposal to establish a new post-primary school in the area referred to by the Deputy. This school is to be established in September 2014. The closing date for receipt of applications for patronage of the post-primary schools to be established in 2013 and 2014 was Friday 24th February 2012. The Forward Planning Section of my Department will assess all applications in line with the announced criteria and will prepare a report for submission to the New Schools Establishment Group, who will in turn submit their report to me for final consideration and decision. Details of the new arrangements for patronage of new schools and the criteria for deciding on patronage of these new schools are available on my Department’s website, www.education.ie.

  54.  Deputy Mattie McGrath    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the amount of money that has been spent on refurbishment and extension works for small schools of four teachers and fewer in south Tipperary in the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14410/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The expenditure information on refurbishment and extension works for small schools, four teachers and less, in South Tipperary is not readily available within my Department and it would require a substantial amount of administrative time to identify and extract the full range of details sought. The level of resources required to compile the information sought would not be warranted. However, I can confirm to the Deputy that the total capital invested in small schools of four teachers or less [558]in South Tipperary from 2008 to date amounted to €7,799,421.31. Data for years prior to 2008 are not readily accessible.

  55.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if, in the context of his Department’s engagements with Kildare County Council on the matter of a site for a proposed school (details supplied), he has considered the local agreement which exists for the rationalisation of primary provision and for the development of an education campus; if he will have regard to the best long-term interests of education in the area and if, therefore, any site acquired will be sufficient in size to adequately meet the developing needs of the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14411/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  As the Deputy has been advised, my Department has no record of receiving proposals in relation to the development of a new education campus in the area to which he refers. It is open to the schools in question to furnish details of their proposals to the Department for consideration initially. However, my Department has no plans at this point to develop an education campus in the area. As the Deputy is aware, total enrolment in both primary and post-primary schools is expected to grow by almost 70,000 between now and 2018 (over 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post primary) and will continue to grow up to at least 2024 at post-primary level.

The priority now is to focus on major school projects and smaller projects devolved to schools to meet the demographic demands. The primary aim will be to ensure that every child will have access to a school place. The Deputy will also be aware that earlier this week I announced details of 219 new major school building projects which will begin over the next five years as part of a €2 billion capital investment programme. These new projects are in addition to 56 major school building projects that I already announced to go on site in 2012. A project for the post primary school referred to by the Deputy was included in this announcement.

  56.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of VTOS places approved for County Kildare in 2012; if he intends to increase the number of such places; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14412/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Ciarán Cannon):  In 2012 there are 270 Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme (VTOS) places approved for County Kildare VEC. The overall number of approved VTOS places is set at its current level because there is a continuing requirement to plan and control numbers and to manage expenditure within the context of overall educational policy and provision. Any consideration of providing additional VTOS places would have to take account of the present and prospective economic and budgetary context and related financial constraints.

  57.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will detail the position in relation to a special education unit at a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14413/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The National Council for Special Education (NCSE), through the local special educational needs organisers (SENOs), is responsible for processing applications from primary and post primary schools for special educational [559]needs supports, including the establishment of special classes in various geographical areas as required. The NCSE operates within my Department’s criteria in allocating such support. All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child’s special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie. I have arranged for the matters raised by the Deputy to be forwarded to the NCSE for their direct reply.

  58.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if officials in his Department’s planning unit will accede to a request for a meeting with representatives of the boards of management of two schools (details supplied) considering rationalisation and realignment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14415/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department received correspondence from the school authorities in question earlier this week relating to the matter to which he refers. My officials will consider the contents of the correspondence and will respond to the schools as soon as this process has been completed.

  59.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if his attention has been drawn to the ongoing failure of a school (details supplied) in County Cavan to introduce policy measures to allow a student of that school who is reliant on a trained assistance dog to attend; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14416/12]

  60.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he has had any contact with a school (details supplied) in County Cavan in relation to its policy on the use of trained assistance dogs by students with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14417/12]

  61.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the guidelines currently in place for mainstream schools in addressing the needs of students reliant on trained assistance dogs; if he intends to review these guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14418/12]

  62.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his views on the use of trained assistance dogs by students with disabilities in mainstream schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14419/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 to 62, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that my Department provides for the care needs of children with special educational needs who require support in the classroom through the Special Needs Assistant (SNA) scheme. The policy of my Department in relation to the SNA scheme is set out in Circular 07/02. I understand that SNA support has been provided for the child and the school referred to in the Deputy’s question.

My Departments Inspectorate Division has been in contact with the school regarding this matter. However, as my Department does not provide for a classroom assistance dog scheme, there are currently no Departmental guidelines on this issue. It is a matter for the Board of Management of each school to develop a policy on whether guide dogs or assistance dogs are [560]allowed in the school, taking account the individual circumstances of each case and also taking into account the needs of all of the children in the school.

  63.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    his advice regarding the attached correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14439/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  As announced in the 2012 Budget, five scholarship schemes for higher education, including the Easter Week 1916 and Irish scholarships, will be replaced with a new single scheme of bursaries based on merit.

The awards under the new scheme will be fixed at €2,000 per student. The bursary will be an extra support and incentive to recognise high achievement for students who are from disadvantaged families and attending DEIS schools. Those students to whom bursaries are awarded will also be entitled to apply for student grants towards the cost of maintenance and the student contribution or fees.

This change has been made in order to make the best use of scarce resources so as to focus on the best performing students in the cohort of those who are most in need of financial help. Awards will be made on a regional basis and students from all DEIS schools will be considered.

These changes will not impact on those who already hold scholarships under the existing schemes.

  64.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he is satisfied that the social personal health education programme is effectively delivering to students in the area of raising drugs awareness; if the programme is delivering value for money; when the most recent evaluation of the programme was carried out; if he intends to carry out an evaluation of the programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14465/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  A composite report on post-primary Social Personal and Health Education is currently being drafted. This report is based on an analysis of the findings of sixty-three subject inspections on the quality of teaching and learning of Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) in post-primary schools. The subject inspections were conducted between September 2010 and May 2011. Inspectors evaluated 301 SPHE lessons taught by 264 teachers.

It is expected that the composite report will be published by the end of this year.

  65.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he has considered any alternative education programmes at post-primary level in the area of drugs awareness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14466/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  Substance use education is a specific module in the Social, Personal and Health Education (SPHE) curriculum in junior cycle, post-primary level. The implementation of the curriculum is supported by a dedicated Post Primary SPHE Support Service which is operated jointly with the Health Sector.

There is a commitment in the Programme for a National Government, 2011-2016, to “update the out-dated drugs awareness programmes in schools to reflect current attitudes and reality of recreational drug use amongst teens”. To meet this commitment, I have established a Work[561]ing Group to examine the resource materials being used in the SPHE curriculum, especially those materials that are most relevant to substance use education. The Group has representatives from the Department of Health and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs as well as from my own Department. In drafting its report, the Group will have regard to current international experience of substance use prevention programmes in schools.

I am expecting the Group to complete a report for me in the next few months.

  66.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of schools that will be given the option of taking up rental contracts for prefabricated buildings in 2012; and the number that were given the option in each year between 2007 and 2011. [14476/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The number of new prefab rental contracts sanctioned from 2007 to date is outlined as follows:

Year No. of Contracts
2007 715
2008 266
2009 41
2010 85
2011 65
2012 Nil (To date)

These figures exclude approvals to renew existing rental contracts.

  67.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of schools that will be given the option of buying their prefab rather than renting it in 2012; and the number of schools that were given this option in each year between 2007 and 2011. [14477/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  To date no school has been given the option to purchase their rented prefab in 2012.

Since 2009, as a result of my Department’s review of temporary accommodation, 212 rented prefab units at 33 schools have been purchased, bringing an end to rental contracts at these schools. The yearly breakdown is as follows: 2009: 89 rented prefabs were purchased at 13 schools. 2010: 82 rented prefabs were purchased at 12 schools. 2011: 41 rented prefabs were purchased at 8 schools.

  68.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of schools that will be given the option of using grant aid to build a new classroom rather than renting a prefabricated building in 2012; and the number of schools that were given this option in each year between 2007 and 2011. [14478/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  As the Deputy is aware I recently announced a new initiative to replace rented prefabs in schools. Almost 200 schools have been offered an opportunity to replace rented prefabs with permanent accommodation. As this is a new initiative it was not available to schools previously.

[562]

  69.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the savings he estimates for 2012 on prefabricated buildings; and the breakdown of savings made in relation to spending on prefabricated buildings for each year between 2007 and 2011. [14479/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  As the Deputy is aware I recently announced an initiative to replace rented prefabs in schools. Almost 200 schools have been offered an opportunity to replace rented prefabs with permanent accommodation. The new initiative will result in savings of approx €5m per annum on the rental of prefabs in these schools in the coming years.

The amount spent on renting temporary accommodation at primary and post-primary level, including — but not limited to — prefabricated accommodation in the last 5 years is as follows:

Year € million
2011 28.9
2010 29.3
2009 39
2008 53
2007 35.5

  70.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he intends to completely end the practice of using prefabricated buildings; and when he expects this practice to end; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14480/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The overall policy goal of my Department is to ensure the highest standard of permanent accommodation for all schools. However, in the context of a rapidly increasing school population and competing pressure on the capital budget available to my Department, it is necessary to make use of temporary accommodation in order to meet the accommodation needs of schools.

My Department’s current policy is to offer schools being approved for devolved grant aid for additional accommodation the option to use their capital grant aid to build a permanent classroom(s) rather than purchase a prefab. This policy will reduce the usage of prefabricated accommodation in schools. In addition the new initiative I announced recently will also reduce the number of rented prefabs in use in schools and will result in savings of approx €5m per annum on the rental of prefabs in these schools in the coming years.

My Department will continue to examine ways of reducing the use of prefab accommodation in schools.

  71.  Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he intends to implement criteria which would see secondary schools adopt active lifestyle policies; if his attention has been drawn to the practice of some schools to offer physical education only as a optional subject in their senior cycle; if it is his intention to issue a circular to schools requiring an active lifestyle and physical education policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14498/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  It is my belief that a well planned Physical Education programme has a vitally important role to play in a broad and balanced curriculum for all students.

[563]In accordance with the Rules and Programme for Secondary Schools, all second level schools should provide Physical Education as part of the curriculum. The junior cycle and senior cycle programme that each school plans and delivers should be based on my Department’s approved syllabuses and the teaching hours should be registered on the school timetable. The Rules and Programme provide that a basic minimum of two hours per week is required to implement the programme.

In addition to PE, the importance of healthy lifestyles and physical exercise is also featured as part of the Social Personal and Health Education Programme which is a mandatory part of the curriculum in primary schools and in junior cycle.

Apart from the formal curricula, schools take a range of measures to encourage physical activity among students during the school day and many provide extensive, broad-based programmes of co-curricular physical activities that are highly rewarding for both pupils and teachers alike. In particular, schools play a major role in nurturing and promoting the involvement of students in sporting activities in the wider community. Sports organisations such as the Gaelic Athletic Association, Basketball Ireland, the Football Association of Ireland provide extensive opportunities for such participation.

In 2012 I intend to carry out a follow up study to the 2009 Lifeskills Survey seeking updates on various aspects of social personal and health education and physical education activities in all schools.

  72.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if specific education grants are available for members of a group (details supplied); if assistance is not available at present, if he will ensure this proposal is given detailed and favourable consideration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14505/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  My Department does not operate or fund any grant scheme that is specifically targeted at former residents of Magdalene Laundries.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Government considered the circumstances of women and girls who resided in the Laundries last year and decided that it was essential as a first step to fully establish the true facts and circumstances relating to the Magdalene Laundries. The Inter-Departmental Committee, chaired by Senator Martin McAleese, was set up to establish the facts of State involvement with the Madgalene Laundries, to clarify any State interaction and to produce a narrative detailing such interaction. I understand that this Committee hopes to complete its work later this year.

  73.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for Education and Skills,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 66 of 7 March 2012, if he will clarify his reply and state whether officials in his Department will meet with a deputation from a school (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14506/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I wish to advise the Deputy that my officials will make direct contact with the school in question in the context of the matter raised by him.

  74.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for those that are used and those that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14516/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The renting or leasing of Government offices and properties is the responsibility of the Property Management Services in the Office of Public Works, which acts as an agent for all Government Departments. The number, terms and cost of the leases is a matter for the OPW.

  75.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the financial allocation in his Department in 2012 for devolved grants for school building programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14545/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I am pleased to inform the Deputy that almost €142 million has been set aside by my Department for devolved school building projects in 2012.

  76.  Deputy Michael Creed    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if he will provide in spreadsheet format the number of schools with prefabricated classroom accommodation on a county basis; if he will indicate in each case the rent being paid for this classroom accommodation; if he will clarify whether it is his Department or the board of management that is paying the rent in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14546/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The amount spent on renting temporary accommodation at primary and post-primary level, including — but not limited to — prefabricated accommodation in 2011 is outlined on a county by county basis in the following table.

My Department provides 100% grant aid towards the provision of temporary school accommodation to the management authorities of education providers where it is established that a need for such temporary accommodation exists. Generally, where schools require temporary accommodation, the Board of Management is responsible for acquiring such temporary accommodation and the rental contract is between the Board of Management and the supplying contractor.

Rental Costs 2011

County No. of schools Total
Carlow 8 €451,559
Cavan 11 €473,625
Clare 17 €766,587
Cork 89 €4,359,436
Donegal 96 €1,276,444
Dublin 22 €5,741,021
Galway 42 €2,512,891
Kerry 19 €472,166
Kildare 11 €1,119,027
Kilkenny 21 €246,582
Laois 17 €556,210
Leitrim 3 €205,676
Limerick 23 €1,088,831
Longford 2 €289,932
Louth 32 €1,278,854
Mayo 29 €571,071
Meath 29 €2,067,207
Monaghan 8 €272,721
Offaly 10 €527,999
Roscommon 5 €166,960
Sligo 9 €372,339
Tipperary 15 €557,054
Waterford 17 €678,790
Westmeath 15 €447,694
Wexford 22 €1,221,432
Wicklow 19 €1,241,267
Totals 591 €28,963,378

  77.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    if funding is available to cover fees and maintenance towards a third level course (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14554/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  The Student Grant Scheme provides maintenance grants to eligible students pursuing approved full-time undergraduate courses of at least two years duration in publicly-funded third level institutions in other EU Member States.

Although fee grants are not payable abroad, Section 473A, Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997, as amended by Section 11 of the Finance Act 2011, provides for tax relief, at the standard rate of tax, for tuition fees paid in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education including in EU Member States and in non-EU countries.

  78.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Education and Skills    the position regarding the provision of a new second level school in Dublin (details supplied); if a sufficient site has been acquired for the provision of the school; if so, if the site is owned by his Department; when the project is likely to proceed to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14566/12]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Ruairí Quinn):  I am pleased to advise the Deputy that the new second-level school to which he refers is one of the 43 new second level schools which I announced earlier this week to proceed to construction as part of my Department’s five year capital investment programme.

[566]The school, when completed, will cater for 1000 pupils and it is intended that the proposed building project will go to construction during 2013.

A suitable site has been identified and Fingal County Council is leading negotiations on the matter on behalf of my Department. I am advised that the acquisition is at an advanced stage. However, due to the commercial sensitivities attaching to the site acquisition process, I am not in a position to comment further at this time.

  79.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform    the amount that has been spent by Departments on lo-call numbers during the past five years; the number of Departments that make available a regular non-1850 or 1890 number (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14428/12]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brendan Howlin):  My Department will provide information in relation to the amount spent on Lo-call numbers by this Department. The information will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible.

My Department is aware that calls to Lo-call numbers from mobile phones do impose additional costs. My Department does operate one Lo-call number. However, this number is accompanied in advertisements by standard geographic numbers for all services operated by my Department. While the advertisements do not highlight the cost differential at present, it is intended that future advertisements will include this warning.

My Department has advised all other bodies of this cost differential and has advised them of the need to provide standard geographic numbers where possible when advertising Lo-call numbers.

  80.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14523/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brian Hayes):  The Office of Public Works rents space in some 377 buildings for the purposes of providing office accommodation for various Government Departments throughout the twenty-six counties. The following table schedules by county the number of buildings involved and the total annual rent arising:

COUNTY No OF BUILDINGS TOTAL RENT PA
CARLOW 7 €647,941.78
CAVAN 5 €432,743.30
CLARE 7 €255,335.94
CORK 36 €3,007,196.37
DONEGAL 16 €367,147.78
DUBLIN 132 €77,040,460.15
GALWAY 27 €3,551,026.93
KERRY 11 €825,556.14
KILDARE 13 €1,046,207.95
KILKENNY 3 €65,618.20
LAOIS 8 €946,752.99
LEITRIM 2 €812,220.00
LIMERICK 12 €2,664,995.15
LONGFORD 4 €61,317.64
LOUTH 9 €610,954.50
MAYO 13 €625,649.36
MEATH 10 €2,059,502.60
MONAGHAN 8 €327,661.60
OFFALY 5 €363,384.30
ROSCOMMON 4 €61,497.55
SLIGO 7 €683,783.15
TIPPERARY 15 €1,196,767.46
WATERFORD 6 €280,534.68
WESTMEATH 6 €704,430.66
WEXFORD 5 €288,916.60
WICKLOW 6 €721,353.87

There are three buildings (including part building) which have unallocated space. The details associated with these buildings, which are also included in the previous table, are as follows:

Building Rent Per Annum Comment
Westward Town Centre, Sligo, Co Sligo €31,000.00 OPW will be surrendering this lease in 2012.
Phoenix House, Conyngham Road, Dublin 8 €365,000.00 OPW will be allocating space in Phoenix House in early 2012.
Irish Life Centre, Block 1, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin 1 (part building -5th floor) €215,000.00 OPW will be surrendering this lease in 2012.

  81.  Deputy Michael McGrath    asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform    the position regarding the Office of Public Works response to a flooding incident (details supplied) in County Meath; the measures that have taken place; and when other measures will take place to prevent recurrence. [14552/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Brian Hayes):  The Office of Public Works undertook to carry out a detailed survey to inform the design of remedial works to the channel, which flooded in Drumconrath during the October 2011 event.

The survey has been completed and this Office is currently assessing a number of options for works to mitigate the risk of flooding in the future. The preferred option will take account of cost/benefit and environmental issues.

It is expected that the works will be undertaken by OPW during Summer 2012.

  82.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the position regarding the JLC system (details supplied). [14371/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  The Industrial Relations (Amendment) (No.3) Bill 2011 was published on 22 December 2011. The Bill has completed Second Stage in the Dáil and is currently awaiting Committee Stage.

The main purpose of the Bill is to implement the commitment in the Programme for Government to reform the Joint Labour Committee system. The reform of the legal framework for our statutory wage setting mechanisms is aimed at increasing employers’ ability to retain and employ workers, particularly in sectors hard hit by the prevailing economic circumstances, including the Hotel sector, and to facilitate necessary cross-sector adjustment.

In addition, the Bill provides for the more comprehensive measures required to strengthen the legal framework for the Employment Regulation Orders and Registered Employment Agreement sectoral wage setting mechanisms, under the Industrial Relations Acts 1946 to 2004, in the light of deficiencies in the original legislation identified in the July 2011 High Court judgment in the John Grace Fried Chicken case.

The fact that the process of making EROs has been found by the High Court to be unconstitutional, together with the identified lack of adequate Oireachtas scrutiny of this process, only underscores some of the main features of the recommendations for reform that were put forward by the Independent Review Report on these statutory wage setting mechanisms — the Duffy/ Walsh report. The commissioning of the independent review of the ERO and REA systems was one of the undertakings given by the last Government in the context of the EU and IMF-supported financial assistance programme for Ireland.

When enacted, this Bill, will implement the programme of reforms to the JLC/REA systems agreed by Government in July 2011. It will radically overhaul the system so as to make it fairer and more responsive to changing economic circumstances and labour market conditions. It will also reinstate a robust system of protection for workers in these sectors in the aftermath of the High Court ruling in the John Grace Fried Chicken case.

The principal measures in the legislation include:

JLCs will have the power to set a basic adult rate and two additional higher rates, based on length of service in the sector or enterprise concerned as well as the standards and skills recognised for the sector concerned.

JLCs will no longer set Sunday premium rates. In order to recognise the special status of Sunday working a statutory Code of Practice will be prepared by the LRC following submissions from employers and trade unions. This Code will provide guidance to both parties in the sectors covering EROs on the compensatory arrangements, including such additional amounts as are reasonable, for Sunday working and on the procedure to apply in the event of disputes concerning the varying entitlements to Sunday working.

Companies will be able to derogate from EROs and REAs in cases of financial difficulty. For this to occur, the Labour Court must satisfy itself that specified criteria have been met. Such derogation will be granted, for a limited period, in cases of proven economic difficulty, following consultation with the employees.

[569]

In setting rates, JLCs will have to take into account a series of economic and industrial relations factors.

The burden of compliance and record-keeping requirements for employers in these sectors will be reduced.

Providing for Ministerial involvement in the supervision of JLCs and in the making of orders to vary or revoke EROs.

Providing for use of civil remedies rather than an exclusive reliance on criminal sanctions.

The constitutionality of EROs and REAs will be restored through inclusion of robust principles and policies.

I am also proceeding with a series of complementary reforms to the JLC system which can be implemented without the need for legislative change, including:

Reducing the number of JLCs from 13 to 6;

Standardising benefits such as overtime through a nationally agreed protocol or Code of Practice, through the normal process of consultation with the employers and trade union interests.

From the beginning of this process I have been determined to strike a balance between protecting vulnerable workers and providing reforms that would make the systems more competitive and more flexible so as to allow the creation of jobs in these sectors.

From an employer’s perspective, the overall effect of these reforms will be to substantially reduce the burden of record-keeping and compliance. This Bill will make the long-established minimum wage setting mechanisms fairer and more responsive to changing economic circumstances and will eliminate rigidities that are considered to have had a negative impact on competitiveness and jobs in the affected sector.

  83.  Deputy Simon Harris    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the legislative responsibility of an employer to an employee who acquires an illness, injury or disability, whether occupational or non-occupational; how this responsibility compares with international best practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14390/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  In general, where an employee is absent from work for reason of illness, injury or disability, the monitoring of sick absences on the part of their employees and the payment of sick leave by employers is discretionary. There is no legal entitlement to sick leave.

However, some employment sectors have pay and conditions of employment regulated through Registered Employment Agreements (REAs) that are legally binding on employers in the sectors to which they apply. The following REAs contain binding regulations regarding the conditions, benefits and contributions of sick pay schemes:

Construction

Electrical Contracting

Footwear and Drapery

[570]Alleged contraventions of the above regulations may be reported to the National Employment Rights Authority (NERA).

In terms of comparative studies of reforms aimed at transforming sickness and disability schemes from passive benefits to active support systems that promote work, Ireland was included in a four country study by the OECD of “Sickness, Disability and Work” that also covered Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands and was published in 2008. This was part of an extended series of comparative studies by the OECD that concluded last year and aimed to explore the apparent paradox whereby at a time when the average health status is improving, a persistently large number of people of working age leave the workforce to rely on long-term sickness and disability benefits. The OECD report on Ireland highlighted how unemployment and disability had not been well differentiated in Ireland and how the eligibility criteria for disability payments had not been very stringent.

Reform of the disability allowance system is currently being pursued by the Minister for Social Protection in the context of a comprehensive programme of reforms to ensure a better targeting of social support to those on lower incomes, and to ensure that work pays for welfare recipients.

  84.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    his views on a matter in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14456/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  Where a business or part of a business is taken over by one employer from another employer as a result of a legal merger or transfer (including the assignment of forfeiture of a lease), a formal transfer of undertakings can occur. In these circumstances, the provisions of the European Communities (Protection of Employees on Transfer of Undertakings) Regulations (S.I. No. 131 of 2003) apply. These provide that an employee’s length of service and terms and conditions of employment (other than pension rights) are automatically preserved and transferred to the new employer. There are also obligations on the old and new employer to consult and inform the employees of matters in relation to the transfer.

From the information provided, it is not possible to determine if the arrangements constitute a formal transfer of undertaking, as defined in the Regulations. The person concerned would be advised to contact the Workplace Relations Customer Services Unit at 1890 80 80 90 or visit the website www.workplacerelations.ie for further information on the protections that would apply in his circumstances.

I would advise, however, that any formal complaint that might arise as a consequence would need to be lodged within six months of first occurrence of the dispute.

  85.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14521/12]

[571]Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  My Department and the eight offices of my Department do not currently rent any properties. All properties currently occupied by the Department and its Offices are provided by the Office of Public Works (OPW) without any cost to the Department or its Offices. Details of rental costs associated with the buildings occupied by the Department and its Offices may only be obtained directly from the Office of Public Works. The buildings currently occupied by staff of my Department and its offices are fully utilised.

  86.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation    the position regarding the annual salaries paid, from 2004 to 2011, inclusive, for a body (details supplied) under his remit; when this body will be brought under the remit of the Freedom of Information Act, having regard to the fact that it was expected to be done shortly as stated in its 2007 annual report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14565/12]

Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (Deputy Richard Bruton):  The matter referred to by the Deputy in the first part of the question is an operational matter for the body concerned, which is independent in the exercise of its functions, and is not one in which I have a direct role. In accordance with the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, details of the salary of the Chief Executive are published in the body’s Annual Report.

In relation to Freedom of Information legislation, due to its quasi-judicial function, the body concerned was not a listed body for FOI purposes on its establishment. The question of the body’s inclusion under FOI legislation in respect of its administrative records is a matter which will be considered further with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, who has responsibility for that legislation, in the event of a further revision of the First Schedule to the Act. The last amendment to the First Schedule by way of Statutory Instrument extending the list of bodies designated was in 2006.

Question No. 87 withdrawn.

  88.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if her attention has been drawn to the effects that the cut in the material and training allowance will have on the community employment schemes run by a centre (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14369/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I acknowledge the valuable contribution made by Community Employment Projects such as the Galway Centre for Independent Living in providing a service to both participants and the community. However due to the current economic circumstances, this Department has had to find significant savings in the Budget for 2012. The reduction only applies to the grant for materials and training and represents a reduction of 7.5% of the overall expenditure on Community Employment in 2011. There will be no decrease in the number of Community Employment places in 2012.

There is an ongoing financial review of all Community Employment projects. The purpose of the review is to establish the level of need and this review should be completed by the end of March 2012. In addition, my Department is undertaking a separate review of the effectiveness of a range of employment supports including Community Employment. The outcome of these reviews will inform the overall approach to be taken by the Department and ultimately determine future policy.

  89.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of the 5,000 places which were to be allocated under the Tús scheme that have been filled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14386/12]

  90.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Social Protection    her plans to make additional Tús places available to those centres which have reached their quota already; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14387/12]

  91.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Social Protection    her plans, if any, to extend participation in the Tús programme beyond one year in view of the fact that it takes at least this length of time for a person to become familiar with the role; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14389/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 89 to 91, inclusive, 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. Of the 5,000 placements initially planned for Tús, 4,540 were allocated between the individual local development companies and Údarás na Gaeltachta. Additionally, some 230 supervisor positions were assigned with the balance of placements being held for allocation to specific national organisations.

As of the week ending 9th March 2012, 2,922 participant and 180 supervisory positions had been filled nationally. Of the 52 companies delivering Tús, some 20 have filled their allocation with another 12 on course to do so the end of March. My department is moving this week to reallocate in excess of 400 placements to those companies that have reached full implementation and where there is demand from community and voluntary sector organisations for work to be undertaken. Implementation in some urban areas has been slower than expected for a variety of reasons, however, I am reassured that full implementation can be achieved during the coming months. The funds allocated for 2012 amount to €84m. I have no plans to extend the duration of 12 months for any individual on Tús.

  92.  Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the position regarding an application for domiciliary care allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and the timeframe within which they may expect a decision on their case. [14396/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received on 25th February 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for DCA. A letter issued on 18th April 2011 refusing the allowance. The person concerned subsequently lodged an appeal against this decision. She was informed by the Social Welfare Appeals Office on 21st February 2012 that the appeal had been disallowed. The decision/appeal process for this application is now complete. If the person concerned has additional information which was not made available to the deciding and appeals officers when they made their decisions, it is open to her to re-apply for the payment.

[573]

  93.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if a decision has been made regarding the request for a review of her decision to refuse back to school clothing and footwear allowance to a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14401/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Applications for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme (BSCFA) are made between the beginning of June and the end of September each year. In general, a person may qualify for payment of BSCFA if he or she is in receipt of a social welfare payment, is participating in an approved employment scheme or attending a recognised education or training course, and has household income at or below certain specified levels. The person concerned was refused BSCFA as her income was above the limit allowable to qualify for payment. The person then requested a review of this decision. This review took place in December 2011 and the decision to refuse the payment was upheld.

  94.  Deputy John Lyons    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the reasons for the decision not to fully backdate a payment of carer’s allowance in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and when payment will be made in respect of this application. [14423/12]

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, including that adduced at oral hearing, allowed the appeal of the person concerned from 27 October 2011. 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 correspondence the Appeals Officer has agreed to review the case. The person concerned will be contacted when the review of her appeal has been finalised.

I have been informed by the Department of Social Protection that payment will issue to the person concerned on 15 March 2012 and that payment of arrears from 27 October 2011 to 14 March 2012 were issued to the person concerned on 8 March 2012. 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.

  95.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Social Protection,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 123 of 7 March 2012, if she will clarify the intended meaning of “court approved access” in view of the fact that the applicant in question submitted court documentation issued by the District Court dated 20 September 2011 to the effect that not only was he a joint guardian of his son under section 6A of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, but was granted access to his son by order under section 11 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964; if she will review the case in view of the fact that he is a single person with now two young children; if she will further set out specific, clear and incontrovertible guidelines as to the amount of time that single fathers with court approved access must have custody of their respective children in order to qualify for rent support in order to provide their children with a stable living environment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14426/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  As previously stated the purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term support to eligible people living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and [574]who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer.

Any person seeking a rent supplement must first satisfy the Department’s representative that they have a housing need that they are unable to meet from their own resources. In addition, the Department must be satisfied that the residence is reasonably suited to the needs of the claimant. The Department must also be satisfied that the rent payable is reasonable having regard to the nature, character and location of the residence.

In a case where parents have joint custody of a child, the needs of both parents to have adequate accommodation to look after the child are taken into account when an application for a rent supplement is being determined. As previously stated there is no exact amount of time a parent must have access to their child and every claim for rent supplement is determined having regard to all of the circumstances of the case. In this case the Department is satisfied that the person concerned is in need of accommodation but that the accommodation needs of his children are already met. A rent supplement payment in this case will be considered when accommodation at the rate appropriate to his need is obtained.

  96.  Deputy Mary Lou McDonald    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she has worked with the Private Residential Tenancies Board to inform landlords of the reduction of rent limits from January 2012; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14435/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  The purpose of the rent supplement scheme is to provide short-term income support to assist with reasonable accommodation costs of eligible people living in private rented accommodation who are unable to provide for their accommodation costs from their own resources and who do not have accommodation available to them from another source. Since 2005, rent supplement expenditure has increased from €369 million to a provisional out-turn of €503 million in 2011. The number of people claiming the allowance increased from almost 60,200 in 2005 to over 96,800 at the end of 2011, which was an increase of 61%. New maximum rent limits came into force on 1 January 2012. These new limits are in line with the most up-to-date market data available. The emphasis of the rent limit review was to ensure that maximum value for money for tenants and the taxpayer was achieved whilst at the same time ensuring that people on rent supplement are not priced out of the market for private rented accommodation. Under the legislative provisions governing rent supplement, the Department’s relationship is with the tenant; the tenant makes the application for rent supplement and payment is made to the tenant. As the Department has no direct relationship with landlords, it has not been in contact with the Private Residential Tenancies Board to inform landlords of the reduction to the maximum rent limits.

  97.  D’fhiafraigh Sandra McLellan    den Aire Coimirce Sóisialaí    an gcuirfidh sí deifir le liúntas míchumais do dhuine (sonraí tugtha) i gCorcaigh; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [14436/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Rinne an duine i dtrácht iarratas ar liúntas míchumais ar 29 Meitheamh 2010. Ón fhianaise liachta a soláthraíodh leis an éileamh, atreoraíodh í go dtí duine de lia-mheasúnóirí na Roinne. Tar éis an fhianaise sin a léamh, mheas an lia-mheasúnóir nár cháiligh an t-iarratasóir don liúntas míchumais ar chúiseanna [575]liachta. Ghlac an t-oifigeach breithiúnachta leis an tuairim sin agus cuireadh in iúl don iarratasóir i scríbhinn nár éirigh lena iarratas. Rinne an t-iarratasóir an cinneadh a achomharc dáéis leis an Oifig Achomharc Leasa Shóisialaigh. Mheas an t-oifigeach achomhairc, bunaithe ar an fhianaise a bhí os a chomhair, nár thaispeáin an t-iarratasóir go raibh sé faoi shrian substaintiúil i dtaca le fostaíocht oiriúnach a fháil mar gheall ar mhíchumas sonraithe laistigh de chiall na reachtaíochta leasa shóisialaigh. Dícheadaíodh an t-achomharc dá réir. Cuireadh an cinneadh sin in iúl don iarratasóir i scríbhinn ar 20 Meitheamh 2011. Cinneadh críochnaitheach is ea cinneadh an oifigigh achomhairc in éagmais fíricí nó fianaise úr.

  98.  Deputy Arthur Spring    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when a decision will issue on a disability allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14449/12]

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, including that adduced at oral hearing, allowed the appeal of the person concerned. The person concerned was notified of the Appeals Officer’s decision on 10 March 2012. 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.

Question No. 99 withdrawn.

  100.  Deputy Noel Coonan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    when an application for domiciliary care allowance will be finalised in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14462/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  An application for domiciliary care allowance was received on 19th October 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. A letter issued on 5 January 2012 advising of the decision.

In the case of an application which is refused on medical grounds, the applicant may submit additional information and/or ask for the case to be reviewed. In this case, a request for a review along with additional information in support of the application, was received on 29 February 2012. The application has been forwarded to one of the Department’s Medical Assessors for review of the original medical opinion. Upon receipt of the review report, a decision will issue to the customer.

  101.  Deputy Patrick Nulty    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the position regarding illness benefit in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason the payment has been suspended; if it can be urgently reviewed and put into payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14475/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Payment of illness benefit, to the person concerned, was disallowed by a Deciding Officer following an examination by a Medical Assessor of the Department who expressed the opinion that she was capable of work.

[576]An appeal was registered on 2 March 2012 and the Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that, in accordance with statutory requirements, the Department was asked for the documentation in the case and the Deciding Officer’s comments on the grounds of the appeal. In that context, an examination by another Medical Assessor will be carried out. The person concerned will be notified when arrangements for the examination have been completed.

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.

  102.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Social Protection    the number of buildings her Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings her Department has rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by her Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14524/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  My Department is not involved in the leasing or renting of property. The Office of Public Works has responsibility for the acquisition and maintenance of office accommodation for my Department. Matters of leasing and individual rents are managed by that Office.

Question No. 103 withdrawn.

  104.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Social Protection    if she will consider reviewing the stopped payments in 198 cases of parents caring for a child with a disability who were receiving domiciliary care allowance; in respect of those stopped payments, if visits were made to parents to assess the needs of the child and the level of attention needed as part of the review process; if she will reconsider the process under which people no longer in receipt of domiciliary care allowance are no longer eligible for carer’s allowance and respite care grant, as this puts parents and carers in a vulnerable financial situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14532/12]

Minister for Social Protection (Deputy Joan Burton):  Domiciliary Care Allowance (DCA) is a monthly payment to the parent/guardian of a child with a disability so severe that the child requires care and attention and/or supervision substantially in excess of another child of the same age. This care and attention must be provided to allow the child to deal with the activities of daily living. The child must be likely to require this level of care and attention for at least 12 months.

In advance of the transfer of the scheme from the HSE to this Department in 2009, an Expert Medical Group was established to agree a set of consistent and objective guidelines for use nationally in determining the eligibility of children for the scheme. The Group considered that the most appropriate way for the Department to conduct assessments for medical eligibility was by way of desk assessment of the evidence submitted by the claimant, rather than by way of individual examination by the Department’s Medical Assessors, as they are not involved in the treatment of the child.

[577]The application process operated by the Department involves the submission of a detailed statement by the parent or guardian of the child; a detailed statement by the child’s General Practitioner; and any other relevant evidence from qualified experts who have examined the child that the applicant may wish to submit.

This evidence is assessed by designated Departmental Medical Assessors who are qualified medical doctors with a minimum of 6 years experience and who have received special training in the area of child disability assessment.

Individual DCA cases are routinely reviewed to ensure that the conditions for receipt of the payment continue to be met. Reviews are initiated with the parent/guardian being asked to complete a “review of medical criteria form”, which also requires medical input from the child’s GP. The parent returns this form together with any additional recent reports of on-going medical or therapeutic services the child may be receiving. This information is then sent for review by a medical assessor who will provide an opinion to the deciding officer on whether the child continues to meet the medical criteria for receipt of the payment.

The decision of the deciding officer is communicated to the customer in writing and if they are not in agreement with the outcome, they have the option to appeal the decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office. Any new or additional information received after the issue of the revised decision and before the appeal is heard, is further assessed by a medical assessor. In this way, the review process affords parents/guardians every opportunity to provide additional information from any source they wish and to have this information assessed at an early stage with payment restored, where necessary, without the necessity of an appeal hearing.

Carers allowance in respect of children under the age of 16 years can be paid if the qualifying conditions are met. One of the conditions is that that DCA is in payment for the child. Respite care grant is paid to persons who meet the qualifying conditions or are in receipt of either Carers allowance or DCA.

Finally, I want to assure the Deputy that my Department is committed to ensuring that those children who meet the conditions for the DCA scheme will continue to receive the payment.

  105.  Deputy Clare Daly    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht    the steps he will take to deal with the Ward Union Hunt, which has been reported as engaging in stag hunting; and if he will condemn this illegality. [14654/12]

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  Officials of my Department monitor compliance with the Wildlife Acts across the country on an ongoing basis and carry out patrols and site visits to enforce the various provisions of these Acts as required. They also investigate reports of breaches of the Acts. Members of An Garda Síochána are also empowered under the Acts to investigate alleged offences and to prosecute, if they see fit.

In this regard, my Department will follow up appropriately on any alleged breaches of the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2010 which makes it an offence to hunt a deer with two or more dogs.

  106.  Deputy Frank Feighan    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht    the status of bog on Carrowkeel, Castlebaldwin, County Sligo, on which persons were prevented from cutting turf some years ago and have had no compensation, in the absence of which they would wish to resume. [14442/12]

[578]Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  Part of the townland of Carrowkeel in County Sligo is within the Bricklieve Mountain and Keishcorran special area of conservation. The site encompasses an area of 1,696 hectares and is located west of Lough Arrow and about 6 km north-west of Boyle. The site is a large block of upper carboniferous limestone and contains some blanket bog.

The Bricklieve Mountain and Keishcorran special area of conservation is not one of those affected by the cessation of turf cutting on raised bog special areas of conservation for reasons of environmental protection under the EU Habitats Directive. However, anyone wishing to cut turf on this site should apply for consent to the local office of the National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department, which is situated in Ballinafad, County Sligo.

This is also a site of significant archaeological importance with monuments in the area which are recorded under the statutory Record of Monuments and Places and as such, as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I must be notified prior to any works being carried out at these monuments. There are also a number of monuments in this area, in my guardianship. My consent is required under the National Monuments Acts, prior to any works being carried out at these monuments. My Department has no record of any prior notification of works or of any application for Ministerial consent for this site.

  107.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht    if the designation process for the 57 raised bogs on which turf cutting is prohibited has been completed; and the date of the passing of the statutory instrument that completed this process. [14503/12]

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  Ireland has nominated 53 sites for the protection of raised bog habitat for designation as Special Areas of Conservation. These sites have been adopted by the European Commission as Sites of Community Importance and are afforded the full protection of the Habitats Directive.

Following adoption of a Site of Community Importance by the Commission, member states must proceed to complete the formal designation process. In Ireland, this will be done by making a statutory instrument for each site. The process is due to commence in due course. The formal designation will not alter the legal protection afforded to these sites, which, under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations, applies from the time of notification of the Minister’s intention to designate the site.

  108.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 431 of 28 February 2012, his views on the possibility of compensatory habitat exchange whereby other raised bogs will be designated as areas of high conservation value and some of the 57 raised bog complexes on which turf cutting is currently prohibited could be de-designated, with this applying in particular when it is not possible to relocate turf cutters. [14504/12]

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  The reply referred to by the Deputy reflects the legal position regarding de-designation, as provided for in Article 9 of the Habitats Directive.

Article 6 of the Habitats Directive provides for the protective regime for Special Areas of Conservation (SACs). It outlines the obligations on Member States to prevent deterioration of such sites and to assess the impacts of proposed plans or projects that could have a significant [579]affect on them. Article 6(3) provides that national authorities can agree to a plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned.

However, Article 6(4) provides for particular circumstances where a plan or project can be consented to in spite of a negative assessment. In such cases, it must be demonstrated that there are no alternative solutions, and that imperative reasons of overriding public interest exist to justify the damage. In the case of turf-cutting on raised bog SACs, where a priority habitat is involved, a member state must seek the opinion of the Commission before agreeing to such a plan or project.

When a project or plan is approved under article 6(4), compensatory measures must be taken to ensure the overall coherence of Natura 2000 is protected. Such measures could involve the designation of additional areas of land for inclusion within the network of SACs. The Commission must be informed of the proposed compensatory measures.

In his report on the recently held Peatlands Forum, Justice Quirke recommended that a national raised bog SAC management plan be drawn up, incorporating all 53 raised bog SACs. In the vast majority of cases, protection of these bogs can be provided by relocating turf-cutters to undesignated bogs nearby. There are, however, a small number of bogs where relocation options seem less obvious. In the context of such a plan, it may be possible to bring some limited flexibility for a few of the most difficult bogs where there are no alternative solutions, provided the requirements of Article 6(4) are complied with as set out above, including in relation to the provision of compensatory habitats.

  109.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14512/12]

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  Matters relating to the acquisition and leasing of property for the Department are generally the responsibility of the Office of Public Works (OPW). Independent of this arrangement, my Department leases three properties. These are the Burren Information Point, premises located at Shanacloon, Ballymakeera, Co. Cork and premises in Swords, Co. Dublin.

The Burren Information Point has annual rent of €8,155. In May 2011, a lease was finalised to facilitate the new Burren National Park Visitor Information Point in Corofin. The first quarter of the agreement was exempt from rent to allow the NPWS to initiate the fit out of the new centre and the sum of €6,116.25 was paid in 2011. An interpretation planner was engaged to plan, design and oversee the production and installation of the Interpretation at the facility. The newly completed visitor facility will officially open at the beginning of April for 2012 season.

The Underwater Archaeology Unit’s storage and maintenance facility is located at Shanacloon, Ballymakeera, Co. Cork, which has annual lease of €21,780 and is being fully utilised.

Finally, the premises located in Swords, Co. Dublin, is leased from the Office of Public Works by the National Museum of Ireland. A payment of €105,000 was made in 2010 to avail of storage facilities for archive material relating to the National Monument Service. A share (c. 14%) of this accommodation is provided to the National Monument Service. A one year [580]rent free period arose for the facility in 2011 and rent will become payable again from mid 2012. This premises is also being fully utilised.

  110.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht    the position in respect of the turf cutters’ enhanced compensation scheme of €1,500 per year for a maximum of 15 years plus €500 early payment for turf cutters who have to cease cutting turf in special compensation areas, which was announced this week; the amount this will cost each year for the next five years (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016); the number of turf cutters eligible for this scheme; the criteria for qualification for this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14582/12]

Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Jimmy Deenihan):  In 2011 the Government announced a compensation scheme for those affected by the cessation of turf cutting on raised bog special areas of conservation. The cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme comprised a payment of €1,000 per year, index linked, for 15 years or, where feasible, relocation of turf cutters to non-designated bogs where they could continue to cut turf. Those wishing to relocate could avail of the financial payment or the delivery of 10 tonnes of cut turf while relocation sites are identified and prepared. The cost of acquiring and preparing relocation sites will be met by the State.

The Government has recently agreed to enhance this compensation package as follows:

a) The financial payment has been increased to €1,500 per annum, index linked, for 15 years;

b) An additional once-off payment of €500 for qualifying turf cutters will be provided this year where legal agreements are signed with me, as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht;

c) The quantity of cut turf to be delivered, as an interim measure, to those opting for relocation has been increased to 15 tonnes per annum; and

d) There will also be flexibility in terms of the provision of more than 15 tonnes of cut turf for those wishing to relocate where more than one household in the same family has sourced its turf from a single bog plot. Claimants will have to provide evidence to back up the claim and this issue will be discussed further with interested parties.

This decision increases the total value of the financial payment by €8,000 per qualifying applicant to a total of €23,000 and these payments will be exempt from capital gains tax.

It is estimated that there are approximately 1,540 actively cut plots on the 53 raised bog special areas of conservation.

The qualifying criteria for the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme require that:

The claimant must have a legal interest in a site that is in one of the 53 raised bog special areas of conservation. This could be through ownership of land or a turbary (turf-cutting) right within one of these designated sites.

The claimant must have been the owner or entitled to exercise turbary rights on the land in question on 25th May 2010.

The turbary on the site must not be exhausted.

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The claimant must have been cutting turf on the lands in question during the relevant five year period (up to 25 May 2010 for 29 sites and up to 31 December 2011 for 24 sites).

If turf was cut, on a site in a raised bog special area of conservation nominated for designation between 1997 and 1999, in 2011 and all other qualifying criteria are met, compensation will not apply until 2012.

The estimated cost of the cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme for each of the years 2012-2016 is set out in a Table:

Year Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme — Estimated Cost
2012 €5,000,000
2013 €3,000,000
2014 €3,000,000
2015 €3,000,000
2016 €2,250,000

  111.  Deputy Michelle Mulherin    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the extent to which the Corrib gas field, when it is in full production, will displace or reduce our dependency on imported fuel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14434/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  It is estimated that the Corrib gas field will be capable of supplying up to 60% of Ireland’s gas requirements for a period of up to five years when at full production, declining thereafter.

Completion of the development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available. It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, which began last year, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before 2014.

  112.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he will issue a breakdown of the remuneration package in place for CEOs of all semi-state companies under his remit as of 1 March 2012; the directives he has issued to CEOs of those same semi-state companies regarding the payments of dividends to the State in 2012, 2013 and 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14493/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  I wish to advise the Deputy that, following a Government decision, the salary rate for newly appointed CEOs of Commercial Semi State Companies under the aegis of my Department is as set out in a table with effect from 21 June 2011.

Salary Rate for newly appointed CEOs of Commercial State Companies

Name of Company New Appointment Rate
An Post €240,448
BGÉ €191,014
Bord na Mona €191,014
EirGrid €158,459
ESB €318,083
RTÉ €219,871
TG4 €139,104

The Annual Reports of the companies contain details of incumbent CEOs’ salaries. The Annual Reports are available in the library of the House.

In relation to the payment of dividends to the State for the years 2012 to 2014, I have not issued any directive to the companies.

  113.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    the directives he has issued to CEOs of all the semi-state companies under his remit regarding levels of salaries and wages, total costs of outputs and levels of investment spending; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14494/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  I wish to advise the Deputy that all directions issued by the Government in relation to remuneration of CEOs in Commercial Semi State Companies are brought to the attention of the relevant State Companies under the aegis of my Department.

The Government decided that the salary range for newly appointed CEOs of Commercial Semi State Companies under the aegis of my Department should be as set out in the table below with effect from 21 June 2011 and this has been brought to the attention of the Companies in question.

Salary Rate for newly appointed CEOs of Commercial State Companies

Name of Company New Appointment Rate
An Post €240,448
BGÉ €191,014
Bord na Mona €191,014
EirGrid €158,459
ESB €318,083
RTÉ €219,871
TG4 €139,104

The Annual Reports of the companies contain details of incumbent CEOs’ salaries. The Annual Reports are available in the library of the House.

I wish to advise the Deputy that any issues regarding outputs and level of investment spending for Commercial Semi State Companies are in the first instance a matter for each company and its Board, and subsequently subject to my consent. The proposed level of investment for 2012 is set out in the Revised Estimates for the Public Service.

  114.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural [583]Resources    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14514/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  My Department is not involved in any direct rental of buildings. The Department’s accommodation needs are provided for by the Office of Public Works (OPW) in the following locations:—

Department Headquarters, 29/31 Adelaide Road, Dublin 2.

Geological Survey of Ireland Core Store, Sandyford, County Dublin.

Elm House, Earlsvale Road, Cavan. (The Department occupies part of the building).

Geological Survey of Ireland, Beggars Bush, Haddington Road, Dublin 4 (The Department occupies part of the building).

The rental costs, where appropriate, are a matter for OPW and the space occupied is fully utilised.

  115.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources    if he or his Department has any plan to improve the broadband reception in an area (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14560/12]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte):  The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband services, is a matter, in the first instance, for private sector service providers operating in a liberalised market regulated by the Commission for Communications Regulation. Broadband services are provided by private service providers over various platforms including DSL (i.e. over telephone lines), fixed wireless, mobile, cable, fibre and satellite.

In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) represents such an intervention. It aimed to bring an affordable, scalable broadband service to certain designated rural areas where the extent of broadband coverage by commercial operators, at the time the Scheme was launched in 2008, was deemed to be insufficient.

The area of Calverstown, Kilcullen, County Kildare is located within the NBS Coverage Area. Since October 2010, 3, the NBS service provider, has made broadband services available in all of the areas designated to be covered under the Scheme.

The NBS contract guarantees service levels and imposes a service credit regime on 3 with financial consequences in the event that minimum specification service levels are not met. Under the NBS contract, specific service level agreement standards are in place, which define the service and support levels to be provided by 3 to NBS customers. Any NBS customer experiencing problems with the NBS service can contact 3’s customer care centre 24 hours a day 7 days a week by phone at 1913 (free of charge), via email to nbssupport@three.ie or by post to 3 Customer Services, Hutchison 3G Ireland Limited, PO Box 333, Dublin 2.

My Department has a role when customers have fully utilised the established complaints process. It operates a dedicated NBS mailbox, which NBS customers can contact by email at [584]nationalbroadbandscheme@dcenr.gov.ie with any comments or complaints they may have about their NBS service. Should any customers in the Calverstown, Kilcullen area have unresolved problems with their NBS service, they can contact my Department and my officials will liaise with 3 to remedy their service performance issues.

A contractual upgrade of the NBS product specifications will take place from October of this year, without an increase in the monthly fee. Following the upgrade of the mobile broadband product, the minimum download speed will increase from 1.6Mbps to 2.3Mbps while the minimum upload speeds will increase from 1.2Mbps to 1.4Mbps, with a maximum contention ratio of 18:1. The combined data allowance will move from 25GB to 40GB.

  116.  D’fhiafraigh Sandra McLellan    den Aire Comhshaoil, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil    cén chúis nach bhfuil Feidhmeannacht na Seirbhíse Sláinte ag déanamh tuarascálacha Teiripeoirí Saothair a thuilleadh do dhaoine atá ag lorg athchoiriú ar a dtithe de bharr sláinte; cad iad na roghanna atá ag daoine nach féidir leo íoc as Teiripeoir Saothair príobháideach; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [14431/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Déanaim tagairt do Cheist Uimhir 140 a bhí freagartha ar 29 Feabhra 2012 a leagann amach an scéal sa chas seo.

  117.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the position regarding an application for a foreshore license (details supplied); and when a decision will issue. [14474/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The application concerned was lodged by Donegal County Council with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in March 2009. In April 2009 that Department requested from the applicant certain additional information without which it would not be possible to progress the application. The additional information was only received by my Department last week.

My Department has also recently requested further information and clarifications from the Council about the application before it can proceed to public and prescribed bodies consultation and assessment by the Marine Licence Vetting Committee.

In the circumstances it is not possible to indicate at this stage when this application will be determined.

  118.  Deputy Catherine Murphy    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, with reference to his decision to set    the septic tank registration fee at €5 instead of the proposed €50 for an initial period to encourage affected householders to register early, how it is now proposed to fund the proposed inspectorate regime, in view of the fact that the total potential income accruing to the State from the levy is likely to be dramatically reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14374/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The reduced registration fee of €5 will apply for the first three months of the registration period which will commence in mid-April. A registration fee of €50 will apply thereafter. The risk-[585]based approach to inspections will mean that the new system will be less expensive to operate but will be equally as effective in protecting public health and the environment. I am satisfied that the overall resources available will be adequate to fund the implementation of the registration and inspection systems.

  119.  Deputy Timmy Dooley    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide 100% funding to local authorities in respect of housing adaptation grant schemes for older people and people with a disability due to the decline in the level of local authority internal capital receipts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14375/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  The grant schemes are funded by 80% recoupment available from my Department together with a 20% contribution from the resources of the local authority. It is a matter for each local authority to decide on the specific level of funding to be directed to each of the various grant measures, and to manage the operation of the schemes in their areas from within their allocation.

My Department is aware that these schemes are heavily subscribed at present. My Department is also aware of the financial constraints on local authority own resources funding at this time and in order to relieve the pressure on revenue funding has allowed local authorities to use Internal Capital Receipts to make up their contribution to the grants schemes.

Exchequer allocations totalling over €54 million were notified to local authorities under the grant schemes on 28 February 2012. Eliminating the local authority own resources contribution would reduce the overall level of funding available to households requiring grant assistance to undertake necessary adaptations or improvement works by about €13.5 million. I have no proposals to reduce or eliminate the local authority contribution at this time. I will, however, bear this in mind in any review of the grant schemes for 2013.

  120.  Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the classes of development and the circumstances which require environmental screening; the details of the legislative provisions covering environmental screening; the exemptions from environmental screening that may be permitted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14382/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive is transposed into Irish planning law in Part X of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and Part 10 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended.

Schedule 5 of the Regulations sets out the type of projects for which, and the thresholds above which, environmental impact assessment is mandatory and in respect of which an environmental impact assessment must be carried out as part of the planning application process. The Regulations also provide that where a planning application for sub-threshold development is not accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and the likelihood of significant effects on the environment cannot be excluded by the planning authority (or An Bord Pleanála, as appropriate), it must make a determination as to whether the development would be likely to have significant effects on the environment (which determination is referred to as “screening”) and where it determines that the development would be likely to have such [586]significant effects it must require the applicant to submit an EIS and must carry out environmental impact assessment in respect of the project. Similar provisions apply in the case of development by a local authority.

In relation to the matter of an exemption, section 172(3) of the Planning Act makes provision for An Bord Pleanála to grant an exemption from the requirement to prepare an environmental impact statement, in the case of a particular development, where it is satisfied that exceptional circumstances warrant this (however an exemption may not be granted if another Member State of the European Communities or other state party to the Transboundary Convention has indicated that it intends to furnish views on the environmental effects of the proposed development).

The requirements of the Habitats Directive in relation to screening, insofar as consents under the planning code are concerned, are transposed into Irish law by section 177U of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as inserted by section 57 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010). Section 177U provides that every application for consent for a proposed development must be screened in order to assess whether, in view of best scientific knowledge, the development would be likely to have a significant effect on a European site. Unless, following the screening, it can be excluded that the proposed development would have a significant effect on a European site, an appropriate assessment must be carried out.

There is no exemption under the Habitats Directive from the requirement to carry out screening.

  121.  Deputy Michelle Mulherin    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the type of heating system required to meet standards for local authority housing for new builds and when heating systems are being upgraded under planned maintenance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14399/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Part L (Conservation of Fuel and Energy) of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations 1997, as amended, sets out the minimum statutory requirements in relation to the thermal performance of buildings. The Building Regulations apply to new buildings and, in certain circumstances, to works involving an extension, material alteration or material change of use to existing buildings. The regulations do not distinguish between social or privately owned housing.

Under Part L of the Building Regulations, central heating and hot water systems should be as efficient in use as is reasonably practicable. In the case of central heating systems utilising oil or gas, the boiler seasonal efficiency should be not less than 90% while for systems utilising a biomass independent boiler, the boiler seasonal efficiency should not be less than 77%.

In addition, central heating and hot water systems should be effectively controlled so as to ensure the efficient use of energy by limiting the provision of heat energy use to that required to satisfy user requirements insofar as reasonably practicable. In this context, the aim should be to provide the following minimum level of control:—

automatic control of space heating on the basis of room temperature;

automatic control of heat input to stored hot water on the basis of stored water temperature;

[587]

separate and independent automatic time control of space heating and hot water;

shut down of boiler or other heat source when there is no demand for either space or water heating from that source.

Furthermore, all hot water storage vessels, pipes and ducts associated with the provision of central heating and hot water in a dwelling should be insulated to prevent heat loss.

My Department recognises the need continually to improve the standard and energy efficiency of local authority owned housing stock. Constraints on capital budgets for new stock are resulting in greater emphasis being placed on local authorities maintaining and improving their social housing stock and on the early return of vacant units to productive use. In this context, local authority improvement works programmes for 2012 should reflect the key national priorities of returning vacant properties to productive use, improving the energy efficiency of older stock and reducing both national energy usage and CO2 emissions.

  122.  Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the amounts of funding approved to Kildare County Council for housing aid, housing adaptation and mobility grants in each of the years 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012; the amount of this money that was expended by the council in each year on its own local authority stock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14414/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  My Department’s involvement with the Housing Adaptation Grant Schemes for Older People and People with a Disability relates primarily to the recoupment of a proportion of local authority expenditure on the payment of individual grants. The grant schemes, introduced in November 2007, are funded by 80% recoupment available from my Department together with a 20% contribution from the resources of the local authority. It is a matter for each local authority to determine how the funding is apportioned between the various grant measures and to manage the operation of the schemes in their areas from within the allocation.

Exchequer funding provided under the suite of Housing Adaptation Grants Schemes for Older People and People with a Disability may not be used for the purposes of extending or adapting local authority owned houses.

Details of the funding provided to Kildare County Council in 2009, 2010, 2011 and the allocations for 2012 are set out in the following table:

Kildare County Council

Exchequer Funding 2009 Exchequer Funding 2010 Exchequer Funding 2011 Exchequer Allocation 2012
€2,018,693 €3,892,484 €2,852,228 €1,620,000

  123.  Deputy Anne Ferris    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his proposals for the remediation of a dump (details supplied); the costs involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14447/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The site referred to in the question was cited in the European Court of Justice judgment in [588]Case C 494/01 as an example of Ireland’s failure to comply with the 1975 Waste Framework Directive. My Department, on behalf of the State, has been liaising with the European Commission to ensure that the requirements of the judgment are fully met. The Commission is concerned, as I am, to secure the urgent remediation of the site, a concern underlined by an additional letter of formal notice issued on 30 September 2010, which indicated that the Commission might refer the case back to the Court of Justice for financial penalties to be imposed against the Irish State for failure to comply with the judgment.

It is in these circumstances that my Department, in June 2011, requested Wicklow County Council to remediate the site, pursuant to its powers under section 56 of the Waste Management Act 1996. On foot of this, the Council, working with the EPA, has established a technical working group to oversee a programme of detailed investigation of the areas of illegal waste at the site. The purpose of this programme, which I understand is now complete, is to gain a greater understanding of the nature, character and distribution of the waste, and to assist in determining the requirements for the site’s remediation. I understand that a procurement process for the remediation will be initiated by the Council later this year, with a view to work commencing in the Autumn.

The cost of remediation will be dependent on the technical approach taken to remediation and on the outcome of the tendering process. The costs involved will be funded by the State, with Wicklow County Council seeking cost recovery through the Courts. As the matter is the subject of ongoing legal proceedings, I do not propose to comment further.

  124.  Deputy Gerry Adams    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his plans for restructuring of the waste market and restrictions to side-by-side competition; if the regulatory impact assessment has been concluded; the outcome of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14448/12]

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 would 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. A consensus is not apparent and, on almost all of the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed. All of the responses received, in addition to a summary document, are available on my Department’s website, www.environ.ie.

I expect to be in a position to submit final proposals in relation to household waste collection to Government by Easter this year. All policy proposals will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of issues and perspectives. My policy objective is to put in place a system of regulation of household waste collection that provides the optimal mix of economic, environmental and social outcomes.

  125.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14457/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The household charge is on a self-assessment basis and it is a matter for an owner of a residen[589]tial property on the liability date of 1 January, 2012 to determine if he/she has a liability and, if so, that person is required to declare that liability by completing the household charge declaration form and to pay the household charge by 31 March, 2012.

Significant efforts are being made to ensure that property owners are aware of the household charge and the requirements to make a declaration of liability and to pay the charge by 31 March, 2012. There is a range of options available for persons to pay the household charge. An online system www.householdcharge.ie is in place in the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) to enable homeowners to pay the household charge by credit/debit card. In addition, homeowners can make payment by cheque, postal order, credit/debit card by completing the relevant payment details on the declaration form and posting it to Household Charge, PO Box 12168, Dublin 1.

A bureau is in place in the LGMA to administer the charge on a shared service/agency basis for all local authorities. In addition, all county/city councils have been requested to have arrangements in place for persons to attend their principal offices to pay the household charge up to 31 March, 2012. An Post is assisting in broadening the number of local outlets where the household charge declaration form is available. The declaration form will be available outside the counter in the network of 1,152 local post offices. Persons may complete the declaration and forward it to the central payment bureau at Household Charge, PO Box 12168, Dublin 1.

I am satisfied that there is a comprehensive suite of payment options available to persons to pay the charge.

  126.  Deputy Peadar Tóibín    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the role of executors of wills which include property with regard to payment of the household charge. [14459/12]

  127.  Deputy Gerald Nash    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will address by legislation or any other means available to him the iniquitous situation whereby those who act as executors to wills and who are charged with selling a home on behalf of a deceased person’s estate are required to pay the household charge on that house; if he will provide an exemption in such cases and, furthermore, if he will provide an exemption in respect of the application of the non-principal private residence charge to the executor in cases in which he or she owns their own family home. [14468/12]

  128.  Deputy John Lyons    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the position regarding the liability for payment of the household and non-principal private residence charge for those acting as executors of wills who are charged with selling a house on behalf of a deceased person; his views on whether, in such circumstances, this charge should be waived or deferred until the sale of the house is completed and then taken from the moneys received from the sale. [14473/12]

  129.  Deputy Olivia Mitchell    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will give consideration to introducing a waiver for the household charge and non-principal private residence levy, repayable upon house sale, to persons who have been appointed as executors and assumed responsibility for disposing of a deceased person’s house, considering that such executors assume liability, among other charges, for the household charge and the NPPR levy and are finding difficulty in selling the house in the current property market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14481/12]

  135.  Deputy Dominic Hannigan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will consider a change in legislation in relation to the household charge [590]and the non-principal private residence charge in order that persons acting as executors of wills who are charged with selling a house on behalf of a deceased person are exempted from paying the household charge and NPPR charge until the house is sold; if it can then be allowed for them to make payment for the outstanding charges; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14568/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 to 129, inclusive and 135 together.

I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 378, 380, 381, 382, 386, 394, 405, 410, 417, 418 and 419 of 13 March 2012, which sets out the position in this matter.

  130.  Deputy Michelle Mulherin    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the amount An Post will be paid for facilitating the receipt of payments of the household charge on behalf of local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14487/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  An Post is assisting in broadening the number of local outlets where the household charge declaration form is available. The declaration form will be available outside the counter in the network of 1,152 local post offices. Persons may complete the declaration and forward it to the central payment bureau at Household Charge, PO Box 12168, Dublin 1. An Post is not being paid for facilitating the making available of the declaration forms at the local post office network.

  131.  Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide an update on the proposed funding for redevelopment of the Dublin City Council maisonettes at a location (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14496/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  Dublin City Council, with support from my Department, has been undertaking a significant remedial works and new build project on the site of the old Bunratty Road Maisonettes. The project includes elements of refurbishment, demolition and new build, as well as addressing the boundary on to Oscar Traynor Road. The first phase of the redevelopment of Bunratty Road Maisonettes was completed in 2011 and included major refurbishments to the original maisonettes with 16 high quality units provided from previously vacant stock. It also included the construction of 42 new units. My Department provided some €14 million to support this ambitious first phase.

My Department recently approved funding for Phase 2 of the project, the refurbishment of 36 units, at a projected cost of €3.6m. Dublin City Council is in the process of engaging a contractor to carry out these works, which are expected to be largely completed by year end. Further phases of the project may be considered within the context of the City Council’s overall improvement works programme, housing need in the area and the availability of Exchequer funding. It remains a matter for Dublin City Council to prioritise projects within its annual improvement works programme.

  132.  Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if he will provide an update on discussions with Dublin City Council on the [591]future status of an area (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14497/12]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O’Sullivan):  There are no proposals with my Department at present regarding the flat complex at Cromcastle Court, Coolock. However, I understand that Dublin City Council is currently considering its options in relation to improvement works to vacant units at the site, as well broader remedial works considerations. The Council has already submitted its 2012 improvement works programme, without reference to this project. It is a matter for the Council to prioritise and progress individual projects within their annual programme.

  133.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government,    further to Parliamentary Question No. 153 of 7 March 2012 in which this Deputy stated that a mystery noise has been occurring in the area of Glencuttane Lower, in Beaufort, Killarney since April 2011, the current position, since the noise cannot be measured or complained about to the local authority as we are unsure what is causing it; whether there is a facility within his Department that can investigate this matter on behalf of the local residents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14509/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The investigation of noise complaints is a matter for the relevant local authorities. The reported noise source determines how a complaint is investigated and addressed.

My Department recently contacted Kerry County Council to enquire as to whether a complaint had been received concerning an alleged noise nuisance in the area of Glencuttane Lower. I understand that while a complaint concerning noise reportedly emanating from a water treatment plant was received and investigated by the Council’s Water Services Section, that investigation found that the plant was functioning normally and was not causing a noise nuisance. The Council’s Environment Services Department has indicated that it has not received any formal noise complaint and as such has not investigated the matter. In order to initiate a broader investigation into the matter, it is open to the persons concerned to contact the Environment Services Department in Kerry County Council, at (066) 716 2000 or by emailing environ@kerrycoco.ie.

A public information leaflet How to Make an Environmental Complaint has been prepared by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to assist members of public by advising who they should contact regarding environmental complaints and what details should be provided to help resolve the problem. This leaflet can be viewed on the EPA website, www.epa.ie.

In addition, the Office of Environmental Enforcement (OEE) of the EPA supervises the environmental protection activities of local authorities, including the enforcement of environmental legislation, through auditing their performance, providing advice and guidance, and, in appropriate cases, giving binding directions. In this regard, the OEE is an avenue of complaint for members of the public who are dissatisfied with a local authority response to an environmental complaint they have made. The OEE can be contacted at 1890 335599 or through the EPA’s website, www.epa.ie.

  134.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented [592]which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14517/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  There are no premises or sites being leased or rented by my Department that are currently not in use. In general, premises and sites occupied by my Department are rented or leased by the OPW, rather than directly by my Department. The location, costs and landlord of the premises and sites currently rented directly by my Department are set out in the following table:

Location Estimated Rental Cost For 2012 Landlord
Office space — Met Éireann, Dublin Airport €87,954 Dublin Airport Authority
Office space — Met Éireann, Shannon Airport €156,028 Dublin Airport Authority
Office space — Met Eireann, Cork Airport Nil Dublin Airport Authority
Land — Met Éireann, Valentia €500 Private landowner

In relation to the office space at Cork Airport, rent for the years from 2009 to date is yet to be paid, pending the finalisation of discussions with the OPW and the Dublin Airport Authority, which manages the airport.

Question No. 135 answered with Question No. 126.

  136.  Deputy Dominic Hannigan    asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government    if there is any dispensation from the household charge for persons who own two properties who have reduced the rent on their second home to accommodate their tenant, who is unemployed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14588/12]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan):  The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 and the Local Government (Household Charge) Regulations 2012 provide the legislative basis for the household charge. Interpretation of the legislation is a matter for legal advice in individual cases and ultimately a matter for the Courts. The household charge is on a self assessment basis and it is a matter for an owner of a residential property on 1 January 2012 to declare that liability and pay the household charge by 31 March, 2012.

  137.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the position regarding the residency application of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry. [14395/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Arising from the refusal of his asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 27 November 2009 that the then Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of him. He was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against him. In addition, he was [593]notified of his 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.

I am advised by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that an application for residence in the State on the sole basis of marriage to an Irish national was received from the person in question on 21 December 2011 arising from his marriage on 8 December 2011. INIS requested supporting documentation in relation to this application on 12 January 2012 and 15 February 2012 which included on both occasions a request to provide a valid national passport to establish the person’s nationality and identity. The person concerned has advised INIS that he is unable to comply with this requirement. It is expected that a decision will be made shortly on this application based on the information provided.

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 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.

  138.  Deputy Terence Flanagan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the position regarding the business review Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14408/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  As I indicated in my reply to Question No. 166 of 7 March 2012, the Government announced in December last that it had decided not to proceed with legislation to abolish upward only rent reviews in existing commercial leases, i.e., those entered into prior to 28 February 2010. There was a substantial concern that any legislative scheme involving interference in the contractual relationships of private parties would find it extremely difficult to survive a Constitutional challenge. In addition, at this difficult time in our economic circumstances, the Government was advised that any model proposed would require the payment of compensation to landlords whose rights were infringed in order to ensure that the proposal would be compatible with the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government was strongly of the view that payment of compensation to landlords in such circumstances could not be justified in the current economic climate.

While legislative intervention in this area is not deemed to be practicable, there is nothing to prevent landlords from engaging with their tenants in order to reach agreement on appropriate rent levels and the Government is strongly of the view that such engagement is highly desirable. I would also note that the Minister for Finance has outlined the role which NAMA can play in dealing with the problems caused by upward only rent reviews which apply to NAMA properties.

  139.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the licence granted to a pub (details supplied) which is near residential units and which residents claim is open until 2.30 a.m. and reopens at 7.30 a.m.; if regulations are in place to prevent pubs opening late and reopening early in the morning near residential units; the options available to residents to restrict the opening hours to avoid noise pollution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14430/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The position is that under section 5 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927, as amended, the holder of an on-licence may apply to the District Court for special exemption orders which permit extended opening hours for special occasions. The Court shall not grant such an order in respect of any licensed premises unless it is satisfied that the special occasion concerned will be conducted in a manner that will not cause undue inconvenience or nuisance to persons residing in the locality or create an undue risk of public disorder there.

A licensee applying for a special exemption order must serve on the officer in charge of the Garda Síochána for the licensing area concerned a notice of intention to apply for the order at least forty-eight hours before making the application and the District Court may make the order if it thinks fit to do so having heard the officer concerned. A special exemption order expires at 2.30 a.m. (1.00 a.m. where it extends to a Monday that is not a public holiday) unless the Court, for stated reasons, grants the order for a shorter period. Section 4 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1927, as amended, provides that the District Court may grant general exemption orders which permit early opening of premises with on-licences where it is necessary or desirable to do so in order to accommodate any considerable number of people attending a public market or fair or following a lawful trade. Such an order requires the provision at reasonable prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages to customers.

Section 15 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 1962, as amended, provides that a general exemption order shall not be granted for a period beginning before 5.00 a.m. where the order is sought for accommodating persons attending a public market or fair, or for a period beginning before 7.00 a.m. where it is sought for accommodating those following a lawful trade (except fishing in tidal waters). Section 5 of the Intoxicating Liquor Act 2008 provides that no such order shall be granted in respect of any licensed premises unless an order was in force in respect of those premises on 30 May 2008. A licensee applying for a general exemption order must serve on the officer of the Garda Síochána for the licensing area concerned a notice of intention to apply for the order at least one week before making the application and the District Court may make the order if it thinks fit to do so having heard the officer concerned.

In light of the foregoing, complaints concerning licensed premises operating on foot of special exemption orders and general exemption orders should be brought to the attention of the officer in charge of the Garda Síochána for the licensing area concerned.

  140.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the criteria used in the selection process for the Garda Reserve; and the reasons a candidate might fail to be selected. [14451/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Recruitment of Garda Reserve members is governed by the Garda Síochána (Reserve Members) Regulations 2006. Recruitment is a matter for the Public Appointments Service in the first instance and then the Garda Commissioner. I have no function in the process.

[595]The booklet detailing the selection of personnel for the Garda Reserve and including the notes for applicants and conditions of service is available on the public jobs web site, www.publicjobs.ie.

  141.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the number of speed detection vans currently operating here; if he will increase this number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14488/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the outsourced safety camera network provides 6,000 hours of monitoring and 1,475 hours survey work per month across the country. The service provider is responsible for determining how many speed camera vans are required to meet its contractual obligations. I am also informed that, in addition to the outsourced speed detection, the Garda authorities currently operate eight mobile speed detection vans.

I am further advised that speed cameras are operated on sections of road which have a history of fatal and serious injury collisions occurring where speed was a contributing factor. In that regard, surveys continue to be conducted at these locations to ensure that the cameras are deployed where they are most needed.

  142.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the Garda stations in the Dublin region that received an additional Garda vehicle or van in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14489/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The allocation of Garda resources, including transport, is a matter for the Garda Commissioner in the context of his identified operational requirements.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table:

STATION CAR VAN
DMR — BALLYFERMOT 1
DMR — BLANCHARDSTOWN 3
DMR — BRIDEWELL 1
DMR — CLONTARF 1
DMR — CRUMLIN 1
DMR — DONNYBROOK 1
DMR — DÚN LAOGHAIRE 3
DMR — FITZGIBBON ST 1
DMR — HARCOURT TERRACE 2
DMR — KEVIN STREET 2
DMR — LUCAN 1 1
DMR — MALAHIDE 1
DMR — PEARSE ST 1
DMR — RAHENY 1
DMR — RATHMINES 1
DMR — SANTRY 1
DMR — STEPASIDE 2
DMR — STORE-STREET 1
DMR — TRAFFIC OFFICE 2

  143.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the number of gardaí by rank in each crime scene investigation unit; his plans to increase this number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14490/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I am informed by the Garda authorities that the personnel strength of the Scenes of Crime Unit, broken down by rank, is as set out in the following table. The Deputy will be aware that the Commissioner, in consultation with his senior management team, is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the organisation and I have no function in this process. This allocation of resources is constantly monitored and reviewed where necessary, in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a District, Divisional and Regional level to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public.

Division Sergeant Garda Total
DMR North Central 1 5 6
DMR South Central 1 8 9
DMR North 0 7 7
DMR South 1 7 8
DMR East 1 7 8
DMR West 1 8 9
Kildare 1 4 5
Meath 1 4 5
Westmeath 1 4 5
Wicklow 0 4 4
Laois/Offaly 1 4 5
Cork City 0 5 5
Cork North 0 3 3
Cork West 0 4 4
Limerick 1 4 5
Kerry 1 4 5
Tipperary 1 4 5
Wexford 0 3 3
Kilkenny/Carlow 0 3 3
Waterford 0 3 3
Clare 1 4 5
Galway 1 6 7
Mayo 1 3 4
Roscommon/Longford 2 4 6
Donegal 1 5 6
Sligo/Leitrim 1 4 5
Cavan/Monaghan 1 4 5
Louth 1 4 5
Total 21 129 150

  144.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Justice and Equality    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14522/12]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter):  I can advise the Deputy that my Department is currently renting 15 properties. Of these properties 8 are located in Dublin, 2 in Limerick and 1 in Sligo, Cork, Donegal, Waterford and Cavan.

At present 13 of the 15 properties are being fully utilised and the annual total rent for these properties is €1,749,928.98.

There are currently two of the 15 properties that are not being fully utilised and the annual total rent for one of these properties is €31,905.28. In respect of the second property the lease is currently under query and no payment of rent has been made since November, 2011.

  145.  Deputy Thomas P. Broughan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of times each Government Minister has requested usage of the ministerial air transport service for each of these years 2010 and 2011 and to date in 2012; the location of each trip; the cost of each of these trips; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14492/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Ministerial Air Transport Service is primarily provided by the Gulfstream IV and Learjet 45 aircraft, which were specifically acquired for that purpose.

The CASA maritime patrol aircraft have been used infrequently for Ministerial Air Transport missions where no MATS aircraft has been available for operational or technical reasons.

Helicopters have been used on occasion for Ministerial air transport in situations where, for operational reasons, fixed wing aircraft may not have been available or suitable for a particular mission.

Details of usage of the Ministerial Air Transport Service for 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012 are set out in the following tabular statement, and include details of the requesting Minister(s), dates of travel, mission route and Ministerial time on board. The details provided relate to requests from Government Ministers that have been approved by the Taoiseach.

The Department follows the normal practice in the aviation business of costing aircraft by reference to the cost per flying hour under each of two headings:

The direct cost which includes costs which are additional to those associated with having the aircraft and which only arise when the aircraft is flown including maintenance, fuel and support services such as catering costs, cleaning services and airport handling charges.

[598]

The total cost which is the direct cost plus the costs associated with having the aircraft and includes depreciation and personnel costs.

Costs in 2011/12:

Average Direct Cost Per Hour
Average Total Cost Per Hour
Gulfstream 3,270 3,790
Learjet 1,940 4,200
CASA 2,800 4,210
AW 139 1,410 3,410

Costs in 2010:

Aircraft Average Direct Cost Per Hour
Average Total Cost Per Hour
Gulfstream 4,050 7,890
Learjet 1,270 2,950
AW 139 1,470 3,130
EC 135 430 1,590

These are average costs which take a number of variables into account. It is not possible to assign an exact cost to any particular mission or Minister.

Gulfstream IV 2010

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
18/01/2010 18/01/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food / MOS Agriculture, Fisheries and Food / MOS Foreign Affairs
14/01/2010 14/01/2010 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Foreign Affairs
20/01/2010 22/01/2010 270 Baldonnel — Madrid — Baldonnel Justice, Equality and Law Reform /Social and Family Affairs
25/01/2010 26/01/2010 105 Baldonnel — Northolt — Belfast City — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Foreign Affairs
27/01/2010 27/01/2010 40 Baldonnel — Belfast City — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
11/02/2010 11/02/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
05/02/2010 05/02/2010 75 Baldonnel — Belfast City — Cork — Baldonnel An Taoiseach/ Foreign Affairs
23/02/2010 26/02/2010 700 Baldonnel — Cairo — El Arish — Cairo — El Arish — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
22/02/2010 22/02/2010 220 Baldonnel — Cork — Brussels — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs/Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
05/03/2010 06/03/2010 270 Baldonnel — Cork — Madrid — Seville — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
12/03/2010 18/03/2010 1420 Baldonnel — Chicago — Moffett Field (California) — Washington — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Foreign Affairs
07/05/2010 07/05/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
09/05/2010 09/05/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
17/05/2010 18/05/2010 270 Baldonnel — Madrid — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
21/05/2010 21/05/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
28/05/2010 28/05/2010 100 Baldonnel — Paris — Cork — Baldonnel Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
14/06/2010 14/06/2010 240 Baldonnel — Cork — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs/ MOS Foreign Affairs
17/06/2010 17/06/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
23/06/2010 23/06/2010 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
21/06/2010 21/06/2010 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Baldonnel Justice and Law Reform
27/06/2010 03/07/2010 1190 Baldonnel — Cork — Valletta — Kampala — Addis Ababa — Valletta — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
06/07/2010 06/07/2010 90 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Health and Children
11/07/2010 15/07/2010 980 Baldonnel — Teteboro — White Plains — Teteboro — Atlanta — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
16/07/2010 16/07/2010 90 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Justice and Law Reform
19/07/2010 20/07/2010 170 Baldonnel — Derry — Gatwick — Baldonnel Transport
27/07/2010 28/07/2010 435 Baldonnel — Warsaw — Budapest — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
16/09/2010 16/09/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Foreign Affairs / MOS Foreign Affairs
27/09/2010 27/09/2010 190 Baldonnel — Knock — Brussels — Baldonnel MOS Finance
04/10/2010 05/10/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
07/10/2010 12/10/2010 865 Baldonnel — Washington — Teteboro — White Plains — Teteboro — Baldonnel Finance
28/10/2010 29/10/2010 230 Baldonnel — Brussels — Shannon — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
25/10/2010 25/10/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
16/11/2010 17/11/2010 265 Baldonnel — Ronneby — Stockholm — Baldonnel Defence
22/11/2010 22/11/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs / MOS Foreign Affairs

Learjet 2010

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
25/01/2010 25/01/2010 235 Baldonnel — Brussels — Shannon — Baldonnel MOS Foreign Affairs
06/02/2010 08/02/2010 220 Baldonnel — Bilbao — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Enterprise, Trade and Employment)
01/02/2010 01/02/2010 40 Baldonnel — Cork — Belfast City — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
12/02/2010 13/02/2010 220 Baldonnel — Coruna — Baldonnel Transport
03/02/2010 04/02/2010 130 Baldonnel — Belfast City — Heathrow — Belfast Aldergrove — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
18/02/2010 19/02/2010 240 Baldonnel — Bern — Baldonnel MOS Foreign Affairs
14/02/2010 16/02/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
21/02/2010 21/02/2010 90 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
28/02/2010 01/03/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Enterprise, Trade and Employment)
02/03/2010 03/03/2010 265 Baldonnel — Geneva — Northolt — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
13/03/2010 13/03/2010 130 Baldonnel — Derry — Munich — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Enterprise, Trade and Employment)
15/03/2010 16/03/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
16/03/2010 16/03/2010 105 Baldonnel — Dusseldorf — Derry — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Enterprise, Trade and Employment)
25/03/2010 26/03/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taosieach
22/03/2010 22/03/2010 220 Baldonnel — Cork — Brussels — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs / MOS Foreign Affairs
29/03/2010 29/03/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
23/03/2010 23/03/2010 60 Baldonnel — Heathrow — Baldonnel MOS Enterprise, Trade and Employment
25/04/2010 26/04/2010 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Defence / MOS Foreign Affairs
28/04/2010 29/04/2010 335 Baldonnel — Berlin — Munich — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
10/05/2010 11/05/2010 265 Baldonnel — Brussels — Strasbourg — Baldonnel MOS Foreign Affairs
27/05/2010 27/05/2010 240 Baldonnel — Leipzig — Baldonnel Transport
17/05/2010 17/05/2010 190 Baldonnel — Knock —[601]Brussels — Baldonnel MOS Finance
24/05/2010 24/05/2010 90 Baldonnel — Cork — Brussels — Baldonnel Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
30/05/2010 01/06/2010 300 Baldonnel — Badajoz (Spain) — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
04/06/2010 04/06/2010 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Justice and Law Reform
07/06/2010 07/06/2010 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Finance
24/06/2010 24/06/2010 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Transport
25/06/2010 25/06/2010 120 Baldonnel — Guernsey — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
22/06/2010 22/06/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Transport
21/06/2010 21/06/2010 180 Baldonnel — Cork — Brussels — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
06/09/2010 07/09/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance / Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
07/09/2010 08/09/2010 300 Baldonnel — Vienna — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
10/09/2010 11/09/2010 180 Baldonnel — Cork — Brussels — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
23/09/2010 24/09/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Defence
26/09/2010 28/09/2010 480 Baldonnel — Pristina — Sarajevo — Baldonnel Defence
22/09/2010 22/09/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
29/09/2010 01/10/2010 190 Baldonnel — Brussels — Knock — Baldonnel MOS Finance
06/10/2010 08/10/2010 490 Baldonnel — Sofia — Bucharest — Cork — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
11/10/2010 12/10/2010 200 Baldonnel — Cork — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Enterprise, Trade and Innovation
08/11/2010 08/11/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Justice and Law Reform
16/11/2010 17/11/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
28/11/2010 28/11/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
13/12/2010 13/12/2010 70 Baldonnel — Douglas(Isle of Man) — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Communications, Energy and Natural resources
14/12/2010 14/12/2010 120 Baldonnel — Heathrow — Baldonnel Foreign Affairs
16/12/2010 17/12/2010 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach

[602]Heli’s 2010

Date Aircraft Min. Time On Board Route Requesting Minister
16/04/2010 AW139 60 Phoenix Park — Cork Airport — Curragh Taoiseach/ Foreign Affairs
01/09/2010 EC 135 50 Phoenix Park — Galway Airport Enterprise, Trade and Innovation

Gulfstream IV 2011

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
04/02/2011 04/02/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Foreign Affairs
10/03/2011 12/03/2011 185 Baldonnel — Brussels — Knock — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
15/03/2011 18/03/2011 825 Baldonnel — Washington — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Tánaiste Foreign Affairs
24/03/2011 25/03/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
12/04/2011 12/04/2011 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Tánaiste Foreign Affairs / Justice and Equality / MOS Foreign Affairs
17/04/2011 18/04/2011 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
04/05/2011 06/05/2011 810 Baldonnel — Teteboro — White Plains — Teteboro — Knock — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
09/06/2011 10/06/2011 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Justice and Equality
19/06/2011 19/06/2011 100 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Tánaiste Foreign Affairs
21/06/2011 22/06/2011 300 Baldonnel — Vienna — Baldonnel Tánaiste Foreign Affairs
20/06/2011 20/06/2011 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Stansted — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
23/06/2011 24/06/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
21/07/2011 21/07/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
25/09/2011 26/09/2011 420 Baldonnel — Algiers — Oran — Baldonnel Agriculture, Marine and Food
29/09/2011 30/09/2011 330 Baldonnel — Warsaw — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
12/10/2011 13/10/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / Communications, Energy and Natural Resources
22/10/2011 23/10/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Dublin An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
06/11/2011 07/11/2011 455 Baldonnel — Moscow — Baldonnel Tánaiste Foreign Affairs
16/11/2011 16/11/2011 275 Baldonnel — Berlin — Frankfurt — Baldonnel An Taosieach
30/11/2011 30/11/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Defence
07/12/2011 07/12/2011 345 Baldonnel — Vilnius — Baldonnel Tánaiste Foreign Affairs
09/12/2011 09/12/2011 90 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach

Learjet 2011

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
17/01/2011 17/01/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
14/02/2011 15/02/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
01/03/2011 01/03/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
13/03/2011 14/03/2011 230 Baldonnel — Shannon — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance / Environment, Heritage and Local Government
21/03/2011 21/03/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance / MOS Foreign Affairs
07/04/2011 09/04/2011 330 Baldonnel — Budapest — Baldonnel Finance
16/05/2011 17/05/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance / MOS Taosieach
20/05/2011 20/05/2011 80 Baldonnel — Cork — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
07/06/2011 07/06/2011 100 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Agriculture, Marine and Food
11/07/2011 12/07/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
15/09/2011 17/09/2011 290 Baldonnel — Wroclaw — Baldonnel Finance
22/09/2011 23/09/2011 360 Baldonnel — Brussels — Wroclaw — Brussels — Baldonnel Defence / Justice and Equality
03/10/2011 04/10/2011 200 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Finance
21/10/2011 22/10/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
26/10/2011 26/10/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
07/11/2011 08/11/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
24/11/2011 25/11/2011 280 Baldonnel — Poznan — Baldonnel Public Expenditure and Reform
29/11/2011 30/11/2011 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance

[604]Heli’s 2011

Date Aircraft Min. Time On Board Route Requesting Minister
10/02/2011 AW139 125 Baldonnel — Tullamore — Cork Airport — Baldonnel An Taoiseach

CASA 2011

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
27/10/2011 27/10/2011 330 Baldonnel — Luxembourg — Baldonnel Justice and Equality

Gulfstream IV 2012

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
12/01/2012 12/01/2012 120 Baldonnel — Northolt — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
25/01/2012 27/01/2012 240 Baldonnel — Zurich — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
30/01/2012 30/01/2012 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taoiseach / MOS Taoiseach
08/02/2012 09/02/2012 790 Baldonnel — Teteboro — Whiteplains — Teteboro — Dublin An Taoiseach / Enterprise/Trade and Innovation
15/02/2012 17/02/2012 835 Baldonnel — Teteboro — White Plains — Teteboro — Boston — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
23/02/2012 24/02/2012 385 Baldonnel — Berlin — Rome — Baldonnel An Taoiseach
29/02/2012 02/03/2012 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel An Taosieach / Finance

Learjet 2012

Date Return Date Min. Time On Board Route Minister
11/01/2012 12/01/2012 300 Baldonnel — Vienna — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Foreign Affairs)
18/01/2012 18/01/2012 250 Baldonnel — Berlin — Baldonnel Finance
23/01/2012 24/01/2012 250 Baldonnel — Brussels — Frankfurt — Baldonnel Finance
26/01/2012 29/01/2012 725 Baldonnel — Naples — Tel Aviiv — Naples — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Foreign Affairs)
09/02/2012 09/02/2012 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel Finance
20/02/2012 21/02/2012 180 Baldonnel — Brussels — Baldonnel MOS Finance
24/02/2012 24/02/2012 385 Baldonnel — Tunis — Baldonnel Tánaiste (Foreign Affairs)

  146.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14515/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The properties currently being rented or leased by the Department are set out hereunder. All these properties are used on an ongoing basis by the Defence Forces. Information regarding the specific rents paid in respect of each premises is commercially sensitive and it would be inappropriate for me to provide this information.

Full Time RDF buildings Part Time RDF buildings
County Number of Buildings County Number of Buildings
Clare 1 Carlow 1
Cork 1 Cork 12
Donegal 1 Galway 2
Galway 1 Limerick 5
Leitrim 1 Mayo 2
Mayo 1 Meath 1
Monaghan 2 Tipperary 2
Offaly 1 Waterford 1
Sligo 1 Wexford 3
Wicklow 1

  147.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Defence    if he will confirm whether alternative accommodation for the 54th FAR, Reserve Defence Force, at Columb barracks, County Westmeath, has been sourced and secured, as the regiment is leaving the barracks on 16 March 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14530/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Following the Government’s decision to further consolidate Defence Forces personnel into fewer locations, Columb Barracks will close on 30 March 2012.

The Reserve Defence Force in Mullingar will be provided with alternative rented accommodation prior to the closure of the barracks. This is a normal arrangement for Reserve Units [606]in other locations around the country and consistent with how the previous Government dealt with the matter.

In this regard the Department recently placed advertisements in local newspapers seeking expressions of interest for the provision of suitable accommodation in the Mullingar area to facilitate the local Reserve Unit. These expressions of interest are being examined at the present time and a final decision on accommodation will be made shortly.

  148.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which the Exchequer has been fully reimbursed arising from overseas deployment of Irish military personnel on peacekeeping or other duties on behalf of EU or UN; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14534/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The UN reimburses some personnel and Contingent Owned Equipment costs in respect of contributions of personnel to UN led operations. Rates of reimbursement, fixed in accordance with UN categories of equipment and personnel, are agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Ireland and the UN for each mission. The only mission for which Ireland is currently entitled to reimbursement of some troop and equipment costs, is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The total amount currently owing to the Department of Defence by the United Nations in respect of contributions towards troop and other costs associated with the participation of Defence Forces personnel in UN missions is calculated at €11.2 million approximately. This amount, includes €4.5 million in respect of the current UNIFIL mission and €6.7 million in respect of repatriation costs of both personnel and equipment from the MINURCAT mission in Chad. The amount owing in relation to the MINURCAT mission is the subject of ongoing negotiations with the UN.

The recovery from the UN of the monies owed is pursued with the UN on an ongoing basis by the Department of Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in conjunction with the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the UN in New York.

Ireland is not entitled to any reimbursement in respect of Defence Forces participation in EU-led missions as all troop contributors to such missions are responsible for their own costs.

  149.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which the Army Reserve receives ongoing training and upgrading; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14535/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Training in the Reserve Defence Force (RDF) is voluntary and comprises of both unpaid and paid training. The provision for paid training for Reservists for 2012 is €2.5m. Based on the average rate per man-day for 2011, the 2012 provision will enable approximately 30,000 paid training man-days to be made available in the current year. This will provide for training of existing Reservists and facilitate 14 days paid recruit training for approximately 400 recruits to the Reserve Defence Force during 2012. The number of training days in 2011 showed that some 2,788 Reservists utilised 30,176 paid training man-days. Based upon this trend, the 2012 provision should ensure that members of the Reserve wishing to avail of paid training are afforded the opportunity to undertake at least 7 days paid training.

[607]The RDF Training is underpinned by modern content and delivery methods, including distance and modular learning and is based upon the RDF course syllabi. The Reserve Defence Force Training Authority (RDFTA) co-ordinates the conduct of courses as outlined in the Annual Training Directive. Unit level training also includes locally based field days and weekend camps.

A Value for Money Review (VFM) of the Reserve Defence Force is ongoing and the recommendations arising from this review will inform future plans for the Reserve, including training.

Question No. 150 answered with Question No. 28.

  151.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the number of positions to be filled at all ranks in the Army, Navy and Air Corps as at the present date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14537/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The table outlines the number of vacancies in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. The number of vacancies, by rank, is based on the Employment Control Framework of 10,000 all ranks in the Permanent Defence Force versus the strength of 8,918 as at 29 February 2012, the latest date for which figures are available. As the Deputy will be aware a major re-organisation of the Defence Forces will be initiated resulting from the Government decision to maintain the strength of the Permanent Defence Force at 9,500. This re-organisation, which will prioritise “front line” service delivery, will have an impact on the number of vacancies in each rank. I have asked the Chief of Staff and Secretary General to bring forward detailed re-organisation proposals for my consideration. The effect of the changes cannot be determined until the proposals are considered and decisions made. Pending the re-organisation, a portion of the vacancies will be filled.

In the period since 29 February, and following on from recent promotion competitions, the vacancy which existed at the rank of Major General was filled by the Government on 6 March. A further 4 vacancies at the rank of Brigadier General have also been filled. Arrangements are currently being made to hold Officer and NCO promotion competitions which have already been announced.

LT GEN MAJ GEN BRIG GEN COL LT COL COMDT CAPT LT SM BQMS CS CQMS SGTS CPLS PTES CADETS TOTAL
ARMY 0 2 4 15 24 59 23 +88 10 12 51 93 254 138 216 813
AIR CORPS 0 +1 0 0 1 9 7 13 2 1 26 6 22 22 19 127
NAVAL SERVICE 0 0 0 0 1 11 21 +6 2 3 31 6 55 8 10 142
TOTAL 0 1 4 15 26 79 51 +81 14 16 108 105 331 168 245 1,082

  152.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which the female membership of the Defence Forces, in the Army, Naval Services and Air Corps, has increased or decreased in each of the past five years to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14538/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The table sets out the number of female personnel serving in the Army, Navy and Air Corps at 31 December for each of the years 2007 to 2011.

Female representation in the Defence Forces 2007-2011

Year End Army Air Corps Naval Service Total % of PDF
2007 456 33 71 560 5.7%
2008 468 32 70 570 5.8%
2009 462 33 72 567 5.7%
2010 467 32 70 569 6%
2011 467 30 68 565 6%

In terms of the current position, the number of female personnel serving in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) on 29 February 2012, the latest date for which figures are available, was 557, of which 459 were serving in the Army, 30 in the Air Corps and 68 in the Naval Service. This represents 6.25% of the overall strength of the Defence Forces.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women throughout the Defence Forces and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities. Unlike many other national armed forces, the Defence Forces have no restrictions as regards the assignment of men or women to the full range of operational and administrative duties. All promotions and career courses are open to both genders on merit. In 2007, the Department received the report of a TNS/MRBI study it had commissioned, titled “Retention and Recruitment of Women in the Defence Forces”. This research was commissioned with a view to identifying areas where action could be taken to maximise the number of women applicants to the Defence Forces, hence increasing the number joining. The question of retention was also studied.

The results of the research were, on balance, positive. Three-quarters of serving females agreed that the Defence Forces are a good place to work. In addition there was a very high level of satisfaction (70%-80%) expressed as regards the issues of job security, pay and benefits and the variety of work on offer.

The recommendations of the report have been implemented and the challenges identified therein continue to be addressed.

The Defence Forces, on the direction of the Chief of Staff, has established a Working Group to examine levels of female participation in the organisation. The Working Group will, inter alia, inquire into why women apply or do not apply for positions within the Defence Forces and what can be done to increase awareness among the female population of a career in the Defence Forces. The data gathered from the review will be used to formulate new policies in this area, specifically aimed at increasing female participation in the Defence Forces.

The Defence Forces prides itself on providing a gender neutral working environment. Policies on equality are being constantly communicated to all ranks. The military authorities are alert and vigilant to this issue and are committed to addressing this matter in a continuing and proactive manner.

  153.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the extent to which Army, Naval Services and or Air Corps vehicles, vessels or aircraft are upgraded on an annual basis; the extent of any such upgrading in the past three years to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14539/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  In the current economic situation, the acquisition of equipment for the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service takes place on a strictly prioritised basis to ensure that the Defence Forces can carry out their roles at home and overseas. In recent years, a number of vehicle purchases took place which included Minibuses, standard patrol vehicles and mid-coaches for troop transportation. The main acquisitions for 2012 will be patrol vehicles for day- to- day operational use in the Defence Forces and a number of ambulances. In addition, funding is provided on a continuous basis for the required maintenance of vehicles in the military transport fleet.

With regard to the Naval Service, a contract for the provision of two new ships was placed with Babcock Marine, UK in October, 2010. The first ship is scheduled for delivery in 2014, the second a year later.

The equipment and aircraft available to the Air Corps are of a high standard and are maintained by the Air Corps in accordance with best practice. The main expenditure in the Air Corps in 2012 relates to the maintenance and Power by the Hour contracts set up to keep the fleet fully operational with specific maintenance work being carried out on the CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft over the next two years. As was the case in 2010 and 2011, there are no plans to acquire any new aircraft for the Air Corps this year.

  154.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he is satisfied that adequate training facilities and services are available to the Army, Naval Services and Air Corps even in the present economic circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14540/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Defence Forces maintains a wide portfolio of training facilities. The portfolio includes class rooms and lecture halls throughout the Defence Forces’ Barracks and Schools, tactical training lands, and firing ranges. Sufficient resources are made available on an annual basis to ensure that these facilities are both maintained in proper working order and developed to meet future requirements. The infrastructure of class rooms and lecture halls is equipped to a standard laid down by the military authorities and is adequate to meet the Defence Forces’ immediate and foreseeable requirements.

The tactical field training requirements of the Defence Forces are met through a network of field training areas in the Glen of Imaal, Kilworth, Bere Island, Kilbride and other smaller dedicated training areas. The accommodation facilities in these training areas are maintained and upgraded in accordance with prioritised plans to ensure that they continue to meet Defence Forces needs.

The Defence Forces also operate a network of firing ranges to exercise individual and collective weapon skills. These ranges are maintained and developed on an ongoing basis in accordance with international military standards and are adequate to meet the Defence Forces needs. It should be noted that Defence Forces firing ranges are also used by An Garda Síochána to practice weapons handling skills.

  155.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    the plans he has to upgrade accommodation in the various military barracks throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14542/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  The Department is engaged in an ongoing building and maintenance programme. One of the key objectives of the building programme is the modernisation and enhancement of the living, training, operational and accommodation facilities available to members of the Defence Forces. The capital building programme focuses mainly on infrastructural projects comprising the construction of new buildings and the refurbishment of existing buildings. The ongoing maintenance programme ensures that necessary repairs are carried out at all military installations. My Department maintains a master list of projects for development and the list is reviewed periodically based on current needs and priority projects are identified.

The 2012 provision for capital works at military installations is €6.74 million, including a capital carryover from 2011 of €500k. This compares with a capital provision of €10.14 million for 2011. A further €7.46 million has been provided for maintenance (non-capital) works at military installations compared to €8.36 million for 2011.

Despite the reduction in the allocation for 2012, the building and maintenance programme will endeavour to ensure that members of the Defence Forces are provided with the best possible facilities to meet their needs.

  156.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Defence    if he is satisfied regarding the chain of command; if the power to activate major emergency services has been sufficiently updated, with particular reference to the actual determination of an emergency and consequent call-out of the rescue services; the extent to which past experience is called upon in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14543/12]

Minister for Defence (Deputy Alan Shatter):  Emergency planning in this country is based on the ‘lead Department’ principle. This means that each Department is responsible for assessing the risks, making appropriate plans and leading the response to those emergencies that impact on its areas of responsibility. I am satisfied that the lead Departments have the necessary powers to activate a national-level emergency. In April 2011, the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning approved guidelines for coordinating a national-level emergency/crisis response. The guidelines provide that when a coordinated national-level emergency response is required, the lead Department will request the Office of Emergency Planning to convene a meeting of a National Coordination Group.

The guidelines also include indicative ‘triggers’ for calling such a meeting. When a National Coordination Group meeting is convened, the National Emergency Coordination Centre is activated and staff from the Office of Emergency Planning (civil and military) manage the Centre on an ongoing basis during the period of the emergency. Also, under the Framework for Major Emergency Management there are clear procedures set out for declaring a major emergency and these have been activated twice in the recent past. A major emergency was declared following the air accident at Cork Airport that occurred in February 2011 and again during the severe flooding that hit Dublin and its environs in October 2011.

Learning lessons from past experience is an important part of emergency planning and management. In 2011, the Office of Emergency Planning requested Dr. Caroline McMullen, Lec[612]turer in Emergency, Crisis and Business Continuity Management at Dublin City University (DCU) Business School to identify how reporting on emergency responses could be strengthened in order to harness opportunities for learning. DCU recommended that a standard template be introduced for reviewing an emergency response based around key areas, including issues on:

how the additional demands placed on the Department/ Agency during an emergency impacted on its day-to-day activities,

how it fulfilled its emergency management functions,

how it mobilised personnel and resources, and

how it undertook task delegation and communication with the public.

The template was adopted by the Government Task Force on Emergency Planning in April 2011.

  157.  Deputy Pearse Doherty    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if he has responded to the concerns raised by a fishermen’s association (details supplied) with regard to the by-laws in place to regulate activity in Inver Bay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14391/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  In my response to Question No. 219 from Deputy Calleary on 2 February, 2012, I stated that, in my view, the loss of or damage to gear caused by trawlers operating in Inver Bay in breach of Fisheries Bye-Law No. 7 of 16 February 1857 is most effectively dealt with as a civil matter between the parties involved, as the Bye-Law is effectively unenforceable given the very low level of penalty involved. The Bye-Law is the responsibility of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. I also stated that the issue arising in Inver Bay is effectively a matter of access to inshore waters by larger fishing vessels, using particular types of fishing gear and if any changes to the current arrangements were to be considered, this would have to be examined on a national basis.

  158.  Deputy Pearse Doherty    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if he will comment on the concerns submitted to him in relation to the transfer of staff in County Donegal (details supplied); if he is concerned about the matters raised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14398/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  My Department is set to complete a significant reorganisation of local offices during 2012. The original reorganisation savings targets have substantially been met, involving the redeployment of some 400 staff from the Department’s local offices without replacement. This has reduced operational costs by some €30 million annually.

A strategic analysis of staffing levels in the local offices was undertaken in 2009 and this analysis formed the basis of the staffing requirement for the new structure of 16 enhanced regional offices. The majority of these enhanced offices have already reached their reduced 2009 staffing levels and are delivering an enhanced service to our customers. We are in the [613]final phase of this adjustment in the remaining offices, including the Donegal regional office in Raphoe. I am satisfied that the Raphoe office will be fully capable of meeting the business requirements of the enhanced office.

The Deputy may wish to note that the Croke Park Agreement facilitates these arrangements and in particular provides the opportunity to redeploy staff to another Department, which, in this instance has a demand to fill vacancies in Letterkenny, Buncrana and Donegal.

  159.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that at the recent JP McManus Irish Cup coursing at Limerick racecourse, eight hares were mauled over the three days, proving that muzzled greyhounds can cause injury and death to hares; if he will therefore consider a ban on coursing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14409/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  Under the provisions of the Greyhound Industry Act, 1958 the regulation of coursing is chiefly a matter for the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) subject to the general control and direction of Bord na gCon, which is the statutory body with responsibility for the improvement and development of the greyhound industry, greyhound racing and coursing.

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, under section 34 of the Wildlife Act 1976, has responsibility for the issue of an annual licence to the Irish Coursing Club (ICC) and its affiliated clubs to capture live hares.

I have been informed by the ICC that a veterinary surgeon and an ICC Control Steward were present and that a total of 87 hares commenced the meeting, none were injured, 86 were subsequently released back to the wild and one died prior to the final day’s coursing.

The ICC has also informed me that 98.32% of hares netted for coursing in the past season were released back to the wild and that injury to hares by muzzled greyhounds is a very rare occurrence. The ICC has a robust system of regulation in place to underpin the maintenance of standards in the sport.

A Monitoring Committee on Coursing was established in 1993/94 comprising Departmental officials and representatives from both the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and the ICC to monitor developments in coursing and in that regard the situation is kept under constant review to ensure that coursing is run in a well-controlled and responsible manner in the interest of animal welfare for hares and greyhounds alike. Consequently the Government does not plan to ban hare coursing.

  160.  Deputy Michael Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    the rationale behind the restrictions on certain areas for forestry without a concrete scientific basis, including lands which are restricted on the basis of hen harrier or unenclosed issues; if the demand forecast for roundwood is 2 million m3 greater than supply by 2020 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14420/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The afforestation schemes provide attractive grants and premiums to incentivise the planting of agricultural land by farmers and other landowners, to support the continued development of a viable and sustainable national forest resource.

[614]All applications submitted to my Department for approval to undertake afforestation are examined regarding the suitability of the site from a silvicultural, productivity and environmental perspective. This includes an evaluation of site productivity issues such as soil type, fertility, exposure and access, and an assessment of any potential environmental impact of the project on water quality, nature conservation, archaeology and landscape.

Certain sites are less suited for forestry. Poorer quality site types are predominantly peat and are often characterised by poor fertility, high elevation and constrained by poor access, wind stability issues, high fire risk, etc. These poor site types are also very sensitive from an environmental perspective and have limited timber productivity. In the current economic climate, my Department is not prioritising the use of limited Exchequer funds to support the establishment of new forests on such sites, on silvicultural, site productivity and environmental grounds.

My Department has a legal responsibility to ensure that every hectare approved for afforestation complies with requirements set out under various environmental European Directives such as the Birds and Habitats Directives, the EIA Directive and the Water Framework Directive, and with corresponding national legislation. This will ensure that the ongoing expansion of the national forest resource is compatible with the protection of Ireland’s environment. My Department is in regular communications with the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), Inland Fisheries Ireland, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and with other bodies, to ensure an ongoing streamlining of procedures to ensure the afforestation programme is compliant with the legislation outlined above. Changes to the restrictions in place to enable more farmers to plant are continually being looked at by my Department within this context.

A Working Group will be established shortly by my Department to examine the future management of existing forests on peatlands. The group will also be examining the afforestation options with regard to unenclosed land. The priority must be to ensure that limited financial resources are targeted towards lands that provide the best value for money with a view to expanding the forest estate so that it can be sustainably and economically managed into the future. Planting on unenclosed land has represented a very small proportion of total planting in recent years (i.e. 7% and 5% in 2009 and 2010 respectively).

In relation to projected roundwood supply and demand, the All Ireland Roundwood Forecast, published by my Department in 2011, estimates that annual net realisable roundwood volume production will increase to 4.94 million cubic metres by 2020. The All Ireland Roundwood Demand Forecast, also published by my Department in 2011, estimates that annual demand for roundwood will increase to c. 6.04 million cubic metres by 2020, including an estimated demand of 3.08 million cubic metres of wood biomass for energy purposes.

  161.  Deputy Michael Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    the reason he has yet to introduce a statutory levy agreed by the poultry industry a year ago to Bord Bia for promotion of chicken. [14421/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  Bord Bia already operates a Poultry Quality Assurance Scheme which makes a critically important contribution to the marketing and promotion of the product.

I have recently received representations from the poultry industry seeking, inter alia, the introduction of a statutory levy with matching funding from the Exchequer to assist in the [615]continued promotion of chicken. My Department is at present considering relevant legal state aids and other issues, including the scope for poultry promotion, for example through the Bord Bia Quality Assurance Scheme, to which I have already referred.

On the question of additional exchequer funding however such consideration must ultimately have regard to the exigencies of the public finances, and against that background, I will not be in a position to make a further financial contribution to the activities of Bord Bia at this time.

  162.  Deputy Michael Moynihan    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if a grant will be introduced for the broiler grower producer who is required to invest in new welfare standards due to an EU directive and who has not been grant-aided for this purpose. [14422/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The Poultry Welfare Scheme which was one of the Targeted Agricultural Modernisation Schemes under the Rural Development Programme, 2007-2013, provided aid for investment required to meet welfare standards in relation to laying hens. The scheme is now closed. I have no plans at present to introduce grant-aid for broiler growers.

  163.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding slurry exportation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14427/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The Nitrates Regulations, which are the responsibility of my colleague the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, require farmers to keep within the limit of 170 kg of organic nitrogen from livestock per hectare per year, or up to 250 kg per hectare if approved for a nitrates derogation by my Department.

The continuation of this nitrates derogation is of critical importance to Ireland achieving its targets under the Food Harvest 2020 strategy. The derogation will again come up for renewal in conjunction with a review of our National Action Programme in 2013.

In order to remain within the limits set down above, a farmer has the option of exporting organic manures to another farmer and a record of such movements must be submitted to my Department before the end of December in any given year.

The additional requirement to submit these forms by the end of December each year was introduced in 2011. My Department provided interim Nitrogen and Phosphorus statements in August 2011 to farmers who were considered to be at risk of exceeding the regulatory limits, and the requirement to submit records before the end of 2011 was clearly stated in this correspondence. In addition my Department placed advertisements in the farming press highlighting this requirement.

It should also be noted that to facilitate as many farmers as possible to submit exports forms for 2011, an extension was granted until the end of January 2012.

  164.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    his views on a matter in respect of persons (details supplied). [14429/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  I assume that the Deputy is referring to the requirement that planning permission or a declaration of exemption [616]must be submitted with all applications under the Dairy Equipment Scheme for external bulk milk tanks. Under this condition, it is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that any building in which a milking machine or milk cooling equipment is installed in compliant with the planning permission legislation. The issue of such planning permission is a matter for the relevant local authority and does not come within the remit of my Department.

  165.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if his attention has been drawn to a documentary (details supplied) regarding cruelty to horses; if he will address the following: the lack of traceability for equines, the absence of a record of transfer of ownership, and the lack of enforcement of existing legislation regarding microchipping and passports for horses by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14440/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  I am aware of the documentary referred to by the Deputy. All equines must be identified in accordance with EU and national legislation whereby equines require a passport, a microchip which creates a link between the passport and the animal for all equines issued with a passport after 1 July 2009 for the first time and a unique equine life number which is recorded in the database of the approved passport issuing organisation and on the passport.

All equines must have a passport issued within the calendar year of birth (by 31 December in the year of birth) or within six months of birth, whichever is later. Possession of an unidentified equine is an offence under the legislation. Only equines identified properly, with a valid passport, may be moved and traded legally. A passport must accompany the equine whenever it is moved to events such as shows, sales and to slaughter plants. There is an exception in the case of a “foal at foot” when it is accompanied by the mare.

Equines that have been identified and registered with a Passport Issuing Organisation within the year of birth (or within 6 months of birth) are issued with a passport that may enable the animal to be considered for slaughter for human consumption. Equines intended for slaughter for human consumption must be accompanied to the slaughterhouse by its passport compliant with current veterinary requirements — this requirement is an essential part of the food-chain information required by food law.

Transfer of ownership is not a requirement of EU legislation but is an internal rule of some passport-issuing organisations. There is no central database in Ireland but equines issued with passports are recorded in the database of an approved passport issuing organisation.

Significant efforts have been made to advise horse owners on the legal requirement that all equines must have passports. The enforcement activities used by my Department have contributed to a major improvement in awareness and compliance amongst horse owners in relation to the requirements of the identification legislation. The Department prioritises enforcement activities in relation to equine identification with a focus on slaughter plants, sales venues, ports and airports.

Furthermore my Department provides funding to Local Authorities to enforce the Control of Horses legislation, whereby stray or wandering horses can be seized by the Local Authorities. Feedback from Local Authorities indicates that the population of stray and neglected equines has reduced considerably especially in respect of horses in urban areas.

[617]Finally I would also like to draw the attention of the Deputy to disease control legislation introduced recently which requires locations of premises where equines are kept to be registered with my Department from 1 May 2012.

  166.  Deputy Dara Calleary    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    the reason for the delay in processing an agri-environment options scheme application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; when he expects the application to be processed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14500/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The person named was approved for participation in the Agri-Environment Options Scheme with effect from the 1 September 2010.

Under the EU Regulations governing the Scheme and other area-based payment schemes, a comprehensive administrative check, including cross-checks with the Land Parcel Identification System, had to be completed before any payment could issue. These checks have been completed and the digitisation of two plots which was required in this case to enable the application to be processed has also been finalised. Payment in respect of the 2010 scheme year will issue shortly.

Payments in respect of the 2011 scheme year are subject to a similar administrative checking process, once the 2010 payment has issued the checking process in relation to 2011 will get under way.

  167.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by the Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14511/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  My Department is currently in the process of completing a nationwide comprehensive reorganisation of its Local Office Network. This process, when complete will involve the closure of 42 offices. We are currently well advanced in this programme.

As offices close, they are handed back to OPW for other use or termination of leases. In general, all issues in relation to leases for Government Departments / Offices, including my Department is a matter for the Office of Public Works.

There is one building in Portlaoise which is leased directly by my Department at an annual rent of €39,999.96. This office is fully occupied and utilised.

  168.  Deputy Willie Penrose    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if he will take steps to expedite an application for farm payments in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Longford, where all the necessary registration documentation has been furnished to the office in Cork, and is duly registered there, although the Department offices in Portlaoise claim it has not been received and that ten animals have not been so registered; [618]if same can now be reviewed immediately and all payments made to the person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14531/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The person named registered 51 animals under the 2010 Suckler Welfare Scheme. Payment has been made for 33 of these animals. The necessary information relating to the required measures has not been submitted for three animals and therefore, payment cannot be made on the animals.

Payment has not issued in respect of the remaining fifteen animals as they were not registered within the statutory twenty-seven day timeframe as specified in the Terms and Conditions of the Scheme. A letter issued from my Department on 4 August 2011 setting out the position in respect of these animals. To date, no reply has been received from the participant.

  169.  Deputy John Browne    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    the steps he is currently undertaking to protect the interests of the Irish fish producers and processors against the proposal by the European Commission to introduce individual transferable quotas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14553/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  My overarching goal for Ireland’s fishing industry is for a sustainable, profitable and self reliant industry that protects and enhances the social and economic fabric of rural coastal communities dependent on the seafood sector, while balancing these objectives with the need to deliver a sustainable and eco centred fisheries landscape for future generations.

The proposal by the European Commission for the introduction of a mandatory scheme of Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs), otherwise known as individual transferable quotas (ITQs), is to my mind totally at odds with the unique dynamic that is the Irish fishing sector.

This proposal will, I believe, lead to a privatisation of fish quotas and their concentration in the hands of multinational companies with limited or no links to Ireland’s coastal communities, resulting in the likely loss of the economic benefit and ultimately jobs which flow from Irish fish quotas being treated as a public good and allocated to Irish fishing vessels.

This is not only an economic argument, the unique social and cultural fabric of our coastal communities would be devastated if the link between the fleet and the ports and processors was broken.

I have forcibly voiced my opinion at EU Fisheries Councils and indeed privately in bilaterals with fellow Ministers and indeed Commissioner Damanaki herself. I have been heartened by the support I have received from other like minded Member States but recognise that it will be an uphill battle to get the mandatory nature of the TFCs removed from the CFP reform proposals.

In partnership with the Irish industry, I am taking every opportunity to lobby and influence the key decision makers at European level and have made a strong case when I met key members of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament at the beginning of the month.

The negotiations on the CFP reform are ongoing, indeed they are on the agenda at next weeks Council of Fisheries Ministers on 19 March. I will continue to defend Ireland’s right to determine how our quotas will be allocated in the best interests of our fleet, processing sector and the communities dependent on them for their very survival.

[619]

  170.  Deputy John Browne    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if he fully supports the concept of regionalisation or decentralisation in the context of the ongoing review of the common fisheries policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14555/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  Ireland is a strong proponent of a regionalised policy as part of the proposal for the new CFP. I am actively pursuing a policy for a more regional and holistic approach to management where responsibilities are clearly established under an overarching policy established by the Council and European Parliament. This would involve increased stakeholder involvement through the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) and Producer Organisations (POs). I want to see measures developed under this overarching framework at regional level that will be given legal effect under the EU legislative framework in order to ensure that all fishing fleets are treated equally and to ensure a level playing field across the relevant Member States in each fishery. Where there is full agreement among all regional Member States on specific measures, I would support the full introduction in European law by the EU Commission under delegated powers. However, where agreements cannot be secured, I consider that measures must be adopted under co-decision by the Council and European Parliament.

The Commission suggest after establishing a high-level framework at Union level that it is a matter for Member States at regional level to co-operate, agree and implement a joint approach for fishing operations at a regional level with the measures implemented nationally and individually by each Member State. It also provides that where regional Member States are not in agreement, the Commission would itself introduce measures under delegated powers. This approach is I believe flawed and would result in either a diversity of measures operated in the same fishery by fleets of each Member State or, and more likely for fisheries in Western Waters where our fleet operates, the EU Commission having power to implement measures under delegated acts. That is an even greater centralisation of power than applies now and would appear to be moving in exactly the wrong direction, considering the shared diagnosis before the reform that poor compliance with aspects of the CFP was often a result of the lack of involvement of relevant players in the decision making.

  171.  Deputy John Browne    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    his position in regard to the ongoing discussions on the long-term management plan for Atlantic horse mackerel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14556/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  The EU Commission proposal aims to establish a long-term plan for the conservation and management of the Western stock of Atlantic horse mackerel. The proposal was initially tabled by the EU Commission in early 2009. In drawing up the new plan stakeholders were consulted by the EU Commission through the Pelagic Regional Advisory Council, including Irish stakeholders. As had been in the case with other management plans adopted by the Council up to that point, the proposal included a Harvest Control Rule, to place strict boundaries around the annual Total Allowable Catch to be set by the Council.

The original proposal was made and the proposal was expected to be adopted before the passing of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which extended co-decision to fisheries policy matters, other than where related to the fixing and allocation of fishing opportunities, which remained solely a Council competence. The proposal was not adopted before the application of the new Treaty and is now subject to co-decision between the EU Council and the EU Parliament.

[620]Since early 2010, the matter of legal competence for aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy, particularly Harvest Control Rules (HCRs) has been a matter of intense debate within the Council and between the Council and the European Parliament. In essence some interpretations point to HCRs as being central to fisheries conservation policy and therefore a co-decision matter, whereas others see HCRs as intrinsic to the fixing of fishing opportunities and therefore a Council only matter. The seriousness of this debate is such that despite the acknowledged value of long term plans to the conservation of fisheries stocks, no new management plans have been adopted since 2009. With Council and Parliament divided on the issue of the legal base for the Harvest Control Rule under a long term management plan for Horse Mackerel, the Council, despite the on-going efforts of successive Presidencies, did not adopt its position on the plan, and therefore no formal negotiations had taken place with Parliament and the plan was not adopted.

The Polish Presidency made a compromise proposal late last year. This was progressed by the Danish Presidency in the early months of their Presidency and secured a Council position, which was supported by all Member States. The intention, under the Council position, is to remove explicit reference to Harvest Control Rules and instead to simplify the approach by establishing an objective, rather than a rule, and to focus on the need to ensure the sustainable exploitation of western horse mackerel on the basis of maximum sustainable yield (MSY), which would be achieved by aiming at a fishing mortality (F) at MSY or less on appropriate age groups. Ireland, with all other Member States, supported this position with a view to progressing the adoption of the long term management plan for horse mackerel.

  172.  Deputy Charlie McConalogue    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    when payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Donegal in relation to a ewe grassland payment for 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14563/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  Under the 2011 Grassland Sheep Scheme, farmers were required to:

maintain ewes;

complete the Sheep Census return by 11 March 2011;

submit the SPS application form by the closing date of 16th May 2011.

While an application under the 2011 Single Payment Scheme and other area-based schemes was received from the person named on 12 May 2010, following validation it was found that the person named had not submitted the Sheep Census Return, by the closing date, as required. Therefore, no payment is due under the Grassland Sheep Scheme to the person named.

  173.  Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn    asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine    if he will guarantee that he will not support any move to allow the EU-Morocco fisheries partnership agreement to return to the EU’s agenda. [9616/12]

Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine (Deputy Simon Coveney):  In January 2012, the EU Commission introduced a draft negotiating mandate for a new protocol for the EU Morocco Fisheries Agreement. The mandate sought to conclude a protocol which would oblige [621]Morocco to comply with international law and to report regularly on its use of the funds for the population concerned, including the people of the Western Sahara.

Following discussions, Ireland supported a Presidency compromise subject to a joint statement with Germany and Slovenia to the effect:—

“Germany, Ireland and Slovenia would have preferred an explicit reference to Western Sahara in the mandate. Germany’s, Ireland’s and Slovenia’s acceptance of the mandate does not, in any way, pre-empt our final position on any draft Protocol that will eventually be submitted for approval. The attitude of each of the above Member States to the draft Protocol will be determined by the extent to which the rights of the people of Western Sahara are protected in accordance with international law and the extent of the related reporting requirements that must be fulfilled by Morocco”

Any decision on Ireland supporting the future ratification of new protocol to the FPA with Morocco will be made having due consideration to all issues and in particular the qualifications outlined in this statement.

  174.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs    the number of buildings her Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings her Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by her Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [14513/12]

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald):  My Department does not directly lease any property. The details of the leasing arrangements for my Department’s office location at Mespil Road, Dublin 4, are dealt with directly by the Office of Public Works.

  175.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health    if he will indicate the possibility of obtaining respite care for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14366/12]

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.

  176.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health    if he will provide a list of interim funded drugs task force projects administered through the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee and City of Dublin Youth Service Board; if he will provide details on the amount of funding provided to each project in each of the years from 2006 to date in 2012; if he will confirm that payments were made in 2012 to City of Dublin VEC and to the drugs task force project for which those funds were approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14432/12]

  177.  Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan    asked the Minister for Health    if his attention has been drawn to the fact that requiring CDYSB to sign off a verification of 2011 expenditure in order to receive funding would mean the CDYSB would require more resources for administrative costs; if funding is then refused because verification is not signed off, eight local drugs task [622]force projects in the Dublin city area will be affected and the organisation (details supplied) will be danger of closing in two weeks if funding is not resumed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14433/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 176 and 177 together.

Funding allocated to interim Drugs Task Force projects is channelled through designated agencies including the City of Dublin Vocational Education Committee (CDVEC) and the City of Dublin Youth Services Board (CDYSB). All designated agencies were asked to confirm the actual amount of funding disbursed to Drugs Task Force projects during 2011. In line with Government accounting rules, savings arising at the end of 2011 must be taken into account in calculating the overall payments to projects in the current year. However, this process has not resulted in any delays in the transfer of funding to designated agencies. The accountability arrangements in relation to Drugs Task Force projects funded through the CDYSB have been finalised and payment of the first quarter of the 2012 allocation has issued to interim funded projects in the relevant Local Drugs Task Force areas. It is expected that the funding will be in the bank account of the project referred to by the Deputy on Wednesday, 14 March.

Details of the funding provided to projects channelled through CDYSB and CDVEC from 2007 to date are listed in the table below. There was no funding provided to either agency in 2006 for interim funded projects.

Payments to City of Dublin Youth Services Board

Task Force Project Name 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 (Jan-June)
Ballyfermot CEOL Project 15,744 16,122 16,122 0 0 0
Ballyfermot The BASE 32,500 67,471 42,471 57,314 55,766 27,208
Ballymun Best SCP Early Birds Club 119,420 125,934 67,266 121,649 121,649 60,824
Ballymun Expansion of After School Clubs 27,486 29,146 26,689 28,886 0 0
Ballymun Drugs Education Project 50,000 56,567 56,134 55,225 56,568 28,284
Ballymun Outfit Programme — BRYR 26,266 63,026 63,026 63,026 126,159 93,761
Ballymun Mentoring Support Programme 13,933 15,283 15,284 14,534 14,534 7,267
Ballymun Fourth Aisling Project 0 50,000 50,000 48,335 51,690 25,845
Canal Communities Community Capacity Support Grants Scheme 0 0 0 44,718 13,500 0
Canal Communities Skills based Co-ordinator 70,558 71,978 59,724 66,905 65,098 31,761
Canal Communities Youth Worker 50,238 58,858 56,317 0 40,227 26,213
Canal Communities YEAH Project 37,833 76,313 51,609 68,656 68,766 33,551
Dublin 12 Crumlin Community Youth Band 9,573 9,803 8,202 8,512 8,459 3,502
Dublin 13 Support for the activities of Club ’98 4,639 4,750 4,492 2,062 0 0
Dublin 12 Youth Club Lower Crumlin 68,048 58,385 66,034 57,914 57,366 28,068
Dublin 12 Early School Leaving Initiative 21,893 36,500 11,209 19,462 19,300 9,150
Dublin 13 Establishment of an Education/Bursary Scheme 43,676 44,723 22,362 20,044 0 0
Dublin North East Prevention Education 112,730 115,946 90,832 108,488 135,000 67,500
Dublin North East MIC Project 191,340 199,517 131,512 172,738 192,738 93,960
Dublin North East Traveller Support Group 46,737 48,648 24,324 44,238 70,000 34,125
Finglas Cabra Contribute to new Counselling Service 60,508 55,500 60,500 47,500 50,000 25,000
Finglas Cabra After School Project Drug Prevention Initiative Fund 50,297 56,504 51,504 51,504 50,000 25,000
Finglas Cabra Coláiste Eoin Equine Prog 0 0 4,699 0 0 0
North Inner City Summerhill Comm. Yth DG — HOPE 39,989 24,134 25,258 43,169 42,003 20,581
North Inner City Step by Step 0 24,500 0 0 202,327 118,959
North Inner City IADP-Community Participation 100,778 110,708 102,248 92,400 83,400 40,358
North Inner City Macro Step by Step 42,380 45,098 44,091 40,447 40,447 0
North Inner City IADP Annie Kelly Education Bur 22,937 23,487 23,951 22,700 30,000 14,250
North Inner City Belong to Youth Project 25,869 55,417 51,802 50,294 50,294 24,644
South Inner City Westland Row CBS After-school Project 10,706 10,971 10,995 9,728 9,728 4,864
South Inner City Whitefriar Aikido Club Juniors 3,761 3,851 3,665 3,242 3,240 1,620
South Inner City School St and Thomas Court Bawn FRC 0 0 0 0 50,134 25,067
Total 1,299,839 1,559,140 1,242,322 1,363,689 1,708,394 871,362

Payments to City of Dublin VEC

Task Force Project Name 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 (Jan-June)
Finglas Cabra Coláiste Eoin Equine Prog 0 0 0 10,000 10,000 5,000
Ballyfermot Matt Talbot Community Trust 0 0 0 0 116,000 56,596
Total 0 0 0 10,000 126,000 61,596

  178.  Deputy Emmet Stagg    asked the Minister for Health    if he has seen the recently published report by a person (details supplied) on the impacts of injecting silicofluorides into public drinking water; if he will review this policy in view of the report’s findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14533/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall):  I have received, earlier this week, a copy of the Report to which the Deputy refers and I have asked the Irish Expert Body on Fluorides and Health to examine it. The Forum on Fluoridation, which reported in 2002, advised that the fluoridation of piped public water supplies should continue as a public health measure. One of the recommendations of the Forum was to amend the Regulations regarding fluoridation of public water supplies to redefine the optimal level of fluoride in drinking water from 0.8 to 1.0 parts per million (ppm) to between 0.6 and 0.8 ppm. Regulations were introduced in 2007 to give legal effect to this change.

The Irish Expert Body on Fluorides and Health advises that the balance of scientific evidence worldwide confirms that water fluoridation, at the optimal level, does not cause any ill effects and continues to be safe and effective in protecting the oral health of all age groups. The report of the EU Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), published in June 2011, has not made any findings of negative health or environmental effects concerning fluoridation of water. There are no plans to discontinue the policy of fluoridation of public water supplies, which continues to make an effective contribution to oral health in Ireland.

  179.  Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy    asked the Minister for Health    when an eating, drinking and swallowing disorders clinic (details supplied) will resume; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14372/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  180.  Deputy Pearse Doherty    asked the Minister for Health    when the findings of the report by his Department and the health protection surveillance into the association between the [625]swine flu vaccine Pandemrix and narcolepsy will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14394/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I am aware of the submission of the report which is being considered by my Department in the context of other evidence from international studies. I will revert to the Deputy when my officials have briefed me on the contents of the Report.

  181.  Deputy Michelle Mulherin    asked the Minister for Health    if he intends to appoint a child psychiatrist and consultant for CAMS in Ballina, County Mayo; when he expects such an appointment to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14455/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

  182.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health    if a full medical card may be granted in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14464/12]

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.

  183.  Deputy Patrick O’Donovan    asked the Minister for Health    his plans to bring forward legislation to set standards and regulate the provision of private home care companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14472/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  Primary legislation and resources will be required to introduce a statutory regulation system for home care services. The question of possible changes to legislation, including regulation and inspection, for Home Care services for older people is under consideration. The Department is at present examining this matter in the overall context of the licensing of Health Care providers. Legislation is currently being prepared taking into account, for example, the recommendations of the Commission on Patient Safety and Quality Assurance, as set out in its report: Building a Culture of Patient Safety, and two reports by the Law Reform Commission entitled Legal Aspects of Carers and Legal Aspects of Professional Home Care. Various options are being considered including the complex legal issues involved, the need to prioritise legislative proposals in the wider Social Care area, and taking into account various operational improvements being progressed by the HSE in relation to the Home Support service for vulnerable older people.

  184.  Deputy Brendan Griffin    asked the Minister for Health    when a person (details supplied) in County Kerry will be called to see an orthopaedic consultant at Kerry General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14482/12]

[626]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 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.

  185.  Deputy Joanna Tuffy    asked the Minister for Health    when a decision will issue on a medical card appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; the reason for the delay in dealing with this appeal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14486/12]

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.

  186.  Deputy Brendan Smith    asked the Minister for Health    the progress that has been made in relation to the provision of adequate general practitioner services at a centre (details supplied) in County Cavan; if this issue will be resolved without further delay due to the concerns of the local community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14501/12]

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.

  187.  Deputy Finian McGrath    asked the Minister for Health    if he will advise and support a new group for autism (details supplied). [14502/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Kathleen Lynch):  As the Deputy’s question relates to service matters, I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

  188.  Deputy Michael Healy-Rae    asked the Minister for Health    the number of buildings his Department has rented in each county in the country that are, at present, being fully utilised; the number of buildings his Department rented which are empty, idle and not being used; the cost incurred by his Department in renting these buildings, with separate figures for the ones that are used and the ones that are unused; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14520/12]

[627]Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  The sourcing of property on behalf of Government Departments is a matter for the Office of Public Works. The Department’s Headquarters is in Hawkins House, Dublin 2 which is not subject to any lease. There are two leases currently held by my Department as follows:—

Block D, Irish Life Mall, Dublin 1 which formerly accommodated the Office of the Disability Appeals Officer. This office is now located within my Department’s Hawkins House Headquarters.

1 Ormond Quay Lower, Dublin 1 which formerly accommodated the Irish Council for Bioethics. This lease was signed by the Council itself when it was still a separate corporate entity. As part of the winding up of this entity, my Department absorbed the staff on a secondment basis and took on the lease on the Council’s premises.

My Department is actively seeking an alternative use for these premises for the remainder of their leases. The following are the yearly cost of rents:

Premises Cost
Irish Life Building €98,5000
Ormond Quay €48,000

  189.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Health    the total number of women known to have had PIP breast implants; the extent to which defects in the procedure have been reported or detected; if it is intended to address any issues arising therefrom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14544/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  My Department is aware of the issues being raised by concerned recipients of PIP implants. Since concerns were first raised regarding the issue of breast implants provided by the now defunct French company Poly Implant Prosthèse (PIP) the Irish Medicines Board (IMB) and my Department have been in constant touch with European and UK investigators of the matter and with any relevant initiative involved. Approximately 1500 Irish patients were implanted with the Poly Implant Prosthèse (PIP) silicone breast implants. Recall of these implants was taken following an inspection of PIP’s manufacturing plant where it was found that most implants manufactured were filled with an unauthorised silicone gel which differs in composition from the originally approved material.

Currently the Irish rupture rate is approximately 5% of devices. Reports received indicate that ruptures have occurred at or between one month to eight years after implant. Factors which may contribute to the rupture rate seen include the fact that there is more intensive patient follow up, use of diagnostic scans, the increased time since implantation and more active rupture reporting by surgeons. In early February 2012, the European Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks published its initial findings on ‘The Safety of PIP Breast Implants’. The scientific opinion concludes that “further work is proposed to establish with greater certainty the health risks, if any, that may be associated with PIP silicone breast implants”. The report also concludes that each case needs to be assessed individually.

The advice from the IMB and my Department continues to be that there is no evidence of increased risk of cancer for women with this brand of implant, the risk of rupture is low and [628]anyone with a concern about their breast implants should discuss the matter with their GP or surgeon. My Department and the IMB continue to liaise with the Health Security Committee’s Health Threats Unit which is maintaining the up to date position on the issue for all Member States. As information on PIP implantation worldwide and within the European Community emerges, my Department and the IMB are continuing to review advice for recipients of PIP implants.

My Department is engaged at present in meeting all the treating clinics with a view to ensuring that best practice and patient support is paramount in the service provided to concerned recipients of PIP implants. My Chief Medical Officer will arrange to meet with a representative group of concerned recipients of PIP implants as soon as possible with a view to assisting in the resolution of the concerns raised.

I am satisfied that all relevant emerging information and updates on the PIP implant issue are being thoroughly assessed and all concerned and interested parties kept aware of the emerging position.

  190.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Health    the total cost of transatlantic flights for his special advisors and interim Health Service Executive board members over the past 12 months; if he will provide particulars of the flights, including names of persons and flights paid for; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14547/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  There were no transatlantic flights undertaken by my special advisors or Departmental interim Health Service Executive board members over the past 12 months. I have forwarded your query regarding the remaining interim Health Service Executive board members to the Health Service Executive for their attention and direct reply.

  191.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Health    the basis on which he intends to standardise the calculation of accident and emergency waiting times; if the current method of calculating waiting times will continue to be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14548/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  Building on the achievements of 2011, the Special Delivery Unit (SDU) will work with the National Treatment Purchase Fund, the HSE Clinical Programmes and hospitals to minimise patient waiting times in emergency departments along with reducing waiting periods for in-patient and day case elective surgical care. The SDU is currently working on a refined methodology for recording Emergency Department waiting times across the system. This methodology is known as the Patient Experience Time (PET). It is planned to have 21 hospitals reporting using the PET method by the second quarter of 2012. Work will continue to bring the remaining hospitals on stream as quickly as possible.

During 2012, the SDU will extend the coverage of the Patient Experience Time methodology to ensure that the data are captured in a uniform manner across the hospital system. Details of Emergency Department waiting times will continue to be published in the HSE’s website under the Monthly Performance Report (PR) using a combination of full PET and sampling [629]PET data. Full PET data for individual hospitals will be published when it comes on stream and in the interim, data derived from sampling will be used.

  192.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Health    which other countries’ health systems have been examined with respect to implementing universal health insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14549/12]

  193.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Health    which country’s health system his model of universal health insurance will be based on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14550/12]

  194.  Deputy Billy Kelleher    asked the Minister for Health    if his model of universal health insurance will be based on the Dutch model; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14551/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I propose to take Questions Nos. 192 to 194, inclusive, together.

The Government is committed to fundamental reform of the health system. This will see the delivery of a single-tier health service, supported by universal health insurance, which will ensure equal access to care based on need, not income. The reform programme is a complex and major undertaking that requires careful planning and sequencing. Detailed consideration must be given to the optimal structures for delivery of different services and to the critical inter-relationships between services as well as best practice in health care reform.

Officials in my Department have been examining the experience of health reforms in a range of countries. Part of this work included organising a seminar on universal health insurance which was attended by experts from the World Health Organisation, the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies and the Dutch Health Ministry. My officials also undertook a study visit to the Netherlands in June 2011 to examine the Dutch health insurance model and a similar visit to Germany is in the process of being arranged.

Such contact with relevant bodies, both at national and international level, is vital to enhancing our knowledge and informing policy. I see it as imperative that we continue to engage with interested parties and gain from the experiences of other countries in this area and this is reflected in the membership of the Implementation Group on Universal Health Insurance which includes international experts working with the World Health Organisation and the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies. I should point out, however, that ultimately, this Government’s reform proposals will be designed to meet the needs of the Irish system and to ensure the best outcomes for Irish patients.

  195.  Deputy Jack Wall    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14557/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

[630]

  196.  Deputy Billy Timmins    asked the Minister for Health    the position regarding a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14570/12]

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.

  197.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health    if it is the case that a 24-bed ward in James Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, Dublin, is to be closed to public patients and to become a ward for private patients; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14571/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  I am not aware of any change to the private bed capacity in James Connolly Memorial Hospital. The current private bed capacity remains as is — 19 single rooms and 10 semi-private beds. The private bed capacity is being reorganised across a number of wards but the overall number of private/semi private beds remain the same.

  198.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health    when Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, County Louth, received notice from an orthopaedic paediatrician (details supplied) of their intention to resign on 17 December 2011; the reason the position was not advertised as soon as such notice was received; when authorisation to advertise the position will issue; if candidates have come forward for the position; the number of same; the cost thus far of employing this person as a part-time locum and of flying them from Prague and accommodating them in Drogheda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14572/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  199.  Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin    asked the Minister for Health    the number of hospital consultants based outside of the island of Ireland who are employed by the Health Service Executive in hospitals in this jurisdiction on a part-time or locum basis and whose travel costs and accommodation are covered by the HSE for the duration of their working time here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14573/12]

Minister for Health (Deputy James Reilly):  As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

  200.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if he is satisfied regarding the adequacy of the Coast Guard and other emergency services to meet requirements in all eventualities with particular reference to surveillance and air or sea rescue missions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14541/12]

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport (Deputy Leo Varadkar):  The Coast Guard co-ordinates a multi-disciplinary approach in undertaking search and rescue operations. It has available to it a range of service providers and assets, including the National Maritime Oper[631]ations Centre in Dublin and sub-centres in Malin and Valentia, fifty volunteer Units located mainly around the coast, contracted search and rescue (SAR) helicopters, Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) and community rescue boat teams, air mobile fire and ambulance teams and a variety of other resources. I am satisfied that the approach taken in Ireland is on a par with other air sea rescue organisations throughout Europe.

Despite the current difficult financial climate continuous improvements are being made to our search and rescue services. These improvements include the upgrade to the Coast Guard’s boat and vehicle fleet, the recent opening of a new Station House on Achill Island and two further Station Houses to open in Crosshaven and Goleen, Co Cork in 2012, and during 2012 and 2013 the introduction of a new generation of Search and Rescue helicopters to replace the existing 40 year old fleet.

The issue of surveillance is to be addressed by my Department chairing an inter-departmental group at Assistant Secretary level which includes the Defence Forces, Customs Service, An Garda Síochána, Commissioners of Irish Lights, Marine Institute and others. A work programme is expected to progress this matter in tandem with the EU’s Common Information Sharing Environment project in 2012.

  201.  Deputy Martin Ferris    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    if the company which received the contract for maintenance on Iarnród Éireann lines was subject to a due diligence test; if so, if it passed same; and if that report can be made available. [14392/12]

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

  202.  Deputy Dessie Ellis    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the position regarding the issues in dispute between the National Roads Authority and a contractor (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14393/12]

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 planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects are matters for the National Roads Authority (NRA) under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2007, in conjunction with the local authorities concerned.

Noting this 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.

  203.  Deputy Dan Neville    asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport    the fi