Written Answers

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies received from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 12, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 13 to 134, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 135 to 142, inclusive, answered orally.

Hospital Services.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

143 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps being taken to address the continuing crisis in the acute hospital service, especially in the greater Dublin area; the steps he intends to take to deal with the problems of bed blockers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1885/04]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

154 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to deal with the ongoing accident and emergency crises whereby patients are continually spending unacceptable lengths of time awaiting admission. [1544/04]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

165 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will deal with the serious overcrowding in hospital accident and emergency departments which has deteriorated in recent weeks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2035/04]

Eamon Ryan

Question:

190 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children his plans to deal with the worsening crisis in accident and emergency departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2033/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143, 154, 165 and 190 together.

Pressures on the hospital system, particularly in the eastern region, arise from demands on emergency departments and on difficulties associated with patients who no longer require acute treatment but are still dependent. There are a number of initiatives under way to deal with these pressures.

Planning for the discharge of patients by acute hospitals and the liaison with the community services has been prioritised on an ongoing basis by the Eastern Regional Health Authority. Initiatives such as Homefirst, Slán Abhaile and home subvention are all contributing to providing alternative care packages for older people so that they can be discharged.

The single most important factor for admission to hospital is bed availability. A report called Acute Hospital Bed Capacity — A National Review, carried out by my Department, identified a requirement for an additional 3,000 acute beds in acute hospitals by 2011 and this requirement is reflected in the Government's health strategy, Quality and Fairness- A Health System for You. Some 568 of the 709 beds in the first phase have been commissioned to date, of which 253 are in the eastern region. Revenue funding of approximately €40 million has already been made available to the ERHA for these beds. Funding is available to enable the balance of the 709 beds to be brought into operation this year. Also under the acute bed capacity initiative, I have provided an additional €12.6 million to the ERHA, €8.8 million, and to the Southern Health Board, €3.8 million, to facilitate the discharge of patients from the acute system to a more appropriate setting thereby freeing up acute beds. It allows for funding through the subvention system of additional beds in the private nursing home sector and ongoing support in the community. Already this funding has resulted in the discharge of a total of 223 patients from acute hospitals in the eastern region. The ERHA is actively monitoring the situation and working with hospitals and the area health boards to ensure that every effort is being made to minimise the number of delayed discharges in acute hospitals.

I have been informed by the ERHA that it is working closely with the major acute hospitals in Dublin with a view to re-opening beds which have been closed due to staffing difficulties. As part of the winter initiative, an additional 20 accident and emergency consultants have been appointed from the 29 approved. Additional appointments are being progressed by the health boards and the ERHA.

Reviews of the bed management function and nurse staffing levels in emergency departments are being progressed by the Health Services Employers Agency in consultation with health service management representatives and the nursing unions.

Emergency medicine departments may sometimes have to deal with injuries and conditions which are more appropriate to a primary care setting. General practitioner out-of-hours co-operatives have been established and are operating in at least part of all the health board areas, with one health board, the North Eastern Health Board, having a region-wide project. A total of €46.5 million has been allocated for the development of out-of-hours co-operatives between 1997 and 2003.

A media campaign has been undertaken on radio, television, and in the newspapers highlighting the pressures that exist in emergency medicine departments and encouraging people to attend only if absolutely necessary. This initiative is an attempt to focus on the need for only those in need of emergency care to attend and for others to use the primary care services.

I will continue to work with the various health agencies in looking for short-term and longer term solutions to the current difficulties.

Willie Penrose

Question:

144 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to provide services for people with neurological disabilities as proposed by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1915/04]

Comhairle na nOspidéal recently published the report of a committee to review neurology and neurophysiology services and I am happy to endorse its recommendations for a significant enhancement of services, including increases in consultant manpower. The report also recognises that there are aspects of a number of other specialties and services, such as rehabilitation medicine, geriatric medicine and old age psychiatry, which are related to and overlap with neurology services. Comhairle has recommended that a national multidisciplinary review of rehabilitation services be undertaken to further inform the policy framework in relation to the development of neurology services.

Consistent with this recommendation, and in line with commitments in the national health strategy, a national action plan for rehabilitation services is being prepared by my Department. The action plan will set out a programme to meet existing shortfalls in services and to integrate specialised facilities with locally based follow-up services. The rehabilitation action plan, together with the Comhairle report and the work undertaken by the Neurological Alliance of Ireland through its own publications will, in my view, offer a comprehensive policy framework for the future development of neurology and neurophysiology services in this country.

My Department will continue to work closely with the alliance and with the Irish Consultant Neurologists' Association in relation to the future development of services. The implementation of the Comhairle recommendations will be progressed having regard to the evolving policy framework in this area, competing funding priorities and the report of the national task force on medical staffing.

Specialty costing data in respect of hospitals which provide neurology services indicate that in-patient costs for this specialty for 2002 were more than €19 million. This figure excludes costs in respect of neurology services provided in out-patient and accident and emergency departments and specialist day case activity which are not routinely collected by my Department.

Infectious Disease Screening Service.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

145 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the percentage take up rate of health screening by asylum seekers; and if he has satisfied himself with this scheme and in particular that the follow-up screening is operating effectively. [1538/04]

Screening in respect of specific infectious diseases has been offered to asylum seekers on a voluntary and confidential basis, free of charge, shortly after their arrival in this country since May 2000. The purpose of screening is to detect and treat certain infectious diseases in the interests of the asylum seekers themselves and their families as well as the community in general.

Initial screening usually takes place in Dublin where asylum seekers may reside following arrival in this country and continues when they are relocated to other health board regions. Those who do not receive screening in Dublin are offered this service following relocation. The guidelines in relation to infectious disease screening recommend screening is provided for the following: TB, hepatitis B, and where appropriate for polio and varicella zoster. HIV testing is also offered.

The following table sets out the percentage uptake of health screening by asylum seekers in the year 2003.

Health Board-Authority

Percentage of asylum seekers who accepted health screening

%

Eastern Regional Health Authority

73

Midland Health Board

72

Mid-Western Health Board

55

North Eastern Health Board*

North Western Health Board*

South Eastern Health Board

51

Southern Health Board

62.5

Western Health Board*

*The North Eastern Health Board, the North Western Health Board and the Western Health Board are not in a position to supply complete details of asylum seekers who accepted health screening in their regions at this time. This information will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as it is received.

Operational responsibility for the health screening for asylum seekers lies with the individual health boards, which have appropriate regional and local management structures in place to manage delivery of the health screening programme.

Consultant Appointments.

Joe Costello

Question:

146 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children his proposals for the appointment of consultants to promote and publicise the Hanly report; the likely overall cost of this exercise; if consultants have now been appointed and if so if he will list each one so appointed and the value of the contract in each case; the procedures which were used for the appointment of these consultants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1889/04]

My Department recently invited expressions of interest from relevant consultancies to participate in a tendering process for a public relations and information campaign relating to the report of the national task force on medical staffing. In line with EU procurement guidelines, this invitation was placed on the Government procurement website in December 2003. On foot of the responses, a number of firms have now been invited to submit tenders for the contract. The total amount to be spent on the contract will depend on the tenders submitted. The contract specification envisages that the contract will involve approximately 100 working days in total. My Department anticipates that the contract will be awarded within the next three to four weeks.

Health Awareness.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

147 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps that are being taken to address the serious problem of men's health identified in the recent report of the men's health forum in light of the finding that on average men die six years younger than women; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1912/04]

The health strategy, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, calls for the development of a policy for men's health and health promotion. The National Health Promotion Strategy 2000-2005 also identified the development of a national plan for men's health as an important initiative. In this regard, the health promotion unit of my Department has supported the appointment of a men's health research officer in the South Eastern Health Board. His remit is to research the role of gender and masculinity on men's concept of health, their knowledge, beliefs and attitudes to health and illness, health behaviours and risk behaviours and the barriers that men perceive in accessing the health services.

The health promotion unit have also commenced a consultation process with all relevant stakeholders, including the men's health forum, for the development of the men's health policy. The outcome of this consultation process and the findings of the research will inform the development of the policy.

Medical Report.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

148 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects to receive the report of the independent review into the circumstances of the death of a person (details supplied) on 1 July 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1898/04]

Dan Neville

Question:

211 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects to receive the report of the independent review into the circumstances of death of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2036/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 211 together.

On 23 July last, I announced that I had convened a review panel to conduct an independent review of the events surrounding the tragic death of the person concerned. The members of the panel are: Mr. David Hanly, management consultant, Ms Kay O'Sullivan, director of nursing at Cork University Hospital, and Dr. Shakeel A. Qureshi, paediatric cardiologist at Guy's and Thomas's Hospital, London.

The terms of reference of the panel are to consider the report of the ERHA in relation to the events of 30 June 2003 at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Dublin, and to make such further enquiries and conduct such interviews as the panel considers necessary; address the questions raised by the family; examine protocols and procedures relevant to this incident having regard to prevailing standards of best practice and to examine their application in this case; and report to the Minister and to make such recommendations as it sees fit. Following the review, both reports will be made available. The work of the review panel is ongoing and I am not in a position to say, at this stage, when the report will become available.

Consultant Appointments.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

149 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the introduction of a new system of medical insurance for hospital consultants; the steps he is taking to ensure sufficient capacity in our maternity hospitals, in view of the threat of the closure of the Mount Carmel maternity unit arising from the problems regarding insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1913/04]

From 1 February personal injury claims against hospital consultants arising from the delivery of clinical care will be covered by the clinical indemnity scheme, CIS. This move will bring consultants into line with other health service staff and their employers who have been covered by the scheme since its inception on 1 July 2002. In the intervening months extensive negotiations have taken place with the organisations representing consultants in an effort to have them covered by the scheme with their agreement. Virtually all of their concerns about the scheme have been dealt with to their satisfaction. Two issues have remained unresolved. These are the likely cost of purchasing professional indemnity cover for private practice not covered by the clinical indemnity scheme and the question of who should cover claims arising from past events.

The new scheme delivers significant benefits to the vast majority of consultants. For those employed in public hospitals it means that all of their practice in the public hospital, including their private practice, is covered by the CIS at no cost to them. This is a benefit not conferred on consultants in the UK under similar schemes put in place there. Private practice conducted outside of public hospitals is not covered by the scheme. However, the Government, in recognition of the complementary roles of the public and private health care sectors in Ireland, has indicated that the State will bear the cost of individual claims against consultants in private practice to the extent that they exceed €1 million in respect of any single claim. In the case of obstetric claims the limit of indemnity which consultants will need to purchase will be €500,000. The effect of these measures is to reduce the cost of indemnity cover for consultants' private practice by between 25% and 30% of what it would otherwise be. This benefit is available to consultants working in the public system who have some off-site private practice as well as to those who work full-time in private practice. From indicative rates circulated by one of the two medical defence bodies operating in Ireland it is clear that the vast majority of consultants, including those in the private sector, will pay lower rates for their indemnity cover after 1 February.

When the Government decided in December 1999 to introduce the CIS, based on the principle of enterprise liability, it also decided that the new scheme would not have any retrospective effect. The reason for that decision was that hospitals and doctors had already paid insurance premiums and subscriptions for claims arising from events which had occurred before the scheme's inception. Either directly or indirectly, the Exchequer had paid for this cover. The Government saw no reason the State should take over liabilities for which it had already paid. This position has been accepted by all of the commercial insurance companies which had insured health boards and hospitals up to 1 July 2002. It has also been accepted by the Medical Protection Society. The only indemnifier disputing the correctness of the Government's position is the Medical Defence Union, MDU. The MDU believes that the State has some responsibility for liabilities which arise from past events. The Government rejects this position and is insisting that the MDU meets it obligations to its Irish members. The threat by the MDU to leave some of its members without assistance in meeting the cost of claims has put many doctors under great stress. The Government has given a commitment to its representatives that it is prepared, if the need arises, to fund the cost of legal action against the MDU to ensure that it meets its obligations to its Irish members. I believe that it is in the interests of Irish doctors and Irish taxpayers that the MDU is persuaded to take responsibility for its own liabilities like everybody else.

Particular concern has been expressed about the ability of consultant obstetricians who work in the private sector to buy professional indemnity cover at reasonable cost. I have to point out that the cost of this cover has nothing to do with the establishment of the CIS. The particular difficulties of this specialty have been recognised for some time. In response the Government established a group in 2002 to examine the feasibility of introducing "no fault" compensation for infants who suffer cerebral damage at birth. The group is expected to produce its report in the middle of this year. In the meantime the Government has put measures in place which, in effect, subsidise the cost of insurance cover for the two hospitals which deliver obstetric services and for the consultants who practice in them. As a result of the Government's initiative, consultant obstetricians in private practice will pay €100,000 or less for cover rather than the full economic cost of €350,000. These measures ensure that Mount Carmel Hospital in Dublin and the Bon Secour Hospital in Cork can continue to provide these services.

Health Service Reform.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

150 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the status now accorded to the Hanly report with particular reference to the implications for certain areas and sectors in the event of its implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1996/04]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

159 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made with regard to implementation of the recommendations of the Hanly report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1886/04]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

167 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is expected to appoint project groups to progress detailed implementation at local level of the two pilot areas, the East Coast Area Health Board and the Mid-Western Health Board, identified in the Hanly report and the provision of the services and facilities required; the staffing and financial requirements involved and the timeframe envisaged for the implementation of these pilot projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1895/04]

Dan Neville

Question:

207 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children his plans to publish the second phase of the Hanly report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1781/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 150, 159, 167 and 207 together.

The Government is committed to implementing the Hanly report. It will mean a much better service for patients, with considerably more consultants, working in teams. The report also involves reducing the working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors, which will benefit both patients and doctors. In addition, Hanly proposes a reorganisation of our acute hospital services so that patients receive the best possible treatment in the location most appropriate to their needs.

We have begun the process of implementing the Hanly report. My Department, together with health employers, has initiated discussions with the medical organisations on a new contract for consultants which would enable a consultant-provided service to be established nationally. This is a key element of the Hanly agenda.

I am also moving to implement the report's recommendations on the reorganisation of acute hospital services. The Hanly report examined the organisation of hospital services in two regions, those covered by East Coast Area Health Board and the Mid-Western Health Board. I will shortly be announcing details of implementation groups in these areas. Each group will focus on the detailed provision of acute hospital services in future in line with Hanly.

The report also proposed that the organisation of acute hospital services in the rest of the country should be examined. Today I announced the composition of an acute hospitals review group, to be chaired by David Hanly, for this purpose. It will be asked to prepare a national hospitals plan for the interim health services executive, building on the principles of the Hanly report. The group will be asked to examine the role and structure of acute hospital services on a national basis.

Under the European working time directive, we must reduce the average weekly working hours of junior doctors to no more than 58 by 1 August. My Department is working closely with the Health Service Employers Agency and other health agencies to bring this about. Negotiations have commenced on the issue with the Irish Medical Organisation.

Finally, in relation to medical education and training, I have asked the group that worked originally as part of the national task force on medical staffing to remain in place to complete consideration of issues relating to postgraduate medical education and training. This will be of particular concern in the context of a 48-hour working week which must be in place by August 2009. The group's final report is expected later this year.

Foster Care.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

151 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to foster care; the number of approved foster parents; if this number is adequate; the number of children in residential care awaiting fosterage; and the finances involved and plans for the future. [1805/04]

Foster care is the main form of alternative care for children who cannot, for a number of reasons, be looked after in their own home. There are now approximately 4,000 children and young people under 18 years of age in the care of approximately 3,146 foster carers. Health boards continually recruit foster carers to meet demands for placements and to replace foster carers who cease fostering.

There are more than 91 children in residential care awaiting a foster care placement. The health boards are actively working towards providing appropriate foster care placements for these children. In 2003, the total funding spent by the health boards in the provision of financial support to foster carers was approximately €66.83 million. In 2001, the working group report on foster care was published. The report contains a wide range of recommendations designed to ensure that the structures and services necessary to meet the needs of children in foster care, their families and foster carers be strengthened and further developed. The Government is committed to implementing the recommendations of the report on a phased basis.

This report noted that the foster care allowance was not adequate to meet the needs of children in foster care and it recommended that the allowance be increased, alleviating the need for foster parents to apply to health boards for every extra financial need of their foster children. Before August 2001, the allowance was €90.85 per week for a child under 12 years and €108.88 per week for a child of 12 years and over. In line with the report the allowance was increased substantially and the current rates of payment are €289.50 and €316.50 per week, respectively.

Another important recommendation of the working group report was the development of national standards incorporating planning and key performance indicators for the foster care service. A committee was set up in 2001 to formulate these standards, taking into account the representative views of all bodies and individuals involved in foster care, including the children themselves. The national standards for foster care, along with a children's version, were launched in April 2003. The standards will serve as a basis for consistently promoting quality of care in the foster care services.

The standards include good practice procedures relating to the recruitment and retention, support and training of foster carers. I am confident that the standards will significantly improve the quality of our foster care services and encourage new foster care applicants. It should also be noted that, in parallel with these developments, the health boards undertake local initiatives on an ongoing basis to recruit foster carers. These initiatives include prominents displays of promotional materials, advertisements in local media and sponsorship of events organised in conjunction with the Irish Foster Care Association.

As the Deputy will be aware, foster care placements may not always meet the specific needs of individual children. A broad spectrum of services are required, therefore, to meet the needs of the children in our care, for example, family support services, foster care placements, residential placements and youth advocacy programmes.

Hospital Services.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

152 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the total number of bed days which were lost in the first and second six months of 2003 as a result of bed closures and other factors; the steps which are being taken to deal with bed closures to ensure that optimum use is made of all hospital beds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1911/04]

My Department routinely collects information on beds not in use in acute hospitals from health agencies on a quarterly basis. The most recent complete figures available to my Department relate to the first six months of 2003. This data shows that 50,584 bed days were lost in the period, which is equivalent to a daily average of 278 beds out of use representing just more than 2% of the available acute bed stock. The total bed days lost in 2002 as a result of closures is equivalent to a daily average of 269 beds being closed which represents 2% of the overall available capacity. The equivalent percentage for 2001 was also 2%.

It is a feature of all acute hospital systems that some beds are out of use for short periods. Bed closures fluctuate over time and may arise for a variety of reasons such as ward refurbishment, essential ward maintenance, staff leave, seasonal closures and infection control measures. Some hospitals, particularly in the Dublin region, temporarily closed some beds during 2003 due to budgetary difficulties and the application of the accountability legislation of 1998. These closures were in addition to the normal seasonal closures that take place in hospitals around the country during holiday periods.

According to the Eastern Regional Health Authority there are 89 beds closed in the major acute hospitals in Dublin and a small number of beds are also closed for refurbishment within the eastern region. There are also a number of non-acute beds closed partly due to staff shortages. I understand that the ERHA is working closely with hospitals to recruit and retain more nurses so that closed beds can be re-opened.

The figures for the final six months of 2003 are being collected by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as they are available.

Drug Abuse.

Liz McManus

Question:

153 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of opiate related deaths in Dublin during the past five years; the way in which this compares with the number of deaths from road traffic accidents; the steps he is taking to provide a preventative programme to reduce the level of opiate related deaths; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1883/04]

The Central Statistics Office, CSO, compiles the general mortality register's official statistics on direct drug-related deaths each year. The figures on direct opiate related deaths in Dublin from 1997 to 2000 are as follows: 1997, 50; 1998, 50; 1999, 70; 2000, 63.

I am informed by the Department of Transport that road accident fatalities in Dublin from 1999 to 2002 is as follows: 1999, 57; 2000, 69; 2001, 63; 2002, 49. The breakdown of figures for 2003 is not yet available.

At present, drug related deaths are recorded by the general mortality register of the CSO, based on the international classification of diseases, ICD, code system. Other countries have developed dedicated systems for recording drug related deaths and it is important, for the purposes of comparative analysis, that the Irish system is capable of generating an equivalent level of information. It is for this reason that one of the actions contained in the national drugs strategy calls for the development of an accurate mechanism for recording the number of drug related deaths. Overall responsibility for this action rests with the coroner's service and the Central Statistics Office. Work has commenced on progressing this action and my Department is continuing to co-operate with the relevant agencies to establish a mechanism to record accurately the position in relation to drug related deaths.

The overall objective of the National Drugs Strategy 2001-2008 is to reduce the harm caused to individuals and society by the misuse of drugs through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research with the ultimate aim of leading a drug-free lifestyle. The health related aspects of the national drugs strategy focus in particular on education and prevention and treatment and rehabilitation, including substitution treatment under the methadone protocol.

The number of methadone treatment places has expanded considerably in recent years in line with the Government's commitment under the national drugs strategy. At the end of December 2003 there were 7,029 people receiving methadone treatment. This compares with a figure of just more than 5,000 at the end of 2000. In the Eastern Regional Health Authority there are 59 drug treatment locations. This compares with 12 locations in 1997. Outside the ERHA, treatment clinics have been established in the South Eastern Health Board, Mid-Western Health Board, Western Health Board and Midland Health Board. General practitioners and pharmacists also provide treatment services and their involvement has also increased in recent years. The boards aim to address substance misuse by providing effective and sustainable services working in partnership with clients and with fellow service providers. All clients entering the addiction services are assessed and appropriate treatment plans are identified based on client needs. Decisions concerning the appropriate treatment for patients are made in accordance with best practice guidelines.

Overdose prevention is an inherent part of the comprehensive range of services which the boards provide, including education and prevention, treatment and rehabilitation, counselling and harm reduction. International evidence supports the view that opiate users are safer in treatment. Therefore every effort is made to encourage clients to engage in treatment. Outreach workers are provided by the three area health boards of the ERHA and they have a significant role in providing education to opiate misusers who are not currently in treatment on the dangers of overdose.

The national advisory committee on drugs, NACD, has recently published a study on the prevalence of opiate misuse in Ireland. The study estimates that 14,452 people were using heroin in 2001. Of these 12,456 were in the Dublin area. This represents a decrease on a 1996 figure, which estimated that 13,461 people were using heroin in the Greater Dublin area.

Question No. 154 answered with QuestionNo. 143.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

155 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Health and Children his response to the hospital waiting lists published in December 2003; if he accepts that the latest list shows virtually no improvement over the previous lists; the steps he intends to take to reduce the numbers on the lists and the waiting periods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1897/04]

In the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on the waiting list initiative, the Comptroller and Auditor General notes that the existence of a waiting list does not, in itself, indicate that a problem exists within the system. The Comptroller and Auditor General goes on to say that achieving optimum efficiency in the provision of public services may inevitably result in the creation of waiting lists.

As the Deputy will be aware, there are two streams to hospital activity — emergency and elective activity. Pressures on the hospital system due to identified capacity constraints hinder its ability to provide elective activity in a planned way because of the urgent and unpredictable needs of emergency patients. This is a complex area and compounded by difficulties relating to the availability of long stay beds and other supports in the community. Patients who require elective treatment may have to wait because beds, staff and operating theatres are being used to treat emergency cases. The balance to be achieved is to ensure that the available resources are used efficiently and that treatment can be delivered to patients in a reasonable time.

The waiting list data for the period ended 30 September 2003 showed that there were significant reductions in the number of adults and children waiting longest for in-patient treatment. The total number of adults waiting more than 12 months for in-patient treatment in the nine target specialties has fallen by approximately 42% in the period September 2002 to September 2003. The total number of children waiting more than six months for in-patient treatment in the same specialties and for the same period has decreased by approximately 39%.

Significant progress has been made in many health board areas to achieve the target of no adult waiting longer than 12 months and no child waiting longer than six months. This has been achieved through active management of long waiting lists at a local level and the involvement of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. Up to the end of December 2003, more than 9,700 patients had already received treatments through the NTPF, predominantly in private hospitals in Ireland. All health boards outside of the eastern region are reporting that, in general, those adults reported to be waiting more than 12 months and those children reported to be waiting more than six months have either been offered treatment under the NTPF or have conditions that are complicated and need to be treated locally.

While the rate of progress in achieving the targets set out in the health strategy has been slower than anticipated, the targets still remain a goal to be achieved and I will continue to keep the focus on reducing waiting lists and waiting times.

Voluntary Health Insurance.

Willie Penrose

Question:

156 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the Government's proposals for the future of the VHI; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1903/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

162 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children his proposals in relation to the corporate status of the VHI; and if and when it will be moved to the position of a public limited company. [1804/04]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

168 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects VHI to be privatised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2028/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156, 162 and 168 together.

The Government's decision relating to VHI's corporate status, as set out in the White Paper on private health insurance, allows for it to be moved to the position of a public limited company. Work in that connection is currently in train and arrangements are being made to obtain Government approval for the preparation of legislation. The Government has not been presented with proposals, nor has it made any decision, to privatise the VHI.

Hospital Procedures.

Seán Ryan

Question:

157 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take arising from the report of the inquiry into the death of a person from Legionnaire's disease in Waterford Regional Hospital in April 2003; if it is intended to implement the recommendations of the report in regard to the steps being taken by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1907/04]

An independent investigation team established by the chief executive officer of the South Eastern Health Board has submitted a detailed report into the circumstances of the death of a patient from Legionnnaire's disease at Waterford Regional Hospital in April 2003.

The report sets out a number of key recommendations and the South Eastern Health Board has taken the following steps. It has carried out remedial work on the existing water distribution system in Waterford Regional Hospital; installed chlorine dioxide treatment in the water system; established an environmental monitoring committee in Waterford Regional Hospital with a proposal to establish a similar committee in each acute hospital in the region; and recruited an environmental monitoring officer.

At a national level, it is important to ensure that the findings and recommendations of the report will contribute to the development of improved protocols and procedures in relation to Legionnaire's disease. Copies of the report have been forwarded to the chief executive officer of each health board and the ERHA who have been requested to examine it and to determine whether additional precautionary measures are necessary in health facilities in their functional areas.

My Department has also forwarded the report to relevant Departments of State so that they can also determine if additional precautionary measures are necessary in facilities under their control. My Department has also forwarded the report to the National Disease Surveillance Centre with a request that it consider whether any changes to its current guidelines on the management of Legionnaire's disease are necessary in the light of the report's findings and recommendations.

Consultant Appointments.

Liam Twomey

Question:

158 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Health and Children if progress has been made by his Department relating to the consultants' contract and how this will affect implementation of the European working time directive. [1880/04]

As part of the implementation of the Hanly report and the wider health reform programme, my Department and health service employers have had preliminary discussions with the Irish Hospital Consultants Association, IHCA, and the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, in relation to arrangement for the negotiation of a new consultants' contract.

The management team met with the IMO and IHCA in December 2003 to discuss the selection of an independent chairman, the setting of an agenda, and the agreement of a timeframe for forthcoming substantive negotiations. It was intended that negotiations would get under way in February 2004. However, notification has been received from the IHCA that, due to my decision to proceed with the introduction of the new clinical indemnity scheme, it is not in a position to send a delegation to negotiations on a new contract. I regret this decision and I take this opportunity to invite the IHCA to proceed with these important negotiations.

As the Deputy will be aware, the report of the national task force on medical staffing, Hanly report, recommends that the re-configuration of our acute hospital services and compliance with the terms of the European working time directive, EWTD, will require changes in consultant work practices and the associated creation of a large number of additional consultant posts. This will increase the availability of senior clinical decision-makers in line with the reduction of the working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, to 48 hours a week by 2009. Delays encountered in the negotiation of the consultants' contract may have some affect on the pace of progress on the implementation of the European working time directive. I am pressing, therefore, for negotiations on a new consultants' contract to commence as soon as possible. However, implementation of other task force recommendations can and must proceed alongside contractual negotiations. These include a study of the structure and organisation of acute hospital services nationally, national discussions on measures to reduce NCHD hours in the context of the task force's recommendations, actions throughout the country to meet the requirements of the EWTD and developing ways of speeding up the recruitment process, particularly for consultants.

The Government is committed to putting in place a consultant-provided service, harnessing the contribution of all our hospitals; and providing a wider range of appropriate services and procedures in local hospitals.

Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 150.

Smoking Ban.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

160 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects the draft regulations regarding smoking in the workplace will now come into operation; if comments have been submitted or objections raised by other EU member states; the procedures which will be put in place to monitor and ensure compliance with the regulations; the planned start-up date for implementation of the prohibition on smoking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1896/04]

A report commissioned by the Office of Tobacco Control and the Health and Safety Authority on the health effects of environmental tobacco smoke in the workplace was published in January 2003. This report was prepared by an independent scientific working group.

The conclusions of the expert group are quite blunt on the risks to health from environmental tobacco smoke. Environmental tobacco smoke is a cause of cancer, heart disease and respiratory problems. Employees need to be protected from exposure at work. Current ventilation technology is ineffective at removing the risk to health. Legislative measures are required to protect workers from the adverse effects of exposure.

A draft of regulations to prohibit smoking in the workplace was notified to the commission in April 2003, and during the three month standstill period which allows member states to voice opinions on the measure, no objections or reservations were put forward. The commission was notified of two amendments to the draft regulations in November 2003 to allow for exemptions for prisons and outdoor work areas and for psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, certain charitable institutions and sleeping accommodation in hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfasts. Because of these amendments it was necessary to change the commencement date for the introduction of the ban. The standstill period for the amendments notified will end on 4 February and 16 February 2004.

Surveys carried out by the Office of Tobacco Control show widespread support for smoke-free workplaces and the trade union movement are strongly in favour of the measure. The owner, manager or person in charge of a workplace is legally responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements, including the prohibition on smoking in the workplace. As part of the process of monitoring compliance with the smoke-free workplace requirement, authorised officers from health boards and the Office of Tobacco Control will visit premises. I expect that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will respect the new measures which are primarily to protect people from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke. I will make a decision on the new date for commencement of the smoke-free workplaces regulations in the near future.

Hospital Staff.

Tom Hayes

Question:

161 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to deal with the high attrition rate of Irish qualified nurses. [1547/04]

Róisín Shortall

Question:

174 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps being taken to address the continuing serious shortage of nurses; the further steps being taken to ensure that qualified nurses remain in the hospital service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1910/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 174 together.

The recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff has been a concern of the Government for some time. A number of substantial measures have been introduced in recent years, some with the specific intention of retaining existing staff and encouraging nursing staff who have left the profession to return to employment. These include an increase of 70% in the number of nursing training places from 968 in 1998 to 1,640 from 2002 onwards; payment of fees to nurses and midwives undertaking part-time nursing and certain other undergraduate degree courses; an improved scheme of financial support for student paediatric nurses and student midwives; the payment of fees and enhanced salary to nurses and midwives undertaking courses in specialised areas of clinical practice; the abolition of fees for "back to practice" courses and payment of salary to nurses and midwives undertaking such courses; financial support to State enrolled nurses, SEN, working in the Irish health service wishing to undertake nursing conversion programmes in the United Kingdom; 40 sponsorships being made available each year for certain categories of health service employees wishing to train as nurses; and the introduction of flexible working options.

The following table illustrates the improvements that have taken place in nursing numbers in recent years:

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

Whole-time Equivalents

26,611

27,044

29,173

31,428

33,395

In 1998, there were 26,611 whole-time equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of 2002 this figure had reached 33,395. This is an increase of almost 6,800 during the period or more than 25%.

The most recent HSEA survey, published in November 2003, showed that 722 vacancies existed at 30 September 2003, a decrease from 1,017 on 30 September 2002. The vacancy rate now stands at 1.85% nationally, a decrease from the October 2000 figure of 4.3%. These vacancies are adequately compensated for through the use of overtime and agency nurses.

In relation to attrition, the same survey found that, in the year ending 30 September 2003, the number of nurses who resigned or retired was 2,937. During the same period, the number of nurses recruited was 4,084. Therefore the excess of recruits over retirements and resignations was 1,147. This clearly demonstrates that the level of recruitment activity is well ahead of losses through retirements and resignations. The figure of 33,395 whole-time equivalents translates into 39,119 individual nurses. Of these, some 28,366 work full-time, and 10,753 work job-sharing or other atypical patterns. Thus, more than one quarter of the nursing workforce avail of family-friendly work patterns. Figures from An Bord Altranais indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession. The table below illustrates the number of applications for registration between 1998 and November 2003:

Division

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

2003

General

2,092

2,143

2,518

4,582

3,450

1,970

Mental Handicap

140

163

188

176

153

156

Psychiatric

239

236

248

266

410

365

Total

2,471

2,542

2,954

5,024

4,013

2,491

Foreign recruitment has made a valuable contribution to addressing staff shortages in the nursing area, and An Bord Altranais continues to receive applications for registration from overseas nurses. The total number of foreign registrations for the years 1998-2003 is set out hereunder:

1998

1999

2000

2001

2002

Nov 2003

Overseas

94

142

631

2,311

1,760

740

EU (excl. Ireland)

1,417

1,521

1,585

1,424

1,194

839

Total (excl. Ireland)

1,511

1,663

2,216

3,735

2,954

1,579

It is clear from these figures that the recruitment and retention measures I introduced are proving very effective.

Question No. 162 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Computerisation Programme.

Paul McGrath

Question:

163 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the aspect of the information technology and communication system that is to be financed from the 2004 allocation. [1553/04]

This matter is under consideration and will be finalised soon. Priority will be determined in line with the Departments policy of "enterprise-wide" systems.

Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 142.
Question No. 165 answered with QuestionNo. 143.

Health Services Executive.

Liam Twomey

Question:

166 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Health and Children if the new health services executive will be established as a statutory body or an executive like the Eastern Regional Health Authority. [1879/04]

The interim health service executive which has been established will be given corporate body status under the Health (Corporate Bodies) Act to allow it to undertake specific set-up tasks and to ensure the orderly transfer of functions to a single delivery system, Health Service Executive, from 2005. Work on the preparation of the necessary primary legislation to establish the Health Service Executive on a full statutory basis by January 2005, is well under way. The Health Service Executive will take over responsibility for health service delivery at that stage.

Question No. 167 answered with QuestionNo. 150.
Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

169 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if the necessary finance will be provided for an extension to the car park at Tralee General Hospital, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1053/04]

Recently my Department gave approval to the Southern Health Board to proceed with an extension to the existing car park at Tralee General Hospital. The new facility is a self-financing initiative proposed by the board and did not require the provision of additional funding by my Department. I welcome the introduction of this much needed facility at the hospital.

Health Service Reform.

Liz McManus

Question:

170 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he has taken to date to implement the recommendations of the commission on the financial management and control systems in the health service; when it will be established; the terms of reference and the programme of work for the interim HSE; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1884/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

175 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made with regard to implementation of the Prospectus report on health structures; when he expects to introduce legislation to provide for the establishment of the four new regional health authorities; the provision there will be for democratic accountability in regard to these new authorities; when he expects that the new authorities will be operational; the steps he intends to take for appointments to health boards in the period between the local elections in June and the establishment of the authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1888/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

192 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the Brennan report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1887/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 170, 175 and 192 together.

The Government's decision on the health service reform programme is based on the recommendations of the following key reports: the audit of structures and functions in the health system from the Prospectus report; the commission on financial management and control systems in the health service from the Brennan report; and the report of the national task force on medical staffing in the Hanly report.

The new structure set out in this reform programme will provide a clear national focus on service delivery and executive management through reduced fragmentation and the creation of clear and unambiguous accountability throughout the system. Phase one of the implementation of the reform programme involved a widespread communications and consultation process and the establishment of 13 action projects to think through and flesh out specific aspects of the programme. The action projects concluded as planned at the end of December. A composite document outlining the main findings is being finalised. Phase two of the reform programme is focused on transition to the new structures. It has commenced at this stage.

Last November I announced the establishment of the board of the interim health service executive and it held its first meeting earlier this month. The interim HSE will be responsible for: recommending the senior management structure for the new executive; recommending regional boundaries and location of regional headquarters for primary, community and continuing care services and appropriate management structures for consideration by the Government; and, within approved parameters, the selection and appointment of a chief executive officer to the HSE and subsequent appointments at senior management level.

The work to be undertaken by the interim HSE is one of four distinct but interrelated strands of activity that will take place under the reform programme during 2004. The other three strands are: the legislative, mainstreaming, human resource and industrial relations aspects of the reform programme for which my Department will continue to have lead responsibility; the work of the acute hospitals review group chaired by Mr. David Hanly; and the ongoing management of the health system and internal preparations for the new organisation and governance arrangements being led by the CEOs of health board and the health boards executive.

The Government has also appointed a national steering committee to oversee the implementation of the work programmes of the four strands. It will provide a co-ordinating forum for actions being led in the respective strands and will ensure overall consistency with the Government's decision. It will report on a regular basis to the Cabinet committee on health strategy, ensuring that the Government is kept informed on all important issues.

The respective roles of the HSE's CEO and board will be made explicit in the legislation to be introduced. I will also continue to be accountable to the Oireachtas in respect of my role and responsibilities and the relevant Oireachtas committees. The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children and the Committee of Public Accounts will continue to exercise their respective roles.

Regional authorities will not be part of the new structure. I have indicated that I will bring forward proposals for the involvement of public representatives at local level. I shall build on the ideas already outlined for consultation at regional level. Proposals are being prepared in my Department and I have indicated my intention to discuss the matter with the Association of Health Boards at a meeting in the near future.

Infectious Disease Screening Service.

Seán Ryan

Question:

171 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed in the United Kingdom about the spread of hepatitis C where it is estimated that up to 200,000 people may be infected, with many unaware that they are carrying the virus; the plans he has for a programme to identify and treat patients here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1906/04]

I am advised that the figure of 200,000 persons in the UK is probably derived from an estimated national prevalence rate of 0.4% in the population of 60 million.

The prevalence of HCV infection in the general population in Ireland is probably quite low, lying somewhere between 0.03% and 1.4%. Some high risk groups, such as intravenous drug users, have extremely high rates of up to 81% to 92% prevalence. The risk of acquiring hepatitis C increases with the length of an injecting career. A survey of short-term injectors showed 52% anti-HCV positive. Other groups with increased risk include homeless people at 18% and sex workers at 8%. About 1,600 people are infected within the State by blood and blood products.

Under an amendment to the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981 introduced on 1 January, hepatitis C is now a notifiable disease. In addition, laboratory directors are now also required to report infectious diseases. These changes should enhance the information available in Ireland on the epidemiology of hepatitis C by improving the comprehensiveness and quality of notified data.

I understand from the ERHA that drug treatment centres in the region have a policy of offering testing for HIV and hepatitis A, B and C to patients who present for treatment of their addiction. The drug treatment centres' policy of viral screening, including hepatitis, forms part of the general medical assessment for those entering treatment. It has contributed significantly to the ongoing education of this high risk group in terms of prevention and early treatment intervention.

I am also informed that, in 1994, the drug treatment centre board established a dedicated hepatitis C clinic on a sessional basis and these services were extended in 2000. Attendances at the clinic have risen from 960 in 2000 to approximately 1,387 in 2002. The dedicated clinic offers assessment, testing, education and support to persons with hepatitis C and, where appropriate, referral to a hospital setting for treatment. The service was augmented in 2003 by the establishment of a pilot programme for the treatment of hepatitis C patients within a drug treatment setting. The early indications suggest that treatment outcomes are comparable to hospital based treatment settings.

Recently I launched an information booklet, hepatitis C — Guide for Drug Users and their Families, which was published by the DTCB. The booklet provides a comprehensive easy to read guide for individuals and families affected by hepatitis C. It will also be of value to general practitioners and other professionals working in the area of substance misuse and its associated health risks.

The recipient tracing unit of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service has operated a tracing programme since 1994 to identify recipients of infectious or potentially infectious blood or blood products. Persons identified as having been infected by blood or blood products administered within the State are provided with a Health (Amendment) Act card. It entitles them to a range of free health services. A number of publications have also been developed for this cohort. I have no plans to carry out hepatitis C screening in the general population in view of the low prevalence of the disease.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Mary Upton

Question:

172 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is expected that the new five storey facility at James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, which cost more than €96 million to construct and equip, will be brought into service; the steps being taken to ensure that the facility is commissioned without further delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1900/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services at the hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. This major development is being funded jointly by the Northern Area Health Board through the sale of surplus lands and my Department. The projected full project cost is €101.4 million. That includes €5 million approved last year to facilitate refurbishment works at the hospital that are necessary as part of the transition process to the new hospital and to facilitate a land transfer in line with the project development arrangements.

My Department is advised that the first phase of the transition to the new development at the hospital has been completed. Last September, the coronary care and cardiac unit, the therapeutic psychiatry of old age unit, day hospital and the rheumatology service transferred to the new building. At present the further commissioning of this development is being examined by the ERHA and my Department.

Medical Cards.

Jack Wall

Question:

173 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the total estimated cost of extending medical card eligibility to children under 15 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1918/04]

My Department has not estimated the cost of extending medical card coverage to children under 15 years of age. The health strategy includes a commitment that significant improvements will be made in the medical card income guidelines to increase the number of persons on low income who are eligible for it and to give priority to families with children, especially children with a disability. This measure should be viewed in the broader context of the strategy's emphasis on fairness and its stated objective of reducing health inequalities in our society. I regret that it is not possible to meet this commitment this year due to the prevailing budgetary situation. However, the Government remains committed to the introduction of the necessary changes within its lifetime and the matter will be kept under review

Question No. 174 answered with QuestionNo. 161.
Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 170.

Health Service Reform.

Joe Costello

Question:

176 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the recent findings of the ESRI report, Equity in the Utilisation of Health Care Services in Ireland; the steps he intends to take to address the issues raised in the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1890/04]

I am aware of the working paper recently produced by the ESRI on equity in the utilisation of health care in Ireland, which is part of a research programme supported by the Health Research Board under the aegis of my Department.

As the Deputy is aware, this working paper has not yet been finalised. It is subject to further discussion and further exploration of the data involved. It would, therefore, be inappropriate for me to comment on it at this stage.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

177 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the future role of the accident and emergency facilities in Ballinasloe and Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1782/04]

I presume that the Deputy is referring to the conclusions of the report of the national task force on medical staffing, the Hanly report. Today I announced the composition of an acute hospitals review group to prepare a national hospitals plan for the interim health services executive in line with the principles identified in the Hanly report.

The review group will be asked to examine the role and structure of acute hospital services so that it can provide the best possible service for patients as we implement the European working time directive and introduce a consultant-provided service. The hospitals referred to by the Deputy will be examined in this context.

Medical Inquiries.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

178 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children if the terms of reference of the inquiry to be chaired by Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke into the activities of the former Drogheda obstetrician (details supplied) have yet been finalised; when the inquiry will begin; the form it will take; when he expects it to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1891/04]

Arising from the Medical Council's report of an inquiry into the professional conduct of the person in question, Judge Maureen Harding-Clarke has been selected to chair an inquiry into the issues raised. The format of the inquiry and its terms of reference are being finalised and I expect to be in a position to bring recommendations before Cabinet shortly. I will be meeting with Patient Focus on 29 January 2004 to review progress.

Social Welfare Code.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

179 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will address the anomaly whereby a cohabiting couple are treated as a married couple for the purpose of qualifying for social welfare payments, and as two single individuals in their work for income tax purposes, medical card applications and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28067/03]

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on means. Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for medical cards is the responsibility of the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board other than for persons aged 70 years and over, who are automatically eligible for a medical card. Medical cards are issued to persons who, in the opinion of the chief executive officer, are unable to provide general practitioner medical and surgical services for themselves and their dependants without undue hardship.

Income guidelines are drawn up to assist in the determination of a person's eligibility and these are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. However, the guidelines are not statutorily binding and, even though a person's income exceeds the guidelines, a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that his or her medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the chief executive officer of the appropriate health board if they are unable to provide health services for themselves or their dependants without hardship. I understand from my Department that, for the purposes of determining eligibility, the income of a cohabiting couple is treated in the same way as the income of a married couple by health boards.

Childhood Obesity.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

180 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health and Children his plans to deal with the problem of childhood obesity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2034/04]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

203 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to deal with the threat to health posed by rising level of obesity identified in the recent annual report of the National Nutritional Surveillance Centre; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1908/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 203 together.

The Slán survey published in 2003 highlights that 47% of the Irish population were overweight or obese in 2002, compared with 42% in 1998. In the same period, the reported rates of those overweight have increased from 32% to 34% and obese from 10% to 13%. In addition to this, numbers reporting no physical activity have increased among both men — from 21% to 30% — and women — from 20% to 25%.

The issue of childhood obesity is a challenge that is being addressed. Significant cultural changes have impacted in that opportunities to participate in physical activity have decreased while the prevalence of foods high in fat and sugar have increased in children's diets. Data from a recent study compiled from the health behaviour in school children survey indicate that 20% to 21% of boys and girls are overweight in Ireland.

The results of these surveys reflect a similar situation at global level. Developed countries are documenting increasing levels of overweight and obesity. A position paper prepared by the international obesity task force recommends that national obesity task forces be established to develop and implement strategies to counteract the epidemic of obesity.

In response to these trends and in line with the EU Health Council conclusions that member states need to address the issue of obesity using established national structures, I am in the process of establishing an obesity task force.

In recent years there has been a significant increase in health promotion activities associated with obesity prevention. These will have a long-term impact in addressing this issue. National campaigns support the implementation of these strategies, the aims of which are to raise awareness of healthy diets and being active for health and for weight management. The campaign "Let it Go — just for 30 minutes" focused on the message that even minor increases in the level of activity can lead to positive health benefits. The national healthy eating campaign has concentrated on encouraging people to eat four or more portions of fruit or vegetables per day. As part of these campaigns health boards provide regional and local focus in schools, communities and other settings.

As a direct result of funding from the cardiovascular health strategy there are now 36 additional community dieticians in post. These dieticians have formed partnerships with community groups to provide nutrition education, cookery programmes and healthy eating projects. The majority of boards have been resourced to run specific targeted, focused, sustained programmes aimed in particular at those on low income. Physical activity co-ordinators have also been appointed in each board, promoting physical activity amongst the population as recommended in the national strategies.

Hospital Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

181 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has satisfied himself with the availability of adequate medical, nursing and consultant staffing levels to meet the requirements of all disciplines in the various hospitals throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1995/04]

The chief executive officer of each individual health board has responsibility for the management of the workforce, including the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff employed within that board, in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining within the authorised ceiling. The Deputy may wish to note that there has been an increase in the authorised level of employment of 27,985 since 1997, or almost 41%.

I have already provided a very comprehensive reply to this question raised by the Deputy on 9 October 2003 outlining staffing levels and measures taken to ensure adequate human resource management for the health services. Such initiatives continue to be implemented.

Rape Crisis Centres.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

182 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Health and Children the additional resources it is intended to provide to the rape crisis centres to help them cope with the increasing numbers of victims of sexual crime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28400/03]

The national steering committee on violence against women, NSC, was established following the report of the task force on violence again women in 1997. Its purpose is to provide a multidisciplinary, multi-agency and cohesive response to the problem of violence against women and it is chaired by the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea.

Funding is provided by the Department of Health and Children to the health boards for the provision of services to women victims of domestic violence. Additional funding has been made available each year since the establishment of the NSC so that now over €12 million is provided annually to the health boards.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

183 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children the terms of reference of the group established by his Department to undertake a review of the nursing home subvention scheme; when he expects that report to be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1905/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, an expenditure review of the nursing home subvention scheme has been carried out by Professor Eamon O'Shea, National University of Ireland, Galway. The review was commissioned jointly by the Departments of Health and Children and Finance following on from a Government decision in 1999. The O'Shea report was formally launched on 25 June 2003 at a joint press conference with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan. She launched the Mercer report on the future financing of long-term care in Ireland at the joint press conference. Following on from the publication of the O'Shea and Mercer reports, it was agreed that a working group should be established by my Department to review the operation of the nursing home subvention scheme.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the inaugural meeting of the working group took place in early December. One of the items for discussion by the working group at its first meeting was to agree terms of reference for the review. However, due to the complex nature of the regulations and the variety of stakeholders involved, it was not possible to finalise agreement on the terms of reference. It was decided that each member would deliberate over the terms and that they would be the subject of further discussions. It is therefore not possible at this time to provide them to the Deputy. I will, however, ensure that the terms of reference are forwarded to the Deputy as soon as they are agreed by the working group. The timeframe for the review will also be the subject of discussion by the working group.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Dan Boyle

Question:

184 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the way in which the treatment purchase fund will manage the waiting list initiative; the extra costs involved in this move; the impact this will have on waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2026/04]

In light of the commitment given in the health strategy to reform the organisation and management of waiting lists, I have decided to give a significant lead role to the national treatment purchase fund. Having a single funding stream through the NTPF to reduce waiting times for patients will ensure an efficient use of resources and guarantee good value for money from the funding being used. My Department is engaged in discussions with the NTPF with regard to putting in place the necessary arrangements.

Water Fluoridation.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

185 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the criticisms of the fluoride forum by Dr. Paul Connett who participated in the forum; the reason the forum has not published Mr. Connett's list of questions despite promising to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2031/04]

The use of fluoride technology is known to manifest a positive oral health outcome. Local and national surveys and studies conducted since the introduction of fluoridation in this country attest to the reduced dental decay levels of children and teenagers in fluoridated areas compared with those residing in non-fluoridated areas. The safety and effectiveness of water fluoridation has been endorsed by a number of international and reputable bodies such as the World Health Organisation, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States Public Health Service and the United States Surgeon General.

As the Deputy is aware, I established the forum on fluoridation to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. The forum's report was launched on 10 September 2002 and its main conclusion was that the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure.

The forum also concluded the following: water fluoridation has been very effective in improving the oral health of the Irish population, especially of children, but also of adults and the elderly; the best available and most reliable scientific evidence indicates that at the maximum permitted level of fluoride in drinking water at one part per million, human health is not adversely affected; dental fluorosis — a form of discoloration of the tooth enamel — is a well-recognised condition and an indicator of overall fluoride absorption, whether from natural sources, fluoridated water or from the inappropriate use of fluoride toothpaste at a young age. There is evidence that the prevalence of dental fluorosis is increasing in Ireland.

The forum consisted of people with expert knowledge spanning the areas of public health, biochemistry, dental health, bone health, food safety, environmental protection, ethics, water quality, health promotion and representatives from the consumer and environmental areas. This diversity of professional backgrounds and representation was reflected in the comprehensive way the forum conducted its work and research. Ultimately, the forum took an evidence based approach to its examination of water fluoridation.

The forum's report emerged from 14 plenary meetings, several meetings of sub-groups and oral presentations of material from both proponents and opponents of fluoridation. The forum invited the public to forward its views and examined more than 1,000 submissions. In adopting a participatory and evidence based approach, the forum strove to ensure balance between participants from both sides of the debate on water fluoridation.

Following the publication of the forum report members of the forum made presentations countrywide to various civic groups and bodies, including the Irish Society of Toxicology and the Institute of Engineers of Ireland. Many issues raised by Dr. Connett were covered in the forum report. It was not considered appropriate to respond comprehensively to all of Dr. Connett's questions in the forum report. A more comprehensive response to all his questions will be published in the coming months.

Smoking Ban.

Simon Coveney

Question:

186 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Health and Children the person responsible for the enforcement of the smoking ban in the workplace. [1555/04]

The owner, manager or person in charge of a workplace is legally responsible for ensuring compliance with health and safety requirements, including the prohibition on smoking in the workplace. As part of the process of monitoring compliance with the smoke-free workplace requirement, authorised officers from the health boards and the Office of Tobacco Control will visit premises. I expect that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will respect the new measures, which are primarily to protect people from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke.

Medical Cards.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

187 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who held medical cards in June 2002 and the latest date for which figures are available; the proportion of the population this represents in respect of each such date; when it is intended to implement the commitment to extend eligibility for medical cards so as to bring in more than 200,000 extra people; the new guidelines for eligibility for medical cards, published this month; the number of additional people he estimates will qualify as a result of these changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1893/04]

The number of people covered by medical cards on the dates requested by the Deputy are as follows;

June 2002

December 2003

1,207,096 (30.81% of national population)

1,158,143 (29.57% of national population)

As the Deputy is aware, the health strategy includes a commitment that significant improvements will be made in the medical card income guidelines to increase the number of persons on low income who are eligible for a medical card and to give priority to families with children and particularly children with a disability. This should be viewed in the broader context of the strategy's emphasis on fairness and its stated objective of reducing health inequalities in our society. Due to the prevailing budgetary situation I regret that it is not possible to meet this commitment this year but the Government remains committed to the introduction of the necessary changes within its term of office.

It should be remembered that health board chief executive officers have discretion in the issuing of medical cards and also that a range of income sources are excluded by the health boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Many allowances such as carer's allowance, child benefit, domiciliary care allowance, family income supplement and foster care allowance are all disregarded when determining a person's eligibility. Given these factors and the discretionary powers of the CEOs, having an income that exceeds the guidelines does not mean that a person will not be eligible for a medical card, and a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this. It is open to all persons to apply to the CEO of the appropriate health board for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.

Non-medical card holders, and people with conditions not covered under the long-term illness scheme, can avail of the drugs payment scheme. Under this scheme, no individual or family unit pays more than €78 per calendar month towards the cost of approved prescribed medicines.

The strategy includes a whole series of initiatives to clarify and expand the existing arrangements for eligibility for health services, including recommendations arising from the review of the medical card scheme carried out by the health board CEOs under the PPF, which include: streamlining applications and improving the standardisation of the medical card applications process to ensure better fairness and transparency; providing clearer information to people about how and where to apply for medical cards; and proactively seeking out those who should have medical cards to ensure they have access to the services that are available.

The medical card income guidelines issued by the chief executive officers of the health boards for 2004 are as follows:

Medical Card Income Guidelines — Effective from 1 January 2004

Single Person Living Alone

Aged up to 65 years

142.50

Aged between 66 and 69 years

156.00

Single Person Living with Family

Aged up to 65 years

127.00

Aged between 66 and 69 years

134.00

Married Couple

Aged up to 65 years

206.50

Aged between 66 and 69 years

231.00

Aged between 70 and 79 years

462.00

Aged between 80 years and over

486.00

Allowances

For child under 16 years

26.00

For dependant over 16 years with no income maintained by applicant

27.00

For outgoings on house (rent, etc.) in excess of

26.00

Reasonable expenses necessarily incurred in travelling to work in excess of

23.00

As the medical card scheme is a demand-led scheme and medical cards are issued by the CEOs on the basis of medical need to persons who are unable to arrange for their own medical needs without undue hardship, it is not possible to predict accurately the numbers of persons who will qualify for a medical card in 2004.

Medical Negligence.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

188 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the serious concern about the disclosure on the recent “Prime Time” programme that up to 14,000 people may be killed or injured each year as a result of medical negligence and the problems that patients face in securing satisfaction when mistakes occur; if he will now expedite the introduction of the medical practitioners Bill to provide a more effective mechanism for complaints to be dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1892/04]

Studies conducted in several developed countries have established beyond question that medical error is a serious issue. These studies suggest that anywhere between 4% and 12% of patients may suffer an adverse event while in hospital. Some caution needs to be exercised in interpreting data from these studies as the definitions and the methodologies used vary. There are no comparable data for Irish hospitals because no such study has been carried out here. The figure of 14,000 possible deaths and injuries used in the "Prime Time" programme transmitted in December is produced from an extrapolation of the findings of the landmark Harvard medical malpractice study to Irish hospitals. I have made the point that the Harvard study data indicate that medical error is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

All of the studies undertaken on medical error suggest that many of these errors are preventable and could be avoided through good risk management. The Government has put significant resources into clinical risk management over the past three years. In that time in excess of €10 million has been allocated to health boards and hospitals under this heading. Several health boards have developed and implemented clinical risk management strategies. Most acute hospitals have appointed at least one clinical risk manager. Risk management has also been established as a key component of the clinical indemnity scheme. All agencies covered by the scheme are in the course of being supplied with a state of the art IT system which will allow them to report and analyse adverse events and claims. Ireland is the first country to have put such a system in place on a national basis. I expect that it will make a major contribution to enhancing patient safety in Irish hospitals. Officials of my Department are discussing with the health research board how the data generated by the system might be used in appropriate research projects.

The Medical Practitioners Act 1978 established the Medical Council as the body responsible for the registration and regulation of the activities of medical practitioners. In point 5 of its document Medical Council Statement of Core Policies 2000, the council makes adequate indemnity insurance a clear requirements for those registered. Where doctors working in a private capacity are concerned, patients are advised to take additional care to satisfy themselves that a doctor has satisfactory cover in place at the time that they are treated.

Draft legislative proposals providing for further, wide-ranging amendments to the 1978 Act are in the final stages of preparation in my Department following extensive consultation, and draft heads of a Bill are due to be brought to Cabinet in the very near future. One of the primary concerns of the amending legislation will be to provide for increased public protection.

Benchmarking Awards.

Joan Burton

Question:

189 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date in regard to the implementation of the Civil Service action plan drawn up to meet the requirements of the benchmarking process within his own Department and within the public service generally; if the Civil Service performance verification group has decided that the level of progress warrants the payment of the general round of the benchmarking award on 1 January 2004; if payments will be withheld in any sector due to failure to make adequate progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30090/03]

My Department's modernisation action plan was drawn up and submitted in accordance with the terms laid down by the Civil Service performance verification group, CSPVG. These arrangements are in line with those for all other Departments. The action plan was accepted by the CSPVG. The first progress report was required by 24 October 2003 and was duly submitted with additional material as requested.

The CSPVG has assessed the progress achieved on the commitments made by my Department and agreed by the partnership committee. The assessment was made having regard to the progress report submitted, additional material requested by the CSPVG and the report made by the Secretary General on public service management and development in the Department of Finance on progress achieved across the Civil Service as a whole. Copies of all this material will shortly be made available on the website of the Department of Finance in conjunction with the progress reports of all other Departments. On the basis of this assessment, the CSPVG has decided that the progress achieved warrants payment of the pay increases due from 1 January 2004 for all grades of staff in my Department.

Under Sustaining Progress, the assessment of verified progress for the health sector is the responsibility of the Secretary General of my Department. Following consideration of the findings of the health service performance verification group, the Secretary General has decided that payment of the increases to all staff in the health service covered by the public service benchmarking body's pay recommendations, with effect from 1 January 2004, is warranted.

This decision was based on strong evidence of willingness within the health sector to co-operate with modernisation and change under each of the headings set out in Sustaining Progress.

Hospital Staff.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

191 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of the application by AMNCH Hospital, Tallaght, for three paediatric consultant posts; the representations he has received and the measures he intends to take to expedite sanction for these posts and rapid appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1916/04]

Responsibility for the funding of services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA. Under an agreement involving the ERHA, the National Children's Hospital at Tallaght, Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin, and St. James's Hospital, paediatric haematology and haemophilia services were transferred from the National Children's Hospital to Crumlin. As part of the agreement, the ERHA agreed to fund three new consultant paediatrician posts at the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght.

As the Deputy will be aware, Comhairle na nOspidéal, in addition to its advisory role, is the statutory body whose main executive function is to regulate appointments of consultant medical staff in hospitals providing services under the Health Acts. On the three new consultant posts, Comhairle na nOspidéal has recommended that a paediatric consultant with a special interest in endocrinology be approved as a joint appointment with Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin. My Department is advised that Comhairle na nOspidéal is in negotiations with the two hospitals and the ERHA with regard to the sessional split attaching to this post.

I understand that the other two consultant paediatricians, one with a special interest in respiratory medicine, the other with a special interest in community child health, have been approved by Comhairle na nOspidéal. The latter post is to be shared with the South Western Area Health Board. The filling of these posts is now a matter for the hospital. I wish to confirm for the Deputy that the necessary funding for these posts is in place.

Question No. 192 answered with QuestionNo. 170.

National Cancer Strategy.

Denis Naughten

Question:

193 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the action he is taking to address the prevalence, detection and treatment of prostate cancer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1385/04]

As I have previously informed the Deputy, the most recent report of the National Cancer Registry, Cancer in Ireland, 1994 to 1998: Incidence, Mortality, Treatment and Survival, finds that rates of prostate cancer in men in all age groups showed statistically significant increases. However, mortality rates showed no evidence of an upward or downward time trend. The report states that the evidence of a divergence between incidence and mortality rates may be due to better case-finding, more incidental diagnoses or a genuine increase in survival. The report further states that the increase in incidence rates in men under 65 years of age appears to be a recent phenomenon and that it is notable how little mortality rates have changed over this same period of time. The report concludes that it is unclear from the figures if mortality trends will change much in the future but considers that it is unlikely that incidence rates will continue their steady climb.

In recognition of the need to further develop cancer services, the national health strategy identified the need for the preparation of a new national cancer strategy. The National Cancer Strategy 2004 is currently being developed by the National Cancer Forum in conjunction with my Department. As part of this work, a sub-group of the National Cancer Forum has been established on generic screening. This multidisciplinary group has reviewed all issues relating to screening, including examining specific diseases such as prostate and colorectal cancer. On screening for prostate cancer in particular, the group recommended that there is currently insufficient evidence to recommend the introduction of a population-based prostate screening programme in this country. The group recommended that this issue should be reassessed when the results are available from randomised trials currently being conducted. The group's recommendations will inform the development of the new national cancer strategy.

I wish to advise the Deputy of European Commission recommendations on cancer screening which were accepted by the Council last December. The proposals do not provide for specific recommendations in respect of screening for prostate cancer.

The new national cancer strategy will build on the progress that has been made during the implementation of the first national cancer strategy and set out the key investment areas to be targeted for the development of cancer services over the coming years. It will also make recommendations on the organisation and structure of cancer services nationally.

Hospital Accommodation.

Jack Wall

Question:

194 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of the promised 850 hospital beds now available in regard to his announcement of July 2002; the hospitals in which they are available; the number in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1917/04]

The 850 additional beds which I announced in July 2002 were for community nursing units, CNUs, to be provided under a pilot public private partnership, PPP, in 17 locations throughout the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and Southern Health Board, SHB, areas.

The ERHA proposes to develop nine 50-bed CNUs, three in each of the area health boards in the following locations: Clonskeagh Hospital, Newcastle Hospital, County Wicklow, and Tivoli Road, Dún Laoghaire, in the East Coast Area Health Board; St. Joseph's Hospital, Raheny, St. Mary's Hospital, Phoenix Park, and Swords in the Northern Area Health Board; St. Brigid's Hospital, Crooksling, Brú Chaoimhín, Cork Street, and Cherry Orchard Hospital in the South Western Area Health Board. It is intended that 20 to 25 day care places will be provided in each location if the site is conducive to accommodating the service.

The Southern Health Board proposes to develop eight 50-bed CNUs in the following locations; St. Finbarr's Hospital, Farranlea Road, and Ballincollig in the Cork south Lee area; St. Stephen's Hospital, Glanmire, and St. Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital, Gurranabraher, in the Cork north Lee area; Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mallow, in the north Cork area; Bantry in the west Cork area and Ballyard, Tralee, County Kerry.

These additional beds are currently not available because the process of providing services under a PPP arrangement requires the health board/authority to comply with the EU procurement legislation and national guidelines on PPPs.

A draft public sector benchmark, which is a comprehensive and detailed risk adjusted costing of the project elements using conventional procurement over the whole life of the project, have been prepared by the ERHA and the SHB. The draft public sector benchmarks have been submitted to my Department and are currently under consideration. The next step will be to seek Department of Finance approval for the projects and on approval contract notices will be advertised in the Official Journal of the European Communities.

Compensation Schemes.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

195 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress which has been made by the working group on the development of a no-fault compensation system for birth damaged children; when he expects the group to report; if he will seek to expedite the introduction of proposals in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1902/04]

The advisory group examining the feasibility of introducing a "no fault" compensation scheme for infants who suffer cerebral damage at, or close to, the time of birth is engaged in the process of drafting its report. I expect that the report will be completed and submitted to me by the middle of this year.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

196 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children when he intends to publish the report commissioned from Deloitte & Touche on the GMS, which he received on 6 February 2003; if the report has been brought to Government; if it is intended to implement the recommendations of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1899/04]

As I have stated previously in response to a similar question, a draft copy of the Deloitte & Touche consultancy review of governance and accountability mechanisms in the GMS schemes was received by my Department in February 2003. While the review was being considered by officials in my Department, both the Brennan and Prospectus reports were published. Since the contents and recommendations of both of these reports are relevant to the subject matter of the GMS review, my Department requested Deloitte and Touche to update the draft in this light, and also having regard to the latest financial data from the General Medical Services (Payments) Board. The final draft of this review has now been received by my Department. It is my intention to bring this review to Government as soon as possible, at which time its publication and implementation will be discussed.

Hospital Accommodation.

John Gormley

Question:

197 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made in providing more beds in line with the Government's health strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2025/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

771 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which he proposes to provide for patients requiring long stay accommodation with a view to maximising the availability of acute hospital beds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2166/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

772 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which he proposes to provide adequate medical and surgical beds to meet requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2167/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

782 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the precise requirement as determined by experts in respect of acute hospital beds and long stay beds; if he intends to take initiatives to ensure adequacy in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2224/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 197, 771, 772 and 782 together.

On foot of the report, Acute Hospital Bed Capacity — A National Review, the Government decided, in the context of the health strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You, to provide an additional 3,000 beds in acute hospitals by 2011. Commissioning of the first phase of this development, an additional 709 acute hospital beds for public patients began in 2002. Some 568 of these beds have now been commissioned and funding has been provided to commission the remainder.

The national health strategy asserts the Department of Health and Children's commitment to using public private partnership's as a means of accelerating the provision of health infrastructure in accordance with general Government policy. PPP pilots are currently being piloted in the health sector in the area of community nursing units, CNUs, for older people. It is anticipated that 17 new CNUs will be created when the initial pilot programme is complete, providing up to a maximum of 850 new beds for older people. The services offered in these units will include: assessment/rehabilitation, respite, extended care and convalescence. Furthermore, day centres for the elderly will be combined with the CNUs in each site to help promote the dignity and independence of older people living in the community.

The Department is also involved with the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in an ongoing process of designing and developing CNUs for older people through the traditional procurement method rather than through the PPP process. A number of such projects are at an advanced stage of planning and consist in the main of 50-bed community nursing units with associated day care facilities. In some instances these new units will replace existing unsuitable accommodation while in other cases these developments will increase the number of public long-stay beds available for older people. These submissions are being considered in consultation with the Department of Finance.

Health Care Costs.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

198 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Health and Children if he accepts that the ageing population in Ireland and elsewhere will inevitably mean that health care costs will increase; the studies his Department has carried out on projected increases in costs because of demographic changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2030/04]

As the Deputy indicates, the figures from the Central Statistics Office collated from the results of the census suggest that the average age of the population is increasing. Projections based on the 1996 census indicate that in 1996, 402,000 or 11.5% of the Irish population were over 65. Forecasts suggest that by 2031 this figure will have more than doubled and that the percentage of the population aged over 65 will be between 18% and 21% at that stage. The Government is aware of this trend and addressed some of the issues arising from it in its health strategy publication, Quality and Fairness — A Health System for You, published in 2001.

In so far as the development of services to meet an increasing population of older people is concerned the health strategy outlined the need for certain developments. Regarding community services, the following was recommended: recruitment of a multidisciplinary range of staff to support the development of primary care services such as domicilliary care, and day and respite services; the provision of 7,000 day centre places. The following were recommended in respect of hospital services: 1,370 additional assessment and rehabilitation beds; associated development of acute geriatric medical services and appointment of additional geriatricians; and 600 additional day hospital beds with facilities encompassing specialist areas such as falls, osteoporosis treatment, fracture prevention, Parkinson's disease, stroke prevention, heart failure and continence promotion clinics. Residential care recommendations included: 5,600 additional extended care/community nursing unit places over a seven to ten year period, including provision for people with dementia; and improved staffing levels in extended care units. The provision of the above services is contingent on the necessary resources being made available. On performance, national standards for community and long-term residential care of older people will be prepared.

Since 1997 over €270 million in additional revenue funding has been provided for the development of services for older people. In addition, significant capital funding has been made available through the national development plan for the provision of additional extended care and associated facilities around the country.

Proposals are also being developed for the provision of an extra 850 long-stay beds in the Eastern Regional Health Authority and Southern Health Board areas under a public private partnership pilot scheme and the preparation of business cases is well advanced.

The Deputy will also be aware that in June 2003 my colleague the Minister for Social and Family Affairs published the Study to Examine the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland, undertaken by Mercer Limited. This study considers possible financing options, including private sector or combined public private sector approaches, use of the PRSI system to finance-fund long-term care or alternatively, whether the current system of long-term care financing, through taxation, should remain thestatus quo. I understand that the Minister intends to undertake a wide process of consultation to initiate a public debate on the matter before a decision is made on the best way forward.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Mary Upton

Question:

199 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children when he intends to provide for the upgrading of facilities at St. Brendan's mental hospital, Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1914/04]

The provision for the upgrading of health facilities at the Grangegorman site together with accommodation for the Dublin Institute of Technology will be addressed in the context of last year's Government decision relating to the overall development of the site. That decision provides for the establishment of a statutory body to be called the Grangegorman Development Agency. My colleague, the Minister for Education and Science, has been given responsibility for drafting the necessary legislation to establish the agency. I understand that the preparation of the Bill is at an advanced stage.

Smoking Ban.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

200 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he believes the smoking ban will go ahead as planned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2032/04]

I will make a decision on the new date for commencement of the smoke-free workplaces regulations in the near future. I believe that the vast majority of employers, employees and the public will comply with the new measure. The primary purpose of making workplaces smoke-free is to protect people from exposure to toxic environmental tobacco smoke.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

201 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health and Children when the Mortell report will be published; his views on the future regulation of pharmacy services in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1997/04]

I established the pharmacy review group in November 2001 to examine the pharmacy issues raised in the OECD report on regulatory reform in Ireland. The group submitted its report on 31 January 2003. I have been examining the complex legal and other issues surrounding the group's recommendations. Deputies will appreciate that it would be not be appropriate for me to comment on the report's recommendations before completion of this examination. I intend to publish the report shortly.

Assisted Human Reproduction.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

202 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made by the Commission On Assisted Human Reproduction which was established in March 2000; when he expects to receive the report of the commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1909/04]

The Commission On Assisted Human Reproduction was established in March 2000 with the following terms of reference: to prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all areas of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area.

The commission has met on 21 occasions to date. The first meeting was held on 26 July 2000 and the most recent on 11 November 2003. I understand that the commission has adopted an interdisciplinary approach to its work. Initially, each discipline — medical, legal, scientific and social — prepared a report outlining the current position within that discipline in relation to assisted human reproduction. Working groups were then formed to examine specific topics and issues that needed to be addressed. The working groups meet on a regular basis to discuss their tasks and to progress the work of the commission.

I have been informed that the work group structure facilitates close attention to a relatively limited range of topics by a highly specialised group. It also facilitates the detailed exploration of a range of ethical and social implications that arise from assisted human reproduction.

The commission organised a one-day conference in Dublin Castle in September 2001. The conference dealt with the social, ethical and legal factors inherent in assisted human reproduction. It provided an opportunity for an exchange of views between experts in the various fields from Ireland, the UK, France and Germany.

When the commission was set up, I indicated that it would be required to seek submissions from the public and to consult appropriate interests. In order to inform itself on the current state of public opinion in Ireland on assisted human reproduction, the commission placed an advertisement in the newspapers inviting interested members of the public, professional or voluntary organisations and other parties who wished to do so to make written submissions before Wednesday, 31 October 2001. Over 1,600 of these were received and examined.

I understand that the commission has engaged in a number of information gathering exercises that include a survey of assisted human reproduction services provided in specialised clinics. A survey instrument was drafted by the commission with a view to establishing the extent of the provision of assisted human reproduction services in Ireland. The commission issued a survey instrument to a random sample to 50% of GPs in all health board areas. I understand that a high proportion of those surveyed responded. The commission also issued a survey instrument to obstetricians and gynaecologists to elicit information on their level of involvement in assisted human reproduction services. The commission has also surveyed public attitudes and opinions on a range of questions related to assisted human reproduction. I understand that the commission will complete its report shortly. Its recommendations will provide the basis for informed public debate before the finalisation of any policy proposals.

Question No. 203 answered with QuestionNo. 180.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Billy Timmins

Question:

204 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children his policy with respect to GM foods; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29248/03]

The EU now has one of the most rigorous regimes for the pre-marketing assessment of GMOs as well as food and feed derived from GMOs. Under current EU laws and new EU legislation to come into force in April 2004, only GM foods that satisfy the highest standards of safety will be allowed on the market. In the event of a problem being identified with a GM food provisions allow for its temporary or long-term removal from the marketplace.

Ireland applies EU legislation on genetically modified, GM, foods and, at present, has no additional national legislation. Under EU rules, only authorised GM foods or ingredients can be placed on the market and these foods must be labelled appropriately to allow consumers to choose. The Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI, is the competent authority in Ireland for the enforcement of legislation governing GM food and carries out regular checks of the marketplace to ensure compliance with GM food legislation.

Under new legislation the safety assessment of all GM products will be carried out by the European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, a new independent agency set up specifically for this purpose. Once a GM food is authorised new legislation on traceability and labelling will ensure full traceability of GMOs throughout the chain from farm to table providing consumers with comprehensive information by labelling all food and feed consisting of, containing, or produced from, a GMO.

Consumer safety and consumer choice are paramount in the approach taken to GM foods as reflected in the extent of the legislation developed to deal with this sensitive area. No credible evidence has yet been provided to show that GM foods pose a risk to human health; in addition, measures to allow post-release monitoring of GM foods are provided for in the legislation.

I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place to ensure the safety of authorised GM foods, or foods containing GM ingredients placed on the market in Ireland.

Health Service Reform.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

205 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the aspects of the primary care strategy that will be put in place in 2004. [1537/04]

In 2004 my Department, working in partnership with a range of interests, will continue to drive the implementation of the primary care strategy and to develop policy in this regard. The implementation process is being overseen by the national primary care steering group, which is representative of a wide range of stakeholders.

The detailed planning for implementation of the health services reform programme will allow the development of service delivery and administrative structures which best facilitate the implementation of the interdisciplinary model of primary care as an integral part of a whole-system approach to service delivery. My Department will also work with the East Coast Area Health Board and the Mid-Western Health Board on the development of primary care services in their regions as an essential component of the hospitals reform programme being undertaken in accordance with the recommendations of the national task force on medical staffing.

Work will also be undertaken by the health boards to further develop the ten primary care implementation projects — one in each health board area — which I have approved. These projects are building on the services and resources already in place in the locations involved so as to develop a primary care team in line with the multidisciplinary model described in the strategy. The necessary revenue funding to enable the appointment of the required additional personnel has been provided in each case. These projects are currently at different stages of development, with a number already providing new or enhanced primary care services to their target populations.

The primary care strategy indicated that a significant component of the development of primary care teams, in the short to medium term, would involve the reorientation of existing staff and resources. My Department has therefore asked the health boards to develop initiatives to give effect to multidisciplinary team-working on a more widespread basis. This will include reorganisation of current resources within primary care and community services and the development of collaborative initiatives between the providers of primary care services and with providers and users within the wider health system. In addition, the health boards have also been asked to complete a mapping exercise to plan the locations for future primary care teams and networks within their respective regions.

My Department is at present developing a policy document which is intended to expand upon the key principles in the strategy to assist in informing the process of forming primary care teams and networks on a system-wide basis. This document will be published in the course of 2004.

Work has been undertaken by the individual health boards on a highlevel needs assessment and, once completed, this will be followed by the development of appropriate templates to enable more detailed assessments to be undertaken at a local level. The future human resource requirements for the overall implementation of primary care policy will be informed by this needs assessment process and by the mapping exercises being conducted by each health board.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Dan Boyle

Question:

206 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason his Department does not support the idea of a single waiting list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2027/04]

I assume the Deputy is referring to a single waiting list for public and private patients who are waiting for treatment at a public hospital. Under the terms of the consultants' common contract, consultants are entitled to engage in private practice within the hospital or hospitals in which they are employed. Placement of patients on a waiting list for private treatment is essentially, in the first instance, a matter for the consultant concerned. Information on private waiting lists is not routinely collected by public hospitals. Issues concerning private practice will be pursued in the context of the negotiations on the new consultant's contract.

Question No. 207 answered with QuestionNo. 150.

Mental Health Services.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

208 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to address the seriously inadequate conditions in our mental hospitals highlighted in the recent report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1904/04]

The report of the Inspector of Mental Hospitals for the year ending 31 December 2002 was published on 10 September 2003. I welcome the publication of this report and acknowledge the important role that the Inspector plays in providing an accurate and detailed account of services in the mental health sector throughout the country.

In his 2002 report, the Inspector of Mental Hospitals notes the continuing decline in the number of patients in psychiatric in-patient facilities, from 4,256 at the end of 2001 to 3,966 at the end of 2002. Approximately 11%, 2,723, of all admissions to psychiatric hospitals and units in 2002 were involuntary admissions. Ireland has a significantly higher rate of involuntary admission than other European countries. However, it is anticipated that the full implementation of the Mental Health Act 2001 with its more stringent procedures for involuntary detention, will significantly reduce the number of involuntary admissions, bringing practice in this country more into line with the rest of Europe.

In his report, the inspector refers to the ongoing replacement of old institutional mental hospitals with acute psychiatric units attached to general hospitals. He expresses disappointment at the failure of the newly constructed psychiatric units at Portlaoise General Hospital and Castlebar Regional Hospital to open as planned in 2002. However, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the unit in Castlebar opened in December 2003 and that the Portlaoise unit is expected to open shortly. The opening of three more units is pending.

The inspector welcomed the considerable reinforcement of various sub-specialties within psychiatry, with the appointment of additional consultants in later-life psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry, rehabilitation psychiatry and liaison psychiatry in general hospitals and he is complimentary of the developments in mental health care in all health boards and highlights the many improvements which have taken place in the care of the mentally ill over recent years.

The inspector has welcomed the establishment of the Mental Health Commission in April 2002. The commission will be the main vehicle for the implementation of the provisions of the new Mental Health Act 2001 and its independent status will be crucial in driving the agenda for change and modernisation in the mental health services in the coming years.

An expert group on mental health policy, which I established in 2003 is preparing a new national policy framework for the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. As part of the process the expert group is now examining written submissions on the matter.

I assure the Deputy that, while I am pleased with the scale of the progress being made in many of the services, I accept that much remains to be done in providing a service which will enhance the quality of life of those suffering from mental illness. It is my intention to facilitate the service providers in bringing about the improvements and developments identified by the inspector as quickly as possible and I am fully committed to ensuring that the recommendations made in the inspector's report for 2002 are followed up as soon as possible.

Hospital Services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

209 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the difference in performance between hospitals under the casemix scheme; if he accepts that accident and emergency admissions have a major bearing on results; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2029/04]

The rationale for the use of casemix systems as part of the budgetary process is the wish to base funding on measured costs and activity, rather than on less objective systems of resource allocation, and to fund hospitals based on their "mix" of cases. In other words a hospital should be funded for the patients they actually treat.

The reason hospitals fare differently under the programme is that each hospital's cost per case is compared with that of its peers, for example, the cost of a tonsillectomy in one teaching hospital versus another. The peer group sets the mean for each type of case treated, not my Department. Those whose cost per case is higher than the mean have some of their funding redistributed to those whose cost per case is lower.

The programme is operated in an open and transparent fashion, and full details of the clinical and financial information on which casemix budget adjustments are based is provided to all participating hospitals.

Admissions through accident and emergency do not have a bearing on results as the complexity of cases admitted as emergencies is fully taken into account. Issues such as excessive length of stay and severe complexity are all considered. Hospitals are not given a profile of patients that they must treat but rather they are judged on their relative efficiency in treating their cases versus their peers.

Casemix is an internationally accepted management system for the monitoring and evaluation of health services which allows for the collection, categorisation and interpretation of hospital patient data related to the types of cases treated, in the hope that it would assist hospitals to define their products, measure their productivity, and assess quality.

The key benefit of casemix measurement is the extent to which it provides a common language for service planning, management and development that is meaningful to both clinicians and managers, and facilitates cost comparison, clinical audit, strategic services planning and the collection of meaningful epidemiological data. It is the only model capable of dealing with the complexities of resource allocation within the hospital service. I am committed to the expansion of the programme as a central pillar in the budgetary process.

A comprehensive review of the entire national casemix programme has been carried out by the casemix unit of my Department. This review has taken place in an open, inclusive manner and included consultation with all the stakeholders in the process, including hospital managers and clinicians.

The intention of the review was to ensure that the system is fair and accurate, and robust enough to incorporate all the strategic developments being proposed in the medium-term. A report on the matter is presently being prepared which will make recommendations for the enhancement of the model. This will result in Ireland having one of the most advanced casemix systems in the world, while still being an "Irish" system for Irish patients.

Question No. 210 answered with QuestionNo. 142.
Question No. 211 answered with QuestionNo. 148.

Decentralisation Programme.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

212 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Taoiseach if a survey of staff to determine interest in participating in the decentralisation programme has been undertaken in his Department; when it will be completed; and if the results will be published or otherwise made available to Deputies. [2324/04]

Richard Bruton

Question:

228 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Taoiseach if assessments are under way in his Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to him at an early date for consideration. [1971/04]

Enda Kenny

Question:

231 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach if a survey of staff in his Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if he will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2232/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 212, 228 and 231 together.

My Department is not included in the decentralisation proposals announced by the Minister for Finance in the budget, although I am conscious that some members of staff may wish to avail of the opportunity to decentralise. An implementation committee has been appointed by the Minister for Finance to drive the process forward and this committee has been asked to prepare and submit an overall implementation plan to the Minister by end-March. There are no plans to conduct a survey in advance of the preparation of this plan.

Departmental Staff.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

213 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the steps which have been made towards implementing the recommendations contained in a report by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel entitled Explanatory Memoranda: An OPC Perspective, which has been submitted to the Chief Whip; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1054/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

214 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the length of time it takes to fully train a draftsperson. [1055/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

215 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the system of formal structured training which has been put in place for the recently recruited parliamentary counsel. [1056/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

216 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the measures which have been put in place to ensure that members of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel take cognisance of the decisions of the superior courts involving statutory interpretation and the constitutionality of legislation. [1057/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

217 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the reasons the drafting manual relating to the Acts and the drafting manual relating to secondary legislation has not been published. [1058/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

218 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the reason the fully resourced and staffed Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has failed to discharge its functions in the transposition of secondary legislation to such an extent that a precedent has been set by engaging outside counsel. [1059/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

219 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach the plans he has in conjunction with decentralisation to dissolve the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in order to allocate at least one parliamentary counsel to each Government Department. [1060/04]

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

220 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Taoiseach if, as a direct result of benchmarking, there is likely to be an increase in the number of Bills being produced by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. [1061/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 to 220, inclusive, together.

The document entitled Explanatory Memoranda: An OPC Perspective, was prepared in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government in response to the Law Reform Commission report, Statutory Drafting and Interpretation: Plain Language and the Law. The paper examined explanatory memoranda to Bills and contained a set of draft guidelines to assist Departments in the preparation of explanatory memoranda.

It has always been recognised that it takes a considerable period of time to train new parliamentary counsel but in recent years the period has been much reduced. To further aid the process, the office put in place in December 2002 a training plan which is being implemented in respect of the five drafters recruited since August 2002. The plan is comprehensive covering competencies, training topics, guidelines for on-the-job training, checklist for reviewing drafts, induction checklist, relationship between advisory counsel and parliamentary counsel on drafting files, training log and on-line legislative drafting resources.

The office, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, has put in place a knowledge management strategy, an element of which ensures that parliamentary counsel are informed on a range of issues, including European Union law, European Convention on Human Rights, international law and decisions of the Supreme Court in respect of statutory interpretation and the constitutionality of legislation.

Copies of Statutory Instruments: Drafting Checklist and Guidelines, prepared in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government, were issued to Government Departments and offices in March 2003. A copy of the drafting manual containing guidelines and precedents to assist drafters was placed in the Oireachtas Library in September 2003. These documents were not published as they were prepared for officials involved in drafting statutory instruments and for parliamentary counsel and are subject to review.

The primary function of the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to the Government is to draft Bills and Government orders. It is a matter for Departments and offices to submit statutory instruments to the office for settling or drafting. The engagement of outside counsel did not arise from any failure in the service provided by the office but rather by a desire to enable Departments to tackle within a short period of time a backlog of EU measures which awaited transposition. In that context, the initiative was very successful and the European Commission last week complimented Ireland when figures were released showing us as meeting the 1.5% target for implementation of the EU Internal Market laws. The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel produced 17 Bills during the period commencing the last parliamentary session and the commencement of this session.

The Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which forms part of the Office of the Attorney General and is organised into three groups each servicing a number of Departments, is very effective. It would not be efficient to have it dispersed among Departments. Parliamentary counsel work in close co-operation with advisory counsel in the Office of the Attorney General in the preparation of legislation. The Attorney General advises the Government on the constitutionality of legislation and in relation to other legal issues that arise.

The number of Bills enacted in recent years has increased dramatically as is evidenced by the following table.

Primary Legislation

Year

No. of Acts

Pages

1984

27

300

1989

23

588

1994

34

815

1999

35

1,166

2000

42

1,531

2001

57

2,269

2002

34

991

2003

46

1,824

This involves both advisory and drafting staff in relation to the preparation of Bills but also in the preparation of amendments which can be considerable, complex and time-consuming.

Freedom of Information.

Enda Kenny

Question:

221 Mr. Kenny asked the Taoiseach the total number of requests for information under the Freedom of Information Acts received by his Department in 2003; the number of requests received per month for 2003; the number of requests received per month for 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1062/04]

The number of requests received in my Department in 2002 and 2003 are as follows:

2002

2003

January

20

21

February

12

29

March

14

30

April

10

10

May

10

11

June

9

7

July

10

13

August

8

6

September

7

4

October

13

2

November

15

6

December

18

3

Total

146

142

I will elaborate further on the statistics when answering oral parliamentary questions on the matter in the next few weeks.

Unemployment Levels.

Seán Crowe

Question:

222 Mr. Crowe asked the Taoiseach the number of people who were signing for unemployment assistance at the Tallaght social welfare office for each of the past 12 months. [1499/04]

The live register series gives a monthly breakdown of the number of people claiming unemployment assistance, unemployment benefit and other claimants registered with the Department of Social and Family Affairs. Figures are published for each county and each local social welfare office. The most recent information available is for December 2003. It should be noted that the live register is not a definitive measure of unemployment as it includes part-time workers and seasonal and casual workers entitled to unemployment assistance or benefit. Statistics on unemployment are measured at regional level by the quarterly national household survey.

The number of persons registered for unemployment assistance over the last 12 months, as requested by the Deputy are set out in the following table:

Persons signing on the live register at Tallaght local office

Month

Year

Unemployment Benefit

Unemployment Assistance

Others

Total

December

2003

1,715

1,571

115

3,401

November

2003

1,612

1,528

104

3,244

October

2003

1,681

1,503

112

3,296

September

2003

1,869

1,559

106

3,534

August

2003

2,082

1,609

124

3,815

July

2003

2,110

1,584

110

3,804

June

2003

1,933

1,575

91

3,599

May

2003

1,754

1,443

78

3,275

April

2003

1,845

1,457

84

3,386

March

2003

1,798

1,457

77

3,332

February

2003

1,852

1,459

84

3,395

January

2003

1,809

1,465

73

3,347

Computerisation Programme.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

223 Mr. Broughan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the targets and achievements under the new connection strategy for e-Government in 2003. [1684/04]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

224 Mr. Broughan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the targets for development of e-Government during 2004; and the reason the 2005 EU e-Government target is not being achieved. [1685/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 223 and 224 together.

The second report of the Government's information society action plan, New Connections, will be published at the end of this month. The report demonstrates that considerable progress has been achieved in positioning Ireland as a leading location for knowledge-based economic activity and highlights the significance of the information society agenda in the overall context of the economy, both from an Irish and international perspective, and also its strong potential to promote a socially inclusive society.

At the end of 2003, the Cabinet Committee on the Information Society agreed the services to be prioritised for e-enablement, having regard to their potential user base and value in terms of efficiency and effectiveness or as flagship projects. The report lists those services that are prioritised for on-line delivery by 2005 and includes detailed information about services that are currently available on-line.

A more complex view of e-Government has evolved since the last progress report was published in February 2003. The Information Society Commission report on e-Government, published in November last year, warned of the danger of putting services on-line purely for the sake of putting them on-line and recommended that only services that had a tangible benefit and made economic sense in terms of return on investment should be made available on-line.

Against this background, the Government's objective in making services available on-line is to focus on common or more frequently used services where technology can have an impact in terms of convenience to the user and can demonstrate tangible efficiencies. Indeed, internationally, while there was an initial push for both Government and commercial organisations to establish a web presence, the emphasis is now increasingly towards getting maximum value by improving background business processes.

Also, the advances that are being made in mobile phone technologies and the high penetration rate that these devices have achieved mean that service providers have to look at this channel as a potentially viable means of delivery because it is a relatively low cost technology and it is ubiquitous. In other words, it may be more cost-efficient and more service effective to put government "on-the-line" rather than on-line. One aspect being examined, for example, is the use of contact centres where citizens can conduct enquiries and transactions over the telephone.

There is also an increasing realisation globally of the real benefits to be gained from the prudent exploitation of technologies in the internal mechanisms of government, particularly as a driver of public service modernisation. Taking a wider perspective on "service" means that public service organisations also consider the manner in which they use public resources on behalf of those who do not necessarily use "over the counter" services or are in receipt of State assistance, but who pay their taxes and have an expectation that they are being used to best effect. The challenge is to exploit technology where it can add value in a modernised public service.

The recent announcement on decentralisation has added a new dimension to the modernisation process and will require a new perspective on the deployment of information and communications technologies, ICTs, to support the work of a more geographically disparate organisation that must operate in a more connected or joined up way. This issue is currently being considered by my Department and the Department of Finance in consultation with other relevant Departments.

Dublin-Monaghan Bombings.

Paul McGrath

Question:

225 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if he will give a breakdown of the expenditure on the Barron report into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings. [1921/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

226 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach if, in the context of the establishment of the enquiry into the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, he will give details of commitments given to the victims or families of victims concerning the establishment of any compensation fund. [1922/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

227 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Taoiseach the funds paid to cover the legal costs of the victims or families of victims groups of the Dublin and Monaghan bombings; and if there are ongoing discussions on this matter. [1923/04]

Brendan Smith

Question:

229 Mr. B. Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Barron inquiry into the Belturbet bombing of December 1972 will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2037/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 225 to 227, inclusive, and 229 together.

I welcome the publication of the report by the former Supreme Court judge, Henry Barron, into the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan bombings. The bombings were terrible outrages, which left 34 people dead and more than 240 injured. Many people never recovered and for many others, the legacy of pain and suffering remains and some still suffer from their injuries to this day. Like everyone else who watched the proceedings of the sub-committee considering the Barron report last week, I found the accounts of the victims and families about the events of that day and their terrible suffering profoundly moving.

I was very glad to have had the opportunity, together with Mr. Justice Barron, to meet with representatives of Justice for the Forgotten at their request on Wednesday, 10 December, before the publication of the report on what was a very important day, especially for the families.

At that meeting, I thanked Mr. Justice Barron and his team for their work in bringing that phase of their work to a conclusion and I paid tribute to Justice for the Forgotten for its assistance to the inquiry and for its dedication and tenacity in pursuing its campaign for the truth. I also paid tribute to the earlier work of the former Chief Justice, the late Liam Hamilton.

The Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights is now considering, including in public session, the report of the independent commission and it will report back to the Dáil and Seanad in March with its findings on whether the report addresses all of the issues covered in the terms of reference of the inquiry; the lessons to be drawn and any actions to be taken in the light of the report, its findings and conclusions; and, whether, having regard to the report's findings, and, following consultations with the inquiry, a further public inquiry into any aspect of the report would be required or fruitful. The committee may also accept, including in public session, submissions on the report from interested persons and bodies.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Paul Murphy, has said that the British Government will consider the report with great care and he has said that the British Government, from Prime Minister Blair down, has been committed to helping the inquiry as fully as possible. He also said after the meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Farmleigh last week that the British Government wanted to be as helpful as possible. I am aware that the Secretary of State, as well as some of his predecessors, have been invited by the sub-committee to assist it in its work and I would hope that the assistance already referred to also extends to the work of the sub-committee. At my most recent meeting with Prime Minister Blair on Monday, 19 January I asked for the fullest co-operation from the British Government with the Oireachtas sub-committee.

I understand that Mr. Justice Barron will report early in the coming months on the Dublin bombings of 1972 and 1973 and following that report, on the other cases referred to him, including the Séamus Ludlow case, the Dundalk bombing of 1975 and in the context of these reports he will report on the Belturbet bombing.

The total cost of the Barron inquiry to date is approximately €2,541,000. This includes an amount of approximately €693,000 for the legal expenses of the Justice for the Forgotten group and €167,000 for the administrative expenses of the group. Currently, the administrative costs of the group, as well as the services to victims provided by the group, are also being paid for by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. In this regard, approximately €0.5 million has been paid to date. In addition, offers have been made to the legal representatives of the relatives in connection with the inquests of the those killed in the Dublin and Monaghan bombings.

The members of the Remembrance Fund Commission were appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in December 2003. A sum of €9 million has been allocated to the commission for victims of the conflict in Northern Ireland for dispersal over the next three years.

The fund was established following on from the report of the former Tánaiste, John Wilson, the sole member of the Victims Commission. The report made a number of recommendations, including regarding acknowledgement payments to those who were bereaved as a result of the conflict and also relating to the ongoing medical expenses of victims who are still suffering as a result of their injuries. It is expected that the commission will be in a position to invite applications for funding shortly.

Question No. 228 answered with QuestionNo. 212.
Question No. 229 answered with QuestionNo. 225.

Computerisation Programme.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

230 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach the amount his Department spent in the year 2003 on IT software licences and the amount of that budget which was spent on products from a company (details supplied); if his Department uses a product (details supplied) similar to open source software; and if it has a policy position with regard to the promotion and use of such open source software, in the interests of cost savings or the development of a more transparent software industry. [2038/04]

In 2003, my Department spent €75,800.84 on new software licences and €140,071.63 on software licence renewals, a total of €215,872.47. Of this figure, €68,688.21 was spent on renewals of existing software licences to the company in question under my Department's enterprise agreement.

My Department does not, at present, use products of the kind in question. Any software proposed as part of a solution is examined on its technical merits, as well as cost. My Department does not have a specific policy with regard to open source software. It is considered on a case by case basis and may well be used in the future.

The e-Cabinet application will be based on XML code, which is open source software. The above figures do not include a licence fee of €118,000, excluding VAT, paid by my Department on foot of an enterprise agreement which enables this software to be used throughout all Departments. No payment was made from this amount to the company the Deputy referred to in his question.

Question No. 231 answered with QuestionNo. 212.

Arms Trade.

Finian McGrath

Question:

232 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to Irish arms deals that are fuelling the conflict in the Congo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1616/04]

In the context of the launch by Amnesty International of its report, Human Rights Begin at Home: Recommendations to Ireland's EU Presidency, on 13 January 2004, a representative of the organisation commented that arms brokering deals made on Irish soil are killing civilians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. However, the specific basis for these allegations is unclear and I am not aware of any such activities taking place in Ireland. Indeed, one newspaper report of the allegations stated that, despite claims by Amnesty International that there was plenty of anecdotal evidence, a spokeswoman for the organisation could not name one such deal that had been brokered in Ireland or say what parties had been involved.

While Ireland, along with some other EU member states, does not currently have legislation on arms brokering, we are committed to introducing legislation in line with the EU common position on arms brokering that was adopted last June.

A review of Ireland's export control rules and procedures for dual-use and military goods is nearing completion. The review, which will cover a wide range of issue, including arms brokering, will recommend how best we can modernise and strengthen them to ensure full compliance with our international obligations.

Community Employment Schemes.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

233 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will implement a promise given by her Government to mainstream the jobs of workers employed under the various FÁS schemes for the Irish Wheelchair Association and other service providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1942/04]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

234 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will implement a promise given by her Government to mainstream the jobs of workers employed under the various FÁS schemes for the Irish Wheelchair Association and other service providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1963/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

242 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the promises made to mainstream community employment positions, under the programme for Government, will be honoured; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1430/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

244 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of places on community employment schemes that have been cut since she was appointed. [1624/04]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

245 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reasons the commitment given in the programme for Government concerning the mainstreaming of community employment positions in 2003 has not been delivered in so far as the Irish Wheelchair Association are concerned, particularly in the Western Health Board area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1661/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 233, 234, 242, 244 and 245 together.

In accordance with the Government's decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, participation levels have gradually been reduced in line with a strategic shift in policy in favour of training and other more appropriate supports.

Year-end participation levels on community employment for the last seven years are as follows:

Year

Year-end places

1997

39,039

1998

39,520

1999

36,579

2000

33,549

2001

30,809

2002

24,991

2003

19,848 (provisional)

As provided for in the PPF, consideration has been given to the mainstreaming of certain essential services provided through community employment. In this regard, approximately 4,500 community employment places in schools have been mainstreamed over the past number of years. This involved the appropriate degree of funding being transferred to the Department of Education and Science for the provision of relevant services in schools. In addition, in the region of 2,300 places have peen provided on the social economy programme.

Detailed discussions took place during 2002 involving the Department of Health and Children, health boards, FÁS and sponsor groups, including the Irish Wheelchair Association, with regard to the possible mainstreaming of health sector places. However, due to the amount of additional funding required by the Department of Health and Children to mainstream these positions, and having regard to other major demands on the health budget, it was not possible to proceed with mainstreaming.

The total funding allocation for employment schemes in 2004 has been fixed at €351 million, which will support up to 25,000 places across the three employment schemes, community employment, job initiative and social economy. FÁS is being given some flexibility in the management of this financial allocation to maximise progression to the labour market while at the same time facilitating the support of community services. This allocation, €351 million, is similar to the budgeted amount provided in 2003. Accordingly, there will be no reduction in the total level of provision for the three schemes or in the combined participation levels in 2004.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Denis Naughten

Question:

235 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide Roscommon Chamber of Commerce with the specification for the installation of closed circuit television cameras; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1107/04]

The National Standards Authority of Ireland, under the aegis of my Department, has responsibility for the development, publication and distribution of Irish and European standards. The authority adopted a standard, ISEN 50132-7: 1998 Alarm Systems — CCTV Surveillance Systems, for use in security appliances.

Copies of this standard are available from the NSAI through its Standards Sales Office, NSAI, Ballymun Road, Glasnevin, Dublin 9.

Radon Gas Emissions.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

236 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of tests for radon conducted in the past year by the Health and Safety Authority; if the Health and Safety Authority has taken action to ensure that workers' health is not endangered by radon; the nature of such action; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1130/04]

Conducting tests for radon is not a function of the Health and Safety Authority. This function the responsibility of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, RPII, which is the designated competent national authority for this purpose.

The relevant Irish legislation is the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000 (S.I. No. 125 of 2000). Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, employers are required to identify hazards arising in the workplace, assess the risks arising from those hazards and put in place measures to eliminate or control the risk measures. The authority, through seminars, etc., has reminded employers located in areas likely to exceed the threshold limit value set out in the statutory instrument of their obligations under the 1989 Act if the limit value is exceeded.

Job Creation.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

237 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the reasons the IDA failed to create any new jobs in Kerry in 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1182/04]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland and its regions. The agency, through its project divisions and network of overseas offices, is actively marketing County Kerry to overseas investors as a potential location for foreign direct investment. However, the current economic slowdown has meant that fewer companies are actively seeking to invest overseas. Ultimately decisions regarding where to locate a project, including what areas to visit as potential locations are taken by overseas investors. In 2003 five overseas investors visited Kerry, including two who visited north Kerry.

In addition to targeting potential new projects, IDA Ireland is also working with the existing base of companies in the county with a view to supporting such companies with potential expansions and diversification of activities. There is a diverse range of companies located in Kerry, representing a number of industry sectors, including manufacturing, international services, engineering, pharmaceuticals and consumer products. IDA Ireland believes that a number of these have the potential to expand and or take on additional responsibilities or activities.

To continue to enhance the attractiveness of Kerry as a location for inward investment, IDA commenced site development works in 2002 on its business and technology park at Tiernaboul in Killarney. This site development work, which is now complete, involved significant landscaping, access development and site clearance work, all of which has resulted in the upgrading of the overall appeal of the location.

In addition, a local group of business people, have completed a new building of 14,716 square feet on a site acquired from IDA on the business and technology park and IDA Ireland is actively marketing this facility as an alternative property solution to present to potential investors.

IDA Ireland believes that these investments, together with other available facilities such as Kerry technology park in Tralee, will put Kerry in a position to compete more competitively for inward investment in the manufacturing, ICT, software and international services sectors. The designation of both Tralee and Killarney as hub towns under the Government's national spatial strategy will also add to the attractiveness of the county for overseas investment.

IDA Ireland believes that regions need magnets of attraction, some compelling business reason or unique selling proposition, that will attract investors. The challenge of achieving high value FDI into regional locations is considerable; nevertheless, progress is being made. Each region needs a hub of attraction around which, for approximately 40 or 50 kilometres in every direction, the region can grow through attracting a wide range of enterprises, both local and international, which emerge because of the integrated competitive strengths of that region.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA in Kerry, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development will bear fruit in terms of overseas investment and jobs for the people of Kerry.

Work Permits.

Conor Lenihan

Question:

238 Mr. C. Lenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans she has regarding the work permit regime that she will apply to new accession states that will join the EU from May, during the Irish Presidency. [1202/04]

The Employment Permits Act 2003, which came into force in April 2003, provides for the freedom of movement, for purposes of work, of nationals of the ten EU accession states after accession. This means that after EU enlargement on 1 May 2004, employers will no longer require work permits to employ nationals of these states. Accordingly, a very significant source of potential labour will become available to Irish employers outside the work permit system, which should be of considerable benefit to employers who have not been able to find appropriate staff within the existing Irish or wider EEA labour markets.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

239 Mr. O'Connor asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment to report on her Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if she will outline her plans for the next few months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1209/04]

The Government and the European Commission met in Dublin Castle on 6 January for an in depth discussion of Ireland's EU Presidency priorities. On that occasion, I had very useful discussions with the Commissioners who have responsibility for Competitiveness Council dossiers.

I have published a priorities paper for the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, which I will chair during the Presidency. The programme for the Competitiveness Council is firmly rooted in the ten-year strategy for growth, economic reform and job creation agreed by the Lisbon European Council in 2000. The priorities paper is available in English, Irish and French and is also posted on the official Irish Presidency website atwww.eu2004.ie.

On 21 January, I presented the Competitiveness Council work programme and priorities to two European Parliament Committees, the Industry, Trade, Research and Energy Committee, and the Legal Affairs and Internal Market Committee. The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, presented the relevant aspects of the programme of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council of Ministers, for which my Department takes the lead role, to the Employment and Social Policy Committee of the European Parliament on 22 January.

The Lisbon agenda of economic, social and environmental renewal of the EU is a key overarching priority for the Irish Presidency. Progress on the achievement of the agenda and measures to give renewed impetus to advancing economic reform, enhancing competitiveness and stimulating employment in Europe will be the focus of the spring European Council on 25-26 March 2004.

I will chair two formal meetings of the Competitiveness Council of Ministers, which are scheduled to take place in Brussels on 11 March and 17-18 May 2004. Particular stress will be laid by Ireland on the need for the Competitiveness Council to focus on and develop its horizontal remit in line with the Seville European Council in June 2002 and the Presidency conclusions of the 2003 spring summit. It is important that there is attention at the highest political level on issues affecting the competitiveness of enterprise and I see the role of the Competitiveness Council as central to achieving this. The Council will also discuss a range of issues in areas such as enterprise, research and innovation policies and the completion and effective operation of the internal market, particularly with regard to the services sector. Specific dossiers on issues relating to intellectual property, including the proposal for a community patent, company law and consumer policy will also feature on the Council's agenda. I will also chair an informal meeting of EU and accession Ministers responsible for competitiveness, which is scheduled to take place at Dromoland Castle, County Clare on 26-27 April. The meeting will focus on industrial strategy and innovation.

The Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, will chair the sessions of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs, ESPHCA, Council dealing with items on which my Department takes the lead such as the European employment strategy and other relevant individual dossiers. The ESPHCA Council is scheduled to meet in formal session on 4-5 March and 1-2 June 2004. The March Council will be used to focus attention on the key issues arising from the employment task force report. The main employment issue at the June Council will be to finalise the employment package for the June European Council. The Irish Presidency will seek to promote closer co-operation with the two sides of industry in facilitating change and helping in the effective transformation of the European economy. To this end it will convene a tripartite social summit with the EU level social partners in advance of the 2004 spring European Council. The Irish Presidency is working with the Commission and the European social partners with a view to adopting "A European Partnership for Change" as an overall theme for this summit and identifying all of the actors involved with advancing the economic, social and environmental goals of the Lisbon agenda.

On 16 January, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, co-chaired, along with the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, an informal meeting of Ministers for employment and social policy in Galway. The meeting focused on the theme of "Making Work Pay", which is a key priority for the member states of the European Union and a core objective in the EU level process to support the modernisation of social protection systems. On the previous day the Irish Presidency convened a Council troika meeting with the social partners and the social platform of NGOs, at which a fruitful discussion was held on the issues of "Adaptability and Change" and "Making Work Pay".

Both the Competitiveness and ESPHCA Councils will make significant contributions towards the preparation of the spring European Council meeting next March.

My Department will also be responsible for EU Council work on European common commercial policy matters during the Irish Presidency. This will involve the organisation and chairing of Council meetings at ministerial and official level in Dublin, Brussels, Geneva, Paris and elsewhere. Among the substantive issues to be dealt with will be the World Trade Organisation negotiations and the European Union's trade relations with various countries and regions.

In addition to the formal Presidency agenda, my Department is organising a number of further Presidency-related meetings in Ireland. The calendar of such events, across all policy areas, has been deposited in the Oireachtas Library by the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

EU Directives.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

240 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on the proposals for a European company (details supplied). [1298/04]

On 8 October 2001 Regulation EC No. 2157/2001 to establish a European company statute (Societas Europaea) and a related Directive 2001/86/EC concerning worker involvement in European companies was adopted by the European Council. The European company statute is a new legal instrument that gives companies with commercial interests in more than one member state the option of forming a European company, SE, the objective of which is to make it easier for such companies to operate across the EU.

The regulation, which has direct application in member states, and the directive, which will have to be transposed into law in all member states, will enter into force on 8 October 2004.

Under the European company statute, an SE can be set up by the creation of a holding company or a joint subsidiary or by the merger of companies located in at least two member states or by the conversion of an existing company set up under national law which has a subsidiary in another member state. The European company statute therefore provides existing companies with the option of restructuring on the basis of their being one legal entity European company, with branches throughout the EU rather than having subsidiaries under the national laws of each member state in which they operate.

The regulation contains other requirements relating, for example, to the manner of control and management, and where no specific requirements are stipulated, the national law relating to public limited companies will apply.

It is envisaged that the European company statute will be attractive for companies seeking an efficient structure to operate on a pan-European basis and that it will enable companies to expand and restructure their cross-border operations without the costly and time-consuming complex network of subsidiaries governed by different national laws. It is seen as a step forward in efforts to make the internal market a practical reality for business, and to encourage more companies to exploit cross-border opportunities.

My Department is currently engaged in consultations with interested parties regarding the necessary legislative arrangements to provide for the operation of the European company statute.

Community Employment Schemes.

Michael Ring

Question:

241 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the changes if any which have been made to the FÁS criteria for people over the age of 55 years. [1366/04]

As part of the Government's decision in 1999 to restructure community employment, future participation in community employment by an individual was capped at three years, effective from April 2000. This change was introduced to discourage repeated participation in community employment and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of training and education options, where possible, which are shown to have more successful progression outcomes for individuals.

The three-year cap was amended in August 2001 to allow particularly disadvantaged persons to remain on the programme for a further period. In the case of people aged over 50 years, the three-year cap on participation has been removed where people in this age group, having spent three years on the programme, continue to experience difficulties in getting employment. Participants are considered for an extension if, on reaching the end of their normal entitlements on community employment, they are likely to experience difficulty in getting employment due to their age, literacy or numeracy problems or a lack of suitable jobs available locally. FÁS currently has discretion to offer up to 20% of the total number of community employment participants a further period on the programme on a case-by-case basis.

The community employment programme is currently under review. A decision on the future eligibility criteria for participants on community employment will be taken when the current review process has been brought to a conclusion.

Question No. 242 answered with QuestionNo. 233.

National Archives.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

243 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of files in her Department released to the National Archives under the 30-year rule; the number withheld; the subject matter of the files withheld; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1582/04]

My Department's records show that 3,222 files were transferred to the National Archives for release under the 30-year rule. A further 40 files relating to policy, general administration and operation of both the Employment Appeals Tribunal and the redundancy payments section of the Department were retained under section 8(2) of the National Archives Act 1986 because they are in regular use in the Department and their transfer to the National Archives would seriously interfere with the administration of the Department.

Since the establishment of the Employment Appeals Tribunal in 1967, a large number of files relating to individual cases under various pieces of legislation have been withheld under section 8(4) of the National Archives Act 1986. Under the same section, files have also been retained by the redundancy payments section as they contained information in respect of redundancy lump sums and rebate information in respect of individuals and/or the recovery of money owed to the social insurance fund.

Questions Nos. 244 and 245 answered with Question No. 233.

Insurance Industry.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

246 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action she is taking to address professional indemnity costs to business in this particular sector of the insurance industry; the action she is taking to encourage other insurers to enter this market; and if she is taking other measures to encourage competition in this market. [1711/04]

I no longer have responsibility for insurance undertakings. From 1 May 2003, the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, is responsible for practically all of the financial services industry, including the registration and supervision of insurance undertakings and the services by them. I do, however, retain responsibility for the insurance reform programme.

I am aware of serious difficulties being experienced by businesses due to the high cost of insurance. The insurance reform programme that I announced on the 25th of October 2002 is progressing well. This programme comprises a comprehensive set of interrelated measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board action plan within a target timeframe. To date, 32 of the recommendations have been fully implemented, three partially implemented and work is in progress on the implementation of the other recommendations. The measures provide for the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board Bill 2003 completed its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas on 19 December 2003 and was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The Act will be commenced in early 2004 providing for the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board on a statutory basis and allowing the board to deal with cases.

My Department and the Competition Authority are to conduct a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. A significant amount of the work was completed in 2003 and a report will be produced in the near future.

I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Government Departments and other bodies concerned. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help tackle the high cost of insurance. These include measures to reduce the number of accidents, to tackle fraudulent and exaggerated claims and streamline the law in relation to personal injury claims.

The pricing and underwriting of insurance is a matter for individual insurance companies and EU law prevents Governments from intervening in relation to the matter of premium levels or in respect of what risks they are prepared to underwrite. Insurers generally make decisions about whether they are prepared to quote for a particular risk, and if so, at what premium level, based on their underwriting experience or assessment of that risk in the market. Governments are free to take action, which affects the operation of the insurance market. The insurance reform programme has impacted favourably on the insurance market.

There is an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the measures the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premiums to consumers and businesses. It is heartening to report that a number of insurers have already announced reductions of 15% to 20% in motor and more recently public liability premiums. As implementation of the reform programme continues, I expect reductions to occur in all forms of insurance. I am confident that these measures will attract new players into the market and lead to further downward pressure on premiums.

I am keen to encourage other insurers to enter this market. Improvements in the functioning of the Irish insurance market make it more attractive to firms that do not have a presence in Ireland. Over the coming months, I intend to meet representatives of potential new entrants to the market.

Many of the measures contained in the MIAB recommendations will have the effect of encouraging competition, including those relating to transparency and the provision of information to consumers. Examples of recommendations that have been implemented which are promoting competition include the provision of 15 days notice at renewal time for motor insurance policies, which give consumers the opportunity to shop around; regulations that prescribe that no-claims bonus documentation be provided with renewal notices to assists consumers who wish to shop around; the provision of comparative tables of insurance quotes which IFSRA now publishes on its website on a three monthly basis; the incorporation of the principle of "acting against the public interest" in the Competition Act 2002; codes of practice in the insurance industry now require insurers who refuse to quote for any particular risk to state their reason in writing upon request; the Irish Insurance Federation in its code of practice has agreed a code of conduct with its member companies on anti-competitive behaviour, subject to more formalised measures, which may be adopted by IFSRA under competition law; and the Competition Authority has a duty to review all further insurance mergers in the interests of the Irish economy with appropriate reference to IFSRA, and the process of consultation seeks to protect the interests of specific policyholder groups since the effects of mergers may warrant consideration about issues of the market as a whole.

The joint study by the Competition Authority and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment into insurance will produce a report in the near future. Recommendations resulting from that report will be implemented.

Employment Support Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

247 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps she has taken to ensure the continuation of services provided by the Clare Local Employment Service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1729/04]

The board of management of Clare LES advised FÁS on 15 December last that they were discontinuing operations effective from 30 January 2004. A decision of this nature is a matter solely for the board. A meeting was held in the Dáil on Wednesday, 21 January 2004, between myself and representatives of Clare Local Employment Service staff to discuss the imminent closure of the Clare LES. Also present were a number of other Clare public representatives including the Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science, a union representative, two departmental officials and two representatives of FÁS.

It was pointed out that while the board of Clare LES is made up of representatives from the statutory and voluntary sectors, and the operation of the service is funded by FÁS, it is nonetheless a separate legal entity and I have no function in relation to the internal workings of a body of this kind. I did, however, agree to ask FÁS to immediately commence an assessment of the labour market data and needs of the Clare region in the context of the closure of the LES. This assessment will include the type and level of a dedicated employment service necessary to address the needs of marginalised client groups in the region, including structures, management, staffing and other relevant requirements of any such service. I have asked FÁS to come back to me with proposals in relation to an enhanced dedicated service for Clare as soon as possible.

Insurance Industry.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

248 Mr. O'Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her plans for reducing the cost of car insurance for males under 24 years of age (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1749/04]

I am concerned about the difficulties that are being caused by high insurance premiums, especially in relation to young drivers. The insurance reform programme that I announced on 25 October 2002 comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board action plan within a target timeframe. To date 32 of the recommendations have been fully implemented, three partially implemented and work is in progress on the implementation of the other recommendations.

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board Bill 2003 completed its passage through the Houses of the Oireachtas on 19 December 2003 and was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The Act will be commenced in early 2004 providing for the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board on a statutory basis and allowing the board to deal with cases.

My Department and the Competition Authority have undertaken a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. A significant amount of the work was completed in 2003 and a report will be produced in the near future.

I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Government Departments and other bodies concerned. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help tackle the high cost of insurance. These include measures to reduce the number of accidents, to tackle fraudulent and exaggerated claims and streamline the law in relation to personal injury claims.

The MIAB recommendations that the Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, IFSRA, is charged with progressing, deal with issues relating to public information, promotion of competition, transparency and consumer protection. One such recommendation relates to gathering of statistics on motor insurance and claims costs by IFSRA. On 10 December 2003, IFSRA published its first set of comparative tables of motor insurance quotations on its website,www.ifsra.ie. The motor insurance cost survey is based on eight driver profiles and is designed to show the range of quotes available for specific drivers in Ireland. Regular surveys will be published on the IFSRA website at three monthly intervals. This may be of particular interest to young drivers and demonstrates the advantages of shopping around.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance there is an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms being undertaken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premiums to consumers and businesses. A number of insurers have announced reductions in motor insurance premiums and the CSO has noted a significant contribution from insurance to the recent reduction in inflation. As implementation of the reform programme continues, I expect further reductions to occur.

IDA Lands.

Michael Ring

Question:

249 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the landbanks in County Mayo held by the IDA; and the location, size and ownership of each landbank. [1750/04]

The management of IDA Ireland's industrial property portfolio, including decisions regarding location and size of land owned by IDA, are day-to-day operational matters for the agency and not matters in which I have a function.

The following table outlines IDA's land portfolio in the Mayo region:

Location

Hectares

Acres

Ballina

1.9595

4.84

Ballinrobe

0.0891

0.22

Bangor Erris

0.3237

0.80

Castlebar

7.4283

18.36

Foxford

0.6798

1.68

Killala

1.0926

2.70

Westport

15.19

37.54

Swinford

.0081

0.02

TOTAL

26.77

66.15

EU Presidency.

Michael Ring

Question:

250 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the location in Galway at which the meeting of the EU Employment and Social Affairs Ministers on 15-16 January 2004, took place; if meals and accommodation were provided for the people who attended this meeting; the hotel used for same and the cost; if a dinner function was held; if she will provide a list of all the invitees to the dinner function including name and title, and any other details; if she will provide details of the cost of the event in Galway for the two days; if accommodation was paid for by the State, giving details of the persons who occupied the accommodation including name and title; if she will provide details of entertainment costs and the persons who provided the entertainment; if she will provide details of any MC costs and the identity of the persons who performed these duties; the breakdown of all associated costs for the two day event; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1758/04]

An informal meeting of Ministers of Employment and Social Policy was held in Galway on 16 January. Ministers and their officials attended from the 15 EU member states, the 10 accession states, the three applicant states and Norway. In addition, representatives from the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council secretariat attended. The meeting focused on the theme, "Making Work Pay", which is a key priority for the member states of the European Union and a core objective in the EU level process to support the modernisation of social protection systems.

The meeting was preceded by a Council troika meeting on 15 January, attended by Ministers from the Netherlands and Luxembourg together with representatives of the EU Commission, the European Parliament, the Council secretariat, the social partners and the social platform of NGOs. There was a fruitful discussion on the issues of "Adaptability and Change" and "Making Work Pay."

The informal and troika meetings were held in the Corrib Great Southern Hotel and both were co-chaired by the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, and me. The Presidency papers which provided the basis for the discussion at the meetings and the conclusions from the meetings are posted on the official Irish Presidency website atwww.eu2004.ie.

The delegations and their supporting staff were accommodated in the following hotels: Great Southern, Eyre Square, Corrib Great Southern, Flannery's Hotel and the Westwood House Hotel. As joint presidents of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council, and in line with established practice, the Minister for Social and Family Affairs and I co-hosted a dinner for the delegations and guests on 15 and 16 January in the Ardilaun House Hotel and the Radisson Hotel respectively. Lunch was provided in the Corrib Great Southern Hotel. Evening entertainment was provided by Con Tempo, the Inisbofin Ceilidh Band, Macnas, Kathleen Loughnane, Celtic Legends and Eleanor Shanley. Norita Ni Chartúir compered the entertainment programme on 16 January. Sponsorship for the bulk of the entertainment programme was provided by Galway Chamber of Commerce, Galway City Council, Galway County Council, Tourism West and the Radisson Hotel.

The budget for the informal and troika meetings was €670,000 to be funded jointly by the Department of Social and Family Affairs and my own Department. As all invoices have not yet been received I am not in a position to give definitive costs for the event but I expect it to be within budget.

Restrictive Practices.

Brendan Smith

Question:

251 Mr. B. Smith asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the proposals she has to eliminate restrictive practices in relation to the medical, legal and construction professions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1820/04]

Activities which restrict competition in trade in any goods or services in the State are in general subject to the provisions of the Competition Act 2002.

During the period since its establishment in 1991, the Competition Authority has carried out investigative and enforcement work as regards various professions. The main focus of the authority in this area at present is a comprehensive study under the Competition Act 2002 of eight individual professions, including medical practitioners, barristers, solicitors, engineers and architects. I look forward to receiving the final reports of the individual studies as they become available during this year and to considering what action by Government may be necessary or desirable on foot of the reports.

My Department is also currently consulting with representatives of the medical and dental professions on measures to promote greater price awareness by patients of these services.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Denis Naughten

Question:

252 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her Department has provided FÁS with an additional budget in 2004 to cover the cost of the registration charge placed on apprentices attending institutes of technology; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1869/04]

I am aware that the Minister for Education and Science has approved the introduction of a registration charge for apprentices attending institutes of technology. The administration of the charge is a matter for the institutes of technology. No additional funds have been provided to FÁS arising from these new arrangements.

Jack Wall

Question:

253 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding the securing of a tenant for the IDA advance factory in Athy, in view of the fact that it was indicated in previous Dáil replies that they expected a decision on a possible tenant for the factory by mid 2003, and this week another factory in Athy (details supplied) has announced that it is to close in February 2004 with the loss of 24 jobs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1875/04]

IDA Ireland is the agency with statutory responsibility for the attraction of foreign direct investment to Ireland and its regions. The agency, through its project divisions and network of overseas offices, is actively marketing its factory in Athy to overseas investors as a potential location for foreign direct investment.

A profile of the facility has been circulated to IDA Ireland's overseas offices informing them of its competitive rental rate in comparison to locations like Dublin. Ultimately decisions regarding where to locate a project, including what areas to visit as potential locations are taken by overseas investors.

There have been four site visits to the factory over the past 12 months. Feedback from IDA clients suggests that the facility is attractive as a potential location for foreign direct investment. A possible tenant who expressed interest in the advance factory in 2003 has been in communication with IDA Ireland again in early January 2004 regarding plans to set up in Ireland. The project is slow to get to fruition as negotiations are still taking place between the company and a locally based multinational to secure a contractual supply agreement.

As regards the other named company, Shuttleworth, I am told it made a commercial decision that it was not sustainable to continue its business in Ireland. Over the past five years the overall challenges for IDA supported companies have been difficult and involve a period of transition from dependence on the more cost competitive sectors into the higher value added activities. Part of this transition has involved job reductions and losses in long established companies and reinforces the importance and urgency of attracting the more modern industrial and higher value added activities.

The success of our economy during the 1990s and into this decade means that Ireland is now much less competitive as a location for low wage manufacturing projects. As such Ireland, must now gear itself towards attracting a different type of investor. The focus for the future must be to attract investment requiring high skill levels, that is, as far as possible, innovation rather than production orientated, and that links in to an increasingly sophisticated business environment.

FÁS, the national training and placement authority, which also operates under the aegis of my Department, is making available its full range of support services including skills analysis, jobs placement, guidance and counselling interviews, identification of training needs and suitable training courses to assist those made redundant to find suitable alternative employment.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland and FÁS, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development, will yield results in terms of attracting additional sustainable overseas investment and jobs for Athy.

Consumer Affairs.

John Bruton

Question:

254 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the initiatives that her Department are undertaking to ensure that the price of mineral water sold in public houses is vetted in view of the fact that occasions have been noted where a glass of tap water has been sold in a public house for an exorbitant price, stating that it was still mineral water; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [1970/04]

I understand that most establishments do not charge for serving tap water and this practice is to be encouraged. In the cases referred to by the Deputy, these would appear to raise issues relating to the making of false or misleading statements and may be amenable to enforcement action under the Consumer Information Act 1978.

The Deputy may wish to forward details of the cases concerned to the Director of Consumer Affairs for appropriate action.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

255 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if assessments are under way in her Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to her at an early date for consideration. [1972/04]

Upon the announcement of the decentralisation programme in budget 2004, my Department's management board and I considered what options were available to put into effect the decision to relocate 250 staff to Carlow. I was anxious that every effort should be made to preserve the coherence of the Department's policy development and legislative role by retaining an effective policy advisory and legislative function in Dublin. I was, of course, also keen to ensure coherence in the activities being decentralised.

In this regard, I have decided that staff of the Companies Registration Office, the Office of the Registrar of Friendly Societies, the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, the work permits, labour inspectorate, redundancy and insolvency and employment rights sections of my Department should relocate to Carlow. This is a coherent and synergistic set of activities concentrating on services to business, consumers and employees. It will provide a grade structure that will allow for full career development for those officers electing to move, will minimise the potential loss of intellectual capital and corporate memory, and will ensure that my Department's abilities in these roles will not be diminished in any way.

The Deputy will be aware that the Department of Finance and the Office of Public Works have established an implementation committee to prepare and submit an overall implementation plan to a new Cabinet sub-committee by the end of March 2004. My Department is represented on this implementation committee. I expect this committee and the new Cabinet sub-committee to agree a plan for decentralisation that will maximise the effectiveness of decentralisation, and minimise any disruptions and inefficiencies, which may occur within the programme.

My Department has also established a decentralisation committee to oversee the programme within the Department and those of its agencies selected for relocation. This committee will work to ensure that we continue to deliver a quality service to our customers and that the needs of those within the Department who may be affected by decentralisation continue to be addressed.

Officials of my Department are keeping me apprised of developments with regard to the implementation of the programme, which presents considerable challenges to us all.

Industrial Development.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

256 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if interest has been expressed in relation to the IDA's marketing of a plant (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2212/04

IDA Ireland, in conjunction with Schneider, has been actively marketing the Celbridge facility with a view to attracting a replacement project but without success to-date.

It is understood that some interest has been expressed in acquiring the facility for non-manufacturing purposes, but agreement has not yet been reached.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

257 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if a survey of staff in her Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if she will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2233/04]

Following the announcement of the Government's decentralisation programme, under which 250 staff of my Department will decentralise to Carlow, a survey was conducted within the Department with a view to establishing the numbers of staff interested in decentralising to locations outside Dublin. A total of 503 staff responded to the survey, 69 of whom indicated that they would be prepared to transfer to Carlow and 160 of whom indicated a willingness to decentralise to other locations outside Dublin.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

258 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Defence to report on his Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1210/04]

The military aspects of crisis management which arise under the European security and defence policy, ESDP, are the areas of primary concern to my Department. In this regard, great progress has been achieved by successive EU Presidencies towards developing the EU's capabilities to carry out Petersberg Tasks operations such as peacekeeping, humanitarian and peace support operations.

In 2003, the operational capability of the European Union was demonstrated through the launching of four ESDP operations. These were the EU police mission, EUPM, in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Operation Concordia in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, Operation Artemis in Bunia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the police mission, Proxima, in FYROM which followed the successful completion of Operation Concordia. These operations have made significant contributions to peace and stability in their respective areas of operations. A work programme to progress ESDP by the incoming Irish Presidency was endorsed by the European Council held in Brussels at the end of the Italian Presidency. The programme covers the full spectrum of ESDP issues including conflict prevention and the civilian and military aspects of crisis management.

My Department will progress this work programme at EU level using the established practice of formal and informal meetings up to and including ministerial level. An informal meeting of Defence Ministers of EU member states and accession countries is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 5 and 6 April 2004, while Defence Ministers will also meet in Brussels on 17 May in the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. Meetings at official level will be held as and when required.

The Government intends that the same business-like professional approach, which characterised our previous EU Presidencies, will again be the hallmark of the conduct of the Presidency during the first half of 2004.

Defence Forces Escorts.

John McGuinness

Question:

259 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Defence the number of Garda/Army escorts provided in each of the past five years to financial institutions for the transport of money throughout the State; the cost of each; the contribution made to the Department in each case; the terms of the agreement between the institutions and the State regarding the cost; the proposals if any by the Department to recoup the full costs from the institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1340/04]

The roles of the Defence Forces as assigned by Government are set out in the White Paper on Defence which was published in February 2000. To aid the civil power — meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána which has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State — is among the assigned roles. The Defence Forces, pursuant to their role of rendering aid to the civil power, assist the Garda as required in duties which include the escorts of cash in transit. Each cash escort would include deliveries to banks, post offices and other institutions.

Statistical records compiled by my Department do not differentiate between banks, post offices and other institutions.

The number of requests for cash escorts received by the military authorities from the Garda Síochána for the years 1999 to 2003 was as follows: 1999, 2,161; 2000, 2,285; 2001, 2,488; 2002, 2,516; 2003, 2,298.

The total cost in respect of the provision by the Defence Forces of assistance to the Garda Síochána in protecting movements of cash for the years 1999 to 2002 — the 2003 costs have not yet been finalised — including pay, allowances, transport, aerial surveillance and administration charge, was as follows: 1999, €5.68m; 2000, €5.99m; 2001, €6.58; 2002, €6.87m.

Part of these costs is recouped from the banks through an annual contribution. A sum of €2.86 million has been refunded by the banks to my Department each year since 1995. The contribution from the banks is designed to part cover the total costs to the State of providing cash escorts. An annual contribution is also made to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in respect of the Garda Síochána. However, in the case of the Defence Forces, the contribution by the banks has generally covered the non-pay costs of providing such escorts. The matter is reviewed on an ongoing basis in my Department.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

260 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he will consider raising the age limit for qualified people to enter the cadet programme in view of the fact that persons may not complete their degree prior to this age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1346/04]

The upper age limit for candidates applying for cadetships in the Defence Forces who are serving members of the Permanent Defence Force, holders of a third level degree, or, in the case of Naval Service applicants who are holders of a diploma as specified in the cadetship information booklet, has been raised to under 27 years of age on 1 October in the competition year.

This revised upper age limit is applicable to the 2004 cadetship competition, the advertisement of which is due to take place between Thursday 22, January 2004 and Thursday 12, February 2004.

Defence Forces Property.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

261 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence his plans to build a new unit to replace the old FCA building at Fair Street, Mallow in County Cork. [1770/04]

The question of replacing or refurbishing the building in question is under consideration. Pending the outcome of this examination essential maintenance work will continue to be carried out as required to keep the building functional.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

262 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Defence if assessments are underway in his Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to him at an early date for consideration. [1973/04]

The Government decision on decentralisation announced by the Minister for Finance in his budget statement provides for the transfer of my Department's Dublin based Civil Service staff to Newbridge, County Kildare. The Deputy will be aware that the finance branch of my Department was decentralised to Galway in 1989 and that, in the context of the White Paper on Defence, the Government decided to decentralise the civil defence branch of my Department to Roscrea, County Tipperary. All other functions of my Department are comprehended by the decentralisation decision.

The Government decision on decentralisation also provides for the transfer of Defence Forces headquarters staff to the Curragh, County Kildare. The Deputy will be aware that the directorate of military police and the directorate of reserve forces have already decentralised to Clonmel, County Tipperary.

Civil/military working groups have been set up to consider the practical aspects of the transfer of staff to Newbridge and the Curragh. In that regard, appropriate measures will be put in place to ensure that there is no adverse impact on the operations of the Department and of Defence Forces headquarters.

Defence Forces Property.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

263 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future of Gormanstown Military Camp having regard to a previous decision to allocate land at this camp for housing; the progress on this decision and on the sale or otherwise of this property; if military activity will continue in this camp or on the adjacent Mosney open range; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2053/04]

On 1 July 2003 the Government agreed that Gormanston Camp, County Meath, would be among the State lands released to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for inclusion in the Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative.

The intention is that this initiative will be targeted at those who in the past would have expected to purchase a house from their own resources but find that they are unable to do so in the current market. The release of State lands under this initiative is a critical first step in ensuring early delivery of affordable housing units.

The modalities of the transfer of the property to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the quantity of land involved are under active consideration.

Defence Forces Inquiry.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

264 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself with the outcome of an inquiry in relation to an incident in the Glen of Imal on 27 November 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2067/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

265 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Defence if he has satisfied himself that every soldier and officer involved in an incident in the Glen of Imal on the night of 27 November 2001 were treated fairly in subsequent inquiries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2068/04]

Olwyn Enright

Question:

266 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Defence if he established the person responsible for the failure to carry out proper procedures that led to an incident in the Glen of Imal on the night of 27 November 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2069/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 264 to 266, inclusive, together.

During the course of an exercise on the night of 27 November 2001, a number of live rounds of ammunition were accidentally discharged and a member of the Defence Forces received bullet wounds to his arm and chest. A military ambulance was on site and the injured party was immediately treated by a qualified emergency medical technician before being transferred to Tallaght General Hospital and, subsequently, to St. James's Hospital, where he underwent treatment. Military police were immediately called to the scene and carried out a full investigation.

Arising from the military police investigation, charges were preferred under section 168 of the Defence Act 1954, against four members of the Defence Forces, an officer, two NCOs and a private, who were involved in the planning and execution of the military exercise during which the incident occurred. I am advised by the military authorities that the matter was dealt with summarily in accordance with military law, which provides for due and fair process. All four were found guilty. Three were punished by way of a severe reprimand and one was given a warning.

Where an incident involves injury to a member of the Defence Forces, a formal court of inquiry is convened to take evidence and to make recommendations as regards the matters referred to it. In this case, the court of inquiry has not been convened as the incident is currently the subject of a civil action in the courts. I am advised that, once the matter has been disposed of by the courts, a court of inquiry will be convened.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

267 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Defence if a survey of staff in his Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if he will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2234/04]

No survey of the type described by the Deputy has been conducted in my Department.

Defence Forces Property.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

268 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Defence the details of all instances in which his Department has provided for local community gain, following the closure and sale of Army barracks, including the nature and extent of that gain. [2281/04]

The Government, on 15 July 1998, approved a programme of evacuation and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question are located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Castleblayney, Naas, Kildare and Clancy Barracks, Dublin.

The sale of approximately 91 acres comprising Lot 1, Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, to O'Flynn Construction for €41 million has been completed. In addition, the sale of Lot 2 to the sitting tenant for €1.05 million — my Department's reversionary interest in approximately 6.2 acres of the barrack lands — has also been completed. A further area comprising more than 27 acres at Murphy Barracks will be handed over to Cork County Council for community use.

Some 19.218 acres at the former Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy, were sold to Cork County Council in 2001 for €973,889 for development in conjunction with the IDA. Castleblayney military post, Monaghan, comprising approximately ten acres, was sold to the North Eastern Health Board for €761,843.

Seven acres at Devoy Barracks, Naas, County Kildare, were ceded free of charge to Naas Urban District Council, while a further 14 acres were sold to that authority for €8,888,167. The balance of the barracks lands — one acre — was sold to Kildare County Council for €380,921.

Magee Barracks, Kildare, comprises an area of 65 acres. At present approximately 15 acres of the property are being used by the reception and integration agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to accommodate asylum seekers and a further site comprising one acre approximately is being used by Kildare County Council as a temporary halting site for twenty persons. The Government on 1 July, 2003 decided to release this property to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for inclusion in a new affordable housing initiative agreed under the national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress.

My Department has accepted an offer from Florence Properties Limited, for the sale of Clancy Barracks, Dublin, comprising 13.65 acres approximately. A contract of sale has recently been completed.

Decentralisation Programme.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

269 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a survey of staff to determine interest in participating in the decentralisation programme has been undertaken in his Department; when it will be completed; and if the results will be published or otherwise made available to Deputies. [2327/04]

Enda Kenny

Question:

288 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a survey of staff in his Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if he will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2235/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 269 and 288 together.

The Deputy will be aware that it is proposed to decentralise the headquarters of my Department to Portlaoise and the local office located at present in Cork city to Macroom.

A preliminary survey conducted in my Department indicates that currently some 42 staff in Dublin would be interested in moving to Portlaoise. Another 57 staff located outside of Dublin indicated that they would move to Portlaoise. I should add that my Department already has 246 staff located in Portlaoise.

A survey of staff in respect of the Macroom office indicates that 42 staff would move from their present locations in Cork to Macroom. A further 22 staff located in other parts of the country would also decentralise to Macroom.

Animal Identification Scheme.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

270 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he is supporting the calls from the farming organisations for a flock tag to be introduced for sheep; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1128/04]

In the wake of the FMD crisis of 2001, and against a backdrop of earlier unsuccessful efforts in this regard, I introduced a comprehensive individual sheep identification system — the national sheep identification system, NSIS, which provides full individual identification and traceability of sheep from farm of origin to carcass and which is designed to be multi-functional, facilitating aspects such as flock management, consumer assurance and disease monitoring and control. In the latter regard, the FMD crisis underscored the potential damage to which our economy and the agriculture sector is exposed in the event of serious disease outbreaks if shortcomings in animal identification and traceability were not addressed. Based on monitoring of NSIS and feedback to my Department from various quarters since 2001, I am satisfied that all elements of NSIS are now firmly bedded in across the sheep sector and working well. I have however made it clear consistently that I am always willing to enhance NSIS and to address any operational difficulties which might arise, while maintaining its key components.

A new harmonised system of identification for the whole of the European Union was agreed at the December Council of Ministers. The system provides that there will be electronic individual identification of sheep from January 2008, together with a central movement database recording movements on a batch basis. The implementation date is subject to review following a Commission report in 2006. For the interim period all sheep are to be double tagged and identified individually, but all recording would be on a flock basis.

The regime agreed by the December Council affords member states which already have systems in place offering a higher level of traceability than would be the case under the interim period system, the option of retaining their own systems until the advent of electronic identification in a few years from now.

I support the broad principle which underlies the agreed system. I have always been in favour of making use of new and efficient technologies to achieve this end, subject of course to practicalities and cost-effectiveness and I would be very anxious that Ireland and other member states would be in a position to move at the earliest possible date to an electronic system. In the interim, however, I believe that the system now in place and operating throughout the Irish sheep sector will continue to afford Ireland the level of protection and assurance in relation to both identification and traceability which I believe is strategically appropriate to this country.

The package agreed by the December Council envisages the retention of systems such as NSIS, albeit with some minor adjustment, over the period leading up to EU-wide introduction of electronic individual identification. I have no plans to dismantle NSIS and roll back the progress which has been made in this area since 2001, only to see Irish sheep farmers, marts, meat processors, etc., being asked a few short years from now to once again re-instate and accommodate individual identification and traceability. However, I am willing to examine and address aspects relating to the operation of NSIS in so far as these are addressed within the EU system now agreed.

Installation Aid Scheme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

271 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an appeal in relation to the installation aid scheme by a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if his attention has been drawn to the special circumstances (details supplied). [1173/04]

The agriculture appeals office received this appeal on 15 December 2003. The case has been assigned to an appeals officer for examination and determination. The appeals office will contact the appellant shortly. It is not expected that there will be any undue delay in dealing with this case.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

272 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food to report on his Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1211/04]

To date, 18 meetings of EU committees and working groups relating to my Department's area of responsibility have been chaired by my officials. In addition, I am today meeting both the agriculture and rural development committee and the environment, public health and consumer policy committee of the European Parliament in Brussels to set out my programme of work for the Irish Presidency and to have an exchange of views. That programme is included in the published programme of the Irish Presidency of the European Union which was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas on 18 December 2003. The specific objectives I have identified for our Presidency are: to facilitate the application of the CAP to the new member states; to continue the process of simplification of the CAP initiated by the mid-term review decisions of June 2003; and to enhance food safety standards

Progress in advancing the Presidency work programme has been satisfactory.

Grant Payments.

Tom Hayes

Question:

273 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when payment of the suckler ten month and 22 month premia, along with any other payments due for 2003, will issue to a herdowner (details supplied) in County Tipperary. [1255/04]

The person named included a land parcel on his 2003 area aid application, which overlapped with a land parcel on another herdowner's application. Both parties were written to on this matter. It has now been determined that the person named was not entitled to claim area aid on this parcel. The person named claimed 62.04 hectares of forage but was only entitled to claim 57.09 hectares. Under the relevant EU regulation a penalty of double this difference was applied, as the difference was greater than 3%, which reduced the area determined for payment purposes to 47.19 hectares.

The person named submitted two applications under the 2003 special beef premium scheme in respect of 60 animals. Both applications have been processed by my Department and 80% advance payment will issue very shortly.

The person named had 58 animals slaughtered under the 2003 slaughter premium scheme, and has been paid advance payment on 33 animals. Advance payment in respect of the remaining 25 animals will issue shortly.

The person named applied for premium on 22 animals under the 2003 suckler cow premium scheme. According to the terms and conditions of the scheme a producer may be paid premium on up to 1.8 reckonable livestock units only per hectare of the forage area of his or her holding as established from the producer's 2003 area aid application and any cattle submitted for 2003 suckler cow premium and special beef premium over and above that 1.8 reckonable livestock units limit shall not be paid such premium. The livestock units are calculated taking into account male cattle on which the producer applies for special beef premium, ewes submitted for 2003 ewe premium, notional dairy cows needed to produce any milk quota held and suckler cows or heifers for which suckler cow premium has been requested. The area aid record for the person named shows 47.19 hectares of forage area, which would allow payment on a maximum of 84.94 livestock units. The herdowner holds a milk quota of 131,681 litres and divided by the average yield of 3,982 litres would require 33.06 notional dairy cows to produce this. Applications from the herdowner for ewe premium on 4.35 livestock units and beef premium for 36 livestock units have been processed leaving 11.53 livestock units due for payment under the suckler cow scheme. Payment of his 80% advance instalment for €2,282.74 was made in respect of 12.73 animals. that is three heifers less than two years old, 1.80 livestock units and 9.73 cows. This payment issued on 9 January 2004.

Milk Quota.

Dan Neville

Question:

274 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when an extra quota will be granted to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick whose herd is locked up due to animal disease. [1326/04]

The milk quota appeals tribunal considered an application for additional quota from the person in question at its meeting on 17 December 2003 and an allocation was recommended. The person named has been notified of the outcome of his application.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

275 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the funding provided from his Department towards the landslide in north Mayo. [1369/04]

Funding was provided by the Government through the Red Cross to alleviate hardship. This funding was provided by the Office of Public Works.

Departmental Correspondence.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

276 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when he will respond to a letter of 8 December 2003 from a person (details supplied) in County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1400/04]

I assume the Deputy is referring to a letter addressed to Deputy Liam Aylward, Minister of State at my Department, I understand that a reply to that letter issued on 7 January 2004.

Grant Payments.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

277 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a group (details supplied) in County Wexford was not successful under the grants made to animal welfare bodies; if there is further funding available for this group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1435/04]

My Department does not operate any specific schemes of financial assistance for animal welfare bodies. In recent years however I have madeex gratia funding available to a number of appropriate bodies involved in the direct delivery of animal care and welfare services throughout the country having regard to moneys available to me from within the Department's vote at end-year. In December 2003 grants totalling €850,000 were awarded to 80 organisations to assist them in their activities in 2004. A copy of the press release which details the organisations that received funding is attached.

The organisations concerned had approached the Department during 2003 seeking financial assistance. My Department has no record of the North Wexford Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals having made such an approach.

I note all requests received and at the appropriate time will consider any request received from the North Wexford Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, having regard to the availability of funding and to any competing claims for grant assistance submitted by other animal welfare bodies.

Michael Ring

Question:

278 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be paid slaughter premium 2002, the balance of a special beef premium 2001, and all of their entitlement to special beef premium for 2002. [1516/04]

The person named submitted four applications under the 2001 special beef premium scheme in respect of 56 animals, and three applications under the 2002 special beef premium scheme, in respect of 51 animals. One animal was found eligible under the 2001 slaughter premium scheme and two animals found eligible under the 2002 slaughter premium scheme.

The applications of the person named were under review by my Department. This review is now complete and appropriate payments will issue shortly.

Milk Quota.

Dan Neville

Question:

279 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position with regard to the provision of a milk quota from the national reserve to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick on the grounds of hardship. [1568/04]

The milk quota appeals tribunal considered an application for additional quota from the person in question at its meeting on 29 October 2003 and an allocation was recommended. The person named has been notified of the outcome of his application.

Animal Vaccines.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

280 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason consideration is being given to changing the availability of vaccines for cattle and sheep that have been available through licensed merchants for in excess of 30 years; the benefit he foresees by changing this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1587/04]

As licences in respect of animal vaccines, which had been granted under the Therapeutic Substances Act 1932, no longer meet current scientific or EU legislative requirements, not least because a mandatory supply route was not specified, it was necessary to review all such licences on an individual basis. Under the review, which has been ongoing since 1999, the Irish Medicines Board has been progressively carrying out the detailed examination of application dossiers submitted by sponsoring companies. On this basis, the board makes a recommendation to my Department, as competent authority, for a final decision on the grant or otherwise of a licence and on the conditions, including route of supply, accompanying such licence.

In terms of designating routes of supply for individual vaccines, my Department does not have a general approach which would as a matter of policy necessarily exclude any of the outlets provided for under the Animal Remedies Regulations 1996. Rather, the decision is taken on the basis of the characteristics of each individual product taking account of the relevant recommendation of the Irish Medicines Board and the objective criteria laid down in Regulation 13 of the Animal Remedies Regulations 1996.

In this context, I should point out that my Department has concluded a review of the existing legislation governing regulation of the Irish market in veterinary vaccines and other veterinary medicines taking account of experience of their operation for almost a decade, of various developments over that period and likely developments in the future. Arising from this, my Department is preparing to brief stakeholders within the next few weeks on the direction of the proposed changes to the existing regime, following which consultations with the animal remedies consultative committee will take place.

Grant Payments.

Willie Penrose

Question:

281 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position of a person who requires a significant area of land and wishes to commence farming, in particular where this land has not been farmed within the previous three years; and the position whereby a person who has acquired 110 acres in June 2002, and let same for six months, and in 2003 took silage off it and commenced reclamation and improvement works, would fare in the context of the decoupling proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1734/04]

Under the mid-term review of Agenda 2000, entitlements will be established for farmers who actively farmed during the three reference years, 2000, 2001 and 2002. In both instances outlined in the question, the farmers concerned were not actively farming during the reference period and consequently they will not have any entitlements established for them. They may, however, be able to apply for entitlements from the national reserve when it is established in autumn 2004. As the criteria under which national reserve entitlements are to be allocated has not yet been established, it is not possible to say at this stage what their positions would be.

Forest Certification Scheme.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

282 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he has satisfied himself that the certification of forestry standards by the Soil Association is flawed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1946/04]

I understand that the Soil Association is an internationally recognised standard certification body which has been accredited by the Forest Stewardship Council, FSC, to carry out independent third party certification of forests to the FSC standard. The Deputy will be aware that the Forest Stewardship Council is an independent non-governmental organisation which operates a voluntary forest certification scheme for forest owners. Terms and conditions for compliance with the certification process are a matter for the FSC. I have no role in this voluntary process.

Grant Payments.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

283 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a single farm payment will be awarded in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1947/04]

Following my decision that all direct payments under the livestock premia and arable aid schemes will be decoupled from production with effect from 1 January 2005 and be replaced by the single payment scheme, I decided that farmers who feel that their farming enterprise was adversely affected byforce majeure— exceptional circumstances could apply to my Department to have their case considered. Advertisements to this effect appeared in the national and farming press during the week ending 13 December 2003.

An application, received from the person named on 21 January 2004, is currently under consideration and the person named will be notified of my Department's decision in due course.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

284 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if assessments are under way in his Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to him at an early date for consideration. [1974/04]

The Government has established an implementation committee chaired by Mr. Philip Flynn to oversee the decentralisation programme announced by the Minister for Finance in the Budget Statement in December 2003.

My Department has set up an internal committee to implement the programme in so far as my Department is concerned to deal with the issues mentioned by the Deputy. This committee is chaired by a senior official in my Department and the heads of accommodation, personnel, management services and information systems divisions will also be members of the committee. The heads of the divisions which deal with Bord Bia, Bord Glas and Teagasc will also be members. The committee will liaise with the central implementation committee and other relevant bodies, for example, the Office of Public Works, on all aspects of the decentralisation programme. I will receive regular progress on all aspects of the decentralisation programme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

285 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the amount his Department spent in the year 2003 on IT software licences and the amount of that budget which was spent on products from a company (details supplied); if his Department uses a product (details supplied) similar to open source software; and if it has a policy position with regard to the promotion and use of such open source software, in the interests of cost savings or the development of a more transparent software industry. [2039/04]

The total amount spent on IT software licences by my Department in 2003 was €4,365,503.53, of which €468,410.00 was spent on products from the named company. This is the overall total for expenditure on new licences, software version upgrades and annual maintenance and support.

The product referred to is currently used in my Department to facilitate data transfer to and from an external partner. It is also used in a number of test areas. Other open-source products have been used where appropriate to enhance application functionality. Another open-source product is incorporated into the applications server software package that underpins the Department's new online business applications.

My Department's procurement approach facilitates open competition, best value for money and best fit to the requirements. Evaluation of tenders received by my Department takes account of these factors. If a tender is based partly or fully on open-source software, it is evaluated in the same way. However, the use of open-source software does not always lead to cost savings. My Department continues to monitor the emerging IT industry standards including opportunities arising from open-source arrangements.

Grant Payments.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

286 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the amount of money farmers received as payment by his Department in each of the past ten years for the control of farmyard pollution, dairy hygiene grants and other farm building grants; if he has satisfied himself that sufficient funds will be available over the next number of years to support farmers in the provision of the extra slurry accommodation to meet this Government's proposed action plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2076/04]

The details requested by the Deputy are as follows:

Year

Farm Pollution

Dairy Hygiene

Other

(€m)

(€m)

(€m)

1995

28.790

1.919

31.537

1996

47.109

9.387

24.030

1997

59.708

14.422

16.289

1998

23.729

10.046

10.088

1999

12.949

5.857

7.251

2000

6.289

5.779

8.008

2001

14.073

0.328

0.058

2002

14.895

2.448

0.512

2003

22.266

2.499

0.815

2004 (to date)

1.459

0.129

0.056

Total

231.267

52.814

98.644

As part of the Sustaining Progress agreement, the farm waste management scheme was revised with effect from 1 January 2004 by increasing the income units, IUs, for eligibility under the scheme from 200 IUs to 450 IUs; increasing the investment ceiling from €50,790 to €75,000; and introducing a standard grant rate of 40% for most investments. I am satisfied that the significant increase in the financial allocation for 2004 will be sufficient to meet the likely increased uptake by farmers in 2004 under the scheme which may arise as a result of these changes.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

287 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the REP scheme payment will be increased this year; the amount it will be increased by; the people who will qualify for it; from when it will be operative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2085/04]

Changes to payment rates and other aspects of the rural environment protection scheme will require an amendment to the CAP rural development plan and I have submitted the necessary proposals to the European Commission. These proposals provide for increased payment rates, in line with the Government commitment in Sustaining Progress, as follows: Up to 20ha: €200/ha; 20ha — 40ha: €175/ha; 40ha — 55ha: €70/ha.

Participation in REPS requires farmers to farm to a standard that goes beyond normal good farming practice. The scheme is open to all farmers who are prepared to assume such undertakings.

Discussions on the proposals have already taken place between the Commission and officials of my Department. While the formal procedures of the Commission will to some extent determine how long it takes to secure approval for the changes, I will do everything possible to expedite matters and I will introduce the new scheme without delay once I have secured the Commission's approval.

Question No. 288 answered with QuestionNo. 269.

Carcase Classification.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

289 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the success to date of the training that his Department has offered to meat plant operatives in carcase classification; the uptake of this training; and when his Department's officials will have fully withdrawn from the grading process. [2280/04]

The availability of suitably trained classifiers within the industry is an essential feature of the operation of mechanical grading of carcases. By way of preparation, my Department has been engaged in the training and licensing of classifiers for this purpose. Training has been extremely successful and a total of 33 meat plant employees based at 16 slaughter plants have successfully completed the programme. A limited extension of the training programme, where required, is under discussion with the industry as part of the final preparations being made for the commencement of mechanical grading.

The testing and approval of grading machines is now complete. Arrangements are being made for their installation in slaughter plants within the coming months and the withdrawal of Department classifiers from these duties.

Grant Payments.

Billy Timmins

Question:

290 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 153 and 162 of 18 November 2003, the situation with regard to a case (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2284/04]

The position of the person concerned remains unchanged from that outlined in my reply to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 153 and 162 of 18 November 2003.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

291 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the criteria a person must meet to be eligible for a primary medical; the criteria there are for persons with multiple sclerosis to be eligible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1437/04]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the primary medical certificate that is required for application to the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concession under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. Six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows: persons who are wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs; persons who are wholly without the use of one of their legs and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that they are severely restricted as to movement of their lower limbs; persons without both hands or without both arms; persons without one or both legs; persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and who have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

It is regrettable that the Revenue Commissioners are unable to consider an application for the relief without the issue of a valid primary medical certificate. The medical criteria listed above applies to all applicants wishing to gain access to the scheme, including those with multiple sclerosis.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

292 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Finance the reason the grant for the disabled drivers scheme can only be applied to new forms of transport; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this excludes many people from this scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2090/04]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the repayment of VRT is made on second hand vehicles as well as new ones. An individual who qualifies for the reliefs available under the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' tax concessions scheme is issued with a primary medical certificate. Possession of a primary medical certificate provides for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax, VRT, plus a repayment of value added tax, VAT, on the purchase of the vehicle, plus a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of that vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle and exemption from payment of annual road tax to local authorities are also provided for.

An interdepartmental group was established to review the disabled drivers and disabled passengers (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme. I have received the report of the review group and it is currently being considered. Any recommendations contained in this report will receive full consideration.

Any consideration of a change to the scheme will, among other factors, have to take account of any cost implications. The substantial tax benefits of the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' scheme make for considerable interest in, and desire to be admitted to, the scheme.

The cost of reliefs, excluding annual road tax costs, is estimated to be in the region of €34 million in 2002, as compared to €5.1 million in 1994.

Architectural Heritage.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

293 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if he has received the revised schedule of works needed to implement the development plan for Lucan Demesne; the total cost involved; if sanction has issued in respect of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2218/04]

I understand that the three relevant local authorities have made considerable progress in agreeing a revised schedule of works and that it is hoped they will soon be in a position to submit the completed schedule to my Department.

As has already been stated in response to earlier questions, sanction has been received in principle for a rescheduling of the total funding of €4.7 million approved in respect of the implementation of the management plan. The precise annual allocations will be determined by the agreed schedule of works and obviously availability of funding each year.

Tax Code.

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

294 Mr. Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for Finance the reasons tax relief may not be availed of in instances where the lessee of land for farming is related to the landowner. [2279/04]

Section 664 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides for an exemption from income tax in respect of the first €5,079 of annual leasing income where the leasing is for a period of not less than five years and in respect of €7,618 where the leasing is for a period of not less than seven years. The exemptions are available to lessors of agricultural land aged 55 years or over or to those who are permanently incapacitated by mental or physical infirmity from carrying on farming.

In budget 2004, I announced that this 55 age limit is to be lowered to 40 with effect from 1 January 2004 and the amount of exempt income for leases of between five and seven years is to be increased from €5,079 to €7,500 per annum and from €7,618 to €10,000 for leases of seven or more years.

These tax exemptions apply only in respect of leases to qualifying lessees. In this context, "qualifying lessee" specifically excludes from the scope of the relief any leases made between closely connected relatives. A person is connected with an individual if that person is the individual's husband or wife, or is a relative, or the husband or wife of a relative of the individual or of the individual's husband or wife. A relative in this context is defined as meaning brother, sister, ancestor or lineal descendant. This restriction covering leasing to closely connected relatives is a standard anti-avoidance measure without which the relief would be open to manipulation with spurious arrangements being set up, such as the passing back to the lessee of rent on which tax relief had been claimed by both.

I should also point out that there are already very generous stamp duty and capital acquisitions tax reliefs available in the case of permanent transfers of land between family members, such as by gift or sale. For these reasons, I do not propose to provide an exemption from income tax from a farm land lease entered into between related persons.

Decentralisation Programme.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

295 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if a survey of staff to determine interest in participating in the decentralisation programme has been undertaken in his Department; when it will be completed; and if the results will be published or otherwise made available to Deputies. [2328/04]

Enda Kenny

Question:

349 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance if a survey of staff in his Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if he will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2236/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 295 and 349 together.

As the Deputy is aware, I have appointed an implementation committee to prepare and submit an overall implementation plan by the end of March 2004. The implementation plan will address issues such as sequencing of various moves, acquisition/financing of new offices, associated rationalisation of Government property, scope for pooling common services between Departments and the major human resource issues that will need to be addressed. Pending completion of the plan, it has been decided not to conduct a survey of the staff of the Department in relation to decentralisation.

Ground Rents.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

296 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the National Museum, Kildare Street; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1095/04]

Three ground rents, totalling €25 per annum, are payable in respect of the area formerly known as Shelbourne Place. This area now forms part of the National Museum. The amounts payable and expiry dates are as follows

LSE0649

Shelbourne Place

€16.99 per annum

Expiry date currently being researched. *

LSE0650

Shelbourne Place

€ 4.50 per annum.

Payable forever.

LSE0651

Shelbourne Place

€3.52 per annum.

Expires 25 March 2753.

*As soon as this is established, it will be forwarded to the Deputy.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

297 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the Museum of Natural History, Merrion Street; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1096/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

298 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1097/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

299 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on Kilmainham Gaol; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1098/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

300 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the National Gallery, Merrion Street; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1099/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

301 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on Collins Barracks; if so, the amount per year; andwhen that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1100/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

302 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the Custom House; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1101/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 297 to 302, inclusive, together.

The National History Museum, Merrion Street, the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, Kilmainham Gaol, the National Gallery, Merrion Street, Collins Barracks and the Custom House, Dublin, are State-owned and no ground rent is paid on these properties.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

303 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance the buildings housing Departments on which the State pays ground rent; the amount per year paid on each; and when each ground rent lease is due to expire. [1102/04]

From our records it is not possible to distinguish between fee farm grants and ground rents without a disproportionate amount of time being spent on it. Following, therefore, is an inclusive list of ground rents and fee farm grants for offices occupied by Departments.

Name

Rent per year (€)

Expiry date

Carlow Agriculture Office

6.98

30/04/2072

Cork C & E Parnell Place

66.03

31/10/2060

Cumberland St SWO

6.98

24/03/2764

14-15 Upper O'Connell St, Dublin

176.98

28/09/2738

Cumberland St SWO

38.09

28/02/2086

Malborough Street Ed HQ

63.55

24/03/2642

Malborough Street Ed HQ

76.18

29/07/2647

Government Buildings

3.52

25/03/2753

Government Buildings

4.49

31/12/2999

Kildare Street 4-5 Library

14.44

31/12/2999

St Stephens Gr 50-51 OPW HQ

258.14

28/09/2829

St Stephens Gr 78-81 Iveagh House

165.07

24/03/2879

St Stephens Gr 78-81 Iveagh House

257.76

30/04/2112

Fitzwilliam Pl 31 Linguistic Institute

19.68

31/12/2999

Pembroke Row OPW BMS

88.88

28/09/2096

Merrion Sq 5 Inst/Advan St

69.84

28/09/2059

Merrion Sq 16 Red Cross

69.84

28/09/2039

Merrion Row 7-9

87.03

25/12/3000

St Stephen Gr 78/81 Iveagh House

0.55

31/12/2999

Infirmary Rd Def HQ East

29.29

29/09/3806

Galway OPW Office

38.09

30/04/2897

Tralee SWO — Godfrey Place

76.18

28/02/2945

Limerick Gov Off Sarsfield House

140.64

31/12/2794

Drogheda Government Offices

29.29

28/09/2755

Dundalk SWO- Barrack Street

6.09

31/10/2895

Waterford Gov Off Catherine St

13.97

24/03/2024

Waterford OPW Office

12.70

09/08/2359

Glasnevin Meteorological Office

31.74

31/12/2396

Cork Customs House

574.32

25/12/2999

Cork Customs House

468.83

25/12/2999

Dublin Castle

1.00

25/12/2999

Dublin Castle

21.33

25/12/2999

Dublin Castle

1.00

25/12/2999

Dublin Castle

28.38

25/12/2999

Dublin Castle

7.33

31/12/2050

Four Courts

220.27

25/12/2999

Galway Gov Off Custom House

70.32

25/12/2999

Infirmary Rd Def HQ East

61.84

31/12/2050

Kildare St 1-3

37.46

25/12/2954

Kildare St 23-28

7.29

25/12/2999

Kildare St 23-28

47.04

25/12/2020

Kildare St 23-28

18.2

25/12/2999

Kildare St 23-28

7.62

25/12/2999

Kildare St 4-5 Library

13.42

25/12/2999

Limerick Henry/ Cecil/Glenworth

68.77

31/12/2050

Limerick Henry/ Cecil/Glenworth

64.12

31/12/2050

Limerick Henry/ Cecil/Glenworth

64.52

31/12/2050

Limerick OPW Regional Office

33.48

25/12/2923

7-9 Merrion Row

63.49

25/09/3000

14-16 Merrion St Upper

116.42

25/12/2999

11-13 O'Connell Street Upper

63.69

25/12/2077

11-13 O'Connell Street Upper

230.20

25/12/2999

44 O'Connell Street Upper

76.18

25/12/2999

45 O'Connell Street Upper

15.12

25/12/2999

22 Parnell Sq Municipal Art Gallery

38.09

25/12/2999

24-28 Parnell Sq Colaiste Mhuire

11.72

25/12/2999

24-28 Parnell Sq Colaiste Mhuire

11.28

25/12/2999

Sligo C & E

20.00

25/12/2999

St Stephens Gr 50-51 OPW

161.42

25/12/2999

Waterford Gov Off — Customs House

12.23

31/12/2050

Werburgh Street SWO

23.44

25/12/2999

Wexford Gov Off — Anne St

181.23

25/12/2999

Arthur Morgan

Question:

304 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Finance if the State pays ground rent on the Dublin Castle; if so, the amount per year; and when that ground rent lease is due to expire. [1103/04]

Five fee farm rents, which are similar to ground rents, totalling €59.04 per year, are payable in perpetuity in respect of Dublin Castle.

Departmental Staff.

Dan Boyle

Question:

305 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Finance if the regulations that apply to civil servants being prohibited from contesting local elections should apply to those working with agencies such as the Meteorological Service and the Central Statistics Office; and the plans he has to alter these regulations. [1104/04]

Department of Finance Circular 7/99: Civil Servants as Candidates for Local Authority Elections sets out the rules governing civil servants who wish to consider standing for election to local authorities. The Minister for Finance is responsible for the terms and conditions of employment of civil servants, including the rules on seeking election to local authorities and on involvement in politics generally by civil servants.

The Meteorological Office and the Central Statistics Office are an integral part of the Civil Service. The staff who work in these two Government offices are civil servants and as such, the rules regarding civil servants standing as candidates in local authority elections, as stated in Circular 7/99, apply to them as they do to civil servants in Departments-offices generally.

The Deputy will note that staff in some grades in the Civil Service can stand in local elections. Under the terms of Circular 7/99 the position as regards the candidature of civil servants for election to local authorities is as follows: State industrial employees and civil servants in manipulative, sub-clerical and manual grades may stand for election to local authorities; civil servants in clerical grades and in non-manipulative and sub-professional grades in similar salary ranges may stand as candidates at local elections, subject to the condition that the Minister for Finance may, on the recommendation of the Minister in charge of a particular Department, declare that officers engaged in a particular category of work may not so stand; and all other civil servants remain completely barred from standing for election. However, this rule does not apply to a civil servant who holds a position which, after 17 May 1974, has been upgraded through the general restructuring of his or her grade and as a result of which carries a salary maximum above that of clerical officer.

These rules do not apply to personal assistants and special advisers in Minister's offices. The Minister has no plans to amend Circular 7/99 regarding civil servants as candidates for local authority elections.

Departmental Properties.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

306 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works has purchased a site (details supplied); and if not when the arrangements will be concluded. [1165/04]

Agreement has been reached with Dublin City Council for the acquisition of a site at The Coombe-St. Luke's Avenue for the further development of St. Brigid's national school.

Question No. 307 withdrawn.

Decentralisation Programme.

Brendan Smith

Question:

308 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Finance if consideration will be given to Monaghan town as a centre for decentralisation in the event of other Government offices or agencies being decentralised; and if he will make a decision on the matter. [1293/04]

In advance of the announcement of details of the decentralisation programme in budget 2004, I received submissions on behalf of over 130 centres throughout the State. Some 53 locations, including Monaghan, have been designated for the relocation of approximately 9,000 posts.

Locations for a further 1,300 or so jobs will be identified at a later stage. As I said in my budget speech, I believe that the total number of posts to be relocated should be closer to 12,000 and I will examine further options in this regard once the programme is well under way.

The case for Monaghan receiving a second decentralised office can be given due consideration in the decision making process leading to the identification of locations for the remaining posts.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

309 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance when he proposes to publish the results of a review of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers, tax concessions scheme; and if his attention has been drawn to the annoyance of many disabled people and others who have been waiting for this report for a long time; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1344/04]

As I have indicated in replies to previous questions on this issue, the interdepartmental report of the review group on the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme is under consideration in my Department. I am aware that there is an interest in the findings of this report but, as the report is a substantive one, it needs to be studied carefully. On completion of this process, I envisage that the report will be made available publicly.

Mayo Landslide.

Michael Ring

Question:

310 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance the funding provided from his Department towards the landslide in north Mayo. [1370/04]

The Deputy will be aware that following a Government decision and approval by the Minister for Finance, a humanitarian aid scheme was initiated and has been implemented by the Irish Red Cross Society on behalf of the Office of Public Works, OPW. The scheme provided for aid to relieve hardship experienced by householders, and an amount of €300,000 was provided by OPW to fund the scheme.

The Deputy will also be aware that OPW provided assistance to Mayo County Council in the form of personnel and machinery in the immediate aftermath of the landslide and expects to continue providing this assistance until the end of March 2004. The cost of providing this assistance in 2003 was approximately €33,000 and the cost in 2004 is expected to be in the region of €40,000.

Tobacco Industry.

Finian McGrath

Question:

311 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if any public money is invested in the tobacco industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1384/04]

The National Pensions Reserve Fund was established under the National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000 to partially pre-fund the increased costs of social welfare and public service pensions from 2025 onwards, when those costs are projected to increase significantly due to the ageing of the population. A full list of the fund's holdings as of 31 December 2002 was published in the annual report 2002 of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Commission, which manages the fund. The list included holdings in firms in the tobacco sector. A list of the fund's holdings as of 31 December 2003 will be published next July in the commission's annual report 2003.

The commission is independent of the Government. It operates the fund under a commercial investment mandate set out in section 19 of the National Pensions Reserve Fund Act 2000, which requires the commission to obtain the optimal financial return subject to prudent risk management.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

312 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if separate income to spouses arising from maintenance payments or from pension splitting in a separation, attract more favourable tax treatment than if these incomes remained in the hands of a one-earner couple; and his views on whether this breaches the principle established in a case (details supplied). [1426/04]

The tax treatment of separated spouses relative to that which would apply in the case of a married one-earner couple who remain married depends on the circumstances which apply in each case and it is not possible to generalise in the abstract.

However, it may be useful to set out in broad terms the position with regard to the tax treatment of separated persons. While, in general, separated couples are treated for tax purposes as if unmarried, they may, where a legally binding maintenance arrangement is in place, elect to be treated for tax purposes as if the separation had not taken place. However, the election to be treated for tax purposes as if married is not a right of one spouse but rather is a joint election of both spouses.

The general position in the case of legally enforceable maintenance agreements is that where the couple are treated for tax purposes as if unmarried, a tax deduction for maintenance payments for the benefit of his or her spouse is granted to the paying spouse but the payments are taxed in the hands of the receiving spouse. However, if the couple jointly elect to be treated for tax purposes as if the separation had not taken place, then the payer does not receive a tax deduction for the maintenance payments and the receiving spouse is not taxable on them.

On the other hand, non-legally binding maintenance payments are not taxable in the hands of the receiving spouse but the paying spouse cannot claim a tax deduction for them. Maintenance payments in respect of children are not taxable in the hands of the children or the receiving spouse. The effect of this is that the payments are treated the same way as if the taxpayer was providing for the child out of his or her after-tax income. This is in line with the tax treatment of all other parents, where the cost of maintaining their children is not tax deductible.

As regards pension splitting, the facts and circumstances of any particular case would have to be examined to determine whether part of one spouse's pension payable to the other spouse is a legally binding or non-legally binding maintenance payment for the benefit of that other spouse.

In relation to the Murphy case to which the Deputy refers in the details supplied, the Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to treat a married two earner couple less favourably for tax purposes than two single persons living together and on identical incomes to the married couple. In my view, the tax arrangements relating to separated spouses do not breach the principle established in the Murphy case.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

313 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Finance if tax relief is available to family members for the cost of providing both maintenance and treatment in a nursing home of elderly parents or relatives or family members; and at what rate this relief is available. [1444/04]

Tax relief, under the heading of health expenses, is available to family members in respect of the cost of providing maintenance and treatment in a nursing home of elderly parents or relatives or family members provided that the nursing home is an approved home for the purposes of the relief. A full list of nursing homes approved for these purposes is available on the Revenue Commissioners website,www.revenue.ie, as is a full explanatory leaflet on the tax relief relating to health expenses.

The tax relief in respect of unreimbursed health expenses is granted at an individual's marginal, or highest, rate of tax. Tax relief cannot be claimed for the first €125 of the health expenses incurred in any tax year where the claim relates to an individual. If relief is claimed in respect of more than one person, relief cannot be claimed on the first €250 of the health expenses incurred.

I might point out to the Deputy that over the last several years I considerably widened the scope of medical expenses relief and I removed a number of the restrictions that applied. For example, in the Finance Act 2001, I simplified the relief by removing the requirement that the taxpayer must be in receipt of the dependent relative allowance, now a credit, to claim relief in respect of their dependent relative. In addition, in the Finance Act 2002, I extended the list of qualifying dependants beyond immediate family. The relief can now be claimed in respect of a range of other relatives, persons aged 65 or over whether relatives or not, and persons of any age who are permanently incapacitated.

Barry Andrews

Question:

314 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many senior citizens on the lower tax band are receiving a lesser tax rebate in respect of their waste charges than taxpayers on the higher rate and consequently paying higher waste charges; and if he will consider a different approach to correct this anomaly on behalf of senior citizens. [1466/04]

The current tax relief for waste service charges is provided by granting a relief to taxpayers based on the charges they have paid to local authorities and private operators in the previous year, provided of course that they have actually paid the relevant amount and on time. Where an annual charge applies, the full payment is subject to tax relief at the standard rate, regardless of the taxpayer's marginal tax rate. Where charges for refuse collection are based on a "tag" system, a flat rate charge of €195 per annum is assumed and tax relief is granted on that basis at the standard rate.

I understand that a local authority may, on the grounds of personal hardship, waive all or a portion of a charge made by it for the collection of household waste or, where the collection of such waste is undertaken by the private sector, may subsidise the fee payable. The collection of household waste, and the imposition of refuse charges and appropriate exercise of statutory waiver provision in this regard, are matters for each local authority.

I have no plans to amend the scheme at this stage.

Benchmarking Awards.

Richard Bruton

Question:

315 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if workers in the postal service have been included within the framework of benchmarking awards, and if not, the reasons those in the postal service who retained their civil service status at the time of transfer to An Post, are not entitled to be included within the benchmarking framework; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1467/04]

The benchmarking body was established under the terms of the PPF to undertake a fundamental examination of public service pay and jobsvis-a-vis the private sector. The awards recommended by the body applied to the public service grades examined and to those agreed grades which had a corresponding link.

As a commercial State company, An Post is not comprehended within the terms of the benchmarking process and consequently its staff is not entitled to benefit from the awards recommended by the body. The Postal and Telecommunications Services Act 1983 states that conditions applying to staff would be no less favourable than those which applied prior to their transfer. This was to ensure there was no worsening of conditions for existing staff due to the transfer. However, it did not confer Civil Service status in perpetuity to all An Post staff.

As a commercial State company pay and conditions are set by agreement between management and unions as happens in other commercial enterprises. There have been a number of collective agreements since 1983. The application of pay increases in commercial State companies is primarily a matter for the company itself and I have no function in this matter.

Tax Code.

Paul McGrath

Question:

316 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons per year who have been found to be in breach of the terms of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993 tax amnesty. [1472/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

317 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(1)(a) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1473/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

318 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(1)(b) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1475/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

319 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(2)(a) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1476/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

320 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(2)(b) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1477/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

321 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(2)(c) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1478/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

322 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(2)(d) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1479/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

323 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who were found to have been in breach of section 9(2)(e) of the Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993. [1480/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 316 to 323, inclusive, together.

There are two ways in which a taxpayer may have been in breach of the amnesty. First, by making a declaration in which he or she did not comply with the terms or, second, where a declaration was not made but was required to be made.

The amnesty legislation, Waiver of Certain Tax, Interest and Penalties Act 1993 prohibits access by revenue auditors or investigators to the declarations made by taxpayers, consequently it is not possible to examine the declarations to establish whether they are in breach of the terms of the amnesty. Persons who made an incorrect declaration to the chief special collector would normally only be discovered during the course of a revenue audit or investigation, if the amnesty declaration is produced to the auditor or investigator.

The amnesty legislation also provides that a revenue officer requires the consent of the appeal commissioners to make further inquiries into a case where it is suspected that the declaration is incorrect. Approximately 20 such applications have been made to the appeal commissioners and consent has been given in about one third of these cases to date. Some cases have been investigated with the agreement of the taxpayers.

No convictions have been secured in court in the categories set out in section 9(1)(b)(ii)(I) and (II). I understand, however, that in one case there is a prosecution before the courts under amnesty legislation on behalf of the Criminal Assets Bureau.

Departmental Records.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

324 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the number of files for 1973 in his Department released to the National Archives under the 30 year rule; the number withheld; and the subject matter of the files withheld. [1585/04]

During 2003, my Department transferred, under the 30 year rule, some 1,500 files or part files to the National Archives for release to public inspection. Some 26 files deemed eligible for release were withheld from public inspection. The files withheld relate mainly to information of a personal nature which, if released, might cause distress to living persons, or to legal or security matters.

Flood Relief.

John McGuinness

Question:

325 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance the progress in resolving the safety issues arising from the completion of the River Nore flood relief scheme; if a resolution has been found to the issues raised by the canoe club and the work to be undertaken; his views on the lead article of a newspaper (details supplied) of 16 January, 2004; the action he intends to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1657/04]

Phil Hogan

Question:

327 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance if he will carry out a safety audit in respect of the flood relief scheme in Kilkenny in view of recent accidents that could have resulted in a fatality; if he will give the necessary insurance to Kilkenny Water Safety Committee that additional measures will be put in place to ensure a proper level of water safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1719/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 325 and 327 together.

Discussions to determine the safety features to be included in the flood relief scheme have been taking place with the local authorities and representatives of the various local water safety and water based sporting groups. Arising out of these discussions a comprehensive report itemising the safety measures was produced by the OPW's engineering consultants in July 2003 and a copy was forwarded in the same month to the water safety — water-based group's representative. It is expected that the final observations of the water safety and water based interest groups on the safety report will be confirmed and clarified in the immediate future. A meeting of all relevant parties has been arranged for Tuesday, 27 January 2004 in Kilkenny. Instructions can then be given to the contractor to put in place a work programme to implement the necessary measures as quickly as possible. I wish to assure the Deputies that this work programme will include the appropriate safety provisions to counteract all the potential dangers to safety that have been identified.

One item which has presented some difficulty is the proposed location of a slipway at the Peace Park to meet the needs of the boating clubs and also the emergency services. Various complicating factors including the possible costly disruption of numerous public utilities, local authority proposals for a footbridge across the Nore at this point and various existing outfalls which empty into the river at this area have all combined to present difficulties. Various alternative sites for a slipway were identified by the OPW's consulting engineers but were not acceptable to the local groups. The OPW has, however, instructed the consultants to re-examine the proposal for the provision of a slipway at the Peace Park and the consultants' report is expected very shortly.

The unfortunate incident reported in the newspaper article was not brought to the OPW's attention prior to publication. The flood relief construction site in Kilkenny is a secure one but, nevertheless, it is virtually impossible to prevent someone gaining access to the river, if they are determined to do so, either from the bridges or by scaling the existing barriers. While the river levels have been artificially lowered during the construction works, the levels and current can still rise quickly in adverse conditions and will always constitute a potentially dangerous environment. The scheme is still under construction and the installation of safety features such as ladders, grab chains, rings etc. will be commenced in the near future as part of the programme of ongoing phased works.

When completed by the end of 2004, the Kilkenny flood relief scheme will have a significant positive impact on the city through reducing or eliminating adverse flooding impacts and this will result in very real benefits for Kilkenny. At the same time, the finished scheme will include all the appropriate provisions for safety deemed necessary. In accordance with the Safety Health and Welfare (Construction) Regulations, a health and safety file will also be completed for the works and copies passed to the OPW and Kilkenny County Council. The health and safety file will identify operational and maintenance requirements and limitations or restrictions that are imposed.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

326 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for Finance the centres in County Galway that applied for decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1671/04]

Since my announcement in December 1999 of the Government's intention to proceed with a new programme of decentralisation, I have received submissions and representations on behalf of eight centres in County Galway. They are: Ahascragh, Athenry, Ballinasloe, Cliften, Gort, Loughrea, Tuam and Portumna.

Question No. 327 and answered with QuestionNo. 325.

Drainage Schemes.

John Perry

Question:

328 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Finance if he will meet a deputation from County Sligo regarding drainage of the Owenmore River, County Sligo; when it will be scheduled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1736/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I have arranged to meet a deputation from County Sligo on 28 January in regard to drainage of the Owenmore River.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Ring

Question:

329 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Finance the reason people employed to replace Oireachtas secretarial assistants for maternity leave periods are paid at a lower rate than the person they are replacing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1751/04]

Secretarial assistants in the Houses of the Oireachtas are employed on an incremental pay scale starting on an annual salary of €18,741 per annum and progressing to a maximum of €36,160 per annum. The rates quoted are with effect from 1 January 2004. Progression through the incremental scale is based on length of service and satisfactory performance in the grade. In line with normal Civil Service practice, temporary staff recruited to cover for secretarial assistants absent on maternity leave are employed at the minimum point of the scale.

Tax Code.

Willie Penrose

Question:

330 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance his views on the way in which the Revenue Commissioners treat unemployability supplement, in relation to the taxation code, in particular the way in which they deal with the element of unemployability supplement which relates to child dependants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1752/04]

Unemployability supplement is an addition to disablement pension where a person is considered to be incapable of work as a result of an occupational accident or disease. The disablement pension is chargeable to tax, under schedule E of the income tax code, including any increases in respect of unemployability and child dependents.

Any increases of unemployability supplement payable in respect of child dependents are treated for tax purposes in accordance with the 1998 Supreme Court judgement in the case of Ó Síocháinv Neenan. In that case, the Supreme Court held that the widow's pension paid by the Department of Social and Family Affairs, including the additional amount for children, was the beneficial entitlement of the widow and that she was assessable to tax on the full amount.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

331 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Finance if he has received offers of sites in the Mallow and Mitchelstown areas in respect of Fáilte Ireland and Bus Éireann in respect of the proposed decentralisation programme; if he will identify the areas in Mallow and Mitchelstown at which the proposed sites are; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1769/04]

The Office of Public Works has received 19 proposals in respect of Mallow and nine proposals in respect of Mitchelstown in regard to the proposed decentralisation programme. These proposals, which include both offers of sites and buildings are currently being analysed. Full details of these proposals will not be available until this analysis has been completed.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

332 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that pendant alarm systems provided for persons who are incapacitated or in ill-health, are charged to VAT at 21%; if he will consider changing the tax status of these systems which are solely used by elderly incapacitated people, or alternatively making arrangements for refunds to pensioners affected; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1802/04]

The purchase of a pendant alarm system and its monitoring, are subject to the standard rate of 21%. The installation of such a system, where it includes the purchase of such an alarm, is generally subject to the reduced rate of 13.5%.

The VAT rating of goods and services is largely subject to the requirements of EU VAT law with which Irish VAT law must comply. While we can maintain the zero rating on those goods and services which were zero-rated before 1 January 1991, the purchase, installation or monitoring services for such alarms do not fall within this category. Since we cannot introduce any new zero rate of VAT, we cannot therefore relieve such services as referred to by the Deputy.

I would add that under the Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax)(No. 15) Order 1981, it is possible to obtain a VAT refund in respect of the purchase of a pendant alarm system, as it is considered a medical device for the purpose of this refund order. Applicants should contact the Revenue Commissioners, VAT repayments (unregistered section), Kilrush Road, Ennis, County Clare.

I understand that a scheme of community support for older people is operated by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. The purpose of this scheme is to provide funding for initiatives to improve the security and social support of vulnerable older people. Under the terms of the scheme, grant aid is available towards the once off cost of purchase and installation of small-scale physical security equipment such as strengthening of doors and windows, window locks, door chains and security lighting; and socially-monitored alarm systems, such as pendant alarms, which are operated via the telephone and are worn around the neck or wrist.

Annual monitoring fees or maintenance fees associated with socially-monitored alarm systems are not provided for under the scheme. As these fees are levied by private service providers, I understand that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has no role in setting, abolishing, waiving or reducing such fees.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

333 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance if he accepts the case made by the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group in relation to the €18 million VAT bill payable by charities on their inputs, which cannot be reclaimed because of their exempted status; if he will consider a mechanism for refund; if he will reduce the minimum donation threshold for tax purposes to €100, and widen the definition of relevant donations to cover gifts of assets as well as cash. [1813/04]

I should firstly explain that charities and non-profit groups are exempt from VAT under the EU Sixth VAT Directive. This means that they do not charge VAT on their services and cannot recover VAT incurred on goods and services that they purchase. Essentially, only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT. I am aware of the recent report commissioned by the Irish Charities Tax Reform Group which indicates that charities incur a VAT bill of €18 million on their inputs.

I have no plans to provide a mechanism for a refund of such VAT. The cost of such a refund would be expensive, especially as there would be pressure to extend such a scheme to charities not represented by the ICTRG and to other non-profit organisations. Indeed, such a system could encourage registration as charities by other organisations to benefit from such funding. In addition, I would point out that Government subventions to affected organisations cover a significant element of the VAT incurred.

As the Deputy may be aware, in the Finance Act 2001, I introduced a new section and schedule into the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 to provide for a uniform scheme of tax relief for donations which, as well as introducing new reliefs for donations to domestic charities and educational institutions, merged almost all of the existing reliefs under the umbrella of a single scheme. This initiative was widely welcomed by the charitable sector.

Given the very generous nature of the relief, which was only introduced in 2001, as well as the fact that donations can be cumulative, as little as approximately €5 per week over the course of a year, I consider that it would be premature to make any change to the minimum donation threshold of €250 now.

Under existing legislation, donations must be in the form of money in order to attract tax relief. However, where an asset is donated to an eligible charity, the donation for capital gains tax purposes is deemed to be such that neither a gain not a loss accrues to the donor on the disposal. Therefore, no tax charge arises in respect of such a donation and any gain on a subsequent disposal of the asset by the charity shall not be a chargeable gain provided it is for charitable purposes only. Thus, I believe there are already generous reliefs in this area for charities.

Disabled Drivers.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

334 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance the position in relation to the report of the group established in April 1998 to review the disabled drivers and passengers regulations. [1814/04]

As I have said in a reply to a previous parliamentary question, the interdepartmental report of the review group on the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' (tax concessions) scheme is under consideration in my Department. The report is a substantative one and needs to be studied carefully. On completion of this process, I envisage that the report will be made available publicly.

Pension Entitlements.

Richard Bruton

Question:

335 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance his plans to open negotiations with the representatives of employees in the public service who are affected by the new proposals for pension entitlements of new entrants; when these negotiations will commence; the procedures for arbitration which will be used in the event of issues being unresolved in the course of direct negotiation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1855/04]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to the announcement in budget 2004 of the Government decision that the minimum pension age should be increased to 65 years for most new entrants to the public service from 1 April 2004.

In announcing the Government's decision on pension age, and also on the intended abolition of compulsory retirement age for most new entrant public servants from 1 April 2004, I stated that the public service unions would be fully informed about the implementation of these particular changes in advance of their introduction with effect from 1 April 2004. I can confirm to the Deputy that this process of information provision has commenced.

Given that the Government has already taken its decision in relation to these changes affecting new entrants, the issues of negotiation and arbitration do not arise.

Price Inflation.

Richard Bruton

Question:

336 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the most recent price comparisons which he has carried out North and South breaking down the price differences into the part made up by tax difference and the part made up by difference in pre-tax margins; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1856/04]

The most recent price comparisons that have been carried out by the Revenue Commissioners are contained in the cross Border price survey of November 2003. This report provides a snapshot of the average retail prices of the main excisable commodities observed in the Dublin and Newry areas on 5th November 2003. The report provides a breakdown of the prices and tax on each product in the survey. I enclose a copy of the relevant table for your information.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

337 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider introducing concessions to older persons who wish to move to smaller accommodation; if he will consider introducing a stamp duty concession to such persons; if he will consider an exemption from capital gains tax where a house has been used as a principle private residence for at least ten years prior to its sale by the person concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1857/04]

If tax concessions were introduced for older persons wishing to trade down, it would have the effect of increasing the supply of larger — and generally more expensive — houses relative to demand. This would be of benefit to people at the top end of the market. However, the demand for property relative to supply at the lower end of the market would increase and this would adversely affect first-time buyers, in particular, who would have to compete for such houses with a larger number of people consequently. Persons trading down normally have the cash upfront to pay for smaller houses and would have no stamp duty liability on a new house or a small liability on a second hand property.

It should also be noted that people trading down can already avail of the principal private residence relief which is a substantial exemption from capital gains tax. If the house has been occupied for the full period of ownership, full exemption applies. Otherwise, the relief granted is in proportion to the period of occupation over the entire period of ownership. This relief, combined with the capital sum received on the sale, means that most older people with large homes already have sufficient financial incentive to trade down.

I consider these reliefs to be sufficiently generous and appropriate and accordingly, I have no plans to introduce further concessions for any category of individual wishing to trade down.

Decentralisation Programme.

Seán Crowe

Question:

338 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Finance the proposals he has to decentralise any Civil Service jobs to the Tallaght area. [1962/04]

I do not consider that the transfer of public service jobs to any County Dublin location could be regarded as decentralisation.

Departmental Staff.

Richard Bruton

Question:

339 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the proportion of the Civil Service and of the wider public service who are aged under 30 and the proportion aged 55 to 59 and 60 and 65. [1964/04]

The most recent available information for non-industrial civil servants indicates that around 17% are under the age of 30, about 7% are between the ages of 55 and 59 and just under 3.5% are between the ages of 60 and 65. Excluded from these figures are certain numbers serving in the Irish Prison Service, Garda civilian staff and local recruits working abroad for the Department of Foreign Affairs. Similar information in regard to the wider public sector is not centrally maintained.

Departmental Appointments.

Richard Bruton

Question:

340 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of middle management posts in the Civil Service which have been filled by candidates from outside the Department with the vacancy, from outside the Civil Service, and the total number of such posts filled in the past five years. [1965/04]

The number of middle management posts covers the grades of administrative officer, higher executive officer, assistant principal and principal officer. The scheme in existence for filling vacancies in these grades within the civil service is an interdepartmental competition using a one in three ratio. Under this scheme, every third vacancy falling to be filled is referred to the Civil Service Commissioners to be filled from the Civil Service-wide interdepartmental competitions. The other two vacancies are filled from within the Department. A candidate who is successful in an interdepartmental competition may fill a vacancy in his or her own department.

In addition, all new principal officer posts are filled from the interdepartmental panel and also those posts that arise as a consequence of the former occupant of the post taking up appointment at assistant secretary level or higher in a department other than his/her parent department.

Table 1 sets out the position regarding the number of middle management posts in the civil service which have been filled by candidates in these interdepartmental competitions. No vacancies have been filled by candidates outside the civil service in the grades of higher executive officer, HEO, assistant principal, AP and principal officer, PO.

Table 1: Number of posts filled from interdepartmental competitions at HEO, AP and PO level

Year

HEO

AP

PO

1999

95

142

0

2000

200

85

41

2001

172

172

40

2002

194

135

7

2003

82

39

5

Total:

743

573

93

In the case of administrative officer positions, all vacancies arising have been filled by means of open competition until 2003 when vacancies were filled by both open and interdepartmental means — see table 2.

Table 2: Number of posts at administrative officer level which were filled from open and confined competitions

Year

Administrative Officer — Open

Administrative Officer — Confined

1999

52

2000

95

2001

125

2002

55

2003

15

9

Total:

342

9

In keeping with the commitment to open recruitment as outlined in Sustaining Progress, open competitions at both higher executive officer and assistant principal level were advertised in 2003 and the selection process was completed at end of year. To date, no appointments have been made from either of these competitions.

Richard Bruton

Question:

341 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of posts which have been filled by TLAC in the past five years and the number of these which have been filled by candidates from inside and outside the Department with the vacancy; the number which have been filled by persons from outside the Civil Service; and the number filled by persons from outside the wider public service. [1966/04]

A total of 75 TLAC competitions were run over the last five years between 1999 and 2003. Some 62 of the successful candidates were from inside the department or office in which the vacancy occurred. Some 13 of the successful candidates were from outside the department or office in which the vacancy occurred. Just one post was filled by a person from outside the Civil Service, although the person was from within the wider public service. No post was filled by a person from outside the public service.

Departmental Estimates.

Richard Bruton

Question:

342 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the extent to which responsibility for the pay bill is delegated to line Departments within the Civil Service. [1967/04]

Spending allocations, including provision for pay, is set within the context of the annual estimates process and published in the Revised Estimates Volume each year. Spending on pay is allocated on the basis of the Estimate needs in each Department and office. Departments and offices have discretion on the configuration of their staffing and associated spending subject to compliance with numbers and expenditure policies and the respective terms of their administrative budget framework agreement with the Department of Finance.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

343 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has carried out a survey of civil servants in each of the grades represented by the CPSSA, the CPSEU, and the AHCPS, to ascertain the numbers in each grade who wish to decentralise to each of the proposed locations; if he will state the number in each grade who have confirmed their wish to do so; and if no such survey has yet been carried out if he will indicate the arrangements in place to do so and the date by which the survey will be complete. [1968/04]

I have not undertaken a survey of civil servants in the grades referred to by the Deputy to ascertain the numbers who wish to transfer to each of the locations included in the decentralisation programme. This is something which, no doubt, the implementation committee chaired by Mr. Flynn will be considering in drawing up its proposed implentation plan. My own view is that conducting such a survey in advance of clearer timelines for the sequencing of all the various moves would be of limited value.

More generally, I believe that the very scale of the programme, including as it does a wide mix of locations all around the country, should help to attract volunteers. There are thousands of public servants commuting daily to Dublin, some from the immediate neighbouring counties of Wicklow, Kildare and Meath but many others from even further away. The decentralisation programme offers these people the prospect of a significantly improved quality of life by providing work much closer to home. In these cases people can simply change their commuting habits by engaging in reverse commuting and reducing their time on the roads each morning and evening.

For many others, there is the opportunity to relocate away from Dublin altogether and to start a new life outside the capital. Those who doubt that there will be sufficient interest often refer to difficulties experienced in attracting sufficient numbers to particular locations previously. My view is that the single biggest impediment to encouraging sufficient numbers to relocate previously was the prospect of not being able to fulfil their career prospects. This impediment has now been removed. I believe that every individual who joins the civil service is entitled to aspire to becoming Secretary General one day. The new programme means this can become a real aspiration for staff serving outside Dublin

Departmental Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

344 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the bank holiday entitlements of civil servants who have suffered an illness or who were off work due to an accident in the previous tax year; if his attention has been drawn to the changes in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1969/04]

The public holiday entitlement of all employees, including civil servants, is stated in section 21 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

Section 21(1) states that:

Subject to the provisions of this section, an employee shall, in respect of a public holiday, be entitled to whichever one of the following his or her employer determines, namely

(a) a paid day off on that day,

(b) a paid day off within a month of thatday,

(c) an additional day of annual leave,

(d) an additional day's pay.

Employees (including civil servants) absent from work immediately before the public holiday will not be entitled to benefit from the public holiday in the following circumstances:

(i) an absence in excess of 52 weeks by reason of an occupational injury,

(ii) an absence in excess of 26 weeks by reason of illness or injury,

(iii) an absence in excess of 13 weeks by reason not already mentioned in (i) and (ii) but being an absence authorised by the employer, including lay-off,

(iv) an absence by reason of a strike.

These public holiday provisions of the Organisation of Working Time Act were communicated to all Civil Service Departments and offices by means of a letter from my Department, addressed to all personnel officers on 18 April 2001, entitled Sick Leave — entitlement in respect of public holidays.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

345 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if assessments are underway in his Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to him at an early date for consideration. [1975/04]

A special Cabinet sub-committee has been put in place to oversee implementation of the decentralisation programme. I have also appointed an implementation committee, chaired by Mr. Phil Flynn. This committee has to prepare and submit an overall implementation plan by the end of March 2004. The implementation plan will address issues such as sequencing of various moves; acquisition/financing of new offices; associated rationalisation of government property; scope for pooling common services between Departments; and the major human resource issues that will need to be addressed.

Garda Stations.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

346 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance if a revised sketch scheme has been prepared by the Office of Public Works in relation to the new Garda station for Leixlip, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2213/04]

A revised brief for Leixlip Garda station remains under consideration by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Office of Public Works is not in a position to finalise a sketch scheme until a revised brief has been received.

Disabled Drivers.

Paul McGrath

Question:

347 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will confirm that the report of the interdepartmental review group on the issue of primary medical certificates for persons with disabilities has been completed; and when he will publish this report. [2214/04]

I have received the report of the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' (tax concessions) scheme and it is under consideration in my Department. On completion of this process, I envisage that the report will be made available publicly.

John Deasy

Question:

348 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Finance his plans to ease the conditions of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions; if a review has been carried out on this scheme; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties caused as a result of the severe restrictions required to obtain a primary medical certificate; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2215/04]

An interdepartmental group was established to review the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' (tax concessions) scheme. The group examined all aspects of the scheme including the qualifying medical criteria.

I have received the report of the interdepartmental review group on the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' (tax concessions) scheme and it is currently being considered. Any recommendations contained in this report in relation to the medical criteria and other conditions of the scheme will receive full consideration.

The medical criteria for the purposes of the tax concession under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. Some six different types of disablement are listed under the regulations and a qualifying person must satisfy one or more of them. The six types of disablement are as follows:

a) persons who are wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs;

b) persons who are wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs;

c) persons without both hands or without both arms;

d) persons without one or both legs;

e) persons wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg; and

f) persons having the medical condition of dwarfism and has serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

An individual who qualifies under the medical criteria as set out above is issued with a primary medical certificate. Possession of a primary medical certificate provides for remission or repayment of vehicle registration tax — VRT — plus a repayment of value added tax — VAT — on the purchase of the vehicle, plus a repayment of VAT on the cost of adaptation of that vehicle. Repayment of the excise duty on fuel used in the motor vehicle, and exemption from payment of annual road tax to local authorities are also provided for.

Any consideration of a change to the scheme, will among other factors, have to take account of any cost implications. I have been informed there are up to 360,000 persons in Ireland who could be regarded as disabled to some degree or other. These include both persons with medical conditions other than those covered by the scheme, and those with medical conditions covered by the scheme. The substantial tax benefits of the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' scheme make for considerable interest in and desire to be admitted to the scheme.

The cost of reliefs excluding annual road tax costs is estimated to be in the region of €34 million in 2002, as compared to €5.1 million in 1994.

Question No. 349 answered with QuestionNo. 295.

Decentralisation Programme.

Enda Kenny

Question:

350 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Finance if any union made recommendations or submitted a report to his Department concerning the decentralisation plans of the Government; if such recommendations were made or reports submitted, if he will detail the principal recommendations or findings made by the union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2285/04]

Following the initial announcement in budget 2000 that the Government intended to proceed with a new programme of decentralisation, one major public service union, the Civil and Public Services Union, provided advice on the development of criteria for the programme. The CPSU suggested that selection criteria should take account of factors such as the following: socio-economic considerations; known staff preferences; availability of education and hospital facilities; the need to build sustainable promotional structures at a regional level but also avoid a detrimental impact on promotion opportunities for staff remaining in Dublin; the inclusion of senior level posts; the advantages of including locations in the vicinity of Dublin; and the need to maintain service to the public. I was appreciative of the submission made by the CPSU at that time and I consider that the programme announced in budget 2004 takes full account of the points raised in the submission.

Irish Language.

Finian McGrath

Question:

351 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will ensure Irish is included in the official languages list in the EU as a priority. [1170/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

353 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will ensure Irish is included as an official EU language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1163/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 351 and 353 together.

The Irish language has the status of a "Treaty language" in the European Union. This derives from the fact that the treaties are in Irish and that Irish is listed as one of the languages in which the text is authentic. Each successive treaty is published in Irish as well as in the eleven other languages, with the texts in Irish being equally authentic and having equal status with those in all other languages. The draft constitutional treaty under consideration at the Intergovernmental Conference would fully maintain this position.

Irish is not one of the official and working languages of the institutions of the Union as provided for in Article 1 of Regulation 1/1958. However, the Government continues to monitor developments with a view to availing of any appropriate opportunity which may arise to enhance the status of Irish in relation to the EU. For instance, under revised staff regulations, which are due to be agreed shortly, and as a result of an initiative by Ireland, a new requirement for officials to demonstrate before their first promotion the ability to work in a third language extends not only to official and working languages but also to Irish. In this regard, Irish is the only language that is not an official and working language which will be taken into account.

The Government remains fully willing to build on the advances made and to take further practical steps as appropriate. To this end, there are ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I very much hope these discussions will result in the identification of additional opportunities to enhance the status of Irish in the EU.

Support for Irish Emigrants.

Brendan Smith

Question:

352 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department will co-ordinate a programme of support for Irish emigrants to Britain and the United States, particularly elderly emigrants, who are in difficult financial circumstances and living in totally inadequate housing accommodation; if the relevant supports will be provided for those who may wish to return home and live in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2253/04]

The Government has been providing assistance to Irish emigrants in Britain and the United States for many years. In response to concerns about the situation of Irish emigrants in Britain, the Government established the Díon committee in 1984. The Díon fund, which is administered by the embassy in London through the Díon committee, has almost trebled over the past four years — from €592,300 in 1999 to € 2,573,000 last year. A further €150,000 was allocated to the Federation of Irish Societies in London from savings in last year's budget. This brings the total allocation to emigrant services in the UK to €2,723,000 in 2003. The total amount allocated by the Díon committee since 1984 is almost €18 million.

The Government also gives grants, through the Vote for Foreign Affairs, to voluntary organisations in the US who provide advocacy and support to Irish immigrants. Priority is given to the provision of information, advice and outreach services for Irish immigrants. The grants are used for funding the administration of such services. My Department provided a total of €300,000 in 2003, which represents a substantial increase over previous years.

I am particularly conscious of the difficulties faced by elderly Irish emigrants and they are one of the priority groups for assistance from the funds provided by my Department. The Government also recognises that many emigrants would like to return to live in Ireland but that some of them, particularly elderly people, require special assistance to do so. For the past three years, the Díon committee has funded the salaries of workers in two organisations which provide advice and assistance to elderly Irish people in Britain who wish to return to live in Ireland —"Aisling" Return to Ireland project in Camden and the "Safe Home" programme in Mulranny, County Mayo.

In addition, the terms of the voluntary housing capital assistance scheme administered by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, provide that up to 25% of accommodation in new projects undertaken by voluntary bodies throughout the country, assisted under the scheme, may be allocated to elderly emigrants returning to this country.

Irish emigrants have made an enormous contribution to the development of this country and it was in recognition of this contribution that the Government agreed with the social partners, in the context of the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness, to establish the task force on policy regarding emigrants. The focus of the task force and of their report was directed towards protecting and supporting those Irish emigrants abroad who are particularly marginalised or at greatest risk of exclusion. I welcomed the task force's report, which sets the issue of emigration in a forward looking context and provides a template for addressing the needs of the Irish abroad in the future.

I was pleased to announce before Christmas that I secured an additional provision of €1 million in the Estimates for my Department for this year for services to emigrants. I intend that the additional funds will be concentrated on improving services for the more vulnerable among our emigrants in the UK, US and Australia who require special assistance and support. I also intend that priority will be given to services for elderly people, including those who wish to return to live in Ireland.

Question No. 353 answered with QuestionNo. 351.

Human Rights Issues.

Finian McGrath

Question:

354 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will raise the case of a person (details supplied) with the Chinese authorities in Tibet; and if he will support a proposal for a special EU representative for Tibet. [1164/04]

The case referred to by the Deputy has been raised with the Chinese authorities. In a declaration issued in January 2003, the European Union expressed its concern regarding this case, urged the Chinese authorities to review it and expressed its expectation that the death sentence would not be upheld.

In addition, the case has been raised with the Chinese authorities in the context of the EU-China human rights dialogue and is subject to ongoing discussions with the Chinese authorities in the framework of this dialogue. The dialogue was established in 1996 in order to provide a platform for engagement with China on human rights issues, allowing the EU to channel human rights concerns, including individual cases, directly to the Chinese authorities. The next session of the dialogue will take place next month. The individual to whom the Deputy refers will remain on the EU's list of individual cases, which will be presented to the Chinese authorities for discussion at the February dialogue session.

Regarding the question of the appointment of an EU special representative for Tibet, I refer the Deputy to my previous replies of 6 November, 2 December and 6 December 2003 and to exchanges in the House on 11 December 2003. These replies stated that in March 2002, the Dalai Lama wrote to the Foreign Ministers of EU member states, including myself, asking that an EU special representative for Tibet be appointed. In a joint response at that time, EU Ministers were unanimously of the view that nominating an EU special representative would not contribute positively to the situation.

This position was reconsidered at the end of last year and it was decided the position had not changed. It remains the common view of EU partners therefore that, in present circumstances, the most effective means of influencing the Chinese Government's position on Tibet is through direct contact.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

355 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to report on his Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1213/04]

The Department has been working closely with other Departments to develop, co-ordinate and carry out the programme for Ireland's EU Presidency. The Presidency programme was laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas last December and was debated in the House on 20 January. The priorities for the Irish Presidency are to take forward work on the draft constitutional treaty; to ensure a smooth transition to a Union of 25 member states on 1 May and carry forward work on the wider enlargement process; to give renewed impetus to the Union's programme of economic, social and environmental reform; to advance the area of freedom, justice and security; and to carry out effectively the Union's international obligations, including in regard to development issues. The Department of Foreign Affairs is also actively involved in planning and logistical arrangements for the meetings that will take place in Ireland and elsewhere, as well as the organisation of sponsorship and management of the Presidency website.

During the Presidency Irish officials, including many from the Department of Foreign Affairs, will be called on to chair approximately 3,000 meetings in Brussels, Ireland and elsewhere. The majority of these meetings are working groups at official level which meet in order to progress the Union's agenda across the range of its activities. The calendar of Council meetings, which I and other Government colleagues will chair, has been deposited in the Oireachtas Library, as has the calendar of high level meetings which are being held in Ireland.

I will host an informal EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Tullamore on 16-17 April 2004. I will also host a meeting of the ASEM Foreign Ministers, which brings together EU Ministers and their Asian counterparts in April in Ireland and an informal euromed foreign ministerial, which provides an opportunity for dialogue between EU Foreign Ministers and their Mediterranean counterparts on 6-7 May 2004 in Dublin Castle. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Kitt, will host an international conference on HIV-AIDS in Europe in Dublin Castle on 23-25 February 2004 and a development co-operation ministerial meeting in Dublin on 1 June 2004. The Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Roche, will host a conference of Ministers for European Affairs on communicating Europe in Wicklow on 7-8 April 2004. The Department of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the organisation and management of these meetings.

In addition, I will participate in ministerial troika meetings with, among others, the US, Canada, Russia, Ukraine, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkey, Croatia, Albania, Serbia and Montenegro, New Zealand, the African Union and ECOWAS. I have had a successful meeting in Ireland with the Foreign Minister of Australia. I recently visited the Middle East and held discussions on the Middle East peace process in Israel and in Egypt. I attended the inauguration of the new President of Georgia, Mikhila Saakashvili, in Tbilisi last weekend.

Work on the Presidency programme is being advanced through these meetings as well as through a wide range of bilateral contacts between Ministers and officials with their counterparts in the member states and other countries and with the EU institutions.

In addition to the work at the Department's headquarters and the permanent representation in Brussels, our other missions abroad also have important Presidency responsibilities. Our missions in third countries, for example, will chair meetings of the EU member state representatives in their countries of accreditation and will act on behalf of the EU in relations with their host Governments.

Passport Applications.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

356 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the significant increase in the number of passports being issued; and if he has satisfied himself that arrangements are in place to deal with this business. [1237/04]

There has been a very substantial increase in the number of passports issued in recent years. The passport offices in Dublin and Cork issued 467,653 passports last year which is more than double the number issued as recently as 1996. A number of factors have given rise to the increase in passport demand over recent years. These include an increase in the population in the State, a substantial rise in the number of people travelling abroad, due to higher disposable incomes and cheaper airfares, and a rise in the number of children being issued with individual passports.

Almost 90% of passports are issued within ten working days which compares very favourably with the level of service available internationally. I am satisfied with the level of staff resources available in my Department to meet the demand for passports. The Passport Office currently employs almost 200 permanent staff at its offices in Dublin and Cork. These are supplemented by temporary staff on a seasonal basis as required. Overall staffing numbers have been increased in recent years and are continually kept under review.

The technical systems for processing passport applications have, however, reached the limits of their capacity and are urgently in need of replacement. The passport office is currently engaged in a major project to modernise the passport issuing service. The project will streamline the process of issuing passports and enable a more efficient service to be provided to the public. A new, more secure passport booklet will be introduced when the new system is implemented later this year. When completed, Ireland will have one of the most advanced passport issuing systems in the world.

Human Rights Issues.

John Gormley

Question:

357 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a representative of the United Nations human rights committee recently requested a meeting with a representative of Ireland to discuss the Government's response to the findings by the human rights committee that Ireland had violated the rights of a person (details supplied) under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; if such a meeting took place in Geneva during the last session of the human rights committee in October-November 2003, what was discussed at the meeting and the outcome of the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1240/04]

The human rights committee, composed of 18 independent experts of recognised competence in the field of human rights, monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The committee was established when the covenant entered into force in 1976. The first optional protocol, which entered into force together with the covenant, authorises the committee to consider also allegations from individuals concerning violations of their civil and political rights. Ireland ratified both the covenant and optional protocol on 8 December 1989 and it entered into force in Ireland shortly thereafter.

In response to a petition under the first optional protocol in April 2001, the committee found Ireland had violated the rights of the person concerned. Ireland responded to the views-findings of the committee in August 2001. Ireland informed the committee that, in acknowledgement of the views of the committee and its obligations under the covenant, it proposed to pay £1,000 to the author of the petition.

The special rapporteur of the human rights committee on views, Mr. Nisuke Ando, presented a report for information to the committee on follow up to cases where a violation of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights has been found. In his report on this case he recommended to the committee that he arrange a meeting with Ireland as the state party.

In response to a request from Mr. Ando, an officer of the permanent mission of Ireland to the UN in Geneva met with Mr. Ando on 4 November 2003. At the meeting, Mr. Ando recalled the background to the case and asked the representative of Ireland if Ireland had any additional information on the case. In response the representative of Ireland stated that he had no additional information on the case. It was noted,inter alia, that the findings of the HRC in the case had been considered by the committee to review the operation of the Offences against the State Acts and related matters. Mr. Ando will report on his meeting with the representative of Ireland to the next meeting of the human rights committee at its 80th session, which is scheduled from 15 March to 2 April 2004 in New York.

Biometric Passports.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

358 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to introduce biometric passports, detailing the schedule being followed and arrangements being made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1402/04]

Ireland is one of the 27 countries that participate in the US visa waiver programme, which enables citizens of those countries to travel to the US for up to 90 days without a visa for business or tourist purposes. The US Enhanced Border Security Act, enacted after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, requires each country that participates in the visa waiver programme to introduce, or have in place a programme to introduce, biometric passports by 26 October 2004. Otherwise, citizens of these countries will have to obtain a visa from an American Embassy for travel to the US. This, however, will only apply to passports issued on or after 26 October 2004; holders of passports issued before that date will continue to be able to enter the US under the visa waiver programme without a visa, provided their passports are machine-readable, that is, the personal information is printed and not handwritten. All Irish passports issued in Dublin, Cork and London are machine-readable.

Given the numbers of Irish travellers to the US and the importance of our economic and wider relationship with that country, it is highly desirable that Ireland should remain a participant in the visa waiver programme. I am recommending to the Government, therefore, that Ireland should introduce passports containing biometric information subject to the conduct of a feasibility study of the detailed arrangements for implementing this.

My Department is developing a new Irish passport which will be introduced later this year. The new passport will contain a polycarbonate, plastic, datapage which will be capable of incorporating a microchip on which biometric data can be inserted. It will, accordingly, be possible to move relatively quickly to the stage of producing biometric passports if a final decision to this effect is taken by the Government.

Illegal Immigrants.

Michael Ring

Question:

359 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department have received information on the recent immigration reform announcement by President Bush; if the Government had discussions with the US Government regarding Irish illegal immigrants; the way in which the recent announcement will affect them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1414/04]

On 7 January 2004, the President of the United States announced a new immigration initiative, entitled fair and secure immigration reform. Under the initiative, the President is proposing the creation of a new form of temporary work permit which would be available to both undocumented foreign nationals currently in the US and those seeking to enter with a job arranged.

The temporary work permit would give such people legal status in the US for three years, with the possibility of renewal. Recipients of these permits would be able to apply for permanent residence in the US but would not get preference over other green card applicants. Workers who did not qualify for permanent residency status when their temporary work permits expired would have to return to their country of origin.

While the proposal does not ensure permanent legal status for the undocumented in the US, it does offer the possibility of a temporary status which will enable them to work, with the accompanying employment rights and social benefits. Importantly, it gives these workers the right to leave the US during the period of the temporary work permit, and return again.

The President's proposals will have to be approved by the US Congress and it is too early to say what amendments may be made in the course of their passage through the congress. Nevertheless, I welcome this initiative which represents an important first step in addressing the situation of undocumented foreign workers in a pragmatic and compassionate way.

I assure the Deputy that the embassy in Washington DC will follow closely the development of the President's initiative and the consideration given to it in the US Congress. It will, in particular, continuously assess the potential of the proposals to regulate the status of Irish citizens in the US who remain undocumented.

Colombian Trial.

Seán Crowe

Question:

360 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the lengthy and unwarranted interference, including prejudicial statements, made in the run up to and during the trial process of the three Irishmen arrested in Colombia by senior military and political figures; if he has satisfied himself that the trial judge Senor Acosta should be given every assistance and sufficient space to allow him to make a just and considered decision, free from political and military interference; and if he will agree to inform the relevant Colombian authorities of his views on this important matter. [1519/04]

The judgment in the trial of the three Irishmen has not yet been delivered and it would be quite inappropriate for me, therefore, to make any comment on the case. I assure the Deputy, however, that both I and my Department have repeatedly emphasised to the Colombian authorities the importance of ensuring that the men receive a fair trial. We have also conveyed to them, while respecting the independence of the Colombian judiciary, our strong desire to see the case concluded as soon as possible.

EU Presidency.

Pat Breen

Question:

361 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a major EU-US summit is planned for County Clare during Ireland's six-month Presidency of the European Union; if he can confirm that President George Bush will be visiting the country during the Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1521/04]

The consultative mechanisms of the EU-US relationship include the provision for an EU-US summit. The summit meeting is scheduled to take place during the first half of this year. We are working closely with the US authorities on the preparation of this important meeting, including the exact date and location. As a matter of course, summit meetings are held at Head of State or Government level. It is anticipated, therefore, that the Taoiseach and President Bush will attend any EU-US summit during the Irish Presidency.

Foreign Conflicts.

Finian McGrath

Question:

362 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will challenge a new ruling by the Israeli Government regarding entry into the Palestinian Authority controlled areas where all foreign visitors must now apply for a permit from the Israeli army in advance of their trip; and if he will raise this issue at UN and EU meetings. [1647/04]

The matter has been raised with the Israeli authorities in our European Union Presidency capacity. We have asked for clarification of the legal basis for the new procedures and identification of the issuing and enforcing authority. The practical effects of the new ruling are being closely monitored and will, as necessary, be the subject of further contacts with the Israeli authorities.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

363 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs further to parliamentary questions tabled on 11 March 1999, 3 October 2000, 5 December 2000, 22 March 2000 and 3 July 2001, his views on the recently issued report by the ombudsman in Northern Ireland in regard to a person (details supplied) in County Derry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1753/04]

The family of Seán Brown lodged its complaints with the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland in March 2001 about the police investigation into his murder. Her report was published on 19 January 2004 and it identified a number of serious faults about the manner in which the police handled the investigation and responded to her own inquiry. Mrs. O'Loan has upheld two complaints from Mr. Brown's family — that the investigation into his death had not been efficiently carried out and that no earnest effort was made to identify those who carried out his murder.

On the basis of her findings that the RUC investigation was incomplete and inadequate, she has recommended that a full independent review should be carried out into the murder. The PSNI has agreed to a re-investigation of the case and to keep the Brown family fully informed of all developments.

As the Deputy will be aware, I have taken a personal interest in the family's efforts and have raised this issue on several occasions with the British Government. In pursuit of this, I raised the disturbing findings of the Ombudsman's report and my support for her key recommendation of a full independent review into the murder with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Paul Murphy, and with the PSNI Chief Constable, Hugh Orde, at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Farmleigh House last Thursday.

The re-investigation of the Brown murder will be closely watched not only by the family but also by the public and the ombudsman herself. Seán Brown was an upstanding member of his community and a victim of sectarian evil. I share the family's hope that the new investigation will provide evidence to convict those responsible for the murder of their father and husband.

Human Rights Issues.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

364 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the continuing repression and denial of human rights in China of Falun Dafa practitioners; and if he will bring pressure to bear on the authorities in China on the human rights issue generally and two students (details supplied) in particular. [1816/04]

I set out the Government's position with regard to the Falun Gong organisation on a number of occasions last year. Falun Gong was banned by the Chinese authorities in July 1999 and the Chinese government continues to regard it as an "evil cult". However, the Government takes seriously concerns about human rights in China, including those of Falun Gong members.

This issue has been raised both bilaterally and through European Union channels, notably through the formal framework of the EU-China human rights dialogue, which was established in 1996. Through the dialogue, the EU continues to share with China its experience in the field of human rights protection and promotion, and to urge China to take clear steps to improve the human rights situation generally, and more specifically with respect to the freedoms of expression, religion and belief, which have a particular impact on individual practitioners of Falun Gong. The next session of the EU-China human rights dialogue will take place next month.

Human rights are a constant and important issue of dialogue and discussion with the Chinese authorities, at both national and European Union level. In this regard, I welcome the confirmation of continued commitment to the human rights dialogue in China's first ever policy paper on the EU, which was published in September 2003, and the reiteration by both sides, at the most recent EU-China Summit in Beijing on 30 October 2003, of their continued commitment to work towards achieving more meaningful and positive results on the ground.

The specific cases to which the Deputy refers involve Chinese citizens. They are subject to Chinese law while in that country. As they are not Irish citizens, Ireland has no consular function in this matter.

EU Presidency.

Joe Higgins

Question:

365 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details of the sponsorship from business interests or individuals supplied for the Irish EU Presidency; and if he will give an individual breakdown of the money involved in each sponsorship. [1861/04]

Conscious of the success of the sponsorship arrangements in recent Presidencies, and that this has very much become the usual practice, the Government took the view that the Presidency offers a valuable and important opportunity for Irish business to promote what is best about Ireland, in particular in the economic, trade and tourism areas.

The main role of the Presidency is to advance the agenda of the European Union but it is also accepted that each Presidency takes the opportunity to promote its own country widely. It would be remiss of the Government if it did not maximise the exposure that Ireland will gain from hosting the Presidency, which may well be the last of its kind. Sponsorship will help develop a wider ownership in, and involvement with, the Presidency.

We have, in particular, modelled our approach on that applied by the very successful Danish Presidency by inviting offers of sponsorship from companies. All sponsorship will be in the form of goods and services — no cash sponsorship will be considered.

A number of categories lend themselves to a sponsorship arrangement — transportation, catering and the provision of IT-telecommunications equipment. Similar categories have been sponsored during previous Presidencies. In this context, my Department contacted the various umbrella groups for business in Ireland, such as the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland, the Irish Tourism Industry Confederation, the Irish Hotels Federation and the Society of the Irish Motor Industry to outline the sponsorship possibilities.

I am happy that the following companies have agreed to become sponsors of the Presidency: Eircom, Audi, Tipperary Natural Spring Water and Kerrygold. Eircom and Audi between them will supply goods and services worth approximately €5 million. Tipperary Natural Spring Water will supply its product free of charge at all ministerial level meetings in Ireland and for the two summits in Brussels, while Kerrygold will supply its products free of charge for every Presidency lunch and dinner in Ireland and in Brussels. It is difficult, at this stage, to give an indication of the precise value of these sponsorships.

Such is the interest in sponsoring the Presidency that negotiations are still ongoing with several similar high calibre companies. I am also encouraged by the inquiries from smaller regional companies and organisations who are interested in sponsoring events in their respective localities. This shows the Presidency touches many parts of the country.

I am confident that, when negotiations are complete, not only will the cost of hosting the Presidency be significantly reduced but there will be a framework in place which will maximise the exposure of Irish companies and products to a wider European and international audience. This can only be of benefit to the country. Prior to entering these sponsorship agreements, all offers of sponsorship were, and continue to be, presented to the interdepartmental Presidency planning group, under the chairmanship of my Department, for consideration.

Middle East Peace Process.

Enda Kenny

Question:

366 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will indicate the view of the Government and of his Presidency of the European Council on the building of a dividing wall by the Israeli Government on the basis of prevention of Palestinian terrorism; his views on the fact that such construction will exasperate the situation; the action and initiative the proposes to take both as Minister for Foreign Affairs and as the President of the European Council on this matter; the initiatives that Ireland proposes to take in respect of the development of the peace road map; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1877/04]

Ireland's position on the building of the separation barrier by the Israelis was set out in Resolution A/RES/ES-10/13 of the UN General Assembly adopted on 21 October last. This resolution was sponsored by Ireland and our partners in the European Union and demands that Israel stop and reverse the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territories, including in and around east Jerusalem, which is in departure of the armistice line of 1949 and is in contradiction to relevant provisions of international law.

I visited Israel and Egypt for discussions on 14-18 January and intend visiting the region again later in the Presidency. As European Union representative in the international quartet, Ireland will attach a high priority to advancing the road map. During my talks in Israel, I suggested that small, concrete and visible steps should be taken by both sides to restore trust and revive the peace process. I also raised the question of the separation barrier. I reiterated our concern about the building of such a structure in the occupied Palestinian territories and made the point also to Israeli interlocutors that it did not serve Israel's long-term security interests.

Human Rights Issues.

Barry Andrews

Question:

367 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the repatriation of members of the People's Mojahedin of Iran from Iraq to Iran by order of the governing council; and if he has concerns for their safety. [1878/04]

I am aware that the Iraqi authorities have indicated that members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq are no longer welcome in their country. This organisation is on the EU list of designated terrorist organisations and, under the regime of Saddam Hussein, is alleged to have used Iraq as a base of operations from which to carry out its terrorist activities.

It is not yet clear if these individuals will be forcibly repatriated to Iran against their wishes. The US has vetoed a decision by the Iraqi Governing Council to hand over 3,800 members of the People's Mojahedin to Iran. It is likely that many may get asylum in third countries. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and seek to ensure the human rights of the individuals involved are protected.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

368 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if assessments are underway in his Department on the activities proposed for decentralisation; the impact on the operations of the Department; the risks to the organisation attendant on this move; the measures that will be put in place to minimise disruption; and if these reports will be presented to him at an early date for consideration. [1976/04]

Enda Kenny

Question:

373 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if a survey of staff in his Department has been conducted to ascertain the number willing to take part in the Government decentralisation plans; if he will detail the results of any such survey and the number of staff who wish to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2237/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 368 and 373 together.

Under the Government's recently announced decentralisation programme, the development co-operation directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs is scheduled for decentralisation to Limerick. This will involve the relocation to Limerick of 130 posts.

A decentralisation committee has been set up within the Department to liaise with the Government decentralisation committee, to plan and implement the decentralisation programme and to assess the impact of the move on the work of the Department. A number of important questions relating to decentralisation remain to be clarified. The timing of the move will be a central issue, in particular. In this context we wish to give staff as much information as possible on these aspects prior to asking them to indicate whether they wish to decentralise to Limerick or to the other 52 centres. The content of the central implementation plan report, to be prepared by the implementation committee for the Cabinet sub-committee on decentralisation by the end of March, will be of particular relevance in this regard. I anticipate the Department of Foreign Affairs will conduct a decentralisation survey shortly after the presentation of this report. The results of the survey will, when available, be made known to the Department of Finance, unions and staff.

The Deputy will be aware that, in addition to a passport office in Cork and a new passport facility being established in Balbriggan, this Department also has 67 resident diplomatic and consular missions abroad, with which Dublin-based staff liaise on a daily basis, by e-mail, fax and telephone and video conference facility. The decision to relocate the development co-operation directorate to Limerick does not, therefore, pose an insurmountable problem for the efficient and effective operation of the Department in general or the directorate itself in particular. It will pose certain managerial and coherence challenges. I am confident that, with careful planning, these challenges will be met. Measures to minimise potential risks to efficiency and effectiveness in the period leading up to, during and following the decentralisation to Limerick will be planned and overseen by the departmental decentralisation committee.

Human Rights Issues.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

369 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the human rights situation in Ciudad Juarez and the reports that more than 370 women have been murdered since 1993. [2045/04]

Amnesty International and other human rights organisations have long expressed serious concern about widespread human rights abuses in Mexico, including disappearances, killings, torture by police, arbitrary detentions, death threats and ill-treatment by prison and military authorities.

While the exact number of victims is not known, Amnesty International estimates 370 women have been murdered in the border city of Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua over the past 11 years. The Mexican Government has estimated the figure to be 326 while the Mexican National Human Rights Commission's estimate is 263. In addition, there are reports of a large number of disappearances of young women in this region.

Ciudad Juarez is a city that experiences serious violence and criminality. Its proximity to the border with the United States and the availability of work in its assembly plants attract a highly transient population, complicating the compilation of accurate data. It has become a major centre for drug trafficking and organised crime. Motives have not been established for many of the murders in Ciudad Juarez, although some share common characteristics. The Mexican authorities estimate that approximately one third of the victims were sexually assaulted prior to their deaths, with the remaining having been victims of intrafamilial or other violence.

Mexican and international NGOs have expressed concern about the necessity to protect the women of Ciudad Juarez and to investigate the murders, stating that the authorities in Chihuahua and at a federal level have failed to recognise the extent of the pattern of violence against women and to implement effective policies for dealing with it. International observers such as representatives of the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have also visited Chihuahua and expressed serious concerns about the investigations to date.

The question of the respective competencies between the federal and the local level has complicated matters. While steps aimed at improving efficiency had been taken by the local authorities, concerned observers had argued for some time that there was a need for the federal authorities to take a greater direct role in the matter. Federal authorities have become more engaged in the past year, having established grounds for federal intervention on the basis that some of the crimes may be federal offences.

The Interior Ministry announced a 40 point plan in June 2003 to improve public security, criminal investigations, social advancement and women's rights in Ciudad Juarez. This approach involves various Government agencies. On 11 August 2003 the Government announced the creation of a joint investigating and prosecuting agency made up of the office of the attorney general and the Chihuahua state prosecutor's office.

The secretary general of Amnesty International, Ms Irene Khan, visited Mexico in August 2003 to present the Amnesty International report on the Ciudad Juarez killings, and she met President Fox. President Fox made a commitment to ensuring that the federal Government played its full role in endeavouring to put a stop to the murders and abductions. On 17 October 2003 he announced the appointment of Ms Guadalupe Morfin Otero as federal commissioner for the cases in Ciudad Juarez. Her role involves co-ordinating the activities of the interagency committee established to facilitate an integrated approach to the full range of the problems which impact negatively on women in the state of Chihuahua. Ms Morfin has a distinguished record as a defender and promoter of human rights.

Ireland and its EU partners hold regular dialogue with Mexico on matters of mutual interest, including human rights. In November 2003, the question of human rights and the specific situation of violence against women in Ciudad Juarez was raised at a meeting in Brussels of the EU-Mexico joint committee. The Mexican representative acknowledged that the rule of law had malfunctioned over a period of time in that frontier area and outlined the measures being adopted by the Mexican federal and state authorities to strengthen the institutions of law and order with a view to putting an end to what he described as this "cancerous phenomenon."

The Mexican National Human Rights Commission has welcomed not only the appointment of Ms Morfin as federal commissioner, but also the decision in January 2004 by the federal attorney general to appoint a special prosecutor to deal with those Ciudad Juarez killings which have a federal dimension.

As part of the EU's ongoing human rights dialogue with the Mexican authorities, earlier this month the Irish ambassador in Mexico City arranged for Ms Morfin to meet with EU heads of mission. This dialogue will continue during the remainder of the Irish Presidency and beyond.

Foreign Conflicts.

John Gormley

Question:

370 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received reports on the Israeli incursion into the city of Nablus from 26 December 2003 to 6 January 2004; if his attention has been drawn to allegations of human rights abuses during this incursion; if he has made or proposes to make representations on the matter to the Israeli authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2057/04]

I am familiar with the report to which the Deputy refers. Our diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv and Ramallah closely monitor incursions of this kind and our opposition to such actions is well known to the Israeli authorities. During my recent visit to Israel, I stressed to my Israeli interlocutors the need to ease the living conditions of the population of the occupied Palestinian territories by easing restrictions and closures and by avoiding incursions into Palestinian population centres.

John Gormley

Question:

371 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he considers that the Israeli authorities should not be held responsible for the destruction of Palestinian public infrastructure the provision of which was funded by the European Union; if he raised the matter during meetings with Israeli leaders in the course of his recent visit to Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2058/04]

Destruction of public or private infrastructure by Israeli occupation forces is to be deplored and has been the subject of statements and demarches by the European Union. The question of destruction of infrastructure funded by the European Union has been the subject of a letter from the Spanish Presidency to the then Israeli Foreign Minister and has been raised with Israel at the EU-Israel Association Council. The European Commission has reserved its position on the question of compensation for such destruction by the Israeli authorities. The matter did not arise during my recent visit to Israel.

Arms Trade.

John Gormley

Question:

372 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will support the formulation of an international arms trade treaty; and if he will take to opportunity of the Irish Presidency of the EU to pursue this issue. [2059/04]

I am aware of a process led by a number of non-governmental organisations, including Amnesty International and Oxfam, aimed at the development of an international arms trade treaty which is intended to be a legally binding agreement with core principles and mechanisms relating to international transfers of arms. While work on drafting the text is still ongoing, it is a promising initiative and I commend the NGOs concerned for their efforts. My Department will continue to be associated with the process and will closely monitor developments.

I support the principle of having legally binding international agreements on export controls with as wide a participation as possible. This is particularly important with respect to small arms and light weapons. Ireland is committed to working with others to ensure the illicit trafficking of such weapons is dealt with effectively by the international community.

A welcome aspect of the draft treaty is it has the objective of setting out states' existing international legal obligations in the area of international transfers of arms. In addition, once ratified, the draft framework treaty would enable the international community to move forward incrementally, by means of subsequent more specific instruments.

An official of my Department participated in a conference held last November at Cambridge University in England, the purpose of which was to examine from a legal perspective the text of the draft treaty. The NGOs involved in the promotion of the draft treaty will meet next month in Costa Rica to decide on how this process can be further advanced. The proposed international arms trade treaty is under discussion within the EU. Discussions have taken place at working group level, most recently earlier this month, and will continue during Ireland's Presidency of the EU.

Question No. 373 answered with QuestionNo. 368.

Child Care Services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

374 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason for the 37% drop in the budget allocated to vocational education committees for the provision of child care for persons on vocational training opportunities schemes, Youthreach and senior Traveller schemes. [1201/04]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

430 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will grant additional funding to Kerry Education Services to provide child care for students on the vocational training overseas scheme programme, at the Adult Education Centre, Moyderwell, Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1315/04]

Tony Gregory

Question:

469 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science the amounts paid to VECs to cover child care costs for participants on Youthreach, VTOS and Traveller training in 2002 and 2003; the supplementary amounts paid in 2003 following the cuts of July 2003 and any shortfall involved; the individual child care costs of participants and the allowance paid towards the individual cost; and to state if he is committed to making proper provision for child care costs of these disadvantaged participants. [1642/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

478 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals he has in regard to the concerns of County Waterford Vocational Education Committee (details supplied) on child care funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1700/04]

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

481 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extra money allocated to each VEC which has contacted his Department with regard to shortfalls in funding for child care for persons on the vocational training opportunities scheme, Youthreach and senior Traveller's schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1725/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 374, 430, 469, 478 and 481 together.

My Department provides funding to VECs to assist towards the child care expenses of participants in VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller centre programmes. The financial provision nationally in 2002 for child care assistance to participants on these programme was €3,019,000. The corresponding provision for 2003 was €2,984,204.

The estimate by VECs of their needs for child care funding in 2002 exceeded the amount available. Additional funds became available towards the end of 2002, which allowed the Department to allocate supplementary grants in respect of child care assistance. Payout to VECs for 2002 was €4,736,831. In 2003, 27 VECs, including those serving the City of Dublin, County Kerry and County Waterford, requested special assistance by way of additional funding for their child care services. These VECs were asked to indicate their minimal requirements to maintain the service. Following a review of budgetary provision across the range of further education programmes and supports, it was found possible to redesignate certain elements of funding to enable supplementary grants to be allocated for child care. Payout to VECs for 2003 was €4,821,759.00.

The administration of grants to participants in VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller programmes is a matter for individual VECs. A working group comprising representatives of my Department and the Irish Vocational Education Association has been established to review the criteria for the allocation of grants for child care for 2004 and into the future with a view to making more efficient use of the funds available in the light of increasing demand. Grants to VECs to assist towards child care expenses of participants in VTOS, Youthreach and senior Traveller programmes in 2004 will be considered in the light of the provision in the revised Estimates.

Youth Services.

Seán Crowe

Question:

375 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will report on the progress of the national youth work advisory committee in finalising a proposal for North-South validation of youth work training; if the proposal has been submitted to his Department; if the proposal will be made available to the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1072/04]

The National Youth Work Advisory Committee, NYMAC, and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland are in the process of finalising a joint proposal for criteria for the professional endorsement of youth work training in Ireland. The NYWAC is seeking the views of the Higher Education and Training Awards Council and the Further Education and Training Awards Council on their draft proposals. When these views have been received, the proposal will be submitted for my consideration.

School Accommodation.

Seán Ryan

Question:

376 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he proposes to approve the application for two additional prefabricated classrooms for September 2004 as an interim measure in respect of St. Mologa's national school, Bremore, Balbriggan, County Dublin; and if a six classroom extension to meet the expanding population of Balbriggan will be processed. [1073/04]

Officials within my Department are assessing and prioritising all applications for temporary accommodation. I intend to shortly publish details of all temporary accommodation projects that will proceed in 2004. My Department has not received an application from the management authority of St. Mologa's national school for capital funding for a six classroom extension.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Seán Crowe

Question:

377 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 313 of 16 December 2003, when he expects the verification process he refers to will be completed. [1075/04]

Officials from my Department are in constant contact with other relevant Departments that may have provided a regulatory function in the operation of these facilities in order to ascertain whether these additional institutions are eligible for inclusion. It is my intention that a list of additional institutions will be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas in the near future.

School Curriculum.

Seán Crowe

Question:

378 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if the report of the working group set up to examine all aspects of the syllabus and examination for the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaelige has been finalised and presented to his Department; and if not, when he expects to receive a copy. [1076/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

379 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make publicly available the report of the working group set up to examine all aspects of the syllabus and examination for the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaeilge. [1077/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 378 and 379 together.

I have received the report of the working group on the Scrúdú le hAghaidh Cailíochta sa Ghaeilge. The report is being considered. I intend to publish the report shortly.

School Staffing.

Seán Crowe

Question:

380 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will establish a forum on teacher supply, as promised by the previous Minister for Education and Science; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1078/04]

I have no proposals to establish a forum on teacher supply. The suggestion for such a forum was made by my predecessor in the context of issues which arose in relation to the supply of suitably qualified teachers in certain sectors of the second level system. A detailed study of supply and demand issues in the second level sector, which has been carried out by the Higher Education Authority in conjunction with my Department, has identified a range of subject areas where supply and demand issues arise. The outcome of this study is currently being considered by my Department with a view to determining the measures which need to be put in place to address these issues.

School Accommodation.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

381 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Education and Science when a school (details supplied) in County Wexford will be supplied with a temporary classroom taking into account the school's contribution was made on 11 September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1079/04]

Officials within my Department are currently assessing and prioritising all applications for temporary accommodation. I intend to shortly publish details of all temporary accommodation projects that will proceed in 2004.

Schools Building Projects.

Denis Naughten

Question:

382 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will approve funding to the Abbey Boys national school, Roscommon town; the total cost of the extension; if he will include the school on the contingency list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1106/04]

When publishing the 2004 school building programme, I outlined that my strategy going forward will be grounded in capital investment based on multiannual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects that were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme with a view to including them as part of a multiannual school building programme from 2005 and I expect to make further announcements on this matter during the year. The Abbey Boys national school project will be considered in this regard.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Seán Crowe

Question:

383 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received correspondence from the London Irish Women Survivors Group regarding the functioning of the redress board and the work of his Department in raising awareness of the functions and responsibilities of the redress board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1109/04]

The group has raised two issues regarding the redress scheme to which a reply has issued. The first of these issues is a request that additional institutions be added to the Schedule to the Residential Institutions Redress Act 2002. A total of 128 institutions are listed on the Schedule to the Act. Section 4 enables additional institutions that are identified as reformatory schools, industrial schools, orphanages, children's homes and special schools, in respect of which a public body had a regulatory or inspection function, to be added to the Schedule. It is my intention that a list of additional institutions will be brought before both Houses of the Oireachtas as soon as the verification process is completed.

The second issue relates to the groups who wish that full information on the operation of the redress board be made available to all former residents. Section 5 (b) of the Act provides that the board shall make all reasonable efforts, through public advertisement, direct correspondence with persons who were residents of an institution, and otherwise, to ensure persons who were residents of an institution are aware of the redress board and its remit. In this regard, the board commenced an advertising campaign in Ireland in December 2002 and the board has indicated that a targeted advertisement campaign in the United Kingdom will commence in early 2004.

In addition, the Government, in devising its policies in the redress area, was conscious that a significant number of former residents of institutions had emigrated to the United Kingdom particularly in the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. Five outreach officers were appointed to existing Irish centres in the UK to apprise and advise former residents that reside in the UK of developments regarding the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse and the Residential Institutions Redress Board as well as other relevant matters. The outreach services are funded by my Department and continue to operate and provide appropriate advice. Funding for a post of development worker to co-ordinate and develop the outreach service has also been provided.

Schools Building Projects.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

384 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science when work will commence on the extension at Riverstown national school, Glanmire, Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1127/04]

The proposed large scale building project for Riverstown national school is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme, which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at stage 3 — developed sketch scheme — of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large scale projects. The proposed project will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004. Indicative timescales have been included for large scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multiannual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multiannual framework for the school building programme, which, in turn, will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

385 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the building project for Bridgetown Vocational College, County Wexford; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1131/04]

The proposed large-scale building project for Bridgetown Vocational School is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning, i.e. bill of quantities. It has been assigned a 'band 2' rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

Indicative timescales have been included in the school building programme for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme.

I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Teaching Qualifications.

Pat Carey

Question:

386 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will examine the qualifications of a person (details supplied) with a view to establishing their eligibility to teach at second level as a PE teacher; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1134/04]

The qualifications held by the person in question have already been assessed by my Department for the purposes of teaching physical education at second level and were found to be unsuitable. This decision was conveyed to the person's employer, City of Dublin VEC, in July 2002.

Special Educational Needs.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

387 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of a classroom assistant for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1135/04]

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

494 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason three autistic children (details supplied) in County Donegal were left without special needs assistants since September 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1748/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 387 and 494 together.

I can confirm that my Department has received applications for special educational needs supports, SEN, from the school, including the applications for the pupils referred to by the Deputy. The school currently has the services of 18 full-time special needs assistants, SNA, one part-time SNA and one job-sharing SNA post.

SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one made by this school, are being considered at present. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. However, my Department is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and my officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to Circular 24/03, which issued in September, 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

388 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will sanction an application to set up a CABAS school in south Dublin to cater for children with autism (details supplied). [1136/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

416 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if a response to the request for funding for a CABAS school in Shankill to cater for south side children will be expedited. [1247/04]

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

422 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide the funding necessary to establish a CABAS school in south Dublin for children who are affected by autism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1307/04]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

447 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department has received an application from a group of parents that wish to establish a CABAS school in Shankill, County Dublin, to cater for children with special educational needs; if the application is being examined, researched and worked on; if his Department regards the operation of similar schools in Cork, Dublin — Kilbarrack — and Drogheda as successful; if, on the basis of that experience and the details of the parents' submission, he will make the funds available for those children and their parents who wish to have such a school established in the south Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1416/04]

Barry Andrews

Question:

500 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will support the provision of a school in south Dublin for autistic children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1788/04]

Joe Higgins

Question:

525 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will immediately sanction the expansion of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare to provide an appropriate educational environment for autistic children on waiting lists. [1961/04]

Billy Timmins

Question:

532 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to an application from CABAS in south Dublin; when sanction will be given; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2051/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

577 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give an early and positive response to the request for funding for a CABAS school to cater for children in south County Dublin. [2247/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 388, 416, 422, 447, 500, 525, 532 and 577 together.

I am most anxious that all children, including children with autistic spectrum disorders, receive education appropriate to their needs. My Department is actively considering applications from CABAS, Dublin and Saplings, Kildare, for autistic provision in south County Dublin. My officials are liaising with my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service in this regard. A response will issue to the applicants as quickly as possible.

Teaching Qualifications.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

389 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will review the SCG exam to ensure that it is of a realistic standard, is based on Irish which is actually required in the primary classroom and that a clear syllabus is provided for those who have to undertake the exam. [1137/04]

Willie Penrose

Question:

411 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding teachers who were trained outside the Republic of Ireland that apply for recognition from his Department and are then granted a five year temporary status, within which time they are required to successfully pass the SCG exams; if in this context his attention has been drawn to the difficulties and problems that such teachers encounter, in particular where no courses or classes are provided by his Department to cater for people who have no Irish language knowledge and no clear syllabus is set out for such teachers to follow when studying for exams and therefor if in view of same a clear syllabus would be developed which teachers could follow when studying for the exam and if courses could be provided which would cater for beginners learning the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1232/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 389 and 411 together.

I established a working group to review all aspects of the syllabus and examination for the scrúdú le haghaidh cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge in 2001. The report of the working group was recently submitted to me. Issues dealt with in the report include the content and format of the examination modules, the standard of the examinations and the period of provisional recognition granted to applicants within which they are expected to pass the SCG. The report is currently under consideration and decisions in relation to the recommendations contained in it will be taken in due course.

The review group has drafted an interim syllabus. The redrafted syllabus was circulated to all schools in December 2002 and the SCG examinations held on 29, 30 and 31 October 2003 were the first series of SCG examinations to be based on this syllabus.

The review group has also drafted a handbook for the examination. The handbook will contain detailed information on the SCG and will provide answers to a wide range of questions raised by candidates. It is also planned to produce a textbook of relevant prose and poetry for future examinations.

Courses of study aimed specifically at candidates for the SCG examination are run by a number of education centres throughout the country. The level at which courses are provided is dependent on the demand. Copies of past examination papers, including tapes of the aural examinations, are available on request from primary administration section 1 of my Department in Athlone. In addition, the interim syllabus for the SCG examinations which was circulated to all schools in December, 2002 included a reading list of prose and poetry to be studied for the examinations.

Schools Building Projects.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

390 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science the time-scale for the building of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 8; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1138/04]

The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. It will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Finian McGrath

Question:

391 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to funding for building improvements at Howth Road national school, Clontarf Dublin 3 and the need to ensure that they get the maximum assistance in 2004 for further improvement. [1139/04]

A large-scale building project for Howth Road mixed national school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website at www.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

My Department will be holding consultations with the education partners early in 2004 in relation to the prioritisation criteria to ensure that they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of approved projects under the scheme.

School Staffing.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

392 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Education and Science when a position for a visiting teacher for the visually impaired for schools in County Mayo will be advertised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1140/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

444 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science when the post of visiting teacher for the visually impaired for County Mayo will be advertised and filled. [1409/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 392 and 444 together.

The area referred to by the Deputy is currently served by two visiting teachers who cover the Galway-Mayo region, one of whom operates in a temporary capacity.

It is expected that this post will be vacated in the near future. The vacancy, when confirmed, will initially be offered to visiting teachers from other areas who may wish to transfer to the Galway-Mayo region. If no other visiting teacher expresses an interest in the position, it will then be advertised nationally.

School Placement.

Finian McGrath

Question:

393 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will work closely with the parents and school of a pupil (details supplied) to ensure that he gets a place in September 2004. [1141/04]

An official from my Department has been in contact with the parents of the child referred to by the Deputy and has advised them on their rights under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal a refusal to enrol.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides for an appeal by a parent or guardian to the Secretary General of my Department where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enrol a student in the school. The Education (Welfare) Act 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board as the single national agency with responsibility for school attendance. The principal function of the board is to ensure that every child in the State attends a recognised school or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. The parents of the child in question have been advised to contact the board to obtain its advice and assistance in securing a place for their child.

Schools Recognition.

Mary Upton

Question:

394 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science, further to his reply to Parliamentary Question No. 176 of 10 December, if Irish students who wish to further their ballet studies will be entitled to grants or fees if they pursue their studies in colleges in the United Kingdom, due to the fact that no such facilities are on offer here. [1142/04]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

398 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will approve the colleges and institutions (details supplied) for grant assistance to allow Irish students of dance to train abroad; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1176/04]

Mary Upton

Question:

401 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 176 of 10 December 2003, if Irish students who wish to further their ballet studies will be entitled to grants or fees if they pursue their studies in colleges in the United Kingdom. [1207/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 394, 398 and 401 together.

In relation to support available for students studying abroad, my Department's student maintenance grant schemes provide maintenance grants to undergraduate students pursuing approved third level courses in other EU member states.

In general, an approved undergraduate course in this context is defined as a full-time undergraduate course of not less than two years duration pursued in a university or third level institution, which is maintained or assisted by recurrent grants from public funds in another EU member state, with the exception of the following: courses in colleges of further and higher education, other than courses which are at higher national diploma level or higher; courses provided in a college which are offered in private commercial third level colleges in the state and which are validated by that college and; courses in colleges akin to private commercial colleges in Ireland.

Where a grant application is made in respect of a course being pursued in a third level institution abroad, such as a dance or ballet school, it is a matter for the awarding body, such as a local authority or VEC, to satisfy itself regarding the status of the institution and as to whether the course and institution meet the terms of the relevant scheme. There are no plans, at present, to expand the provisions in the grant schemes in relation to study abroad.

In relation to tuition fees, there is provision for tax relief at the standard rate in respect of approved courses at approved colleges of higher education, including approved undergraduate and postgraduate courses in other EU member states. Further details and conditions in relation to this relief are available from the Revenue Commissioners.

Schools Building Projects.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

395 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding funding for a new school at Coralstown national school, Mullingar; the possible starting date for this important school project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1143/04]

The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. It will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Departmental Properties.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

396 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department has completed consideration of the issue of lands at Kingswood Heights which are in the Department's ownership and remain unused; will he confirm any plans for the use or disposal of these lands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1145/04]

A number of proposals concerning the future use of lands at Kingswood Heights are being considered within my Department. However, no final decision has been taken in this matter.

School Staffing.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

397 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science when an application for a resource teacher by a school (details supplied) in County Cork will be approved. [1174/04]

The school referred to by the Deputy currently has the services of a full-time and part-time resource teacher together with a shared learning support teacher. My Department has received a further application for special educational resources, SER, from this school. SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one made by this school, are being considered at present. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year or so. Account is also being taken of the data submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is a complex and time-consuming operation. However, my Department is endeavouring to have this completed as quickly as possible and my officials will then respond to all applicant schools. Pending a response, schools are advised to refer to Circular 24/03, which issued in September, 2003. This circular contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for SEN within the school.

Question No. 398 answered with QuestionNo. 394.

Schools Building Projects.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

399 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science the timescale for the building of an extension to Curranes national school, Castleisland, County Kerry; and if work will commence on this in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1177/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the proposed large-scale building project at Curranes national school is listed in section 1 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. Projects listed in section 1 will proceed to tender and construction in 2004. The indicative timescale to tender for Curranes national school is the second quarter of 2004.

Special Educational Needs.

Finian McGrath

Question:

400 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the Drogheda CABAS, applied behaviour analysis for autistic children, school, to ensure that it remains open as a valuable school, and to give it the maximum support and assistance in 2004 (details supplied). [1178/04]

I would like to assure the Deputy that my Department intends to take a measured approach to considering the future of the three CABAS facilities in Dublin, Cork and Drogheda. My approach will be to ensure continuity of provision for the pupils in question. My Department appreciates the concerns of parents for greater certainty and in this regard, I wish to confirm that my Department is prepared to continue to provide funding for three CABAS facilities for the next school year 2004-05.

My Department will in due course consider the reports of the inspectorate on autism specific provisions and any issues arising therefrom will be raised directly with the relevant managements.

Question No. 401 answered with QuestionNo. 394.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

402 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science to report on his Department's activities in respect of Ireland's EU Presidency; if he will outline his plans for the next few months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1214/04]

The Department of Education and Science will host a number of ministerial level and official level meetings in Ireland during the Presidency. The first of these, the European launch of the European Year of Education Through Sport 2004 will take place in Dublin on 29/30 January. A brochure containing information on the education and youth Presidency programme has been lodged with the Oireachtas Library for the information of all Members.

Schools Building Projects.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

403 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at St. Kevin's girls' school, Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1223/04]

A proposed large-scale building project for St. Kevin's girls' school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

My Department will be holding consultations with the education partners early in 2004 in relation to the prioritisation criteria to ensure that they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of approved projects under the scheme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

404 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at St. Aongus school, Balrothery, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1224/04]

A large-scale building project for St. Aongus' national school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

My Department will be holding consultations with the education partners early in 2004 in relation to the prioritisation criteria to ensure that they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of approved projects under the scheme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

405 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at Knockmore national school, Killinarden Parish, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1225/04]

The proposed building project for Knockmore national school, Tallaght, is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme, which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at stage 3 of the architectural planning process. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

406 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science to give an update on the status of the school building project at Scoil Santáin, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1226/04]

The large-scale building project for the scoil Santáin is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. It is at early stages of architectural planning.

It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects and will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004. Indicative timescales have been included for large-scale projects proceeding in 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small-scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of projects approved under this scheme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

407 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at St. Aidan's school, Brookfield, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1227/04]

A proposed large scale-building project for St. Aidan's national school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

My Department will be holding consultations with the education partners early in 2004 in relation to the prioritisation criteria to ensure that they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of projects approved under the scheme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

408 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at Ballycragh national school, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1228/04]

The large-scale building project for Ballycragh national school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. It will be authorised to progress to the next stage of architectural planning during 2004.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of projects approved under this scheme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

409 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at Killinarden community school, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1229/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the project to provide ancillary accommodation for the sports hall at Killinarden community school will be proceeding to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme. This is one of a number of projects that are included in the programme as part of a joint initiative to develop community sports facilities in drugs task force areas. My Department will be in contact with the school shortly regarding the commencement of the tendering process for the project.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

410 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the school building project at St. Kevin's boys' school, Kilnamanagh, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the anxiety of the local community that this important project be progressed to construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1231/04]

A proposed large scale project for St. Kevin's boys' national school is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at early stages of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

My Department will be holding consultations with the education partners early in 2004 in relation to the prioritisation criteria to ensure that they have the optimum precision and are fully tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of projects approved under the scheme.

Question No. 411 answered with QuestionNo. 389.

Special Educational Needs.

Finian McGrath

Question:

412 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give Scoil Mhuire primary school, Griffith Avenue, Dublin 9, the maximum support and assistance in 2004. [1242/04]

Any application for special educational needs, SEN, supports received in my Department will be considered in the context of the criteria outlined in the relevant Department circulars and the existing level of SEN resources already available in the school.

Finian McGrath

Question:

413 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give maximum support and assistance to St. Malachi's primary school, Edenmore, Dublin 5, in 2004. [1243/04]

Any application for special educational needs, SEN, supports received in my Department will be considered in the context of the criteria outlined in the relevant Department circulars and the existing level of SEN resources already available in the school.

Finian McGrath

Question:

414 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the current position regarding back-up services for children with disabilities at St. Fiachra's junior school, Beaumont, Dublin 9; and if he will give the maximum support and assistance in 2004. [1244/04]

I understand that the Deputy's question relates to an application for special needs assistant support for a junior infant pupil attending St. Fiachra's junior school, Beaumont, Dublin 9. My officials will contact the school in question concerning the matter.

Any application for special educational needs, SEN, supports received in my Department will be considered in the context of the criteria outlined in the relevant Department circulars and the existing level of SEN resources available in the school.

Finian McGrath

Question:

415 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give the maximum support and assistance to Virgin Mary's boys' school, Ballymun, Dublin 9, in 2004. [1245/04]

Two large-scale projects have recently been completed at Virgin Mary's boys' and girls' schools, Ballymun. Grant aid in the amount of €1,019,561 was sanctioned in 2002 for the works, which included mechanical and electrical upgrades and refurbishment of both school buildings.

If additional works are required in the school, the Deputy will note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of approved projects under the scheme.

Question No. 416 answered with QuestionNo. 388.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

417 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that parents of children attending CABAS schools must now begin to make plans for September if the decision on the pilot schemes is not favourable; if the uncertainty created by the reply in the current school year is causing huge stress; and if he would aim for an early decision and indicate when that might be. [1248/04]

My Department intends to take a measured approach to considering the future of the three CABAS facilities in Dublin, Cork and Drogheda. My approach will be to ensure continuity of provision for the pupils in question. My Department appreciates the concerns of parents for greater certainty and in this regard, I wish to confirm that my Department is prepared to continue to provide funding for three CABAS facilities for the next school year 2004/2005.

I hope this clarification will ease parents' concerns. My Department will in due course consider the reports of the Inspectorate on autism specific provisions and any issues arising therefrom will be raised directly with the relevant managements.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

418 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science if additional learning support can be provided for Barntown and Glynn national schools, County Wexford, where overall enrolment has increased by 40% since 1993 when they were allocated the services of a learning support teacher on a shared basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1249/04]

The schools referred to by the Deputy currently have the services of a full-time shared learning support teacher. The number of learning support teachers now stands at 1,531, enabling a learning support service to be accessed by every primary school pupil in the country. While it is not my intention to allocate further such posts at this time, my Department will continue to review the allocation of resources for special needs.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

419 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give a commitment that the evaluation of the CABAS facilities for teaching autistic children currently being carried out by his Department's inspectorate will be concluded at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1254/04]

I would like to assure the Deputy that my Department intends to take a measured approach to considering the future of the three CABAS facilities in Dublin, Cork and Drogheda. My approach will be to ensure continuity of provision for the pupils in question. My Department appreciates the concerns of parents for greater certainty and in this regard, I wish to confirm that my Department is prepared to continue to provide funding for three CABAS facilities for the next school year 2004/2005.

I hope this clarification will ease parents' concerns. My Department will in due course consider the reports of the Inspectorate on autism specific provisions and any issues arising therefrom will be raised directly with the relevant managements.

Standardised School Year.

Denis Naughten

Question:

420 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 182 of 17 December 2003 the cost savings of the standardised school year; if this forms part of the review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1264/04]

The review relates to the school transport scheme. While the specific issue relating to the standardised school year is not part of that review, expenditure under the terms of the scheme is constantly monitored to ensure that the most efficient and cost effective service is provided including the co-ordination of school transport services as appropriate.

The main objective of the commitment to standardise the mid-term breaks and holiday periods at Christmas and Easter as provided by Sustaining Progress is to provide certainty to families on school closure times.

Prior to the introduction of the agreed arrangements for the school year 2003-04 schools were free to decide on holiday periods and mid-term breaks on an individual basis. This led to variation in the closure times of schools, which caused problems to parents with children attending different schools. I am satisfied that the new arrangements provide real benefits to parents.

Teaching Qualifications.

Bernard Allen

Question:

421 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason his Department is now refusing to give the honours allowance to those teachers who have been teaching art for some considerable time and who completed a course in the National College of Art and Design organised by his Department in conjunction with the National University of Ireland and received a diploma in art teaching at honours level; the reason, despite saying in his response dated 29 January 2003, that the matter of the appropriate level of qualification allowance to be paid to teachers who successfully completed this course, was under consideration by his Department and that, when a decision would be reached, his Department would communicate with the teachers concerned and arrangements would be made for the payment to them of the appropriate allowance, this has not happened despite his answer 12 months ago. [1306/04]

While the matters in question took longer than originally anticipated to resolve, I can assure the Deputy that my Department's consideration of these matters is now nearing completion. I expect that a decision on the levels at which the qualification allowances in question are awarded will be made in the very near future. I will advise the Deputy of the outcome at that time.

Question No. 422 answered with QuestionNo. 388.

Schools Building Projects.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

423 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of an extension to Kilconley national school, Ballybunion, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1308/04]

My Department has received an application for improved accommodation at Kilconley national school, Ballybunion, County Kerry.

Progress on this application will depend on the development plan for the north Kerry area resulting from the new model for school planning, which I announced earlier this year. The new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, one of which includes Ballybunion, over the remainder of the school year, with development plans being drawn up for these areas. My main objective is to ensure that all relevant parties have a say and that the process is open and public.

The Commission on School Accommodation will conduct the public engagement and all submissions made to the commission by interested parties will be published. The commission will then draw up a draft development plan for the area, against which, following acceptance by the Minister, the planning and building unit will assess all applications for capital investment.

A decision on the application from Kilconley national school will be made in the context of the development plan for the north Kerry area.

The provision of essential mainstream classroom accommodation, over and above the current complement of mainstream permanent classrooms, takes priority in the publication of the 2004 school building programme. All projects that are not going to construction as part of the 2004 school building programme are being reviewed with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual building programme from 2005 onwards. I expect to be in a position to make a further announcement on this matter during 2004.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

424 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of an extension to Nano Nagle Special School, Listowel, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1309/04]

The proposed large-scale building project for Nano Nagle national school is listed in Section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website at www.education.ie. This proposed project is at stage 2-3, outline sketch scheme-developed sketch scheme of architectural planning. It has been assigned a "band 1" rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The proposed project will be authorised to progress to advanced architectural planning during 2004. Indicative timescales have been included for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

425 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of a new school at Blennerville, Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1310/04]

The board of management of Blennerville national school applied to my Department for a new school in 1999. Following examination of the application it was agreed that accommodation should be provided for a six-teacher school.

A subsequent technical inspection of the existing school and site was carried out and a recommendation was made that a new school on a green field site should be provided. The Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department in the procurement of sites is actively engaged in this matter and I am sure that the Deputy will appreciate that due to commercial sensitivity I am unable to give further information on the site purchase at this time.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

426 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of a new school, at Listellick, Tralee, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1311/04]

The board of management of Listellick national school has applied to my Department for additional accommodation. Following examination of the application it is agreed that accommodation should be provided for a principal plus 12 mainstream teachers with scope for the provision of four additional classrooms if, required as a result of planned housing developments. The site requirements to facilitate this development will shortly be finalised and my officials will be in contact with the board of management in this regard.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

427 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of a new primary school at Ballybunion, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1312/04]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to a new school to accommodate the proposed amalgamation of St. Joseph's primary school and Ballybunion boys' national school.

Agreement has been reached to amalgamate St. Joseph's primary school and Ballybunion boys' national school. It is considered that the long-term accommodation needs of the amalgamated school will be for eight mainstream classes and ancillary accommodation. Under the 2004 school building programme, projects, which involve the provision of accommodation, which is absolutely necessary to facilitate agreed amalgamations, are accorded a band 1 rating.

Progress on this project will depend on the development plan for the north Kerry area resulting from the new model for school planning, which I announced earlier this year. The new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, one of which includes Ballybunion, over the remainder of the school year, with development plans being drawn up for these areas. My main objective is to ensure that all relevant parties have a say and that the process is open and public. The Commission on School Accommodation will conduct the public engagement and all submissions made to the commission by interested parties will be published. The commission will then draw up a draft development plan for the area, against which, following acceptance by the Minister, the planning and building unit will assess all applications for capital investment. A decision on the new school project for Ballybunion will be made in the context of the development plan for the north Kerry area.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

428 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of an extension to Ballybunion Convent secondary school, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1313/04]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to St. Joseph's secondary school, Ballybunion. Progress on this project will depend on the development plan for the north Kerry area resulting from the new model for school planning, which I announced earlier this year. The new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, one of which includes Ballybunion, over the remainder of the school year, with development plans being drawn up for these areas. My main objective is to ensure that all relevant parties have a say and that the process is open and public. The Commission on School Accommodation will conduct the public engagement and all submissions made to the commission by interested parties will be published. The commission will then draw up a draft development plan for the area, against which, following acceptance by the Minister, the planning and building unit will assess all applications for capital investment. A decision on the application from St. Joseph's secondary school will be made in the context of the development plan for the north Kerry area.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

429 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science his position regarding the provision of additional accommodation at Dromclough national school, Listowel, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1314/04]

An application for additional accommodation at Dromclough national school was received in my Department in January 2003.

Progress on this application will depend on the development plan for the north Kerry area resulting from the new model for school planning, which I announced earlier this year. The new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, one of which includes Listowel, over the remainder of the school year, with development plans being drawn up for these areas. My main objective is to ensure that all relevant parties have a say and that the process is open and public. The Commission on School Accommodation will conduct the public engagement and all submissions made to the commission by interested parties will be published. The commission will then draw up a draft development plan for the area, against which, following acceptance by the Minister, the planning and building unit will assess all applications for capital investment. A decision on the application from Dromclough national school will be made in the context of the development plan for the north Kerry area.

Question No. 430 answered with QuestionNo. 374.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

431 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Education and Science the position on the building project for Christian Brothers primary school, New Ross, County Wexford, in particular a timeframe for the various stages of this project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1333/04]

An application for grant aid towards improvement works has been received from the management authority of the Christian Brothers primary school, New Ross. The application is currently being examined in the school planning section of my Department. As soon as this examination is completed, a decision on the matter will issue to the school authority together with an indicative timeframe for the delivery of any identified accommodation deficits.

School Placement.

John McGuinness

Question:

432 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will expedite an appeal in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny to have a child (details supplied) enrolled at Loreto School, Kilkenny. [1334/04]

John McGuinness

Question:

433 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the timeframe for considering an appeal in the name of persons (details supplied) in County Kilkenny to have their child (details supplied) placed as a student at Loreto School, Kilkenny; and if he will expedite the application and issue a favourable response. [1335/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 432 and 433 together.

My Department recently admitted two appeals under section 29 of the Education Act, 1998 regarding the children referred to by the Deputy. Under the Act, an appeal must be dealt with within 30 days of its receipt, except where, on the application of the appeals committee, the Secretary General of my Department consents to an extension of the period by not more than 14 days.

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that during the course of the appeals the children were offered places in the school in question and both appeals were consequently withdrawn by the parents.

Special Educational Needs.

John McGuinness

Question:

434 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will issue a comprehensive response to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny regarding the educational and medical care entitlements of their child who has autism. [1342/04]

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy. My Department is currently providing funding towards home tuition for the children in question. My officials are arranging to liaise with the appropriate professionals regarding the long-term educational needs of the children and further contact will be made with the parents in this regard.

The issue of the medical care entitlements of the children is a matter for the Department of Health and Children through the local health board.

Teaching Qualifications.

Michael Ring

Question:

435 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the position on the drafting of a circular pertaining to unqualified resource issues; and when the circular will be finalised and issued to schools. [1347/04]

Work on drafting the circular in question is at an advanced stage. It is hoped to have it finalised and issued to schools in the near future.

Special Educational Needs.

Michael Ring

Question:

436 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if there is any age barrier to qualification for home tuition. [1348/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

437 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will arrange a reassessment of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo for home tuition purposes. [1349/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

540 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if a person (details supplied) in County Mayo with special needs can receive financial assistance towards the cost of their special needs teaching at home; the reason they were refused this help; if they qualify for assistance from his Department in this regard. [2080/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 436, 437 and 540 together.

The home tuition scheme is intended to provide compensatory instruction for pupils of school-going age with a medical ailment that is likely to cause major disruption to their attendance at school on a continuing basis. The young adults referred to by the Deputy are over 18 years of age and do not fall within the remit of the home tuition scheme. I understand that the persons in question are currently accessing adult services in their local area.

State Examinations.

Michael Ring

Question:

438 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason that his Department is refusing to accept the registration of a pupil (details supplied) in County Mayo who is being privately tutored in view of the fact that she will be doing her leaving certificate in 2005 and the knock-on effect of this refusal resulting in the Department of Social and Family Affairs refusing to pay child benefit for this student. [1350/04]

Registration of candidates for the leaving certificate in 2005 will take place early in the 2004-05 school year. Applications from external candidates are accepted as a normal part of this process, and it is suggested that contact should be made with the State Examinations Commission for this purpose in early September 2004.

My Department has been in touch with the Department of Social and Family Affairs and I understand that that Department will be in contact very shortly with the family concerned regarding payment of child benefit.

Special Educational Needs.

Michael Ring

Question:

439 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science when a special needs teacher will be appointed to a school in County Mayo so that a pupil (details supplied) can get the help that she has been assessed as needing. [1351/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that my Department has approved an additional allocation of five hours per week resource teaching support to County Mayo VEC in respect of the student in question.

State Examinations.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

440 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the justification for the 183% rise in fees when students opt to repeat their leaving certificate exam; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1382/04]

Examination entry fees are in existence in order to defray in part the costs of running the certificate examinations. Examination entry fees cover only part of the costs involved. A special entry fee of €225 is payable in respect of a candidate who remains in school with a view to repeating the leaving certificate examination. This represents an increase of approximately 13% on the 2003 figure of €199. A course fee of €126.97 is also payable to my Department in respect of such candidates.

Special fees for repeat candidates were introduced in 1987 on the basis that it is not unreasonable to expect those who have already benefitted from the normal course of post-primary education, and who wish to take an extra year, to make a contribution towards the cost of providing the necessary resources.

Candidates who hold a current medical card or are dependent on a parent or guardian who is the holder of a current medical card are not liable for either examination fees or for payment of the repeat course fee. Medical cards will be accepted only if valid on 1 February 2004, the due date for payment.

Schools Building Projects.

Denis Naughten

Question:

441 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the action he is taking to upgrade post-primary schools in County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1387/04]

The published 2004 school building programme sets out the progress envisaged for individual projects in the current year on larger scale projects at post primary level.

The Deputy will note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme, which caters for necessary small-scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of schools with approved projects under this scheme. This programme is accessible on my Department's website atwww.education.ie.

Teaching Qualifications.

Finian McGrath

Question:

442 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide information on a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; the reasons for this person's departure from a college (details supplied); if there were allegations against this person; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1397/04]

The information requested by the Deputy relates to personal information and my Department does not release information of this nature.

Departmental Correspondence.

Denis Naughten

Question:

443 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science when a reply will be issued to correspondence (details supplied); the reason for the delay in issuing same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1398/04]

My Department expects to be in a position to respond to the correspondence referred to by the Deputy shortly.

Question No. 444 answered with QuestionNo. 392.

Schools Building Projects.

Michael Ring

Question:

445 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if the proposed new vocational school for Newport, County Mayo, will go ahead; and the proposals his Department has on this matter. [1410/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

446 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if a decision has been made on the catchment area for the proposed new vocational school in Newport, County Mayo. [1411/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 445 and 446 together.

As previously indicated to the Deputy no decisions have been taken on progressing the proposed new second level school for Newport. A final decision on this matter will be taken in the context of a development plan for the Newport and Westport areas resulting from the new model for school planning which I announced earlier this year. The new school planning model will be piloted in five areas, one of which covers the Newport and Westport areas, over the remainder of the school year with development plans being drawn up for these areas. My main objective is to ensure that all relevant parties have a say and that the process is open and public. The Commission on School Accommodation will conduct the public engagement and all submissions made to the commission by interested parties will be published. The commission will then draw up a draft development plan for the area, against which, following acceptance by the Minister, the planning and building unit will assess all applications for capital investment.

A decision on whether to progress with the school proposed for Newport will be made in the context of the development plan for the Newport and Westport area of County Mayo.

Question No. 447 answered with QuestionNo. 388.

Higher Education Grants.

Willie Penrose

Question:

448 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath who has been in contact with his Department, has been refused for a higher education grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1417/04]

Under the terms of my Department's higher education grant schemes students who already hold an undergraduate degree are not generally eligible for grant assistance in respect of further study at undergraduate level. There is, however, provision under the terms of the schemes for students who already hold a pass or general degree and are progressing to complete an honours degree in one year. In such cases it must be established that successful completion of the year in question may only result in an honours degree and that there is no possibility of a second award at the same level, that is another pass or general degree.

My Department understands that the duration of the course, referred to by the Deputy, is 18 months and that successful completion of the course may lead to an award at either honours or pass degree level. As the student in question already holds a general degree and the course does not comply with the provisions of the schemes, she is ineligible for grant assistance in respect of the course. The terms of the schemes are of general application and accordingly it is not open to me or my Department to depart from the terms in individual cases.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

449 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when a classroom assistant will be offered to a person (details supplied) attending St. Wolstan's school, Celbridge, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1418/04]

My Department allocates resource teaching support and special needs assistant support to second level schools and vocational educational committees to cater for students with special educational needs. Applications for such support are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil(s) involved and the nature and level of support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

St. Wolstan's community school has been allocated resource teacher and special needs assistant support to address the needs of the student in question and a number of other students with special educational needs attending the school.

Schools Building Projects.

Richard Bruton

Question:

450 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if the school building programme for 2004 includes site-acquisition for the construction of a school for Gaelscoil Cholmcille, to be acquired from Dublin City Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1419/04]

My Department is considering options to address the long-term accommodation needs of Gaelscoil Cholmcille including the option to acquire a site for the school. In this regard, the property management section of the OPW is acting on behalf of my Department on site acquisitions generally and is currently exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for the school in question.

Due to commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify the specific sites to be acquired. However, this information will be placed on my Department's website when the relevant acquisitions have been completed.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Question:

451 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will investigate the potential for a third level college in order to facilitate people with disabilities, with a campus built in one of the existing colleges, for example, Maynooth, UCD, DCU or the Marino Institute of Education. [1436/04]

Current Government policy on the provision of services to people with disabilities places emphasis on the importance of mainstreaming. The provision of a third level campus to facilitate people with disabilities would not be consistent with the objective of ensuring services for people with disabilities are provided on an inclusive and integrated basis in line with services to the general public.

Among the measures my Department is taking to assist students with disabilities to access third level education is the fund for students with disabilities. This fund, which is ESF-aided, was introduced in 1994. It provides funding to students with disabilities attending courses in third level institutions and, since 1998, in post-leaving certificate centres.

The purpose of the fund is to provide students with serious physical and-or sensory disabilities with grant assistance towards the cost of special equipment, special materials and technological aids, targeted transport services, personal assistants and sign language interpreters.

Under the social inclusion measures in the Government's national development plan, there is provision for a third level access fund totalling almost €121 million, over the period 2000 to 2006, aimed at tackling under-representation by a number of target groups including students with a disability. The report of the Action Group on Access to Third Level Education, which was established to advise on the development of a co-ordinated strategy to increase participation by the target groups, was published in 2001.

Provision for the fund for students with disabilities has increased from €101,579 in 1994 to a gross level of €5.3 million in the 2003-04 academic year. In addition to the fund, between 1996 and 2003, as part of its targeted initiative funding programme, the Higher Education Authority has allocated more than €7 million towards activities focused on supporting increased access for students with a disability. Among the activities funded have been the employment of specialist staff; the training of academic and non-academic staff; the establishment of units for provision of assistive technology training and support for students and staff; careers support for students with a disability; pre-entry outreach and taster programmes; and post-entry orientation and support.

My Department is committed to supporting initiatives in the area of universal access and funding has been provided in recent years to address physical access problems in existing buildings in the third level sector. Furthermore, all new buildings are required to comply with building regulations governing access. New buildings must incorporate standard design features necessary to facilitate universal access in compliance with part M of the building regulations.

Special Educational Needs.

Richard Bruton

Question:

452 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the impact of the closure of St. Mary's School for the Blind on the availability of suitable education placements for such children; the services he has put in place to make up for this loss; and his plans to open the proposed national education centre for the visually impaired. [1460/04]

Arising from the report of a planning group, which was established to consider proposals for the development of a national centre for the visually impaired, my Department engaged a project team to consider an overall development strategy for the implementation of the planning group's report. The report of the project team was presented to my Department towards the end of 2002.

Having given careful consideration to the matter, I decided in April 2003 that the national centre as proposed should not proceed, having regard to the low and declining pupil numbers in the schools for the visually impaired and the development costs, estimated to be in excess of €30 million.

St. Joseph's Special School for Visually Impaired, Drumcondra, provides a co-educational service for pupils at primary level and includes some pupils who have transferred from St. Mary's School for the Blind. Parents may also chose to enrol their children in mainstream school settings with the support of the resource teacher, special needs assistant and visiting teacher service. Pobal Scoil Rosmini provides a co-educational service for pupils at second level.

My Department proposes to explore with the school authorities concerned how aspects of the proposed centre could be developed, in the context of available resources.

Teaching Qualifications.

Richard Bruton

Question:

453 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the criteria on competence in Gaeilge for degree-holders who are taking up the conversion course to primary teaching; and if a person who has honours in leaving certificate Irish would automatically meet the entry criteria and be able to pick up the required teaching competence in Gaeilge during the course of the 18-month conversion course. [1471/04]

As part of the minimum academic entry requirements specified by my Department for the postgraduate diploma in primary teaching, all candidates must have a minimum of a grade C at higher level in Irish in the leaving certificate or an approved equivalent. This requirement embodies both the written and oral element of a student's proficiency in Irish. My Department considers it to be the minimum standard in Irish necessary for students entering a teacher training course which will equip them to teach Irish to pupils at all levels in primary schools.

Decentralisation Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

454 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the discussions he has had with officials in the Higher Education Authority regarding decentralisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1511/04]

No formal discussions have taken place with the Higher Education Authority regarding decentralisation. However, mechanisms have been put in place by my Department to ensure that the Higher Education Authority and other relevant bodies under the aegis of my Department are kept fully informed as the process develops.

The HEA has also been asked to provide information to the Department relating to its accommodation requirements in the decentralised location.

Third Level Education.

Denis Naughten

Question:

455 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of people from counties Roscommon and Leitrim respectively attending institutes of technology, universities and PLC courses; the numbers in each category in receipt of higher education grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1513/04]

The 2002-03 academic year is the most recent year in respect of which comprehensive statistics are available to my Department. Details of the numbers of students from counties Roscommon and Leitrim attending full-time courses in universities and institutes of technology are outlined in the attached table. The number of students attending PLC courses in those counties is also included; data on the county of origin of these PLC students is not, however, available. The available data in respect of the numbers of students in receipt of grant assistance under all four maintenance grant schemes is also outlined, for the Deputy's information, in the following table.

My Department funds three student support schemes for students attending third level education: the higher education grants scheme, which generally applies to all university degree courses and is administered by local authorities; third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees, which applies to most certificate and diploma courses in institutes of technology and is administered by the vocational education committees and the institutes of technology; and the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme, which generally applies to add-on courses where students have already pursued certificate or diploma level courses and to certain courses in Northern Ireland and which is administered by the vocational education committees. My Department funds one student support scheme in respect of post-leaving certificate courses, namely, the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses. This scheme is administered by the vocational education committees.

Under the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees, the institutes of technology pay the maintenance grants to the students concerned and recoup the moneys directly from my Department. The total number of grant holders in 2002-03 was 13,401. County-specific information is not available at present in respect of the third level maintenance grant scheme for trainees.

Under the terms of the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate, PLC, courses, grant applicants are assessed by the VEC in whose administrative area they reside. However, eligible students are subsequently paid their grants by the VEC in whose administrative area the PLC centre they are attending is situated. Accordingly, separate figures are available to my Department in respect of: the numbers of students attending PLC centres in counties Roscommon and Leitrim and the numbers of students from each county approved for grant assistance by their respective VECs under the PLC scheme. The Deputy should note that the higher number of students in receipt of assistance is accounted for by the attendance of students from Roscommon at centres outside of their county of origin.

Table 1: Numbers of Students Attending Courses in 2002-03

Sector of Study

Universities

Institutes of Technology

PLC Courses

Total

Roscommon

1,060

1,097

73

2,230

Leitrim

414

533

113

1,060

Table 2: Numbers of Students in Receipt of Grant Assistance in 2002-03

County Roscommon

County Leitrim

HEG Scheme

477

233

VEC Scholarship Scheme

186

82

TLT Scheme

N/A

N/A

PLC Scheme (Nos. Approved for Grant Assistance)

101

78

Teachers' Remuneration.

Paul McGrath

Question:

456 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will compare the scale of allowances paid to principal teachers in primary and post-primary schools given that both of those scales are based on the number of teachers in each type of school; and the reason that there are different allowances paid to the principals of similar size schools in different categories. [1517/04]

The scale of allowances payable to principals and deputy principals in primary and post-primary schools is based on agreements reached with the teacher unions representing both sectors in the context of the Programme for Competitiveness and Work.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

457 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science if a matter has been resolved for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1518/04]

The matter referred to by the Deputy has been resolved and the payment due has recently been issued to the person in question.

Psychological Service.

Richard Bruton

Question:

458 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will make funds available to parents where there is a deficit in the psychological service available to children locally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1525/04]

Pending the full roll-out of the national educational psychological service, NEPS, my Department established the scheme for the commissioning of psychological assessments, SCPA. Under this scheme, schools without a NEP service can commission psychological assessments from an approved panel of private practitioners. The scheme is continuing to operate in the current school year.

School Accommodation.

Michael Ring

Question:

459 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department will make a formal response in relation to the offer of convent buildings to a school (details supplied) in County Mayo. [1526/04]

Officials in the planning and building unit of my Department are in contact with the authorities of the school to which the Deputy refers and will correspond directly with them regarding development of the school.

John McGuinness

Question:

460 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 108 of 6 March 2003 the progress that has been made; if the analysis of post-primary provision at this location is complete; and the action he plans to take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1557/04]

My Department's analysis of post-primary provision in the Callan area has not yet been concluded. The post-primary educational landscape in the area is less than straightforward with the result that a number of issues require to be comprehensively explored before final decisions are reached. This exploration cum analysis is ongoing.

School Transport.

John McGuinness

Question:

461 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide school transport for two children (details supplied) in County Kilkenny who attend St. Lachtains national school, Freshford, County Kilkenny; and if he will expedite a decision in their case. [1558/04]

A report on this case has been requested from Bus Éireann. The family will be advised of the position as soon as the report has been received and assessed.

Schools Refurbishment.

John McGuinness

Question:

462 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding plans for extending and improving Grennan College, Thomastown, County Kilkenny; if the project can be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1566/04]

The refurbishment project at Grennan College is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme, which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at an advanced stage of architectural planning. It has been assigned a band 2 rating in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects.

The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing in this year's programme. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

The Deputy will also note that I have put in place a new devolved summer works scheme. This caters for necessary small scale works that can be planned and delivered during the summer holidays. The 2004 programme will be updated in early spring to provide details of approved projects under the scheme.

School Transport.

Dan Neville

Question:

463 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science when a review will be done of the school transport system regarding catchment areas. [1569/04]

For the purposes of the post-primary education provision, the country is divided into catchment areas, each of which has its own post-primary education centre. These areas were drawn up in the late 1960s in the context of the free education scheme. The catchment boundaries were determined following consultation with local educational interests and the intention was that certain primary schools would feed exclusively into each centre. A relatively small number of primary schools are shared between two of more centres. The revision of catchment areas is addressed by my Department as the need arises. It is the practice in my Department to consult local educational interests, where any such adjustments are being contemplated.

National Archives.

Seán Crowe

Question:

464 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of files in his Department for 1973 released to the National Archives under the 30 year rule; the number withheld; and the subject matter of the files withheld. [1591/04]

During 2003 my Department met representatives of the National Archives and transferred the following files: 19th century building files; school administration files 1880-1921; and training college files 1883-1921. Inactive files are held in off-site storage and officials in my Department are in ongoing discussions with the National Archives office to determine what files are of national interest and should be transferred to the archives office.

Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill.

Finian McGrath

Question:

465 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science to investigate definitions (details supplied) in the Education of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1596/04]

I moved an amendment to the definition of disability in the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003 on Committee Stage on 5 January. At that time, I stated why I felt that the definition now in the Bill is the most practical. I also said that, in light of our discussions on Committee Stage, I would reconsider the definition of disability to see if it could be improved upon. However, I am of the view that to accept the Deputy's suggestion would be to extend the definition of disability unduly and I believe that would be counter-productive.

The provision of education services for the majority of children in our primary and post-primary schools is governed by the Education Act 1998. This Bill is intended to benefit those who most need assistance in accessing education services and I have no wish to dilute the attention due to them by attempting to cater to needs beyond those caused by a disability. It is essential that the conditions which attract the benefits of the Bill are enduring so as to ensure that vital resources are used for those who really need them. The remainder of the definition in the Bill as it stands provides a sensible base from which to determine who has a disability for the purposes of the Bill and more importantly who will benefit from the very focused and specialised educational provision which will be made as a result of it.

School Transport.

Jack Wall

Question:

466 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will investigate the application for school transport for a student (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1597/04]

As a rule primary school transport routes are planned so that, as far as possible, no eligible pupil will have more than 1.5 miles to travel to a pick-up point. Pupils living off the main route of service are generally expected to make their own way or be brought to convenient pick-up points along the main route. Home pick-ups were never envisaged as being part of the school transport scheme as the cost involved on a countrywide level would be prohibitive.

The student in question resides 0.5 miles from the route of service. As this is well within range of the existing service, it would not be open to my Department to extend the service as requested. There is provision for parents to pay for extensions of bus services where feasible, having regard to time schedules and avoidance of major disruption to other pupils using the service. Bus Éireann has advised my Department that an extension of the bus service could be implemented under this provision in this case. If the family is interested in meeting the cost of extending the service, it should contact school transport section of my Department in Tullamore.

Special Educational Needs.

Jack Wall

Question:

467 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the application of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare for a special needs assistant in view of the fact that the pupil has been diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorder; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1598/04]