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 8, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 9 to 76, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 77 to 83, inclusive, answered orally.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

84 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the implementation of an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3883/04]

Paul Kehoe

Question:

107 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has re-evaluated the use of vouchers for the free travel scheme. [3995/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

310 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to extend the free travel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4368/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 84, 107 and 310 together.

The free travel scheme is available to all people living in the State aged 66 years, or over, to all carers in receipt of carer's allowance and to carers of people in receipt of constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance. It is also available to certain people with disabilities and people who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments.

The scheme provides free travel on the main public and private transport services for those eligible under the scheme. These include road, rail and ferry services provided by companies such as Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann, as well as services provided by over 80 private transport operators. The vast majority of private contractors providing services under the scheme operate in rural areas. I am always willing to consider applications from licensed private transport operators who may wish to participate in the free travel scheme. However, while my Department pays transport providers to operate the free travel scheme, it is not in a position to provide transport services where none exist.

Various alternatives to the existing system, including the use of vouchers, have been examined. A study published in 2000 under the Department's programme of expenditure reviews concluded that a voucher type system, which would be open to a wide range of transport providers including taxis and hackneys, would be extremely difficult to administer, open to abuse and unlikely to be sufficient to afford an acceptable amount of travel. This position remains unchanged.

The issue of access to public transport in rural areas is being addressed currently through the rural transport initiative, which is being managed by Area Development Management, ADM, on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport.

The free travel scheme, in conjunction with the Northern Ireland concessionary travel scheme, also provides free travel on cross-Border routes for pass holders of both jurisdictions. This scheme applies to cross-Border journeys and not to travel exclusively within either jurisdiction.

The implementation of an all-Ireland free travel scheme for pensioners resident in all parts of this island will require detailed discussions and agreements with the relevant authorities and transport providers on both sides of the Border. Preliminary discussions have taken place and further discussions will be initiated shortly.

Significant improvements have been made to the free schemes, including the free travel scheme, in recent budgets both in terms of the qualifying conditions and the coverage of the schemes. I will continue to review the operation of these schemes with a view to identifying the scope for further improvements as resources permit.

Dan Boyle

Question:

85 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the degree of consultation entered into by her Department with the Departmentof the Environment, Heritage and Local Government prior to her decision to alter criteria for the payment of supplementary welfare allowance. [4027/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if discussions have been had with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a view to ensuring that families do not become homeless as a result of demarcation difficulties or policy changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4024/04]

Liz McManus

Question:

120 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reasons she has chosen to implement cuts in rent supplements that have now come into effect; the reason she chose no longer to approve crèche supplements and a supplement to assist persons in debt to deal with repayments; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3875/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

141 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the degree of discretion which remains with community welfare officers in making assessments of housing needs subsequent to the introduction of changes in the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, particularly regarding the rent supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3857/04]

Willie Penrose

Question:

142 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent of internal consultations that took place in her Department on changes that were introduced in the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, particularly in respect of the rent supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3853/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 85, 94, 120, 141 and 142 together.

As the Deputies are aware, I have recently introduced a number of changes to the supplementary welfare allowance scheme under which rent and other supplements are paid. These measures re-focus the supplementary welfare allowance scheme on its original objective of providing short-term income support.

On the question of consultation with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, the Deputies will be aware that a planning group on future rental assistance arrangements has been in place for some time, with representatives of both Departments, the Department of Finance and others. Arising from the work of this group, an action plan is being developed on housing needs. Some of the measures that were announced in the Book of Estimates, including the six month rule, were first considered in the discussions on the action plan prior to the Estimates announcements in November 2003.

My Department also had detailed consultations with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government since last November and fully considered its views regarding the regulations which gave effect to the rent supplement changes and the circular to health boards which set out the detail of the changes. I do not envisage any circumstances in which families could become homeless as a result of these measures.

The new measures were the subject of extensive discussions within my Department over a number of months. Their impact was fully assessed and the manner of their implementation has been carefully designed to ensure the interests of vulnerable groups such as the homeless, elderly and disabled are fully protected. The six months prior renting requirement will not apply in their case. In effect, the only people who will no longer qualify for rent supplement because of the six month rule are people who in the opinion of the housing authority do not have a housing need.

The crèche supplement was introduced with the intention of providing assistance to the parent of a child who is in need of a short-term emergency support. Payments of crèche supplements were increasingly being made for reasons which are clearly outside the scope of the objectives of the scheme as originally envisaged. In effect, long-term child care needs were being met through a short-term emergency provision scheme.

Supplements to assist people in debt were being made under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme because the people concerned had entered into repayment arrangements that were so onerous they did not have enough income left to meet their basic needs. The decision to discontinue this supplement was based on the fact that these supplements had become a long-term arrangement and effectively a subsidy for creditors. The withdrawal of the supplement will encourage creditors to accept more realistic repayment arrangements which the debtor will be in a position to meet.

These changes are being introduced at this time because the policy issues I have outlined required a response and it was appropriate to do in the context of the 2004 Estimates.

None of the changes I have made restrict the discretion of a health board to make a payment in exceptional circumstances where a board considers that the circumstances of the case so warrant. It is estimated that the new measures will lead to savings in the region of €19 million per annum. This is equivalent to about 3% of spending on the SWA scheme.

Social Welfare Code.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

86 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the response she has made to recent calls by the National Women's Council to reform the social welfare system. [4036/04]

The Government is committed to extending social insurance pension cover to as many categories as possible. In this regard a number of measures have been introduced in recent years which are making it easier for people to qualify for pensions. These measures include extended social insurance coverage and an easing of the qualifying conditions for old age contributory and retirement pensions. The latter measures are of particular benefit to women who may have less than complete social insurance records.

In 1997 the average number of contributions required for pension purposes was reduced from 20 to ten and in 2000, a special half rate pension was introduced based on pre-1953 insurance contributions.Pro rata pensions are also available to allow people with mixed rate insurance records to receive a payment.

At present, about 66,000 women are receiving an old age contributory or retirement pension against just over 41,000 in 1994. At the same time, the number receiving a non-contributory old age pension has dropped from almost 62,000 to just over 50,000. This is in keeping with the general trend in pensions which is a reduction in the numbers receiving means tested payments while at the same time an ongoing increase in numbers receiving payments based on social insurance contributions.

With improved social insurance coverage, easing of qualifying conditions and improved workforce participation more and more people, particularly women, will qualify for contributory payments in the future.

The National Women's Council has called for changes in the qualified adult allowance and the homemaker's scheme. In regard to the former, the Government has already given a commitment to increase this allowance to the maximum of the old age non-contributory pension. Considerable progress has already been made in this regard with the qualified allowance on the contributory payment now standing at €129.60 or 84% of the old age non-contributory rate. Further increases will be considered in a budgetary context. Also, since October 2002 new pension claimants can opt to have the allowance paid direct to their spouse or partner.

A review of the homemaker's scheme, which disregards certain periods spent outside the workforce in determining entitlement to contributory pensions, is being undertaken as part of an overall review of the qualifying conditions for the old age contributory and retirement pensions which is under way. The review will consider with the points raised by the National Women's Council on backdating the scheme and replacing the disregard system with one based on credits. I expect the review will be ready for publication during the second quarter of this year. Changes to the scheme will be considered in the light of the conclusions of this review.

On the issue of women in farming, which was also referred to by the council, the issue of the insurability of farm spouses for social insurance pensions and other benefits was considered by an interdepartmental group which reported in 2002. The group considered a number of alternative solutions to resolving this issue and concluded that the formation of business partnerships offers an immediate way by which farm spouses can access social insurance cover and its associated benefits.

With regard to occupational and private pensions cover, the Deputy will be aware of Government targets which seek to raise overall coverage in this area. We have introduced personal retirement savings accounts which are low cost flexible pension products not tied to a particular employment. This makes them particularly suitable for people who may wish to maintain contributions when they are not working.

Benchmarking Awards.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

87 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the main features of the Civil Service action plan to meet the requirements of the benchmarking process within her own Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3886/04]

The Department's modernisation and change agenda is aimed at improving the services this Department gives to its customers and to Government and at ensuring that its staff are supported and equipped in the delivery of this objective.

The Department's modernisation action plan contains some 100 commitments that make up a challenging agenda for the Department over the course of Sustaining Progress. The plan is available on the website of the Department of Finance and I am also arranging for a copy to be sent to the Deputy.

While the plan must be considered in its totality, five key priority areas have been identified. These involve the increased use of new technology to deliver better service; greater flexibility in the way services are delivered; implementation of a new control programme; a range of changes in human resources, in particular in the area of promotions; and the development of improved financial management and information systems.

Priorities under the heading of new technology include the development of a new generation of IT systems to facilitate better customer service and support the Government's strategy for electronic service delivery generally. This includes developments related to the civil registration modernisation programme and the introduction of the public service broker. The Department is also developing a new service delivery model for the delivery of social welfare payments.

In the area of flexibility, there are a number of proposals to improve the processes of delivering services at local level, the key element being the localisation of the one parent family payment scheme which is currently administered from the pensions services office in Sligo. This initiative will result in a better, more personalised service to the customer, faster decision making, readier access to local employment and other support programmes and an enhanced control focus. In the area of control generally, we plan to introduce greater emphasis on risk assessment and risk management in order to provide for a more effective and efficient use of resources in the control area.

A number of developments in the Department's human resources strategy are reflected in the action plan. A key priority is to move towards a higher proportion of competition-based promotions and the adoption of best practice in this regard.

In the area of financial management, the Civil Service management information framework, MIF, project aims at ensuring better decision-making about allocation of resources, better management of resources once allocated and greater transparency and accountability for the use of resources. My Department has a detailed programme of activity scheduled in this area over the course of the period covered by Sustaining Progress.

Last October, the Department submitted its first progress report on the plan to the Civil Service performance verification group. Overall, the verification group welcomed what had been achieved. The group noted, in particular, the strong commitment to the programme of expenditure reviews, the improvement in efficiency in 2003 as compared with 2002, the actions taken to improve flexibility and the successful implementation of developments in the area of e-Government

The second phase of the verification process is now commencing and my Department will be updating the group on its continued progress in meeting its commitments under the plan. I am confident it will continue to make progress in delivering an enhanced service to all its customers.

Ministerial Statements.

Richard Bruton

Question:

88 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to an article where she is reported to have made certain comments (details supplied); her views on the way in which this relates to the constitutional provisions regarding marriage; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3845/04]

The institution of marriage has been, and for a majority of families with children, still is the foundation for continuity and stability in family life. Its contribution overall to the well-being of individuals and, more generally, to social cohesion goes without saying and it is entirely appropriate that the State should, as stated in the Constitution, pledge "to guard with special care the institution of marriage".

That being said, it is also the case that a growing proportion of marriages fail, with the spouses separating to live apart. The Constitution now also recognises this reality by permitting the dissolution of these marriages in certain defined circumstances and allowing those divorced to marry again under the law and set up reconstituted families. Of course, many who separate never marry again. There is also the growing phenomenon of couples living as man and wife but not entering into the legal relationship of marriage. Changing values mean that this form of family arrangement is becoming more socially acceptable.

Given the rapid changes affecting families and family life, the State is required to provide more support to assist families in difficulties than might have been the case in the past.

Families where the parents are experiencing marital difficulties or are separated or unmarried are generally more at risk, especially where there is just one parent carrying the double burden of breadwinner and care giver. It is my responsibility, as Minister with responsibility for family affairs, to ensure that the well-being of all individuals, especially children, is safeguarded within the family and that all families, irrespective of the form they take, receive appropriate State support in meeting their caring responsibilities.

Last year I established the Family Support Agency to draw together the main family-related programmes and services developed by the Government since 1997. Its functions include the provision of services in respect of family mediation, marriage and relationship counselling and family support services and programmes, including parenting, and support for the promotion and development of family and community services.

This year I have made some €20.185 million available to the Family Support Agency to fulfil its functions, €7.16 million of which is for the scheme of grants for voluntary organisations providing marriage and relationship counselling and other family supports.

I am also conscious that the rapid changes taking place may be leading to outcomes in terms of family life that many may not desire either for themselves or others. It is also possible that State policies and programmes may not be contributing as effectively as they might to strengthening families at this time of change. It was for those reasons that I embarked on the current wide-ranging consultation process which I intend will culminate in a clear, coherent and comprehensive strategy for supporting families to be issued by the end of this year, the tenth anniversary of the International Year of the Family.

The consultation so far has shown the deep concern many share on the impact of current changes on family life, a clear recognition of the importance of families for individuals and society and a determination that State support must be as effective as possible in strengthening families and family life. I am determined to ensure that the strategy which emerges at the end of the process will meet these concerns.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Phil Hogan

Question:

89 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the average payment made under the farm assist scheme in each county for 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4021/04]

The farm assist scheme, which introduced special arrangements for farmers on low incomes, was provided for in the Social Welfare Act 1999 and came into operation with effect from 7 April 1999.

At 26 December 2003 there were 8,703 farm assist customers receiving an average payment of €149.26 per week. Of these, some 3,812 are former smallholders who are now in receipt of farm assist and are receiving an average payment of €164.97 per week. New applicants to farm assist are receiving an average payment of €137.01 per week.

The amount paid to each farmer is dependent on a number of factors, for example, family size, whether the spouse/partner is working and any means assessed from all sources.

The scheme has brought about a worthwhile improvement for low income farmers, particularly for those with children, and makes a valuable contribution to supporting those who are at the lower end of the farm income spectrum.

The tabular statement which I will make available to the Deputy lists the average payment under the farm assist scheme by county at the end of January 2004. Statistics for 2003 are not available in the format requested by the Deputy.

Farm Assist Recipients — Breakdown by County at 30 January 2004

(It should be noted that the figures have been compiled from data that is maintained on a local office catchment area basis and these do not correspond exactly with county boundaries.)

County

No. Cases

Average Payment

Carlow

67

149.21

Cavan

315

148.13

Clare

468

144.82

Cork

604

145.65

Donegal

1,221

161.78

Dublin

12

157.63

Galway

895

148.53

Kerry

692

144.78

Kildare

48

138.06

Kilkenny

129

143.60

Laois

94

147.95

Leitrim

255

144.82

Limerick

222

131.91

Longford

108

137.03

Louth

64

140.17

Mayo

1,628

159.40

Meath

60

148.00

Monaghan

411

148.05

Offaly

81

130.58

Roscommon

345

133.02

Sligo

358

147.61

Tipperary

226

141.09

Waterford

48

133.60

Westmeath

89

130.58

Wexford

174

133.70

Wicklow

52

135.34

Total

8,666

Social Welfare Expenditure.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

90 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the benefits of economic prosperity have yet to be reinvested to help the economically disadvantaged in Irish society; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3869/04]

This Government is deeply committed to building a fairer and more inclusive society and our record in terms of investment in social spending provides the clearest evidence of this commitment.

The 2004 budget is a case in point as it included a social welfare package of €630 million, and the effect of this increase is that the total social welfare spend in 2004 will be almost double that of 1997. As a result, my Department now has an annual budget of over €11 billion to support those who are vulnerable, less well off or disadvantaged in our society. It will be the largest amount of money ever expended on social welfare payments in our history and will benefit approximately 1.5 million people or about four out of every ten people in the State.

I have every confidence that this sustained investment in social welfare together with investments being made in other key areas of social spending — employment supports, education, health and housing — will lead to further inroads being made into poverty levels in this country. Over the past few years substantial progress has already been made with the numbers of people experiencing consistent poverty falling from 9.7% in 1997 to 5.2% in 2001.

Our policy platform for continuing to achieve real reductions in the levels of consistent poverty is set out in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, published in February 2002, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion launched in July of last year. The key objectives of the revised NAPS are to reduce, and ideally eliminate, consistent poverty; build an inclusive society; and develop social capital, particularly for disadvantaged communities.

The revised NAPS contains a number of policy objectives and targets across key thematic areas such as income adequacy, employment and unemployment, education, health, housing and accommodation. It also targets particularly vulnerable groups such as children and young people, women, older people, Travellers, people with disabilities, migrants and members of ethnic minority groups.

By providing both a comprehensive policy framework and significant investment we will continue to make real progress in improving the lives of all of our people and bring about a fairer, more inclusive society.

Social Welfare Appeals.

Pat Breen

Question:

91 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons waiting on appeal for unemployment assistance and unemployment benefit in cases in which their initial claim was refused due to the fact that it was stated they were not genuinely seeking work. [3999/04]

The number of appeals awaiting decision which relate to unemployment issues, excluding means cases, is 546. This figure represents all appellants disallowed for failure to satisfy any of the statutory conditions relating to entitlement.

The precise number of cases where the question at issue relates to the genuinely seeking work condition is not readily available but it is estimated that about 80% would relate to either or both of the conditions of not being available for or genuinely seeking employment. Deciding officers must have regard to the economic environment in reviewing and testing a person's efforts to obtain employment. In this regard they must take into account the level of vacancies and the nature of the work available in the locality.

To be regarded as genuinely seeking work a person must show that he or she is taking reasonable steps to obtain suitable employment, including applying for and seeking information on jobs, and availing of suitable training opportunities. These requirements are set out in regulations. To ensure they are applied consistently and uniformly detailed guidelines have been issued to the deciding officers who decide unemployment claims, and appropriate training has been provided. The decisions advisory office of my Department also provides advice in this regard on an ongoing basis.

Under social welfare legislation, decisions on claims must be made by deciding officers and appeals officers. These officers are statutorily appointed and I have no role in regard to making such decisions.

Question No. 92 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

93 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the decentralisation plans for her Department following the announcement in the December 2003 budget by the Minister for Finance of the relocation of certain sections of the Department to Drogheda, Buncrana, Donegal, Carrick-on-Shannon, Sligo, Monaghan and Carrickmacross; the timescale in which she hopes the decentralisation plan for her Department will be complete; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3884/04]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

100 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, in regard to proposals for decentralisation, any survey has been undertaken to establish the number of persons employed in her Department, or in boards or agencies operating under the aegis of her Department, who are willing to move to the new locations announced by the Minister for Finance in his budget speech; the results of any such survey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3885/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93 and 100 together.

Under the Government decentralisation programme announced recently by my colleague, the Minister for Finance, all sections of my Department currently headquartered in Dublin will move to the following towns: Drogheda, 300 posts; Buncrana, 120 posts; Donegal, 230 posts; Carrick-on-Shannon, 225 posts; and Sligo, 100 posts.

This Department's information systems division and similar functions in other Departments will also be relocated, though the location has yet to be determined. In addition, the Combat Poverty Agency and Comhairle, agencies under the aegis of my Department, will be relocated to Monaghan and Carrickmacross respectively.

My Department has previous experience of the issues associated with decentralisation, having relocated functions and staff out of Dublin to Sligo, Letterkenny, Longford, Waterford and Dundalk. The new programme of decentralisation will involve major change for my Department and a key objective will be to ensure that it is implemented in a planned way and with due regard to the effects on staff and the maintenance of high standards of service.

My Department has established a project management structure to manage the decentralisation programme within the organisation. The structure will support the two phases of the decentralisation programme, that is, the development of an overall departmental strategy and the development and implementation of plans for decentralising individual sections.

A detailed project plan covering all aspects of the decentralisation process for my Department and the two agencies involved is being prepared. The plan will set out the business areas to be located to each location; the timing of each relocation; staff placement and training plans; the estimated resources required to complete the project; the risks associated with the project; and the contingency plans to deal with those risks. In line with a request to all Departments we have supplied our preliminary response to the decentralisation implementation committee established by the Government to oversee the decentralisation programme.

As an input to the planning process, a survey of all staff in my Department, including staff in areas outside of Dublin, is being conducted to establish initial indications of interest in the new locations. To date, 2,999 responses to the staff survey have been recorded; this represents 63% of the 4,770 staff in the organisation. Theposition as regards expressions of interest is as follows: Carrick-on-Shannon, 148; Drogheda, 119; Donegal Town, 51; Sligo, 24; and Buncrana, 15.

A total of 594 staff members have indicated a wish to transfer to another Department, office or agency. A total of 2,048 staff members have indicated they wish to remain in their current location. The final results from the survey will be available very shortly. While the survey provides a useful initial indication of staff preferences, it is recognised that the decisions which people make are likely to change as the implementation of the programme proceeds. To date, staff surveys have not been carried out in either the Combat Poverty Agency or Comhairle. Plans for all of the Departments involved will be considered by the decentralisation implementation committee which is due to submit an initial report by end March 2004 on the implementation of the overall programme.

My Department will report progress on the implementation of the plan on a regular basis to the implementation committee, which will report in turn to the special Cabinet sub-committee which is overseeing the programme as a whole.

Question No. 94 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Family Support Services.

Liz McManus

Question:

95 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the total number of persons receiving assistance from the Money Advice and Budgeting Service in respect of the latest date for which figures are available; the number who were in receipt of the supplement payable to persons on social welfare allowance; if her attention has been drawn to the concerns that in the post Christmas period and especially in the light of the abolition of this supplement many people may be pushed into the hands of moneylenders; her views on whether this merits a reconsideration of her decision to abolish the supplement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3876/04]

My Department has overall responsibility for the money advice and budgeting service, MABS, which provides assistance to people experiencing difficulty in meeting repayments on borrowings. There are 52 independent companies nation-wide operating the service.

The MABS programme provides money advice, including the publication of information on money management and debt counselling, to individuals and families who have problems with debt, particularly indebtedness to moneylenders, and who are on low income or in receipt of social welfare payments.

The MABS does not provide financial assistance to its customers. Rather, the service places an emphasis on practical budget-based measures that help people to move permanently from dependence on moneylenders and to access alternative sources of low cost credit.

In 2003, I provided €9.9 million for the operation of the MABS and an additional €1.01 million was allocated for 2004 in the recent budget. The latest information available from the companies providing the service shows that some 12,000 people are currently availing of the service.

MABS supplement payments paid under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme were made by the health boards because the people concerned had entered into repayment arrangements that were so onerous that they did not have enough income left to meet their basic needs. Some 340 people were in receipt of these supplements at the beginning of February.

At the time the decision was taken to discontinue the MABS supplement, over 50% of the MABS supplements in payment had been in payment for more than a year and nearly 25% of recipients had been in receipt of the supplement for more than two years. The duration of these payments confirms that the supplement has gradually become a long-term arrangement which is effectively a subsidy for creditors.

These supplements have not been used in three health board regions and were very rarely used in another region, which demonstrates that it is possible to deal with indebtedness without using this approach. The good practice established in these areas in this regard will now be put in place throughout the State. MABS supplements currently in payment will not be withdrawn. Payment of the supplement in these cases will continue for the duration of their current term of agreement.

The period before Christmas is a difficult one for people with debt problems. It is with the support and expertise of the MABS companies throughout the country that people can be best assisted in sorting out their debts and these companies will continue to provide their services to people who need it.

In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the decision to discontinue the MABS supplement is reasonable and will require creditors to take a more realistic approach to the repayment arrangements a debtor can afford to make. Health boards may still deal with emergency or exceptional cases at any time of the year by way of exceptional needs payments or an urgent needs payments.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

96 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans she has to award a nominal, non-means tested payment to all carers as recognition of their work; and the amount saved by the Government in subvention, home help and so on as a direct result of the care they give. [3989/04]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

102 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she intends to increase the 50% carer's allowance grant to persons to provide care to a second person; and if she will consider extra payments of carer's allowance to those who provide care to more than two persons to reflect the care given. [4016/04]

Damien English

Question:

103 Mr. English asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her views on whether the limited definition of “carer” is too restrictive and excludes many genuine carers; and if she will review the situation. [4015/04]

Phil Hogan

Question:

123 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of carers in receipt of a payment; the number likely to qualify in the event of an expansion of the scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4000/04]

Denis Naughten

Question:

135 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will consider giving widows and widowers who are under the age of 66 and do not qualify for the carer's allowance or the respite care grant at least the respite grant, in view of the fact that they are full-time carers but receive no recognition of this fact by her Department in the form of a payment. [4019/04]

Joe Costello

Question:

143 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to implement the 15 recommendations contained in the November 2003 report, The Position of Full Time Carers, from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs, specifically the recommendation for the abolition of the means test for the carers allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3868/04]

James Breen

Question:

302 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the means test for carers will be abolished, and if widows who are carers will receive the allowance back-dated to the date of application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4099/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

308 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of recipients of carer's allowance; the number of persons deemed to be in need of care; her plans to meet the needs of the larger group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4366/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

311 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has proposals to expand or extend the carer's allowance to a wider group of carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4369/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 102, 103, 123, 135, 143, 302, 308 and 311 together.

The Central Statistics Office, CSO, included a question in the 2002 census to identify the number of persons providing unpaid personal care for a friend or family member with a long-term illness, health problem or disability. The analysis of this portion of the census, which became available on 15 October 2003, found that 40,500 people provide 43 hours or more unpaid personal help per week, or over six hours per day; 23,400 people provide 15 to 42 hours unpaid personal help per week, or between two and six hours per day; and 84,900 people provide one to four hours unpaid personal help per week, or up to two hours per day.

There are currently approximately 22,000 carers in receipt of carer's allowance or carer's benefit. This means that over 34% of the 64,000 carers, as estimated by the CSO to be caring for more than two hours per day, are in receipt of a specific carer's payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs. People providing lower levels of care would not necessarily meet all the qualifying conditions for receipt of a carer's allowance.

Carers of more than one incapacitated person are currently entitled to an additional 50% of their rate of payment. This is an acknowledgement of the particular difficulties, both financial and personal, which are faced by these carers. These recipients also receive a double respite care grant of €1,670 in June each year. The introduction of further improvements for this group of carers would have to be considered in a budgetary context.

The respite care grant is paid to carers who are in receipt of a carer's allowance and to carers who are caring for recipients of a constant attendance or prescribed relative's allowance. It is not payable with other social welfare payments. All other matters relating to the provision and availability of respite care generally are the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children.

On the question of paying carer's allowance concurrently with another social welfare payment, such as widow's pension, the primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one social welfare payment is payable to an individual. Persons qualifying for two social welfare payments always receive the higher payment to which they are entitled.

With regard to the definition of full-time care, one of the principal conditions for receipt of the carer's allowance is that full-time care and attention is required and being provided by the carer. Under the legislative provisions, full-time care and attention means that the care recipient must be so disabled as to require continuous supervision and frequent assistance throughout the day in connection with their normal personal needs. In addition, the care recipient must be so disabled as to be likely to require this care for at least 12 months.

My Department takes the view that full-time care and attention does not necessarily mean 24 hours in each day. Full-time care and attention can be considered to apply where there is an ongoing and daily commitment by the carer, and which also generally results in the carer not being able to support him/herself through normal full-time employment. Carer's allowance applications are assessed on an individual basis having regard to the medical and other related evidence supplied by the applicant.

I am aware of the report, The Position of Full Time Carers, which was published by the Joint Committee on Social and Family Affairs in November 2003, and I have examined its recommendations. In relation specifically to the proposal to abolish the means test for carer's allowance, it is estimated that abolition of the means test could cost in the region of €180 million per annum. It is debatable whether abolition of the means test could be considered to be the best way to support carers or the best use of these resources.

The committee's recommendations are broad in scope and cover the responsibilities of several Departments. With regard to the responsibilities of my own Department, the committee proposes expanding the carer's allowance scheme. Those recommendations would involve additional expenditure and could only be considered in a budgetary context. They would need to be examined in the context of current Government policy in this area.

With regard to the introduction of a non-means tested payment to all carers, the review of the carer's allowance, which was published in 1998, considered the introduction of a non-means tested ‘continual care' payment to be given, following a needs assessment, to carers caring for those who are in the highest category of dependency.

More recently, in 2003, I launched a study on the future financing of long-term care. The study considers a range of benefit delivery mechanisms, including the ‘continual care' payment, as well as the issue of a needs assessment. It suggests that consideration be given to a flexible system whereby, following needs assessment, the person in need of care and their carer would select in kind services or a cash payment or a mix of both.

As there are significant issues discussed in the study, including those relating to benefit design, cost and financing of long-term care, my officials are currently preparing a consultation document to accompany the study. This document will focus all interested parties on the specific issues we need to address. I expect that this document will be ready for circulation by the end of this month.

On completion of this consultation process, a working group, which will include all relevant parties, will examine the strategic policy, cost and service delivery issues associated with the care of older people. The issue of a continual care payment will be considered, as will other proposals, in the course of the consultation process.

With regard to the amount of money saved in nursing home subventions, home helps and other services as a direct result of the work of family carers, research suggests that community care can be as costly, if not more costly, than institutional care where a proper and adequate range of community services are provided. This is because the medical professionals involved are mainly dealing with people on a one to one basis, and it is also the case that many people who are being cared for at home also spend a certain amount of time in hospitals.

Government policy is strongly in favour of supporting care in the community and enabling people to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. However, the State cannot, and would not wish to, replace the personal support and care provided within the family and the community. Its primary role, therefore, is to provide adequate support to carers and to those for whom they are caring to enable them remain in their own communities for as long aspossible.

The development of the range of supports for carers will continue to be a priority for this Government and, building on the foundations now in place, we will continue to develop the types of services which recognise the value of the caring ethos and which provide real support and practical assistance to people who devote their time to improving the quality of life forothers.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

97 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the supports her Department offers to multiple birth parents; her views on whether such supports are adequate; the number of parents who received such supports in 2003; and the costs of same. [4022/04]

Significant improvements in the level of support under the child benefit scheme have been made in recent years to parents with multiple births. Prior to 1998, child benefit was payable at the normal rate for each child in the case of twins with an added grant of €634.87, £500, payable at birth. Further grants of €634.87 were payable when the twins reached the ages of four and 12. Child benefit was paid at double the normal rate where three or more children were born together. However, no birth grants were payable at that time in the case of triplets.

In the Social Welfare Act 1998, two key additional measures were introduced, designed to improve the overall package of benefits available to parents of multiple births. First, the €634.87, £500, grants, which previously were confined to families with twins, were extended to include families with multiple births of three or more children. Second, the rate of child benefit payable in respect of twins was increased to 150% of the normal rate.

In the year to November 2003, child benefit payments were made in respect of 27,523 children of multiple births, including 13,332 sets of twins, 262 sets of triplets, 12 sets of quadruplets and one set of quintuplets. The estimated total cost of child benefit to all multiple birth children in the year was €66.75 million.

Substantial investments have been made in general to the CB scheme in recent years, with total expenditure on child benefit expected to reach €1.9 billion when the current programmeof multi-annual increases is complete. These improvements benefit all families with children, including, of course, families with multiple births.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

98 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who were refused the back to school clothing and footwear allowance who were subsequently awarded an exceptional needs payment in 2002 and 2003. [3993/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

106 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applications received by health boards for the back to school clothing and footwear allowance in 2003; the number of applications granted and refused; and the number of children involved. [3992/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 106 together.

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme provides assistance towards the cost of school clothing and footwear for children mainly attending primary or post-primary schools. The scheme operates from the beginning of June to the end of September each year and is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards.

A person may qualify for payment of a back to school clothing and footwear allowance if he or she is in receipt of a social welfare or health board payment, is participating in an approved employment scheme, is attending a recognised education or training course and has household income at or below certain set levels. Under the scheme an allowance of €80 is payable in respect of qualified children aged from two to 11 years and an allowance of €150 is payable in respect of qualified children aged from 12 to 22 years.

In 2003, 81,851 applications were received, 75,202 were approved and 6,649 were refused under the scheme. I am arranging to have a tabular statement made available to the Deputy setting out the relevant statistics in greater detail. Some 172,100 children benefited in 2003 at a cost of €17.7 million.

Details regarding the number of claimants who were refused assistance under the back to school clothing and footwear allowance scheme and who were subsequently awarded payments under the exceptional needs payments scheme are not available.

However, the average number of exceptional needs payments made in respect of children's clothing during the period July to October inclusive is about €350 per month higher than the average for the other eight months of the year. This suggests that a relatively small number of people who are refused assistance under the back to school clothing and footwear scheme are subsequently awarded an exceptional needs payment.

Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance 2003

Health Board

Applications Received

Applications Granted

Applications Refused

No. of Children that benefited

ERHA area *

27,062

24,517

2,545

58,971

Western

7,940

7,427

513

18,139

Southern

11,628

10,896

732

22,634

South Eastern

10,157

9,370

787

19,197

North Eastern

7,617

6,880

737

14,403

Mid-Western

6,706

6,185

521

13,372

North Western

6,533

6,055

478

13,949

Midland

4,208

3,872

336

11,458

Totals

81,851

75,202

6,649

172,123

* The Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, area includes the Northern Area Health Board, the East Coast Area Health Board and the South Western Area Health Board.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

99 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the additional cost to the State which will ensue as a result of recent charge increases to the free telephone rental scheme. [4029/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

137 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the outcome of her talks with Eircom regarding increases in telephone charges for pensioners and welfare recipients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3880/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99 and 137 together.

My Department introduced a significant change to the telephone allowance scheme in October 2003. The structure of the allowance was changed to make it a cash credit on bills, not attributable to any particular component of the bill. This change makes it easier for additional service providers to participate in the scheme, by applying a standardised allowance amount to bills irrespective of the tariff components.

In conjunction with this change, a special "bundle rate", the Eircom social benefits scheme was negotiated with Eircom, which provided telephone allowance customers with line and equipment rental plus an enhanced call credit of up to €5.35 worth of free calls per two month billing period. The cost of the bundle, €20.41 plus VAT per month, was at a substantial discount to the previous cost of these services.

The Commission for Telecommunications Regulation, ComReg, recently approved a price increase application from Eircom of 7.5% in line rental, effective from 4 February 2004. A lesser percentage increase is also being applied to telephone instrument rental where applicable. It is my understanding that these increases will be offset by reductions in call costs in order to limit the average, private, customer bill increase to the consumer price index rate.

Following detailed discussions between officials of my Department and Eircom, it was agreed that the increase in the Eircom social benefits scheme would be limited to the rate of CPI, 1.9%. Some technical restructuring of the bundle was also agreed which removed some additional call unit value. To offset this, Eircom offered to give low use customers up to €10 worth of calls free per two month bill, by offering them its separate "vulnerable users" scheme in addition to the social benefit scheme.

The revised package results in an increase to the social welfare customer of €0.94, including VAT, per two monthly bill. The other revisions to call costs by Eircom should be broadly beneficial to social welfare customers. There is no additional cost on the social welfare vote arising from the charge increase.

Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 93.

Flexible Work Practices.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

101 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans she has to put in place measures that encourage workers to remain in the workforce beyond retirement age should they so choose. [4030/04]

At present just over 11% of our population are over age 65, against an EU average of 16%. The proportion of older people in our population will remain broadly at his level for the next ten years after which it is projected to increase rapidly to 15% in 2021, 19% in 2031 and 28% in 2056. In the circumstances, Ireland faces the same challenges in maintaining its pension system as most other developed countries; the only difference is that these emerge later in our case and we have more time to prepare and to learn from the experiences of others.

The root of the challenge facing pension systems is a reduction in the active workforce and an increase in the number of pensioners. In the circumstances, increased workforce participation amongst all sectors of society, including older people, has an important role to play in ensuring the sustainability of our pensions system.

While there are no plans to increase the normal retirement age beyond 65, nevertheless, it is important that we encourage and facilitate those who wish to extend their working lives. With regard to the social welfare system, the Government is already committed to removing the retirement condition associated with the retirement pension.

In addition, my Department is considering a number of measures in the context of an overall review of the qualifying conditions for old age, contributory and retirement pension. These include allowing people to defer receiving pension and receive an actuarially enhanced payment when they decide to claim.

Issues surrounding social welfare payments constitute only one aspect of the debate. In the key area of retaining people and skills in the workplace for as long as possible there is also an onus on employers to provide the conditions to enable the retention of older employees who wish to continue working beyond the normal age.

Questions Nos. 102 and 103 answered with Question No. 96.

Social Welfare Code.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

104 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will expand on her views that the accession of new countries to the EU may place a greater burden on this country's social welfare system. [4037/04]

John Bruton

Question:

301 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she intends to make changes to regulations governing the right to claim welfare benefits in respect of length of prior residence here, by a claimant before the making of a claim, in view of EU enlargement. [4379/04]

Denis Naughten

Question:

303 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans she has to restrict the right to social welfare payments by citizens of the ten accession states, in light of the decision by the UK authorities; the restrictions she is considering; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4095/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104, 301 and 303 together.

Free movement of persons is one of the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by community law and includes the right to live and work in another member state. The right of free movement applies not only to workers, but also to other categories of people such as students, pensioners and EU citizens in general.

The Employment Permits Act 2003 provided a legislative basis for the granting of full labour market access to nationals of the EU accession states after accession takes place on 1 May 2004. From that date, nationals of these countries will no longer require employment permits to work in Ireland. The Act also contains a safeguard mechanism whereby a requirement for employment permits may be reintroduced in respect of nationals of the relevant countries, should the Irish labour market suffer an unexpected disturbance during the transitional period after EU enlargement takes place.

Existing community law requires that a worker from another member state, including a worker who has become involuntary unemployed, cannot be treated differently from a national worker by reason of their nationality and shall be entitled to the same social and tax advantages as nationals. Accordingly, such persons are entitled to receive the same treatment as Irish nationals under our employment, social welfare and taxation laws.

However, a question has arisen as to whether an EU national seeking work for the first time in another member state is entitled to the same social and tax advantages as a national of that State. This issue is currently being contested before the European Court of Justice.

There are specific EU provisions governing the right of residence of workers, students, pensioners and non-economically active persons. In general, "inactive" persons have the right to enter and remain in the country on condition that they have sufficient resources and sufficient health insurance cover to ensure that they will not be a burden on the State.

I am conscious of the need to ensure that the social welfare system is not open to exploitation and that EU provisions in this regard are fully applied. To this end, I have asked my Department to examine whether specific measures may now be needed to ensure full enforcement of EU provisions in this area. The question as to whether specific provisions may need to be included in social welfare legislation, having regard to the position being taken by other member states, is being examined in that context.

It is also my intention to monitor the situation with regard to migration flows from the new accession states from May onwards and any issues which arise in that regard will be addressed.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

105 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of lone parents who have been approved for FIS since the abolition of the transitional half rate payment; the way in which lone parents are encouraged to apply for FIS; the number of lone parents who currently avail of FIS; and the number of lone parents who received FIS during 2003. [4018/04]

Paul Connaughton

Question:

114 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of applicants for FIS in 2003 who were refused assistance; the number of persons who currently receive FIS; the cost of same; and the average payment made. [4006/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 114 together.

Family income supplement provides cash support for employees on low earnings with families, thereby protecting the incentive to remain in employment.

Certain lone parents who took up employment received a half rate one-parent family payment while they made the transition to work. This was discontinued from 19 January as it was felt that FIS was more appropriate way of providing this support. From 19 January to end January 2003, FIS was awarded to six lone parents for the first time. Three of these cases are receiving one-parent family payment. In the same period FIS was renewed for another 12 months in another nine cases.

There were 12,200 people in receipt of FIS at the end of January 2004 with an average weekly payment of €88.47. Of these 7,172 are single parents with children, of whom 1,813 are also in receipt of one-parent family payment. Expenditure on the FIS scheme for 2003 was €45.3 million.

My Department received 18,213 applications for FIS in 2003. Some 3,232 were not awarded as they did not meet eligibility criteria. This year I provided for further increases in the FIS income limits with effect from January 2004. These increases raised the weekly limit by €28.00 at each point, adding an extra €16.80 to the payments of most existing FIS recipients. I also raised the minimum weekly payment by €7 to €20.

My Department undertakes a number of proactive measures to ensure that one parent family recipients are aware of their entitlement to FIS. Where a person is awarded a one-parent family payment they are directly advised that they may have an entitlement to family income supplement, FIS, and are provided with information on how to apply. Where a claimant's entitlement to one parent family payment ceases due to their earnings exceeding the statutory limit, they are again directly advised that they may have an entitlement to FIS and are provided with information on how to apply.

Under Sustaining Progress the importance of child income support is recognised, with a commitment to examine the effectiveness of the current arrangements including the role of FIS and child dependant allowances. Further improvements to the scheme will be considered in the context of this review and overall budgetary priorities, having regard to available resources.

Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 98.
Question No. 107 answered with QuestionNo. 84.

Social Welfare Code.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

108 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the measures discussed and agreed at the recent EU Presidency meeting in Galway. [4035/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

117 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will report on the outcome of the informal meeting of European employment and social policy Ministers in Galway on 15 January 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3858/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 108 and 117 together.

The theme of the informal meeting of employment and social policy ministers in Galway on 16 January was "Making Work Pay — Exploring the Interaction between Social Protection and Work." This is a key issue for member states in the context of achieving the Lisbon employment goals and a core objective in the EU level process to support the modernisation of social protection systems.

In discussing the interaction between benefit systems and employment objectives the meeting considered three specific aspects, namely: prevention and activation measures; reconciling work and family life and prolonging working life.

It was agreed that in developing policies aimed at making work pay we must consider the broader inactive population, not just those already in the labour market. Specific policies aimed at assisting categories such as lone parents and people with disabilities should be developed. In addition, specific action is required across a range of areas such as the provision of child care and elder care and the promotion of part-time work. There was agreement that each member state should take appropriate measures to address this issue in accordance with the objectives set out in the employment guidelines.

Ministers and the Commissioner also agreed to strengthen actions to increase the attractiveness of employment for older workers and to raise the average age at which workers leave the labour market. In this regard, four key policy areas emerged namely, changing attitudes in the workplace, increasing access to training for older workers, improving quality in work and ensuring that pensions and social security provisions provide the right incentives.

It was recognised that policies to reconcile work and family life are vital elements in the overall package of measures to increase participation in the labour market. In this respect, increasing the availability, affordability and quality of child care and elder care must be a priority. Issues such as parental and caring leave must be addressed in order to increase the participation of women in the labour force.

During a discussion on the contribution of investment in education and training to economic development, particular interest was expressed in the Irish experience. Ministers and the Commissioner agreed that continued and greater investment in education and training would be essential to improve competitiveness, raise employment rates, increase productivity and lower unemployment levels.

In company with our Dutch and Luxembourg ministerial colleagues, the Minister of State, Deputy Fahey, and I met EU level representatives, social partners and non-government organisations at our Troika meeting on 15 January. All stakeholders accepted the necessity for innovation and flexibility of response in the workplace if the Lisbon goals of sustainable growth and quality employment are to be met. Social dialogue, at both EU and national level, was considered critical in order to inform the development of strategy as we move forward.

In the discussion on making work pay, the need to strike a proper balance between employment and social protection policies was emphasised. Overall, there was full agreement that there is a need for specific and targeted recommendations to stimulate job creation within the EU and that the incentives and supports that social protection systems offer to people moving from benefits to work need to be strengthened. However, Ministers recognised that we can only succeed in this area if we strike a proper balance between employment and social protection policies and that our aim must be to improve incentives to work while providing a high level of social protection for all.

Taxation and Welfare Codes.

Richard Bruton

Question:

109 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has satisfied herself that the provisions in the taxation and welfare codes whereby parents with children living apart receive more generous tax relief and more generous social welfare entitlements and means tests than parents who live together; and if the Government's family policy proposes to change these arrangements. [3844/04]

The provisions in the taxation code are a matter for the Minister for Finance.

With regard to social welfare legislation, the Deputy is specifically interested in the reasons as to why the earnings disregard which applies to the one-parent family payment scheme does not apply to couples in receipt of other social assistance schemes and also why no account is taken of the employment status of a spouse or partner under the family income supplement scheme in circumstances where there is an extra cost associated with that person. While the principle of consistency across all social welfare schemes is a desirable one, it must be tempered by the fact that different categories of social welfare recipients have differing needs and the social welfare system must be flexible enough to respond adequately to these needs.

The different methods of assessing earnings as between the various social assistance payment schemes reflects specific policies which have been pursued by this and previous Governments and which are aimed at assisting particular groups. For example, research has clearly shown that unemployed lone parent families are particularly at risk of poverty. The one-parent family payment scheme and associated earnings disregard was introduced in January 1997. The policy approach in supporting lone parents in their efforts to find work or participate in training and education aims to facilitate participation in schemes and programmes to that end. Lone parents are further encouraged to take up work through earnings disregards. This is designed to recognise the particular difficulties and expenses which a lone parent may face in taking up employment and training opportunities, and to encourage them to consider employment as an alternative to long-term welfare dependency.

The earnings disregards applying to other social assistance schemes are designed to achieve different objectives. For example, this Government has progressively increased the earnings disregards applicable to either a carer or his or her spouse or partner. I continued this policy in the last budget when I significantly increased the disregards from €210 per week to €250 per week for a single carer and €420 per week to €500 per week for a couple, thereby recognising the particular income support needs of carers and their special contribution to our society.

In the case of unemployment assistance, there are special income disregards where a claimant and his or her spouse or partner is in employment. A full qualified adult allowance, QAA, is payable where a spouse or partner is earning up to €88.88 per week and a partial QAA continues to be payable where a spouse or partner earns up to €210 per week. These measures are designed to ensure that claimants and their spouses or partners have an incentive to work at all levels of earnings.

Family income supplement is designed to provide income support for employees with families, who are on low earnings and thereby preserve the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where employees might only be marginally better off than if they were claiming other social welfare payments. The calculation of family income supplement payments is based on the number of children and the family's net earnings. No differentiation is made in cases where one or both of a couple is in employment.

The provisions currently in place regarding income disregards are geared towards tackling the particular needs of specific groups of recipients. This enables the social welfare system to respond to the differing needs of those who depend on it. In this regard, my Department carries out regular reviews of social welfare schemes and the recommendations of such reviews inform future development and change.

EU Presidency.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

110 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her priorities for the remainder of the Irish Presidency of the European Union; the events that are arranged by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3860/04]

My overall focus for the Irish Presidency is to advance the EU social policy agenda generally and, in particular, make progress in realising the ten year goals set by the Lisbon European Council in 2000. One of the ambitious goals of the Lisbon agenda is to achieve greater social cohesion. Following submission of the second round National Action Plans on Social Inclusion, 2003-2005, the Commission adopted its second report on social inclusion in December 2003. A joint Council-Commission inclusion report will be considered by the Council of Ministers in time for presentation to the spring European Council.

The Irish Presidency will progress an initiative taken by previous Presidencies by hosting a third meeting of people experiencing poverty. Our aim is to further develop ways of promoting participation by, and consultation with, people experiencing poverty in the context of developing policies in this area. A key policy area is "Making Work Pay", which explores how the interaction between social protection and working arrangements affects people's decisions to seek, take up, and remain in work. As part of our contribution to modernising social protection systems, this issue was the main theme discussed at the informal Council of Ministers for employment and social policy which was held in Galway last month. The meeting considered three specific aspects, namely, prevention and activation measures, reconciling work and family life and prolonging working life. This issue will be advanced in the context of the Council's formal consideration of the joint employment report and preparations for the spring European Council.

The Irish Presidency will work to secure, for the first time, an agreed high level paper to be presented to the spring European Council. This will reflect in an integrated way key messages relating to the Council's work on social inclusion, pensions, demographic developments, making work pay, gender equality and the employment related policy challenges addressed in the report of the European employment task force and elsewhere.

The issue of migration will also be a priority for my Department during the Irish Presidency. We will be hosting a conference in April on the theme of "Reconciling Mobility and Social Inclusion". The main focus of the conference will be on the role of social and employment policies in achieving social inclusion for people moving within the EU.

A key legislative priority will be to work for adoption by the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament of the proposals to simplify and modernise the EU regulations on social security of migrant workers. This will provide migrant workers moving within the EU with a more streamlined set of rules aimed at protecting their social security and health care rights. Following the accession of the ten new member states in May next, we will host a special conference in co-operation with the Hungarian Government and the Commission. The conference will address both the implications of the current reform of the regulations for all 25 states and the particular implementation challenges facing new member states in this field.

In the area of family policy and to mark the tenth anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family, the Irish Presidency will host a major international conference the title of which will be "Families, Change and Social Policy in Europe". I am happy that these events represent a substantial programme of work and a significant contribution to moving forward the EU social policy agenda.

Departmental Estimates.

John Gormley

Question:

111 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the response she has made to the 13 voluntary groups which have reacted negatively to recent cuts within her Department's Estimates. [4032/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

113 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has evaluated the hardship caused and likely to be caused by the cutbacks announced for her Department in the budget on the various persons or groups who have reason to depend on her Department for assistance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4025/04]

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

127 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will report on her meeting in December 2003 with groups opposed to the social welfare cuts announced in the 2004 Book of Estimates; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3873/04]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

140 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the fact that community welfare officers and 13 voluntary organisations have come together to oppose the series of social welfare cuts introduced in November's 2003 Book of Estimates; her views on whether this represents a strong level of opposition to the cuts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3877/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111, 113, 127 and 140 together.

I met representatives of the 13 voluntary groups in December to hear their views and to explain the background to the changes announced in the Estimates to them. I outlined to them that expenditure on various social welfare payments is reviewed on an ongoing basis by my Department to ensure that the schemes continue to meet their objectives.

In that context, the Abridged Estimates Volume for 2004 contained a number of changes which are designed to ensure that social welfare spending is better focused and that the available resources are used to benefit those most in need. For the most part the measures will not affect existing claimants, but will apply to new claimants from various dates in 2004. The majority of the measures relate to the supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered by the health boards on behalf of my Department. Those measures ensure that supplementary welfare allowance is focused on meeting immediate, short-term income maintenance needs, rather than long-term need, for example, housing or child care, which needs a more structured, long-term response. At the meeting, I also took the opportunity to outline the specific provisions that would be made to ensure that the interests of vulnerable groups are fully protected in the course of implementing the measures.

Full consideration has been and will be given to the various opinions and views expressed at these discussions. Some of the participants acknowledged the reason for the decision taken but were concerned that alternative arrangements should be in place before changes were introduced. In that regard, I explained that the timing of the announcements was dictated by the Estimates and budget calendar but assured them that the measures would be introduced in a careful and a responsible manner. I am confident that the measures will achieve a better outcome both for the people involved and for the State.

I have also met with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions and with representatives of the community and voluntary pillar. Under Sustaining Progress, there is provision for monitoring and consultation regarding policy initiatives and I will be meeting these social partners again in the coming months in that regard.

Pension Provisions.

Denis Naughten

Question:

112 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the plans she has to review the means test for farmers applying for the old age non-contributory pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3843/04]

I understand that the Deputy is concerned in particular about the current arrangements applying in the case of old age pension where a landholder leases land or is otherwise in possession of land which is lying fallow or idle.

Where land is let on short-term lettings such as the 11 month system, the income from such lettings is calculated as cash income for the purpose of the means assessment for old age pension. Necessary expenses incurred by the owner, such as auctioneer fees, fencing or fertilising between lettings is deducted from the gross letting income.

Where land is lying fallow or idle, there are two options for the assessment of means: if the social welfare inspector is satisfied that the pension claimant is depriving himself or herself of an income in order to qualify for a pension, or a pension at a higher rate than would otherwise be the case, the relevant assessment is the income which would be received, if the land was let; where the inspector is satisfied that this is not the case, the value of the land is obtained from the Valuation Office and is assessed as capital for means purposes.

There are no plans to change the present arrangements in this regard. Any change in these assessment arrangements could only be considered in a budgetary context.

Question No. 113 answered with QuestionNo. 111.
Question No. 114 answered with QuestionNo. 105.
Question No. 115 answered with QuestionNo. 83.

Legislative Programme.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

116 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her legislative priorities for this session of Dáil Éireann; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3861/04]

Three legislative initiatives have been identified for progression during the spring session 2004. These are, the progression to enactment of the Civil Registration Bill 2003, which has just completed its passage through this House, introduction and passage of the Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 and the publication of a Comhairle (amendment)Bill.

The purpose of the Civil Registration Bill 2003 is to provide for the establishment of the Civil Registration Service, an tSeirbhís um Chlárú Sibhialta. This will entail the reorganisation and modernisation of the system of registration of births, stillbirths, adoptions, marriages and deaths. The Bill further provides for the extension of the system to cover decrees of divorce and decrees of nullity of marriage granted by the courts. It also contains provisions for reform of marriage law in respect to the solemnisation of and venues for marriage and related matters.

The Social Welfare (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2004 will provide for a number of amendments to the social welfare schemes consequent on budget 2004. It will also provide for additional amendments to the social welfare code and a number of amendments to the Pensions Act. This Bill is expected to be published later this week and introduced to the House later this month.

It is also my intention to publish this session a Comhairle (amendment) Bill. The primary purpose of this Bill will be to give statutory effect to additional functions for Comhairle, in the context of the delivery of the Government's commitments on services for people with disabilities.

Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 108.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Dan Neville

Question:

118 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her plans to extend the duration of the national fuel scheme; and her further plans to improve the weekly payment to eligible applicants, in particular to the elderly. [4002/04]

The aim of the national fuel scheme is to assist householders who are in receipt of long-term social welfare or health board payments and who are unable to provide fully for their own heating needs.

The smokeless fuel allowance was introduced in October 1990, to assist people with the additional costs arising from the ban on the sale of bituminous coal in certain designated areas. A fuel allowance payment of €9 per week is paid to eligible households while an additional €3.90 per week is paid in smokeless zones, bringing the total amount in those areas to €12.90 per week. These payments are made for the duration of the fuel season which lasts for 29 weeks.

The fuel allowances represent a contribution towards a person's normal heating and lighting expenses. In addition many households also qualify for electricity and gas allowances. There is also a facility available through the supplementary welfare allowance scheme to assist people in certain circumstances who have special heating needs.

The fuel allowance scheme has been improved in recent years. The means test has been eased and the duration of payment increased from 26 weeks to 29 weeks. From January 2002 the payment rate was increased to €9. The question of further improvements in the fuel allowance schemes would have to be considered in a budgetary context. The significant increases in recent budgets in primary social welfare payment rates, such as the old age pension, have also improved the income position for people dependent on the social welfare system. Primary payment rates are payable for the full 52 weeks of the year and increases in these rates benefit a wider range of recipients.

National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

119 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has received the post budget analysis offered by CORI's justice commission; if her attention has been drawn to its conclusion that not enough was done in the 2004 budget to tackle social exclusion effectively and that its impact on tackling substantial poverty and inequality will be limited; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3870/04]

The analysis and critique of budget 2004 undertaken by the CORI justice commission sets out its views on the range of measures contained in the budget and its perspective on the likely impact of those measures in terms of tackling poverty and social exclusion. While welcoming some aspects of the budget and acknowledging that the social welfare increases provided for in the budget were well ahead of what had been forecast, CORI argues that the impact of the budget will be relatively limited in regard to tackling poverty and social exclusion.

I do not agree with CORI's analysis on this occasion. A social welfare package of €630 million was included in budget 2004. The effect of this increase is that the total social welfare spend of €11.62 billion in 2004 will be almost double that of 1997, notwithstanding the substantial fall in unemployment figures since then.

More generally, it is my view that the budget must also be placed in the context of the wider economic policies which have been successfully pursued by this Government in recent years and which have contributed to improving the lives of all sectors of Irish society. The effect of these policies can be seen in the substantial increases in employment levels we have witnessed; in the reductions in unemployment and in particular in long-term unemployment; in the investment in infrastructure and in public services and in the substantial increases in real terms in household incomes at all income levels.

The positive effects of Government policies can be seen also in the sharp decreases recorded in consistent poverty levels over recent years. Consistent poverty — a combined measure using income thresholds and the experience of deprivation — is the measure used for the global poverty reduction target in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS. Consistent poverty has fallen from 15.1% in 1994 to some 5.2% in 2001.

The success to date in tackling consistent poverty has critically been dependent on ensuring that we have sustained economic growth in order to generate the resources necessary for enhanced welfare and other public services. This sensible and prudent approach remains valid today, and indeed may be even more relevant at a time when growth rates have abated from the record levels we enjoyed in more recent times.

The drive towards tackling poverty and social exclusion continues to be a key and central element of the Government's programme and I believe that we can continue to improve the standard of living of the most vulnerable in our society in the period ahead.

Question No. 120 answered with QuestionNo. 85.

Pension Provisions.

Seán Ryan

Question:

121 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people currently in receipt of a State pension; her Department's assessment of the numbers of people likely to be in receipt of State pensions over the next decade and the provisions which are now being made in that regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3888/04]

At the end of December 2003, there were 200,479 people receiving an old age contributory or retirement pension and 86,733 receiving an old age non-contributory pension. An actuarial review of the social insurance fund, undertaken on behalf of my Department in 2002, estimated that the number of recipients of old age contributory and retirement pensions will increase to 255,000 by 2011 and 321,000 by 2016. The increase will, to some extent, be balanced by a reduction in the number of people receiving an old age non-contributory pension. The numbers receiving this pension have declined by over 20% in the last ten years which reflects improved social insurance coverage and increased labour force participation, particularly amongst women.

In common with other European countries, the population of Ireland is ageing as a result of a combination of increasing life expectancy and a declining birth rate. The decline in the birth rate is relatively recent and this, coupled with the effects of high emigration for much of the period up to the 1990s, has resulted in Ireland having the lowest proportion of older people in the EU — 11.2% aged 65 and over — as compared to the current EU average of 16.1%.

The proportion of older people in Ireland will remain at broadly the same level for the next 10 years after which it is projected to increase rapidly to 15% in 2021, 19% in 2031 and 28% in 2056. A similar situation exists in relation to the numbers at work relative to the number of pensioners.

Ageing, therefore, presents the same challenge to Ireland in meeting growing pension costs as to other countries except that we have a longer period to prepare for its full impact. The population projections suggest that no special measures are required in the timescale envisaged by the Deputy. However, the Government is making preparations, through the National Pensions Reserve Fund, to part fund state pensions costs from 2025 onwards.

Pensions have been an important issue at EU level in recent years. This is not surprising given that the challenges facing pensions systems are more immediate for other member states. The EU has assessed national pensions systems under agreed objectives in the area of adequacy, financial sustainability and modernisation. In this regard, a joint EU Commission and Council report published in 2003 considered that Ireland has made good progress in ensuring both the financial sustainability and adequacy of our pensions system.

The report concluded that our system appears to be, in broad terms, financially sustainable despite projected major increases in future pensions expenditure. The situation will be kept under review.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Question:

122 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons which have availed of the free telephone rental allowance for mobile telephones. [3990/04]

My Department is currently engaged in discussions with mobile phone service providers concerning their possible participation in the free telephone rental allowance scheme. There has not been a significant demand to date from social welfare customers to have the allowance transferred to mobile telephones. This may be due to the fact that most customers who have a mobile phone also have a land line.

I am committed to the development of the telephone allowance scheme to respond to the expanding telecoms market and to facilitate greater client choice of telephone services. My Department has had discussions with the communications regulator, ComReg, to develop the necessary technical and administrative arrangements for mobile phone services.

The arrangements above are necessary to ensure that the allowance will be applied accurately to individual customer accounts through any licensed service provider interested in participating in the scheme. My Department and ComReg have identified suitable mechanisms to enable this for mobile phone services. On this basis, I announced in December last that my Department was willing to discuss arrangements with any interested mobile phone service provider. Since then, my Department has had initial discussions with one licensed company and has preliminary contact from two others.

In the new environment telephone allowance customers would be entitled to select the participating phone service provider of their choice to suit their particular circumstances. Allowance customers would be entitled to switch between provider companies within a reasonable period if they so wished. It would be up to the provider companies concerned to design suitable marketing packages to attract and retain these clients, as with any other group.

If the initial interest now being expressed by mobile phone provider companies develops into active participation, then I would expect that the necessary technical arrangements could be finalised reasonably quickly between my Department, the individual companies concerned and ComReg. To facilitate the participation of mobile phone provider companies in the free telephone rental allowance scheme, certain changes to the Departments computer system would be required.

Equally, mobile phone companies interested in participating in the scheme may have to make changes to their IT systems to allow them to handle the scheme as currently structured. Once agreement has been reached with the mobile phone companies, my Department, in conjunction with the companies and ComReg, will make the necessary arrangements on this basis.

Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

124 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the annual report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul for 2002; if her attention has further been drawn to the fact that the society spent €630,000 every week in 2002 battling poverty and that it received a massive increase in calls for help during that year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3871/04]

The 2002 report of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul details that their total expenditure rose by 12% to some €32.9 million in the 12 months to the end of 2002 but that this figure includes significant expenditure on capital projects, overseas support and administration.

The rise in the number of requests received by the society is a reminder that poverty continues to affect the lives of many people. However, it is also a fact that the policies pursued by the Government over recent years, in combating unemployment and in reducing the level of consistent poverty, have brought about a significant improvement in the situation of people on lower incomes, with the numbers of those living in consistent poverty falling from 9.7% in 1997 to 5.2% in 2001.

Our policy platform for continuing to achieve real reductions in the levels of consistent poverty is set out in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, published in February 2002, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion launched in July of last year. These contain ambitious targets across the range of policy areas which impact on poverty and social exclusion, including social welfare payments, education, health, employment, housing and accommodation.

I believe that a sustained focus on the achievement of the targets contained in the revised national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, and in the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion represents the best approach to tackling the issue of poverty in our society. I am also concerned to ensure that the resources available are used in the most effective way to address the real needs of people and I will take on board the views and opinions of organisations such as the society, which deal with people in need on an ongoing basis, in formulating policies for the future development of the social welfare system.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

125 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the comments by the chairperson of Threshold that the Government decision to cap rent supplements has led to hidden poverty and that many tenants have been forced to top up officially declared rents that leaves them short of heat, clothing and food; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3872/04]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered on behalf of my department by the health boards provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to any person in the State whose means are insufficient to meet his or her needs.

Up to November 2002, the maximum level of rent which a person could incur and still be eligible to receive rent supplement, was determined by each health board and was set by reference to local considerations. On 22 November 2002, I introduced regulations which maintained, up to 31 December 2003, the maximum amounts of rent at the same levels as those set by the health boards.

Following a review by my Department, I introduced regulations last December which provided for adjustments in certain rent levels and maintained others at their existing level for the period to 30 June 2005. The review of rent levels included an analysis of rental data, the views of each health board on rent levels in their areas as well as consultations with Threshold and Centre Care. Both Threshold and Centre Care expressed the view that rent levels in Dublin were generally satisfactory but advised that the level for single persons was too low and that it should be increased. This level was subsequently increased by 7.5%.

My Department has not been offered evidence of collusion between tenants and landlords regarding rent levels. It is not in a tenant's interests to enter into such collusion and anybody aware that this is happening should bring the matter to the attention of the appropriate health board. A health board has the discretion to pay a rent supplement above the maximum level in exceptional circumstances where the board is satisfied that the circumstances of the case so warrant. Setting maximum rent limits higher than are justified by the open market distorts the rental market and leads to a general rise in rent levels that disadvantages people on low incomes.

I am satisfied that, rather than having an adverse impact on social welfare recipients in the private rented sector, the setting of maximum levels has improved their position in acquiring accommodation. Tenants are no doubt aware that rent levels have been falling for some time and that the choice of properties is increasing. Recent media reports indicate that economic commentators are predicting further falls in rent levels this year. The consistent decrease in rent levels and the predictions of further decreases indicate that my decision to cap maximum rent levels was entirely correct. I will, of course, keep this matter under review to ensure that the long-term interests of tenants are protected.

Departmental Reviews.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

126 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of payments under review in her Department; when the reviews started; their aims; and the costs associated with same. [4005/04]

My Department has undertaken a range of programme expenditure reviews under the expenditure review initiative in 1997 which was launched in 1997 to provide a systematic analysis of expenditure and a basis for informed decision making on expenditure priorities. Details of these are in the table which will be circulated with the Official Report.

The reviews are carried out by working groups comprising staff from the relevant areas and with representation by the Department of Finance and other Departments or agencies, as appropriate. The expenditure review process generally is overseen by a central steering committee, chaired by the Department of Finance. There are currently five expenditure programme reviews under way in my Department.

A review of the back to school clothing and footwear allowance is being finalised at present and is due to be submitted to the departmental steering group shortly. An interim report of a review of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme is also due to be submitted in the near future. Reviews of the back to education allowance scheme and of certain aspects of the unemployment payment schemes should be available for consideration by the departmental steering group later this year. Finally, the second phase of review of the qualifying conditions for contributory pensions is scheduled to be completed by the middle of this year.

The aims of the reviews are in line with the objectives of the overall expenditure review initiative in the Civil Service, that is to provide a systematic analysis of what is actually being achieved by expenditure in each programme and to provide a basis on which more informed decisions can be made on priorities within and between expenditure programmes.

The expenditure review process is usually carried out in-house as part of the normal work of my Department. On occasion, it may be is necessary to engage outside assistance to assist in a specific aspect of a review. This was the case in the back to education allowance review in which consultants were engaged to carry out a survey of participants in the scheme in December 2003, at a cost €22,000. In addition, all reviews commenced since 2003 are subject to an external quality assessment by a review expert from a panel of experts established for this purpose. Expertise from this panel may also be engaged to provide advice during the course of a review. An expert from the panel has been engaged to provide assistance in the reviews above at a cost of €7,800.

Question No. 127 answered with QuestionNo. 111.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

128 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will clarify her comments carried in national newspapers early in 2004 that the Government is examining ways of improving the lone parent benefit system; the numbers of claimants she believes are falsely receiving lone parent benefit; the way in which she intends to improve the system of allocating lone parent benefits; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3879/04]

Ireland currently has among the highest proportions of lone parent families within the EU, with over 11% of households headed by a lone parent. Up to 45% are in employment, a low percentage compared to other countries. For most lone parents the one parent family payment is their main or only source of income. The duration of nearly half of these payments is for more than eight years. Long-term dependency on social welfare payments increases the likelihood of being at risk of poverty and in 2001; some 42.9% of lone parents in Ireland had a level of income, which put them in the "at risk of poverty" category.

My Department's main response to the difficulties faced by lone parents is the one-parent family payment which aims to strike a balance between providing a basic income for those who wish to care for their children on a full time basis and, at the same time, encouraging and facilitating lone parents to move into paid employment and away from long-term dependency on social welfare payments.

I have given a commitment in my Department's statement of strategy to review the income support arrangement for lone parents. The main purpose of the review is to establish the extent to which the scheme may be acting as a disincentive to recipients taking up employment, and to making the transition to full-time employment, greater self-sufficiency and a better overall standard of living for them and their children. Account will be taken in the review of the research carried out to date, not least the review of the one-parent family payment, published by my own department in September 2000, and the recent OECD review of family friendly policies, along with policies and programmes pursued in other EU countries as set out in their recently published national action plans on social inclusion.

The process will also include my Department and other relevant departments participating with the Crisis Pregnancy Agency on a committee, due to commence later this year, which will examine all the issues surrounding parenting alone, including income support and employment. Government commitment to the policies of building a more inclusive society for all make it imperative that social welfare payments, funded by the taxpayer, are targeted at those most in need and are not abused.

Part of my Department's responsibility is the control of fraud and abuse on pension schemes, including the one-parent family scheme, through claim reviews and following up on reports of suspected fraud in individual cases. In 2003, a total of 757 lone parent claims were terminated and 124 cases had their entitlement reduced as result of anti-fraud activity yielding savings of €15.2 million.

Pension Provisions.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

129 Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people who had taken out a personal retirement savings account by the end of November 2003; if she has satisfied herself with the level of take up of the accounts; her plans to promote awareness about these accounts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3881/04]

Information on accounts opened are received by the Pensions Board from providers of personal retirement savings accounts, PRSAs, at the end of each quarter. The latest figures available relate to the period to the end of December 2003 and these show that 19,022 accounts have been opened with a total asset value of €41 million. This is a significant advance on the position at the end of September 2003 when a total 6,707 accounts were in existence.

The increase in the number of new accounts opened since September 2003 is encouraging and I look forward to seeing continued growth in the numbers taking out accounts in the months and years ahead. We are at a very early stage in our programme to increase overall pensions coverage but it is clear that progress is already being made. It has always been acknowledged that, given the nature of pensions, achievement in this area could be slow.

In 2003, the Pensions Board ran a very successful pensions awareness campaign on my behalf to supplement the publicity effort being made by PRSA providers. An assessment of the situation at the end of the year showed a high level of awareness amongst the public of pensions issues. The challenge is to translate this awareness into increased supplementary pensions coverage. I have provided further resources this year to continue the awareness campaign and the Pensions Board is at present considering possible future approaches.

Family Support Services.

Tom Hayes

Question:

130 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will examine the basis for payment of FIS with a view to improving and expanding the scheme; the recommendations which the working group has made to improve the take-up of FIS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3998/04]

Family income supplement, FIS, is designed to provide cash support for employees with families on low earnings and thereby preserve the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if s/he were claiming other social welfare payments. The improvements to the family income supplement scheme, including the assessment of FIS on the basis of net rather than gross income and the progressive increases in the income limits, have made it easier for lower income households to qualify under the scheme.

In this year's budget, I provided for further increases in the FIS income limits with effect from January 2004. These increases raised the weekly income limits by €28 at each point, adding an extra €16.80 to the payments of most existing FIS recipients. I also increased the minimum FIS payment by €7 per week, from €13 to €20. The average weekly payment now stands at €88.47 per week, with a total of 12,200 families receiving a supplement under the scheme. Under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness a working group chaired by the Department of Finance, examined the role which refundable tax credits can play in the tax and welfare system, with a specific brief to examine the payment of FIS through the tax system. While the group's final report is awaited, I expect the principal recommendations regarding FIS will be to continue payment through the social welfare system while maximising effects to increase take-up.

On the question of take-up, every effort is made to ensure that people are made aware of their entitlements to all social welfare schemes, including FIS. For instance, information on FIS is provided on child benefit payable order books and has been advertised by the Revenue Commissioners on tax certification. Both of these measures ensured that information in relation to the scheme has been made available to every eligible household in the country. In addition, the scheme has been extensively advertised through local and national media outlets, including newspapers, radio and the Aertel service, as well as through poster campaigns and targeted mailshots.

The question of further improvements to the scheme is a matter for consideration in a budgetary context, having regard to available resources and Government commitments.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Billy Timmins

Question:

131 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the child dependant allowance will be amended to just one rate application to all children; and her plans to address this anomaly. [4020/04]

There are currently three different weekly rates of child dependant allowances payable to social welfare recipients, €16.80, €19.30 and €21.60. Since the time of the report of the commission on social welfare, which recommended a rationalisation of the rates of child dependant allowances, the number of different rates has been reduced from 36 to the current three. To standardise the three main rates of allowances at the highest rate of €21.60 would mean that approximately 234,000 full rate payments and 121,000 half rate payments would be increased at a cost of approximately of €59 million annually. The policy direction followed by successive Governments has been to concentrate resources for child income support on the child benefit scheme rather than child dependant allowances, as the loss of child dependant allowances by social welfare recipients on taking up employment can act as a disincentive to availing of work opportunities.

Child benefit is neutralvis-à-vis the employment status of the parents and consequently does not contribute to such potential poverty traps. The Government's commitment in this regard is reflected in the very substantial resources invested in the child benefit scheme since entering office, including the increases announced in budget 2004, which come into effect from April this year. These increases will bring the monthly rate of child benefit to €131.60 in respect of each of the first two children and €165.30 for third and subsequent children.

In the partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, the importance of child income support arrangements, including child dependant allowances, is recognised with a commitment to examine the effectiveness of current arrangements in ending child poverty. The question of further rationalisation of child dependant allowance will be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the context of priorities generally.

Pension Provisions.

Dan Boyle

Question:

132 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the introduction of PRSAs has been accompanied by the creation of a subsidy to employers who see their PRSI contributions reduced, even if they do not contribute to an employee's PRSA. [4026/04]

The Government is anxious to encourage employees and others to supplement their social welfare pension entitlement with personal or occupational pensions cover. In this regard, the aim is to increase such coverage from a current level of about 50% of employees to 70% in accordance with the targets suggested in the national pensions policy initiative.

Membership of personal and occupational pension schemes is promoted and encouraged by favourable tax and social insurance treatment. Contributions to pension schemes are, subject to certain limits, free of income tax and social insurance contributions. In practice, income tax and other contributions are levied on net income after pension contributions are deducted.

This arrangement also applies to personal retirement savings accounts, PRSAs. In the circumstances, where an employee is making a contribution to a PRSA or other pension arrangement, the amount of the contribution is not subject to a social insurance contribution and this does result in some savings for an employer. I would, of course, encourage employers to pass on such savings to employees in the form of additional contributions to PRSAs and other types of pension scheme.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Seán Ryan

Question:

133 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to concerns expressed that the €6 increase in child benefit per month announced in the December 2003 budget is insufficient and that, if the Government were to honour its three year commitment to increase children's allowance, it would have had to increase the benefit to €24 per month; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3887/04]

The 2004 budget provided for a €6 per month increase, 4.8%, in the rate of child benefit payable in respect of each of the first two children and €8 per month, 5.1%, increase in the rate payable in respect of the third and subsequent children. Over the period since 1997, the value of all social welfare payments has increased in real terms. In particular, the monthly rates of child benefit has increased by €93.51, lower rate, and €115.78, higher rate, increases of 246% and 234% respectively, compared with inflation of 26.9%. This level of increase is unprecedented and delivers on the Government's objective of providing support for children generally while offering real choice to all parents.

Looking ahead, my priorities include making further progress on our child benefit strategy along with all the other commitments on social welfare contained in Sustaining Progress, the national anti-poverty strategy and the programme for Government. The progression of all of the commitments will be a matter to be decided having regard to available resources.

David Stanton

Question:

134 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons in receipt of invalidity pension or disability allowance whose attention had not been drawn to their entitlement to the living alone allowance and who have been approved for same with arrears of six months; and the number of persons who have had their arrears extended beyond the six months to the date that the living alone allowance was introduced for these payments. [4017/04]

The living alone allowance scheme was extended from 4 April 2001 to persons who were receiving disability allowance and invalidity pension. The total number of customers receiving these payments at that time was 104,806. Comprehensive arrangements were put in place and all 104,806 recipients of both schemes were made aware of their potential entitlement to this allowance.

All recipients who were paid through the post office were notified of their potential entitlement to the allowance in their payable order books. Recipients of disability allowance and invalidity pension who were paid by electronic fund transfer received a direct mailshot. This included details on the qualifying conditions for the allowance and advice on how to apply.

The extension of the allowance to these recipients was advertised in all provincial, national, daily and Sunday papers. A freephone number was also provided, whereby customers could obtain further information concerning the allowance. Details of all social welfare budget changes, including those relating to the living alone allowance were advertised on Aertel.

There is an onus on social welfare applicants to apply for any allowances in the prescribed manner and within certain time limits. However, in the case of living alone allowance claims which were received from existing disability allowance or invalidity recipients, and where there was evidence that the recipient was living alone, the allowance was backdated, where appropriate. The number of persons paid six months arrears or who had their arrears of living alone allowance extended beyond the six months is not available from departmental records.

The Deputy should note that from 4 April 2001 all new applications for disability allowance and invalidity pension have their entitlement to living alone allowance assessed in conjunction with their primary claim entitlement. All application forms for these payments currently include an application for living alone allowance.

I am satisfied that the measures put in place when the scheme was extended to recipients of long term disability payments were adequate to ensure that eligible persons were made aware of their possible entitlement to living alone allowance. Additionally, I consider that the approach undertaken by my Department to the processing of living alone allowance claims from existing recipients was appropriate in the circumstances.

Question No. 135 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

National Anti-Poverty Strategy.

Joe Costello

Question:

136 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the recent comments by a senior member of the Human Rights Commission that a quarter of Irish households must survive on incomes of less than €138 per week and that the proportion of the population depending on between 40% and 50% of average income has risen since the beginning of the Government's national anti-poverty strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3867/04]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to a paper delivered in the course of a public consultation meeting of the Human Rights Commission, HRC, in November of last year. In the context of setting out how the HRC will engage with the national anti-poverty strategy, the question was raised as to whether it was appropriate that the global poverty reduction targets set out in that strategy should be expressed in terms of relative rather than consistent poverty.

While the paper referred to poverty lines based on weekly average incomes, the more commonly used income threshold, and the one adopted at EU level as the ‘at risk of poverty indicator', is based on 60% of median income. The proportion at risk of poverty in Ireland as measured by this EU indicator has increased from 18.2% in 1997 to almost 22% in 2001.

A wide range of factors influence the levels of income poverty at any given point in time. The factors giving rise to the increase in the ‘at risk of poverty' indicator include increased employment; an increase in the proportion of two income households; an increasing proportion of better quality, better paid jobs available to a more educated workforce; fewer dependants resulting from the decline in the birth rate; and a tax system designed to provide incentives for economic development and remove obstacles to employment participation by leaving people with more take home pay.

This approach has helped to generate the high levels of economic growth that Ireland has enjoyed over the past decade and to sustain the economy during the more recent economic difficulties. This growth has generated the resources required to significantly improve our social protection system and social services generally and to work on closing the gap with other EU countries on physical infrastructure. The fact that the level of growth in the economy generally and in incomes has been so high has meant that this particular indicator has disimproved, despite the major absolute improvements in social provision over this period.

The ‘at risk of poverty' indicator, particularly when viewed in isolation, needs to be interpreted very carefully if misleading results are to be avoided. As noted in the paper delivered by the HRC, this is the individual threshold at the 50% average income line. When the EU ‘at risk of poverty indicator' is used, the individual threshold at the 60% median income line was €164 in 2001. This does not, however, mean that more than one in five people in Ireland were living in households with incomes below €164 in 2001. Individuals in a household with one adult and one child would fall below the income threshold only where their household income was less than €218 per week or €11,336 per annum. In the case of a family with two adults and two children, the household income would have to fall below €380 per week or €19,760 per annum to cause the individuals in the household to fall below the income threshold. The equivalent figures for a family comprising two adults and two children are €489 per week or €25,428 per annum.

While the indicator provides us with valuable information on the proportion of our population at risk of poverty, we need to go further in order to define more precisely the numbers who are experiencing poverty in terms of being consistently deprived of goods and services regarded as essential for living in Ireland today. That is why the consistent poverty measure is employed in the national anti-poverty strategy, since it captures the position of those who are both on low incomes and who are also experiencing enforced basic deprivation.

The success of Government policies in tackling consistent poverties reflected in the sharp decreases observed in relation to this indicator in recent years — down from 15% in 1994 to some 5.2% in 2001.

Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 99.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

138 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if her attention has been drawn to the report published by the Economic and Social Research Institute entitled Monitoring Poverty Trends in Ireland, results from the 2001 living in Ireland survey; if the report indicates a striking increasing risk of relative poverty for older people, the ill, the disabled and some single mothers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3874/04]

The results of the 2001 Living in Ireland Survey, funded by my Department and published by the ESRI in December 2003, confirm that there have been significant reductions in the numbers of people experiencing consistent poverty — falling from 9.7% cent in 1997 to 5.2% in 2001. Equally there has been an encouraging drop in figures for consistent child poverty, again dropping from 15.3% in 1997 to 6.5% in 2001.

The ‘at risk of poverty indicator', defined as the proportion of persons with incomes below 60% of median income, has increased from 18.2% in 1997 to 21.9% in 2001. The factors giving rise to this increase include increased employment; an increase in the proportion of two income households; an increasing proportion of better quality; better paid jobs available to a more educated workforce; fewer dependants resulting from the decline in the birth rate; and a tax system designed to provide incentives for economic development and remove obstacles to employment participation, leaving people with more take home pay.

The reason for the change in the indicator is that incomes of people at work have increased very substantially. Social welfare incomes have also increased substantially in real terms, though not at the same rate as incomes generally. The success of policies over recent years in combating unemployment and reducing the level of consistent poverty, however, demonstrates a tangible improvement in the lot of those on lower incomes notwithstanding the very rapid increase in average incomes driven by economic success.

The Government remains committed to reducing the number of those who are consistently poor to below 2% and, if possible, eliminating consistent poverty by 2007. The main instruments in the fight against poverty are the revised national anti-poverty strategy, Building an Inclusive Society, which was launched by the Government in February 2002 and the national action plan against poverty and social exclusion, NAPS/inclusion, published in July 2003.

The strategy sets out a range of targets in the areas of income adequacy, employment and unemployment, education, health, and housing and accommodation. In addition, specific targets and objectives have been established in respect of groups identified as being particularly vulnerable to poverty including the elderly and people with disabilities. The NAPS/inclusion builds on the revised NAPS to provide a clear road map towards the building of a fairer and more inclusive society over the next two years, 2003-05. This plan sets out a coherent strategic approach towards achieving this goal, underpinned by a series of measures across the full range of policy areas which will have a positive impact on the lives of those who experience poverty and social exclusion.

Social Welfare Benefits.

John Gormley

Question:

139 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of unemployed persons who have availed of new measures allowing the collecting of unemployment benefits at any location within the EU. [4033/04]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the new measures concerning the export of unemployment benefits, agreed by the EU Council of Ministers in early December. These changes form part of the wider reform of Regulation 1408/71 which deals with the application of member states' social security systems to persons moving within the Community.

The change in question represents a significant improvement on the present situation whereby these persons would have to return to Ireland after three months if they have failed to locate employment. In addition, these persons will receive their benefit directly from my Department, via electronic transfer while abroad, rather than having to turn up at an employment exchange in the other member state as at present.

At present persons seeking employment in another member state are entitled to receive unemployment benefit for a maximum period of three months once they register with the employment services of the other member state. Payment of benefit is made by the member state in which the unemployed person is looking for employment and that state is subsequently reimbursed by the home state. In addition, unemployed persons can only avail of this arrangement once between two periods of employment.

In the course of its examination of the Commission's proposals for reform of the present regulation, the Council of Ministers, in order to improve the conditions for unemployed persons looking for a job in another member state, agreed that the period during which a job seeker can look for work and retain his entitlement to unemployment benefit from his home state may be extended from three months to six months.

Second, to ensure that the unemployed person will be in a better financial situation while looking for employment, it has also been agreed that the payment of benefit in such cases will in future be made direct to the job seeker instead of through the competent authority of the other member state. Practice has shown that the current procedure sometimes delays the payment of benefits to unemployed person. In addition, the unemployed person may retain his/her benefit entitlement for up to three months between two periods of employment. This may be extended up to six months by member states who allow for the export of benefit for this maximum period.

This easing of the restrictions in relation to the export of unemployment benefit makes the idea of mobility within the European labour markets a greater reality for all EU citizens. The new regulation was recently presented to the European Parliament for its second reading. It is my intention, as part of our Presidency programme, to reach a co-decision agreement with the Parliament on this wide-ranging reform before the end of Parliament's term in May 2004. The new regulation would come into effect once the necessary implementing provisions, have also been agreed, by the Council, and the European Parliament.

Question No. 140 answered with QuestionNo. 111.
Question No. 141 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 142 answered with QuestionNo. 85.
Question No. 143 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Social Welfare Expenditure.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

144 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the progress made on the major review of all aspects of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme; and the details of expenditure under the SWA scheme for 2003. [3997/04]

Given the changing nature of the SWA scheme, the rapidly increasing levels of expenditure and the range of changes being proposed in relation to individual aspects of the scheme it was selected as part of my Department's series of expenditure reviews. The review is being carried out by an interdepartmental working group chaired by my Department and is comprised of representatives from my Department, the Department of Finance, the Department of Health and Children and the health boards.

This review is a fundamental appraisal of the scheme in which all of its aspects are being examined with the aim of improving customer service and administrative efficiency. The review also provides an opportunity to address the role of the health boards' community welfare service generally in tackling poverty and social exclusion.

The working group carried out an extensive consultation process. The views of my own Department's management, health board personnel, other Departments, statutory bodies and agencies, as well as relevant groups were sought. In all this amounted to some 2,000 direct requests for views. In addition, the group placed an advertisement in the national press seeking views of interested individuals and groups. This comprehensive consultation process resulted in 145 submissions being received by the working group. Over 700 issues were raised in these submissions covering some 18 broad themes. Due to the number and nature of the issues raised, the working group has decided to draw up an interim report. The group is currently drafting its interim report which I hope to receive shortly.

With regard to expenditure on the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, provisional figures indicate that €632 million was spent in 2003. This was an increase of almost 20% over the 2002 figure of €527 million. Both figures include the cost of back to school clothing and footwear allowances. Of this increase, 90% of the expenditure occurred in two areas: rent supplement, where there was an increase in expenditure of €80 million, from €252 million to €332 million; and basic payments, where there was an increase in expenditure of €15 million, from €145 million to €160 million.

I have a breakdown of the expenditure for the SWA scheme in a tabular statement that I will make available to the Deputy.

Tabular Statement — Provisional SWA Expenditure 2003 (Rounded)

€ million

Rent Supplement

331.6

Basic SWA Payments (net)

160.6

Exceptional Needs Payments

55.5

HB Administration costs

43.4

Back to School Clothing & Footwear

17.7

Other Supplements

15.0

Mortgage Interest Supplement

7.7

Total

631.5

Job Creation.

Enda Kenny

Question:

145 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will consider ear marking County Donegal in a pilot programme offering incentives to existing SMEs and potential SMEs in order to combat the spiralling unemployment increases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4081/04]

In recent months, I have met with delegations from IBEC north west and the Donegal Country Development Board to discuss employment and related issues in the county. As a result I have arranged for the expert skills group in Forfás to carry out research on the labour market needs of the region.

InterTradeIreland, the trade and business development body which has an all-island remit, has developed a number of programmes for SMEs which can be accessed by companies in Donegal. These programmes are designed to develop the capability of businesses to trade within the island economy by increasing the quality and quantity of knowledge and information on the dynamics of cross-Border trade and business development. InterTradeIreland's ACUMEN programme, for example, provides financial support to SMEs to help develop cross-Border trade opportunities.

The Donegal County Enterprise Board will continue to be active in helping new and existing micro-enterprises in the county. As well as capital and employment grants, there are special strategies in place for women entrepreneurs and a comprehensive programme of development and support programmes designed to help new and existing enterprises to operate effectively and efficiently so as to survive and grow.

In 2003 Donegal County Enterprise Board, CEB, approved grants of €346,767 to 17 projects. There was a net increase of 223 jobs in CEB assisted businesses in 2003. Throughout 2004 the board will continue to work to support new businesses and start-ups in particular.

The Government, along with the industrial development agencies, is committed to ensuring balanced regional development, particularly through the implementation of the national spatial strategy and the recently announced decentralisation programme which should facilitate economic development in Donegal.

Community Employment Schemes.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

146 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if there are plans to remove the three year cap on participation in community employment schemes; if not, if it can be considered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4086/04]

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 introducedto discourage repeated participation in community employment and to encourage unemployed persons to avail of training/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 structure of the community employment programme is currently under review. A decision on the future eligibility criteria for participants, including appropriate length of participation, will be taken when the current review process has been brought to a conclusion.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

147 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she intends to introduce legislation which would enable health and safety officers to enforce the smoking ban in line with the arrangements previously envisaged. [4087/04]

The Minister for Health and Children has announced his intention to ban smoking in most places of work from the perspective of public health. Existing Irish legislation already prohibits or restricts smoking in many public places and protects a significant number of employees from passive smoking in the workplace.

The Health and Safety Authority's inspectors will be enforcing the smoking ban under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 as part of their ongoing inspection activity.

Departmental Properties.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

148 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the location, size and ownership of each land bank in County Kerry held by the IDA. [4088/04]

Decisions regarding location and size of land owned by IDA are day-to-day operational matters for the agency as part of their statutory responsibilities and not matters in which I have a function. All of the lands held by IDA Ireland are solely owned by the agency.

IDA Ireland's current land holdings available for development in Kerry are as follows: in Brackloon in Dingle, IDA owns 0.51 hectares; in Terrnaboul in Killarney, IDA owns 4.66 hectare and 5.67 hectare sites; in Farrantoreen in Killorglin, IDA owns 0.82 hectares. These lands complement available space for development in Shannon Development's 35 acre Kerry Technology Park in Tralee.

Community Employment Schemes.

Michael Ring

Question:

149 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will amend the eligibility criteria for FÁS schemes to enable dependants of persons in receipt of social welfare to be eligible for a FÁS scheme. [3991/04]

All adult dependants aged 25 or over of eligible persons signing on the live register and in receipt of an unemployment payment from the Department of Social and Family Affairs may participate in community employment. The dependant may swap his/her entitlements with his/her spouse and thereby become eligible to participate in community employment. This procedure is known as spousal swap and ensures that no financial loss is incurred for the couple as a result of participation in community employment.

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

Export Licences.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

150 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of the dual use export licences for goods within the 3A001a7 category issued to Israel since 1 January 2000; and if any of the goods authorised for export were for incorporation into military systems. [4214/04]

My Department issued 158 individual dual use export licences to Israel within the 3A001a7 category since 1 January 2000. Israel also featured as a country of final destination on nine global dual use export licences for goods within the 3A001a7 category during this period. This figure is broken down as follows:

Individual dual use export licences under Category 3A001a7

Year

Number of Licences issued

2000

7

2001

92

2002

45

2003

14

2004 (to 06/02/2004)

0

Total

158

Global dual use export licences under Category 3A001a7

Year

Number of Licences issued

2000

1

2001

0

2002

0

2003

8

2004 (to 06/02/2004)

0

Total

9

None of the stated end uses of the goods authorised for export by my Department were for incorporation into military systems. My Department is unable to disclose the names of the licensed exporters as all dealings with individual applicants for export licences, which can involve the disclosure of commercially sensitive information, are conducted on the basis that confidentiality will be maintained.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

151 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of the end use monitoring her Department undertakes of dual use components that are authorised for export under the Community general export authorisation that have been incorporated into military systems. [4215/04]

In order to avail of the Community general export authorisation, CGEA, an exporter must notify my Department in writing of his/her name and the address where export records can be inspected by officials of my Department. This notification must be made before, or within 30 days, of the first such export.

The exportation of dual use goods under the CGEA is subject to exporters meeting strict conditions and requirements as set down by Council Regulation (EC) No 1334/2000. The dual use goods in question must be non-sensitive and can only be exported to ten specified countries: Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Switzerland and the United States.

The CGEA may not be used if the items are or may be intended for a military end-use as defined in Article 4(2) of the regulation in a country subject to an EU, OSCE or UN arms embargo, or if the items are or may be intended for use in connection with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or missiles capable of delivering such weapons or if the exporter is aware that the items in question may be intended for such uses. This ensures that the use of CGEA is conducted in a manner that fully meets Ireland's obligations arising from membership of the EU and other international export control fora.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

152 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of the exports since 1 January 2000 from Ireland of analogue-to-digital converters, ADC, to countries for incorporation into military systems. [4216/04]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

153 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment details of the exports since 1 January 2000 from Ireland to analogue-to-digital converters, ADC, to countries for incorporation into Apache attack helicopters. [4217/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 153 together.

My Department has not issued export authorisations for any exports from Ireland of analogue-to-digital converters, ADC, where the stated end use of the goods was for incorporation into military systems or Apache attack helicopters.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

154 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of the dual use export licences for goods within the 3A001a5 category since 1 January 2000; and if any of the goods authorised for export were for incorporation into military systems. [4218/04]

My Department has issued five dual use export licences for goods within the 3A001a5 category since 1 January 2000. These goods were for use in data acquisition and process control systems. None of the stated end use of the goods authorised for export by my Department were for incorporation into military systems.

My Department is unable to disclose the names of licensed exporters as all dealings with individual applicants for export licences, which can involve the disclosure of commercially sensitive information, are conducted on the basis that confidentiality will be maintained.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

155 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of licences or authorisations issued since 1 January 1998 for the import of thumbcuffs, leg irons and shackles from the United States of America. [4220/04]

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment does not issue import licences for thumbcuffs, leg irons and shackles from the United States.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

156 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of the dual use of goods exported to Myanmar under the 5E002 individual licence issued in 2000. [4221/04]

The details of the above dual use goods, referred to by the Deputy, relate to technology for network security.

My Department is unable to disclose the names of the licensed exporters as all dealings with individual applicants for export licences, which can involve the disclosure of commercially sensitive information, are conducted on the basis that confidentiality will be maintained.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

157 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of the dual use goods exported to Myanmar under the 5D002c1 global licence authorisation in 2001. [4222/04]

The details of the above dual use goods, referred to by the Deputy, relate to office software applications and software tools. My Department is unable to disclose the names of the licensed exporters as all dealings with individual applicants for export licences, which can involve the disclosure of commercially sensitive information, are conducted on the basis that confidentiality will be maintained.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

158 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on exports of dual use goods within the telecommunications and information security category to China in light of Amnesty International's recently published report (details supplied) on the Chinese Government's repression of Internet and human rights activists. [4223/04]

The Irish export control system is implemented in a manner that fully meets Ireland's obligations arising from membership of the EU and other international export control fora. The promotion and protection of human rights is at the heart of Irish foreign policy and, as such, is a significant factor that is taken into account when licence applications are being assessed.

Other factors taken into account by my Department when assessing export licence applications include the description of the goods, end use and end user of the goods, the reputation of the exporter, information made available arising from Ireland's participation in EU and other international export control regimes and obligations arising under sanctions imposed by the EU, UN or OSCE. The advice of the Department of Foreign Affairs is also consulted on certain sensitive dual use licence applications.

It is clear from the Amnesty report that many of its concerns regarding exports from Ireland of dual-use goods within the telecommunications and information security category arise in the context of end-use monitoring. These issues are the subject of ongoing consideration by my Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs in the context of Ireland's membership of the EU and other international export control fora.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

159 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide details of the number of dual use of export licences issued since 1 January 2002, where the civilian end user has incorporated the components into systems for military or police use. [4224/04]

My Department has not issued any dual use export licences since 1 January 2002, where a civilian end user stated that the end use of the goods authorised for export would be incorporated into systems for military or police use.

Naval Service Rations.

Simon Coveney

Question:

160 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Defence the reasons there has not been an increase in the Naval Service value based ration system since its inception (details supplied). [4075/04]

In 1998 the Defence Forces introduced a value based approach to the provision of rations for military personnel. Under this system the expenditure on foodstuff was based on the needs of the Defence Forces and the cost of the foodstuff.

Under Defence Forces regulation personnel can, under certain circumstances, avail of rations on repayment with the charge being set at the cost of the foodstuff plus an allowance for overheads. In 1998 the cost of foodstuff was €2.75 per man day while the daily ration charge was set at €3.81. In the intervening period the cost of foodstuff has increased to €4.10 and agreement has now been reached with the representative association to increase the daily ration charge to €5.75 per day with effect from 1 March next. This revised charge will apply to all branches of the Defence Forces, that is, the Army, the Air Corps and the Naval Service. As a result of this agreement, arrangements are being made to increase the cost of foodstuff allowance under the ration based system.

Military Inquiry.

Martin Ferris

Question:

161 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Defence if the evidence presented to the military inquiry held at Tralee on 7 April 1923 will be released. [4169/04]

The military authorities have advised that having conducted a search of their records at military archives they are unable to locate any material which refers to the incident in question.

Women in Agriculture.

Martin Ferris

Question:

162 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will make a statement on the EU report of June 2003 on the role of women in rural areas and on the proposals his Department will make in order to fulfil the report's recommendations on health care, retirement benefits, maternity leave and other benefits. [4173/04]

While the specific issues referred to by the Deputy do not come within my Department's remit, in 1999 I established an advisory committee on the role of women in agriculture. The report of the committee was published in September 2000 and contained 36 recommendations in total, covering a very broad range of policy and operational areas relating to women in rural communities generally.

The recommendations have been pursued and implemented in as far as practicable. A comprehensive progress report on all of the recommendations relevant to Departments has been finalised, and I have arranged for a copy to be sent to the Deputy.

Installation Aid Scheme.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

163 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when payment of installation aid will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [4287/04]

The above named person is an applicant under the installation aid scheme and submitted an application for payment, IAS 2, to my Department on 17 September 2003. However, following an examination of this application, the person concerned appears to have not yet fulfilled the educational requirements set out under the terms and conditions of the scheme. A final decision will be made on the matter shortly.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

164 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding an oral hearing of a person (details supplied) in County Cork in respect of an appeal that was held sometime ago. [4289/04]

Following the oral hearing held by the agriculture appeals office, my Department agreed to review this case. As a result of that review, full payment issued to the herdowner on 14 January 2004.

Milk Quota.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

165 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food his views on the procedure that will have to be adopted and the criteria that will have to be met for farmers in milk production who have quotas; and the procedure that will be in place for compensation payments in relation to decoupling. [4329/04]

The dairy premium is designed to provide a level of compensation to milk producers for the reduction in support prices in the sector, the first part of which will be implemented on 1 July 2004.

The 2004 dairy premium is payable to milk producers based on the milk quota available on their holding on 31 March 2004. The dairy premium will be decoupled with effect from 2005 and the quota available on the holding on 31 March 2005 will determine the amount of dairy premium to be included in the single farm payment in 2005 and in subsequent years. The quota available on a holding on the 31 March includes quota owned or leased in, including that leased in under a temporary leasing scheme.

Telecommunications Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

166 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance the Government plans to offer its own telecom service requirements to the industry, in such a way as to ensure that the citizens and businesses of Ireland, as well as the Government itself, benefit through competition to Eircom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4340/04]

All Government bodies comply with EU procurement law by sourcing their telecommunication services requirements through open procurement competitions. As a result of taking this competitive approach, Government bodies currently avail of services provided by all of the major telecommunications companies offering services in Ireland.

The Government's virtual private network, VPN, which facilitates a range of telecommunications services, including secure interconnectivity between public bodies, was awarded to a consortium comprising Eircom and Vodafone Ireland in 2002 on foot of an open EU procurement exercise. The VPN contract ensures that the public service receives maximum value for money and substantial savings in its telecommunications expenditure as a result of the significant discounts available. Because of this, all other major providers have also reduced their costs to public service bodies. Although fixed voice services and data services relating to e-Government are mandatory under the VPN contract, all other services are entirely at the discretion of individual bodies. Consequently, my Department has ensured that all other major telecommunications service providers can connect to the Government VPN to allow for the maximum competition in the provision of these services to public bodies.

The contract is proactively managed by my Department. In addition, my Department hasput in place a support and advisory serviceto help public bodies avail of thebest telecommunications solutions for their requirements at best price points by actively encouraging the use of competitive measures in sourcing such solutions.

Garda Stations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

167 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance when a new headquarters will be ready for occupation by gardaí at Tallaght; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4356/04]

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has determined the need for a new divisional headquarters for the gardaí in Tallaght.

On considering the options available to meet this need, the Commissioners of Public Works carried out a feasibility study on the redevelopment potential of the site which houses the existing Garda station in Tallaght. The commissioners have concluded that the existing Garda site has sufficient potential not alone for a new Garda divisional headquarters but also for a mixed development of private residences-offices and retail outlets.

The commissioners will be inviting joint venture proposals shortly from the private sector for the full redevelopment of the existing Tallaght site, to include a new divisional headquarters for the gardaí. On receipt of these proposals the timetable for completion will be clearer.

Disabled Drivers.

John Bruton

Question:

168 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance when he will release the details of the report re-evaluating the disabled drivers tax concessions scheme relating to VRT which was sent to his office in 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4089/04]

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. The report is a substantive one and needs to be studied carefully. On completion of this process, I envisage that the report will be made available publicly.

Departmental Staff.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

169 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Finance the number of staff employed in the Office of the Ombudsman; and the number who have previously worked in Departments. [4090/04]

As at 6 February 2004 the number of staff employed in the Office of the Ombudsman, Office of the Information Commissioner and the Standards in Public Office Commission is 79, 74.1 whole time equivalents, of which 50 have previously worked in Departments.

Decentralisation Programme.

Denis Naughten

Question:

170 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the criteria used to decide on the location of Government offices under his decentralisation programme; the reason the towns of Boyle, Ballaghaderreen and Castlerea fell short based on those criteria; if those towns will be considered for the outstanding allocation of offices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4172/04]

Following my original announcement about decentralisation in December 1999, my Department received submissions, representations and inquiries on behalf of more than 130 centres throughout the country. The programme which I announced on budget day covered 53 centres and the criteria used to select these locations are set out in budget 2004.

As I indicated in my Budget Statement, decisions on location have yet to be made in relation to some 1,300 of the 10,300 jobs being decentralised. I also believe that the final total can be closer to 12,000 jobs and I intend to examine options in this regard once the new programme is well under way. The selection of locations for any future phases of decentralisation will be considered by Government at the appropriate time.

Tax Reliefs.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

171 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Finance if benefit in kind provision is planned in respect of Luas tickets; the position regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4238/04]

The Finance Bill 2004, which was published last week, provides for an extension of the existing BIK tax exemption for employer provided travel passes to include Luas services which are due to commence from June 2004. Currently the exemption just covers CIE, or any of its subsidiaries, and those operators who have a licence under the Road Transport Act 1932. The Bill also clarifies that the exemption will apply where a pass-ticket covers more than one operator, for example, an integrated ticket covering Luas and Dublin Bus.

Decentralisation Programme.

Fiona O'Malley

Question:

172 Ms F. O'Malley asked the Minister for Finance the choices that are open to public servants who are subject to decentralisation but who are in a position to seek a transfer, an option available to civil servants. [4259/04]

The decentralisation programme will operate on a voluntary basis. Civil and public servants who do not wish to transfer to a decentralised location will be assigned to alternative posts in Dublin. The exact procedures which will apply in such cases will be dealt with as part of the implementation process and will be discussed with the public service unions.

Garda Stations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

173 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Finance if a decision has been made in respect of the provision of new headquarters for the Garda Síochána at Tallaght; the terms of that decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4349/04]

A feasibility study on the redevelopment potential of the Tallaght Garda station site was drawn up by OPW following consultation with South Dublin County Council in December 2003. A proposal to go to the market to acquire a development partner for the site is currently under preparation.

Any proposal to redevelop the Garda station site would require the agreement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform having regard to the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána in the Tallaght area.

Foreign Conflicts.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

174 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised with his Israeli counterpart the continuing slaughter of Palestinian citizens, 142 of whom were killed by the Israeli occupation force during the period 1 October to 31 December 2003, and the ongoing destruction of Palestinian homes and land; when he last did so and the response he received; and his understanding of current Israeli intentions regarding their illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. [4160/04]

I visited Israel on 15 and 16 January and met the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. I expressed my concern at the grave situation in the peace process and the continuing violence. The Israeli authorities are in no doubt as to Ireland's position on the conflict. Prime Minister Sharon has recently made some suggestions about a possible Israeli withdrawal from most settlements in the Gaza Strip and has made other suggestions about the future of the Israeli presence in the West Bank. My Department is monitoring the Israeli position closely and is working with both parties to the conflict to promote the implementation of the road map.

Human Rights Issues.

Pat Carey

Question:

175 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the practical response the Irish EU Presidency proposes to make to the Commission's communications on Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union, addressing the issue of EU level accountability for serious breaches of the EU's common values which may occur within a member state; if the proposal to establish a new human rights agency will be subject to full consultation with civil society as to its remit and role; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4210/04]

The Commission communication regarding Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union was circulated in October last. Consideration of the communication is at an early stage, with the Presidency examining ways in which the Council can take forward work on it.

The establishment of a human rights agency referred to by the Deputy relates to a European Council decision of 13 December. On that occasion, the Heads of State or Government decided to extend the European Union monitoring centre's mandate to embrace a human rights agency. The European Commission agreed to submit a proposal to give effect to the Council decision, and this is currently being considered within the Commission. The Council is currently awaiting the Commission proposal.

Pat Carey

Question:

176 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, as part of the Irish EU Presidency, he will work to ensure their human rights as part of political dialogue at the highest level with the new neighbouring countries of the Union, and that human rights observance in these countries is the subject of effective monitoring and reporting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4211/04]

In June last year the General Affairs and External Relations Council expressed its wish to define an ambitious new range of policies towards its new neighbours based on shared values such as liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The countries involved in this initiative, which is now known as the European neighbourhood policy, are Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the countries of the southern Mediterranean, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia.

The European neighbourhood policy will be implemented by the negotiation of action plans for each of the countries involved. These will be political documents, with clear conditionality on democracy and human rights. They will build on existing agreements with each of the countries, setting out clearly the over-arching strategic policy targets, common objectives, the political and economic benchmarks used to evaluate progress in key areas and a timetable for their achievement which will enable progress to be judged regularly. The Council has requested the Commission to draw up country specific action plans for each of the new neighbouring countries involved on this basis.

During the Irish Presidency of the EU, we will be working closely with the Commission to ensure that a number of action plans will be delivered in our Presidency and that the countries involved will be closely evaluated for compliance with human rights and political commitments. There will be meetings at the highest level with a number of the countries involved. The Deputy can be assured that human rights issues will be central to this dialogue.

Pat Carey

Question:

177 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, as part of the Irish EU Presidency programme, he proposes to advance the inclusion of human rights issues in the political dialogue with all Mediterranean countries, to complement and support the European Commission's current efforts to develop national action plans on human rights and democratisation for these countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4212/04]

Human rights are already to the fore in the EU's existing relations with our Mediterranean partners through the various Euro-Mediterranean association agreements, each of which includes an article stating that respect for democratic principles and fundamental human rights, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will guide the internal and international policies of the parties and will constitute an essential element of the agreement. These agreements also commit the parties to develop the rule of law and democracy, including the upholding of fundamental freedoms. The association agreements provide for regular exchanges between the parties and the Irish Presidency will avail of these opportunities to pursue dialogue on all the issues covered by the agreements.

This existing close engagement on human rights is expected to be improved and intensified by the implementation of the European neighbourhood policy. The policy will be implemented by the negotiation of action plans for each of the countries involved. These will be political documents, building on existing agreements with each of the countries and setting out clearly the over-arching strategic policy targets, common objectives, the political and economic benchmarks used to evaluate progress in key areas and a timetable for their achievement which will enable progress to be judged regularly.

We will work closely with the Commission to ensure that a number of action plans will be delivered in the Irish EU Presidency and that the countries involved will be closely evaluated for compliance with human rights and political commitments.

Industrial Relations.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

178 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation following on from Parliamentary Question No. 46 of 22 March 2001, pertaining to a person (details supplied) regarding the protective measures put in place for Irish citizens to pursue grievances related to their employment in Irish embassies. [4213/04]

The Department of Foreign Affairs is committed to giving effect to the Labour Court's recommendation, No. LCR 16709 of 29 January 2001, regarding the establishment of a process by which members of the locally recruited staff at Irish diplomatic and consular missions may pursue grievances relating to their employment. Draft grievance and disciplinary procedures are at an advanced stage of preparation. It is intended to submit these to the Labour Relations Commission in the near future, for observations and advice. Thereafter, the approval of the Department of Finance will be required before the new procedures are introduced, which it is hoped will be well before the end of the year.

Foreign Conflicts.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

179 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has received reports on the military incursion of Israeli forces into the Tal Al-Sultan neighbourhood in the west of Rafah in the Gaza Strip on 2 February 2004 which killed four Palestinians, one of whom was disabled; if he intends to raise the matter with the Israeli authorities or with his colleagues on the General Affairs and External Relations Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4352/04]

I receive regular reports from our diplomatic missions in Israel and the Palestinian Territories on the activities of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip. I am aware of the incident to which the Deputy refers. The Fourth Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949 is fully applicable to both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and must be observed by the Israeli occupation forces. European Union concerns about Israeli activities in the Gaza Strip, and Rafah in particular, were the subject of adémarche by our ambassador in Tel Aviv to the Israeli Foreign Ministry on 27 January. The situation in the Middle East features regularly on the agenda of the General Affairs and External Relations Council and will be considered at the next Council on 23 February.

European Convention Draft Treaty.

John Bruton

Question:

180 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the proposals for revisions of the convention draft treaty put forward by the Italian Presidency for the ministerial conclave in Naples. [4102/04]

The Italian Presidency made good progress across a range of issues in the IGC during its term in office. Some of its proposals were contained in the paper tabled ahead of the meeting of Foreign Ministers in Naples on 28-29 November. These proposals were refined and additional proposals were made in the paper it tabled ahead of the summit meeting in Brussels on 12-13 December. Many of these suggestions would probably have been acceptable to partners had a full discussion taken place in December.

While, as Presidency, we will seek to build on the work carried out by our predecessors in office, we are also proceeding on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Schools Building Projects.

Simon Coveney

Question:

181 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give a detailed reason for the delay with proceeding with the promised new primary school in Ballygarvan, County Cork; the funding that has been committed to this project; and when he expects it to proceed. [4076/04]

The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of my Department for site acquisitions, is exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for the provision of new primary school in Ballygarvan, County Cork. Due to the commercial sensitivities associated with site acquisition, I am unable to provide detailed information relating to specific site purchases.

With regard to the delivery of a new school building, when publishing the 2004 school building programme I outlined that my strategy going forward will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. My officials are reviewing all projects which 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 multi-annual school building programme from 2005. I expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year.

Higher Education Grants.

Bernard Allen

Question:

182 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Cork has not received a third level grant from the city of Cork VEC despite the fact that they are doing a third level course for a diploma in child care at Cork College of Commerce, were initially informed that they would be entitled to a grant, but since then has heard nothing. [4077/04]

My Department funds three means tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions and one grant scheme for students pursuing post-leaving certificate courses: the higher education grants scheme; the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme; the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees; the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses.

The statutory framework for the higher education grants schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. The local authorities administer the schemes on behalf of my Department. My Department reviews the schemes annually. The other three schemes are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees.

The decision on eligibility for maintenance grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except in exceptional cases where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student referred to by the Deputy.

If an individual applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his/her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may itself in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department. However, it is not open to me or my Department to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.

Until such time as an application has been decided on by the relevant local authority or VEC, all inquiries regarding an individual application should be directed to the body concerned rather than to my Department.

Equality Issues.

Bernard Allen

Question:

183 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the decision by the authorities in University College Cork to take an equality awards decision made originally by the Labour Court and having lost their appeal at the High Court, are now taking the case to the Supreme Court; and if he will make a statement on the potential cost involved in taking this case which would go much of the way to paying the original award. [4078/04]

I am aware of the case in question. As the Deputy is aware, the Universities Act 1997 confers autonomous statutory responsibilities on universities in the day to day management of their affairs. Furthermore, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on any matters before the courts.

Schools Building Projects.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

184 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of a new boys national school in Rathmore, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4079/04]

The proposed 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 web site atwww.education.ie. This proposed project is at an early stage 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.

Indicative time scales 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.

School Accommodation.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

185 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of a general purposes room at Lough Guitane national school, Killarney, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4080/04]

The school authorities of Lough Guitane national school recently informed my Department that they wish to change the application previously submitted for a general purposes room to an application for an additional classroom, due to an increase in pupil numbers.

The application is currently being considered by officials in the school planning section of my Department which will be in contact with the school authorities in this regard.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Crowe

Question:

186 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia, that the Department of Education and Science should ensure that information and advice are readily available to parents and guardians of children with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, through the development of appropriate printed and electronic materials and through the distribution of such materials through schools. [4117/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

187 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia, that the number of resource hours sanctioned for primary level students with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, should where necessary exceed the current limit of 2.5 hours per week. [4118/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

188 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia, that a pupil teacher ratio of 9:1 or equivalent should be implemented in special classes in mainstream primary schools and in special schools for students with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia. [4119/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

189 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia, that special needs assistants should be assigned to special classes and special schools for students with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, on a needs basis, so that teachers can better plan and implement programmes that address students' individual learning needs. [4120/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

190 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that, in the absence of equitable access and contingent on the outcomes of relevant research, the Department of Education and Science should develop a strategic plan for the establishment of additional special classes in mainstream primary schools for students with specific learning difficulties, including difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4121/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

191 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that in consultation with relevant bodies, including the National Educational Psychological Service, the Department of Education and Science should review and amalgamate current circulars dealing with the identification of specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, to remove inconsistencies between circulars and to incorporate the phased model of identification and other changes recommended in this report. [4122/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

192 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the identification of dyslexia should be based on the phased model of identification outlined in chapter five of the report and should culminate in a review of the student's learning needs by a multidiscliplinary team drawing on the outcomes of ability and achievement tests and on information on the student's response to planned changes in their class and learning support programmes. [4123/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

193 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that emerging perspectives on the identification of specific learning difficulties, including current discrepancy based models, should be kept under review and should be adopted as appropriate. [4124/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

194 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that in order to better meet the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, the Department of Education and Science should expedite implementation of its learning support guidelines, including the provision by a learning support teacher of intensive supplementary teaching to no more than 30 students in any instructional term. [4125/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

195 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should appoint a national learning support co-ordinator and 50 regional learning support advisers to provide advice and support to schools and learning support teachers at the primary and post-primary levels. [4126/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

196 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should sanction learning support posts on a needs basis in recognised private post-primary schools, thereby enabling recognised learning support teachers in such schools to attend in-career development courses in learning support sanctioned by the Department. [4127/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

197 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that in view of recent equality legislation, the Department of Education and Science should refer to the director of equality investigations and the National Disability Authority the practice of appending explanatory notes to the certificates of candidates with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, who are granted certain accommodations in State examinations. [4128/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

198 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Educationand Science should examine a range of accommodations that might be offered to all students with specific learning difficulties arising from dyslexia in State examinations, including the provision of test papers with enlarged print, and the option of listening to the examination questions on tape. [4129/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

199 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should inform examination candidates with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, at least six months beforehand whether their applications for reasonable accommodations have been successful so that schools can be supported in providing appropriate preparation and training. [4130/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

200 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should commission the development of assessment and support materials in Irish so the needs of students whose first language is Irish can be effectively addressed. [4131/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

201 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that in the context of an increasingly multi-ethnic society, the Department of Education and Science should consider the cultural appropriateness of testing and teaching materials in English for students with learning difficulties. [4132/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

202 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the inspectorate of the Department of Education and Science should, as provided for in the Education Act 1998, monitor and report on the implementation by schools of strategies designed to address the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, including learning support and special education services. [4133/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

203 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should provide guidelines to learning support and resource teachers in Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna on the language through which additional support should be given to students with learning difficulties in those cases in which the language of the home is different from the language of the school. [4134/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

204 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should commission a study to compare the relative effectiveness and appropriateness to the needs of individual students and their parents of the three models of special education provision that are in place for primary level students with specific learning difficulties, including those arising from dyslexia, resource teaching support, enrolment in a special class and enrolment in a special school. [4135/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

205 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should commission a study on the operation and effectiveness of the learning support and resource teaching services in post-primary schools, including the nature of provision for students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4136/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

206 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should commission a review of existing research on the effectiveness of therapies and interventions that have been designed to address the neurological and perceptual capacities of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4137/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

207 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should arrange for the maintenance of a database of students with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia, who are in receipt of special education services in primary and post-primary schools. [4138/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

208 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should initiate the setting up of an interdepartmental committee that includes the representatives of the Departments of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Health and Children, Social and Family Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and Finance to ensure that the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia are addressed in a co-ordinated manner and that administrative and professional boundaries do not hamper the delivery of appropriate services. [4139/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

209 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the Department of Education and Science should draw upon the expertise of approved and recognised voluntary organisations that provide assessment and teaching services for students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia as new initiatives designed to tackle such difficulties are implemented; and if he will outline the mechanisms in place to allow for this. [4140/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

210 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that teaching practice for pre-service teachers at the primary and post-primary levels should include a placement with a trained learning support or special education teacherthat involves programme planning and implementation at the individual student level. [4141/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

211 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that educational psychology should be offered in colleges of education as a subject option in primary teacher education programmes leading to the Bachelor of Education degree. [4142/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

212 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the language acquisition and reading methodology courses offered to primary level pre-service teachers should incorporate information on the more systematic and detailed approaches required to teach reading and writing to students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4143/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

213 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that pre-service teacher education programmes at primary and post-primary levels should include input on special education needs, both integrated within general courses and as an area of study in itself, and attention should be given to ways in which class and subject teachers can identify and meet the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4144/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

214 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the number of places on in-service courses for learning support and resource teachers should be increased to cater for recent and envisaged expansion of the learning support and resource teaching support services. [4145/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

215 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that in-career development courses for learning support and resource teachers dealing with the identification of learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, and the planning and implementation of appropriate interventions, should be provided as a matter of urgency. [4146/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

216 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that intensive in-career development courses dealing with the identification of learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, differentiated teaching and programme planning and implementation at the individual student level should be arranged for all class and subject teachers on an ongoing basis. [4147/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

217 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that special schools for students with specific learning difficulties, including dyslexia, should be developed as resource centres for special class teachers and resource teachers working with students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, through the development of links with local education centres. [4148/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

218 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that each primary and post-primary school should incorporate into its school development plan whole-school procedures and strategies for identifying and addressing the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia. [4149/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

219 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that each primary and post-primary school should involve parents of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia in the assessment of their child's learning needs, inthe development and implementation of an individual learning programme and in making decisions on continuation and discontinuation of support services. [4150/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

220 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that each primary and post-primary school should identify in the school development plan a named teacher with responsibility for the co-ordination of services for students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia and other special needs and that this teacher's duties should include the maintenance of records, liaison with parents and with professionals outside the school, liaison between the students' teachers and the maintenance of links between students' primary and post-primary schools. [4151/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

221 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that each primary and post-primary school should involve parents of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia in the assessment of their child's leaning needs, inthe development and implementation of an individual learning programme and in making decisions on continuation and discontinuation of support services. [4152/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

222 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that schools should monitor the effectiveness of interventions that are put in place to address the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, in the context of developing and evaluating implementation of the school development plan. [4153/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

223 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that, where possible, schools should ensure continuity in the development of expertise and of support services by allocating the same teachers to learning support/resource teaching duties for a period of several years; and what the Department has done to make it possible for schools to allocate teaching staff in this fashion. [4154/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

224 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that, where a student cannot study a subject because of a specific learning difficulty arising from dyslexia, schools should make appropriate alternative arrangements. [4155/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

225 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia, that the number of third level places for the post-graduate training of educational psychologists should be increased in line with projected national needs and the projected needs of the National Educational Psychological Service. [4156/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

226 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the National Educational Psychological Service should be provided with resources to advise schools on such matters as implementing screening and early identification programmes and programme planning to support students, parents and teachers in addressing learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, to contribute to the continuing professional development of staff members in a school and to assist in monitoring the effectiveness of interventions implemented in the school. [4157/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

227 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that the National Centre for Technology in Education, in the context of its work in the area of special needs and the development of Scoilnet, should be provided with resources to advise and support teachers on the use of software and assistive technology designed to address the needs of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, and should make information on dyslexia available to teachers on its website. [4158/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

228 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the recommendation of the task force on dyslexia that grants or tax relief should be available to parents of students with learning difficulties arising from dyslexia who purchase assistive technology for their children where such technology has been recommended by an accredited expert. [4159/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 to 228, inclusive, together.

The report of the task force on dyslexia contains over 60 individual recommendations ranging across a wide variety of issues from identification and assessment to models of service delivery, specialist training for service providers and issues relating to structural reforms. Since the task force reported, a number of initiatives have been taken in the area of dyslexia. These include: the introduction of the first ever on-line training course for teachers catering for pupils with dyslexia, the appointment of ten new learning support trainers to the primary curriculum support programme specifically to provide in depth support for the implementation of learning support guidelines for children with dyslexia and a reduction from 11:1 to 9:1 in the pupil teacher ratio applicable to special classes catering for children with dyslexia; the development, in association with the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, of an information resource on dyslexia to be made available in cd, dvd and video format.

In addition to the above measures, a key focus of my Department has been on advancing the fundamental structural and legislative measures which are necessary to underpin the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs, including children with dyslexia. A key development on the structural front has been the Government's decision to approve the establishment of the National Council for Special Education.

The national council, which will have a local area presence, will play a key role in the development and delivery of services for persons with special needs, including children with dyslexia. It will have a research and advisory role and will establish expert groups to consider specific areas of special needs provision. It will also establish a consultative forum to facilitate inputs from the education partners and other interested parties. Arrangements for the establishment of the council are now well advanced. A chief executive has been appointed, the Oireachtas has approved an order establishing the council, the first meeting of which has already taken place, and the recruitment of council staff is in hand.

I have brought forward legislation, based on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003, aimed at establishing the rights and entitlements of persons with special needs, including dyslexia, to an appropriate education service and providing the necessary framework for effective service delivery. My objective is to secure the passage of this legislation through the Oireachtas as quickly as possible.

Billy Timmins

Question:

229 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow who was assessed by an educational psychologist in December 2002 that recommended an allocation of 3.5 hours weekly with a resource teacher and a full-time special needs assistant; if this can be sanctioned as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4164/04]

At present the school has the services of a full-time and part-time resource teacher together with a shared learning support teacher.

My Department received an application for further special educational resources from the school. SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one made by the school, are being considered. More than 5,000 applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children that started school last September and all of them were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

A dedicated team reviewed the balance of more than 4,000 applications. It comprised members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service. The applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year. Account is also being taken of existing resource levels. The details were submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is complex and time consuming. My Department is endeavouring to complete it as quickly as possible when my officials will respond to all applicant schools. Schools are advised to refer to circular 24/03 that issued last September. It contained practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within a school.

Billy Timmins

Question:

230 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of 14 persons (details supplied) awaiting recommendations from their psychological assessments to be implemented; if the resource teaching hours can be sanctioned as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4165/04]

At present the school has the services of a full-time and part-time resource teacher together with a shared learning support teacher. My Department received applications for further special educational resources from it.

Resources in respect of an emergency application for one of the persons have been approved on a temporary basis. SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the applications for the remaining 13 persons, are being considered. More than 5,000 applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children who started 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. The applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year. Account is also being taken of existing resource levels, the details of which were submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is complex and time consuming. My Department is endeavouring to have it 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 issued last September. It contained practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs in a school.

EU Presidency.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

231 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will give details regarding the youth programme of the Irish EU Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4230/04]

I am availing myself of the EU Presidency to further develop youth policy at home and to influence youth policy in Europe.

Progressing the EU Commission's White Paper, entitled A New Impetus for European Youth, is a priority for the youth agenda during the Presidency. I plan to hold a youth conference at ministerial level in County Clare from 4 to 6 March. While its overall theme reflects the youth Presidency priority of progressing the White Paper, it will focus particularly on two issues. These are young people and politics, a key dimension of youth participation, and the development of youth policy at EU level. Approximately 170 delegates are expected to attend the conference from both member states and accession countries.

At the January meeting of the Council of the European Union's youth working party, the Irish Presidency introduced a draft resolution on social inclusion with specific regard to young people. It will highlight their issues in many different areas of activity and concern. I intend to place this on the agenda of the EU Council of Education and Youth Ministers in May. A declaration on racism, violence and intolerance with regard to young people is also proposed for discussion at these meetings.

Léargas, the exchange bureau, is organising a meeting of the national agencies for the youth programme in Dublin in May. Its theme will be the development of youth policies in accordance with the EU White Paper on youth. The National Youth Council of Ireland will also be involved in a meeting of the European Youth Forum in Dublin in May.

In June, during the Presidency, a meeting of directors general of youth from all of the EU member states will take place in Dublin. The discussion will focus on the possible contents of a new youth programme and further advancement of the principles contained in the EU White Paper on youth. The youth working party will also have an informal meeting in Dublin in June.

State Examination Fees.

Richard Bruton

Question:

232 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a decision was taken by the State Examinations Commission to increase the junior certificate examination fee from €75 to €82, nearly four months after schools had informed parents that the €75 fee was the correct fee for the year; his views on the inconvenience to parents who had already paid the original fee for the junior certificate examination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4231/04]

Last November I announced an increase of €10 in the standard leaving certificate fee and increased it from €76 to €86, an increase of 13%. Similar increases were applied to other examination fees. Last December schools were formally notified of the new amounts by the State Examinations Commission.

Any information given by schools to parents prior to this was not based on a formal notification from the commission. It is regrettable that this may cause parents some inconvenience. 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.

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 examination fees. Medical cards will be accepted only if valid on 1 February, the due date for payment.

School Closures.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

233 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Linguistic Institute of Ireland, or Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann, will close as a result of the cessation of funding by his Department from 2004; if he can explain the decision; and if it is justified given that it is Government policy to support the research and development work associated with language and education here. [4253/04]

At an extraordinary general meeting of ITE, held on 18 July 2003, the company agreed to initiate a process of voluntary liquidation. The decision was a matter for the members in accordance with their memorandum and articles of association and relevant company law. It was taken prior to the finalisation of my Department's Estimates for 2004 and was not related to financial considerations.

A meeting of the ITE's executive committee on 5 December 2003 agreed a timetable for the appointment of a liquidator, who was subsequently appointed on 9 January 2004. My Department has given a commitment to provide every assistance to the company in giving effect to its decision, in partnership with the staff of the institute. My Department is working closely with the liquidator in this regard. This includes exploring possible arrangements for the continuation of certain research activities previously carried out by the institute.

Also, in the interests of assisting with an orderly wind-up, facilitating appropriate redeployment or other appropriate arrangements for staff in line with general public service policy in these matters and subject to agreement with the Department of Finance. The entitlements of those employees for whom appropriate redeployment arrangements are not made will be determined in accordance with the terms of their contracts. I have asked to be kept informed of progress in these matters.

Special Educational Needs.

Michael Ring

Question:

234 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be provided with the resource teaching support that they need; if his Department has received and reviewed all of their psychological reports; and the progress of the application. [4271/04]

The school has the services of a shared full-time resource teacher together with a shared learning support teacher. My Department received a further application for special educational resources from the school for the pupil.

SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including the one made by the school, are being considered. More than 5,000 applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children that started school last September and all of these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year.

The balance of more than 4,000 applications have 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. Account is also being taken of existing resource levels, the details of which were submitted by schools as part of the recent nationwide census of SER provision.

The processing of the applications is complex and time consuming. My Department is endeavouring to have it 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 issued last September. It contains practical advice on how to achieve the most effective deployment of resources already allocated for special educational needs within the school.

School Rent.

Denis Naughten

Question:

235 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science when his Department commenced payment of rent for the Hodson Grammar School, Elphin, County Roscommon; the rent paid in each year since; the contractual agreement with the owners of the school; if the Department is exposed to a liability if the lease is broken; the cost involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4276/04]

Responsibility for rental costs on the premises is a matter for County Roscommon Vocational Education Committee.

My Department contacted the VEC. I am advised that arising from the decision of the school's governors to close it at the end of the school year 1997-98, the VEC entered into a yearly rental arrangement with the governors of Bishop Hodson's endowment for the use of the former grammar school premises for school accommodation purposes. The rental agreement between the governors and the VEC is terminable by one calendar month's notice in writing by either party on any day of the month. There is no liability attaching to my Department arising from the rental arrangement.

The VEC's rental costs for the premises are as follows:

Amount

School Year

13,300

1998-99

13,900

1999-00

14,600

2000-01

15,200

2001-02

15,600

2002-03

15,600

2003-04.

Schools Building Projects.

Denis Naughten

Question:

236 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science when his Department intends to announce the multi-annual framework for the schools building programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4278/04]

Publication of a multi-annual programme entails a considerable detailed review of all large scale building projects that were not authorised to proceed under the 2004 schools building programme. As part of the process, consultations are under way with the education partners regarding the prioritisation criteria used for large scale building projects. The purpose of these consultations is to ensure that the criteria have optimum precision and are tuned to meeting the priority accommodation needs of the primary and post-primary sectors. When the consultations have been completed my Department's planning section will carry out a review of individual projects and frame a multi-annual programme. I expect to make further announcements on progress during the year.

Special Educational Needs.

Pat Carey

Question:

237 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Education and Science when schools can expect notification of the results of their applications for resource and special needs assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4345/04]

Special education resource applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 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 existing resource levels, the details of which were submitted by schools as part of the recent nation-wide 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.

School Staffing.

Pat Carey

Question:

238 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on whether a person (details supplied) would be entitled to a full-time permanent contract under the terms of the Protection of Employees (Fixed Term Work) Act 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4346/04]

The issue raised by the Deputy is a matter for discussion between the person in question and his employer, City of Dublin VEC.

Harbours and Piers.

Simon Coveney

Question:

239 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the level of funding available for the development of new piers and the upgrading of existing piers around the coastline; and if any funding will be made available for the development of improved pier facilities for Inch Island pier, County Donegal. [4074/04]

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006, Exchequer funding of €21.840 million is allocated in respect of fishery harbours and related facilities for 2004.

In relation to Inch Island pier, the pier is owned by Donegal County Council and responsibility for its repair and maintenance rests with the local authority in the first instance. Donegal County Council submitted a proposal to my Department in respect of Inch Island pier. The works proposed for Inch Island pier can be split into two phases. Phase 1 involves widening the existing pier and access road at a cost of €650,000. Phase 2 mainly involves a pier extension at a total cost of €2,350,000. The question of funding development works at Inch Island pier in the 2004-2006 period will depend on the amount of funding available for works at fishery harbours generally and overall national priorities.

Electronic Communications Infrastructure.

Denis Naughten

Question:

240 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the approval, if any, which ComReg required from his Department, including orders or regulations, to change area codes which came into effect in November 2003; when approval was sought and approved; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many personal alarms provided to the elderly are inoperable due to the recent change in phone numbers; the action taken by his Department or ComReg to address this issue prior to the changeover; if he will provide funds to community groups to have these alarms re-programmed, in view of the prohibitive cost facing many elderly people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4168/04]

Michael Ring

Question:

245 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if and when ComReg plans to change telephone numbering schemes; if his Department or ComReg will provide grants to elderly people who will have to re-programme their personal alarms as a result of the change; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4342/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 240 and 245 together.

ComReg has sole responsibility for the overall management of the national numbering resource. No approval from the Department is sought, or is necessary, when ComReg initiates any changes and these are done only when absolutely necessary and after a considerable period of consultation. ComReg aims to implement any changes in a way that minimises disruption, cost and inconvenience for customers and service operators.

Any costs incurred directly or indirectly are traditionally carried by telephone subscribers in respect of their own numbers. Persons with particular difficulties should contact their service provider in the first instance, and also notify ComReg of difficulties created by any proposed changes.

Employee Shareholding Scheme.

Richard Bruton

Question:

241 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Government has a role in decisions by an employee share ownership trust to sell the holding in a former State owned company; and the restrictions on the sale of these holdings. [4170/04]

Eircom is a private company and neither I, nor the Government, have any role in any decisions made by the shareholders of the company.

Harbours and Piers.

Fiona O'Malley

Question:

242 Ms F. O'Malley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the future plans for Dún Laoghaire harbour in view of the fact that competition is a cornerstone of Government policy; his future plans for Dún Laoghaire Harbour; and if a merger with Dublin Port is not envisaged. [4261/04]

I have no proposals at present to merge Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Dublin Port Company.

In May 2003, I published the high level review of the State commercial ports operating under the Harbours Acts 1996 and 2000. The purpose of the high level review was to critically review the current model for the governance of the port companies.

Among its many findings and recommendations, the high level review noted that there is a conflict between the commercial and heritage obligations of Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company. The review recommended that responsibility for the cultural and heritage aspects should be transferred to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council and that consideration be given, on commercial and economic grounds, to merging Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company and Dublin Port Company to become Dublin Bay Company.

When I published the high level review, I also initiated a full public consultation process on its findings and recommendations. In response, my Department has received submissions from a number of parties, including the two port companies concerned, and Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council. All submissions are receiving careful consideration by my Department.

It is my intention to publish a comprehensive policy statement over the coming months, drawing on the high level review and the subsequent consultation process.

Electronic Communications Infrastructure.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

243 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government plans to ensure that there is a strong, vigorous competitor to Eircom that will bring the needed real broadband services to every community in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4338/04]

In my announcement of the broadband action plan in December last, I outlined the key elements of the scheme to bring broadband connectivity to over 350,000 people living in areas where broadband is not yet available.

The key elements of the plan are: connecting over 90 towns with a population of greater than 1,500 to broadband with community broadband exchanges and strategic fibre; a new group broadband scheme, similar to group water schemes, where smaller rural communities can join with service providers to put forward proposals for broadband infrastructure in their area; a committed spend of €35 million annually from Government between now and 2007; new policy directions to the Commission for Communications Regulation focusing on delivering competitive pricing, and the dedicated websitewww.broadband.gov.ie which will allow broadband consumers to register their interest and to see the details of prices and availability of broadband services in their area.

In addition, the Deputy will be aware that I also announced details of the new high-speed broadband offerings on the Esat BT and ESB fibre networks. Pricing on both these complementary offerings are on a par with the best available internationally. All of these announcements will assist in promoting availability and competition in the Irish broadband market.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

244 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will ensure that the newly constructed MANs, the only Government controlled telecom assets, will not come under the influence of Eircom, either directly or indirectly through commercial relationships; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4339/04]

Arrangements for the marketing, management, operation and maintenance of the metropolitan area networks — MANs — will be consistent with the Government's strategy of providing broadband infrastructure on an open access and carrier neutral basis.

It is intended that this ‘open-access' principle will be enshrined in a code of practice for the use of the metropolitan area networks thus ensuring that access to the infrastructure is administered on fair, transparent and non-discriminatory terms to all interested parties.

Question No. 245 answered with QuestionNo. 240.

Sports Capital Programme.

Michael Ring

Question:

246 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will sanction funding to a centre (details supplied) in County Mayo under the sports capital programme 2004. [4332/04]

The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis.

The 2004 sports capital programme was advertised in the national newspapers on 30 November and 1 December 2003. The closing date for receipt of applications was 16 January 2004. A total of 1,302 applications were received before the closing date, including one from the organisation in question. All applications are currently being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

EU Presidency.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

247 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the work of a person (details supplied) will be included as part of the 250 pieces of art work by Irish artists, during the Irish Presidency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4335/04]

There are no plans to include work by the artist in question as part of the cultural programme associated with Ireland's EU Presidency.

Smoking Ban.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

248 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if his Department or the Office of Tobacco Control will be drawing up guidelines for the operation of the smoking ban in psychiatric hospitals, where many patients may have nicotine addiction; and if these guidelines will be available well in advance of the introduction of the smoking ban. [4092/04]

A national implementation committee has been established involving the Office of Tobacco Control, the Health and Safety Authority, environmental health officers, health board representatives and the Department of Health and Children. This committee will provide assistance on the implementation of the new health measures. Guidelines on the new smoke free workplaces regulations, including the proposed exemptions, will issue in the near future.

Hospital Services.

Seán Power

Question:

249 Mr. S. Power asked the Minister for Health and Children his plan to alleviate the situation in view of recent reports which highlighted serious overcrowding at Naas General Hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4093/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Health Board Services.

Bernard Allen

Question:

250 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applicants awaiting home help service in Cork city, Cork county and County Kerry and the maximum and minimum length of time they are waiting. [4094/04]

The provision of health services is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Southern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Accommodation.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

251 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children when funding will be made available for the 12 extra beds for Kanturk Community Hospital promised two years ago. [4106/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, responsibility for the provision of health services in the Cork area rests with the Southern Health Board in the first instance.

The Southern Health Board has submitted a draft planning brief to my Department for an 18 bed extension to Kanturk Community Hospital as part of its national development plan 2000-2006. My Department is currently examining this submission and will continue to liaise with the board to progress this project in line with the board's capital development priorities and capital funding available to the board under the national development plan.

Hospital Services.

James Breen

Question:

252 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will sanction the radiotherapy unit at the Regional Hospital, Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4107/04]

I recently met with both the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust and the Mid-Western Health Board about their proposal for the development of a radiation oncology unit on the campus of the mid-western regional hospital, Limerick. The proposal is for a facility to be constructed on a site to be made available by the Mid-Western Health Board and to be operated by a private hospital, with funds provided by the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust. For this development to proceed, it does not require revenue or capital resources from my Department. My sanction is not therefore required. I have also advised the representatives of the Mid-Western Health Board of the establishment of a national radiation oncology co-ordinating group with the specific remit of agreeing quality assurance protocols, including guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

As the Deputy is aware, I launched the report on ‘The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland' in October 2003. Its recommendations have been accepted by Government. The Government agrees that a major programme is now required to rapidly develop clinical radiation oncology treatment services to modern standards. Furthermore, the Government has agreed that the first phase of such a new programme should be the development of a clinical network of large centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway. The implementation of the report's recommendations is the single most important priority in cancer services in the acute hospital setting.

I am committed to seeking additional Exchequer resources to implement the report's recommendations. Specifically, I have approved the purchase of two additional linear accelerators for the supra-regional centre in the south and the necessary capital investment amounting to over €4 million to commission this service as rapidly as possible. In 2004, €1 million ongoing revenue funding is being made available for the development of these services which will improve services for cancer patients in the Southern, Mid-Western and South Eastern Health Boards. I will also provide for the appointment of two additional consultant radiation oncologists to develop services to these boards. This means a doubling of the consultant manpower for the region.

I have also approved the appointment of a project team to prepare a brief for the rapid expansion of current capacity for this region from four to eight linear accelerators. This project team is meeting for the first time this week.

Concerning the supra-regional centre at University College Hospital Galway, I am making available €2.5 million ongoing revenue funding for this service this year. This centre is constructed and the equipment is currently being commissioned. I have provided for the appointment of three consultant radiation oncologists, one of whom will have significant sessional commitments to the Mid-Western Health Board. I have requested the Western Health Board to prepare a development control plan to facilitate the expansion from three to six linear accelerators in the medium term. I have also approved the establishment of a project team to plan this expansion in the region.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

253 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the cover which is available for private practice doctors performing surgery in a private hospital for national treatment purchase fund patients. [4108/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

254 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the personal injuries cover which is available to patients having surgery in a private hospital under the national treatment purchase fund. [4109/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

255 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the cover which is available to category two doctors and their support teams performing surgery in a private hospital for national treatment purchase fund patients. [4110/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 253 to 255, inclusive, together.

Procedures undertaken in private hospitals on behalf of the national treatment purchase fund are not covered by the clinical indemnity scheme. The hospitals undertaking these procedures are required to provide their own public liability insurance for themselves and their nursing and other staff. The consultants involved are required to provide their own professional indemnity cover through membership of one of the medical defence organisations.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Mary Upton

Question:

256 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children when and where a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 will have an urgently-needed hip replacement operation; and if this person is entitled to avail of the national treatment purchase fund. [4161/04]

Responsibility for the provision of health services to persons residing in Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to her directly.

Hospital Services.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

257 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children the action that was taken by the general manager of Cavan General Hospital and the executive management of the NEHB following the advice of the NEHB medical adviser by letter dated 3 September 2003 that all elective surgical activity should cease pro tempore; the period of time all elective surgical activity ceased; and when elective surgery will recommence. [4235/04]

Paudge Connolly

Question:

258 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children if, with regard to the NEHB medical adviser's letter of 3 September 2003 regarding cancellation of all elective surgical procedures, it was his intention to have both in-house elective surgical procedures and all elective day surgery cancelled. [4236/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 257 and 258 together.

Responsibility for the provision of services at Cavan General Hospital rests with the North Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to examine the matters raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

I met with the North Eastern Health Board on 3 February 2004 and with representatives of the hospital's medical board, at its request, on 5 February 2004 to discuss the provision of acute hospital services within the Cavan-Monaghan hospital group. The medical board representatives tabled a number of proposals at this meeting which are the subject of discussion with the North Eastern Health Board.

Departmental Staff.

Paul McGrath

Question:

259 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children, further to Parliamentary Question No. 396 of 25 February 2003, the position with regard to the recruitment of health care professionals within the State, in particular speech and language therapists; his views on whether the strategy outlined in his previous answer is successful; and if so, the reason there are many areas in the State still experiencing long waiting lists and, in some cases, chronic lack of speech and language therapy facilities. [4239/04]

Staffing requirements overall in the health service must be viewed in the context of the substantial increases in employment levels achieved in the health services over recent years. In this regard, the Deputy may note the increase of almost 28,000, 41%, in the approved employment level for the health service between end-1997 to end-2003, bringing the national employment ceiling to 95,800 in whole time equivalent, WTE, terms, excluding home helps. This significant increase in the human resources deployed in the health service has supported substantial increases in the volume of health and social care services provided to the public over the period.

Within the total increase, large increases in employment have been achieved for key health and social care professional staff, including growth of 22.2%, +6,063 WTEs, in nursing personnel, 36.8% more medical-dental personnel, +1,832 WTEs, and over double, 112%, the number of health and social care professionals, +6,971, now employed in the health services. This considerable achievement reflects the success of the steps taken to increase the attractiveness of employment in the health services and the ongoing measures being taken in areas experiencing shortages of fully trained and qualified staff.

Developments such as pay increases, improvements in career structure and enhanced opportunities for professional and career development have all played a part in increasing staffing levels through recruitment and improved retention. The full implementation of the pay recommendations of the public service benchmarking body is expected to reinforce this process. Overseas recruitment by health agencies in specific instances over recent years also contributed significantly to meeting the workforce needs of the health services. The ongoing implementation of these and similar developments will make an important contribution to strengthening the capacity of the health services to recruit and retain the high calibre professionals required in all disciplines to fill challenging and demanding roles central to the delivery of quality health and social care services to the public.

As far as speech and language therapists in particular are concerned, the initiatives outlined in the previous reply referred to by the Deputy have contributed to the increase of 83 WTEs from 399 WTEs at the end of 2001 to 482 WTEs at the end of September 2003. This represents an increase of in excess of 17% over the period, complementing the increase of 13.5%, 345 WTEs to 399 WTEs, which took place over the two year period from end-1999 to end-2001. The continued implementation of the recommendations of the report of the expert group on various health professions, which included new pay scales and career structures, the availability of the fast track working visa scheme and the streamlining of procedures for the validation of overseas qualifications are designed to help sustain the improvements in staffing levels achieved for speech and language therapy services, both at local and national level.

In addition, three new speech and language therapy courses commenced in the 2003-04 academic year in UCC, NUIG and UL. In total, these courses will provide an additional 75 training places in speech and language therapy. This expansion in training numbers was identified in the Bacon report as necessary to meet the long-term demand and supply balance for speech and language therapists in Ireland.

In view of the large numbers of staff employed and the unique nature of the services being delivered in the health service, it is clearly imperative that a coherent, strategic approach to workforce and human resource planning be developed further and aligned closely with strategic objectives and the service planning process. Planning for the development of new and existing health and social services in the future must be soundly based on a robust and realistic assessment of the skill and human resource needs to deliver these services. As highlighted in the social partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, better skill mix is also of paramount importance in meeting the human resource needs of the health service. Enhanced skills mix by matching skills to service needs benefits patients and empowers health personnel to reach their full potential and optimise their contribution to quality care.

In addition to effective planning to ensure the continued availability of a qualified, competent workforce, it is also necessary for the health service to become an employer of choice to further improve potential for recruitment and retention. The record number of staff recruited into the health service in the past number of years illustrates the progress that has been made in this regard.

Having recruited and developed such a large number of staff over recent years, it is a priority to retain them by offering a challenging and rewarding career path. In the human capital and skills intensive health sector, retention has been identified as a key issue in better people management. The continuing implementation of the "Action Plan for People Management" is playing a crucial role in improving retention and reducing turnover of skilled staff, while providing the opportunity for each member of the workforce in the health sector to maximise their contribution to the creation of a quality and patient centred health service in line with the objectives of the health strategy.

In conclusion, 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. Hence, the recruitment of health service staff in 2004 will take place in the context of the implementation of each health board's service plan.

Health Board Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

260 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the funding made to each nursing home in County Roscommon under the winter initiative; the number of patients in each nursing home under this scheme; the rate charged per patient per week; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4273/04]

The provision of health services is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply direct to him as a matter of urgency.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

261 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of public patients awaiting in-patient treatment in Tralee General Hospital, County Kerry, on 31 January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4353/04]

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

262 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of public patients awaiting out-patient treatment in Tralee General Hospital, County Kerry, on 31 January 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4354/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 261 and 262 together.

The provision of hospital services at Tralee General Hospital is, in the first instance, a matter for the Southern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board to reply directly to the Deputy with the information requested.

Health Board Services.

Pat Carey

Question:

263 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects that appropriate speech and language therapy assistance will be made available to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4355/04]

The provision of health related services, including speech and language therapy, for people with physical and-or sensory disabilities is a matter for the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Driving Tests.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

264 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding a person being considered as a driving tester for the Department of Transport and the qualifications required; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4097/04]

While the Department has no immediate plans to initiate a competition for driver testers, the position is reviewed regularly having regard to current and future requirements of the driver testing service.

Recruitment to the Civil Service is carried out centrally by the Office of the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commissioners and interested candidates can register their interest by logging on to thewww.publicjobs.ie website. Once registered, candidates will be notified automatically when a competition is announced. Any proposed competition will also be advertised in the Irish Independent on a Thursday or in The Irish Times on a Friday.

Details of qualifications which candidates were required to possess for the last competition conducted by the Civil Service Commission included: a good general education; a satisfactory knowledge of the rules of the road, road procedures and the law relating to road traffic in so far as it concerns the driver of a mechanically propelled vehicle; at least five years satisfactory driving experience within the seven years ending on 25 June 1998; a general understanding of the working of mechanically propelled vehicles; possess report writing skill with a particular reference to accuracy, clarity and conciseness; a clean driving licence, other than a provisional licence, valid in the State on the day of the test; possess excellent interpersonal skills including the ability to communicate clearly both orally and in writing, the capacity to remain calm and courteous in dealing with applicants; possess the requisite knowledge and ability and be suitable to enter on the discharge of the duties of the position.

Road Network.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

265 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport the costs to date, and proposed future costs, of the archaeological works in the vicinity of Carrickmines Castle and elsewhere along the route of the proposed south eastern motorway in Dublin. [2964/04]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

266 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport the nature of, and length of time associated with, delays to the proposed south eastern motorway in Dublin. [2965/04]

Trevor Sargent

Question:

267 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Transport the reasons for, and construction costs associated with, the complete redesign of the Lehaunstown interchange one mile south of the Carrickmines junction on the proposed south eastern motorway in Dublin. [2966/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 to 267, inclusive, together.

The implementation of the south eastern motorway project including issues in relation to the archaeological costs is a matter for the National Roads Authority, NRA, and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I am informed by the NRA that the original targeted completion date was September 2004 and that the current target for the completion of the full project is September 2005, subject to the satisfactory resolution of outstanding legal issues regarding national monuments. Expenditure on the project to date on archaeological investigations and excavations amounts to €10 million, including €6.5 million relating to the Carrickmines section. The cost of archaeological investigations and excavations yet to be undertaken is estimated at €2 million, including €1 million on the Carrickmines section.

The additional works proposed at the Lehaunstown interchange are being funded by the private sector with no public moneys involved. These works mainly involve increasing the capacity of the interchange bridge to accommodate three lanes of traffic in each direction by providing an additional bridge over the M50 at the Lehaunstown interchange. The purpose of the revised junction arrangement is to take account of current land zonings in the area and the traffic associated with that. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has arranged with the company involved that the construction of the interchange will not interfere with the timetable for the completion of the south eastern motorway.

Proposed Legislation.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

268 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Transport if the quality bus corridors will be included in the Critical Infrastructure Bill; if his attention has been drawn to their clear importance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4237/04]

The proposed critical infrastructure, Dublin metro, is concerned solely with the acceleration and streamlining of procedures for the delivery of a metro for Dublin. Traffic and parking regulations made in 1997 and 1998 provide the statutory basis for the provision and operation of all bus lanes, including quality bus corridors.

I am aware of the importance of quality bus corridors; they have been shown to have significant benefits in reducing journey times for commuters. In this regard, my Department has allocated €40 million in traffic management grants to the Dublin Transportation Office for disbursal to transportation agencies in the greater Dublin area and the bulk of this will go towards QBC development. The QBN project office, established early in 2003 by Dublin City Council, is spearheading ongoing development of QBCs as part of a quality bus network, QBN.

Public Transport.

Ned O'Keeffe

Question:

269 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Transport the grant aid available from his Department to make privately owned commuter buses wheelchair accessible. [4285/04]

Under the national development plan there is a provision of €13 million to part finance accessibility improvements to existing public transport infrastructure and facilities but this funding is not used to purchase buses. This funding is used in the main to improve access at bus and rail stations for people with mobility and sensory impairments. There is no provision within my Department's estimate for grant aid to make privately owned commuter buses wheelchair accessible.

My Department has had preliminary discussions with the organisations representing private bus operators with regard to developing a policy on the introduction of wheelchair accessible vehicles for their scheduled services.

Airport Facilities.

Fiona O'Malley

Question:

270 Ms F. O'Malley asked the Minister for Transport his views on whether it is acceptable that public Irish airports charge for providing facilities for wheelchair users through their busy terminals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4374/04]

Aer Rianta ensures that airport facilities are adapted to the needs of people with disabilities and that persons with disabilities have adequate access to air services. Airport by-laws require service providers, which include airlines, to provide such facilities as are necessary for passengers with disabilities to avail of airline and other services.

Aer Rianta does not provide passenger handling services at the State airports. Such services are being provided by the airlines or their ground handling agents. Accordingly, Aer Rianta does not charge for the use of wheelchair services at Irish airports. Airlines currently using the State airports will arrange to supply wheelchairs free of charge to their customers who are wheelchair users.

Importation of Firearms.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

271 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the details of any licences or authorisations issued since 1 January 1998 for the import of stun weapons into Ireland from the United States of America. [4219/04]

In accordance with the Firearms Acts 1925 to 2000, a stun gun and any other weapon for causing any shock or other disablement to a person by means of electricity or any other kind of energy emission is classified as a firearm. It is the current policy not to grant importation licences for these weapons. No importation licences have been granted since 1 January 1998.

Possession of this type of weapon would also require a firearm certificate granted in accordance with the Firearms Acts 1925 to 2000.

Registration of Title.

John Ellis

Question:

272 Mr. Ellis asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department will complete a dealing in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [4174/04]

I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this is an application for a duplicate land certificate which was lodged on 22 December 2003. Application number S2003WS002034M refers. I am further informed that this application is associated with an application under section 49, that is, acquisition of title by virtue of long possession, of the Registration of Title Act 1964 which was lodged on 11 December 2003. Dealing number D2003WS012236J refers.

Due to their complicated nature, applications under section 49, which require detailed examination of claims for registration as owners, can take some time to process. Accordingly, it is not possible to estimate a completion date at this stage. This application is dependent on the completion of D2003WS012236J which was lodged prior to S2003WS002034M. However, both applications are receiving attention in the Land Registry.

EU Presidency.

Pat Carey

Question:

273 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, as part of the EU Presidency programmes, he proposes to place the proposal for a framework decision on combating racism and xenophobia on the Council agenda and to press for agreement on harmonisation of criminal laws against racism and xenophobia; if he will urge member states to sign and ratify the relevant Council of Europe instruments in the field of racism, xenophobia, discrimination and the protection of minorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4225/04]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 47 of 29 January 2004 concerning the Irish Presidency's position on a Council framework decision on racism and xenophobia. Ireland and the EU have always attached the highest priority to the work of the Council of Europe in the area of human rights. As the Irish Presidency programme states, support for human rights is a core value which underpins the Union.

Pat Carey

Question:

274 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, as part of the EU Presidency programme, he intends promoting the transposing of existing EU legislation combating racism and discrimination into the national laws of member states, in particular the EU race directive which should have been implemented by 19 July 2003. [4226/04]

The Equality Bill 2004, which is currently before the Seanad, amends a number of provisions of the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Act 2000, for the purpose of giving effect to Council Directive 2000/43/EC implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin.

Under Article 226 of the treaty establishing the European Community, it is a matter for the European Commission, and not for the Council Presidency, to take action if member states fail to comply with their obligations under the directive.

Pat Carey

Question:

275 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures that will be taken under the Irish EU Presidency to ensure that the European arrest warrant system is implemented in all member states and accession states as quickly as possible with appropriate safeguards reflecting member states' international human rights objections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4227/04]

The framework decision on the European arrest warrant was adopted unanimously by all member states in June 2002. Each member state thereby accepted certain obligations, including the requirement to take the necessary measures to comply with its provisions by 31 December 2003. It is, therefore, a matter for each member state to comply with the obligations it assumed when agreeing to the adoption of the framework decision.

Implementation of the framework decision required the enactment of national legislation in each member state. Eight member states, including Ireland, met the deadline and the European arrest warrant is now in force in relations between those member states. Draft legislation has been presented to the national parliaments in all the remaining member states and some are expected to finalise their legislation shortly. The accession states are required to apply the framework decision from their date of accession, that is, 1 May 2004. As current President of the European Union, Ireland has already convened a meeting of national experts to review the state of implementation across the EU. Further meetings are scheduled.

The framework decision contains several safeguard provisions, including the obligation set out in Article 1.3 to respect the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the ECHR. In addition, Recitals 12 and 13 of the framework decision provide that a member state may continue to apply its constitutional rules relating to due process, freedom of association, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in other media. Those recitals also provide that a person may not be surrendered if the warrant has been issued for reasons connected with his or her sex, race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, language, political opinions or sexual orientation or if there is a risk of the death penalty, torture or inhuman or degrading treatment.

The framework decision also contains several specific mandatory and discretionary grounds for refusal of a request to surrender, for example, if the person has not reached the age of criminal responsibility or has already been tried for the offence in question, and also provides that guarantees may be required from the requesting state, for example, about a retrial where the original was heldin absentia, before a person is surrendered. Once arrested, a person has a right to a lawyer and an interpreter.

Member states are giving effect to these provisions in a manner that is consistent with their national legal systems.

Pat Carey

Question:

276 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, as part of the EU Presidency programme, he will promote the ratification of the UN protocol on human trafficking by all member states and the application of its principles in the EU approach to combating trafficking; if, as President, he will address the issue of trafficking effectively by tackling the problem of human rights protection for victims of trafficking through appropriate legislative measures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4228/04]

The UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crime and two protocols to the convention — the protocol to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children and the protocol against the smuggling of migrants by land, sea and air — were signed by the European Community and all 15 member states when the convention and protocols were opened for signature in Palermo in December 2000. The convention entered into force on 29 September 2003 and the trafficking protocol entered into force on 25 December 2003.

The question of community accession to the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and its protocols is being examined within the Council framework under the Irish Presidency. At a recent meeting in Vienna from 2 to 6 February, the Irish Presidency, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the coming into force of the convention and two protocols and pointed to the highly significant role that these instruments will play in combating the global problem of organised crime. The presidency encouraged all countries, who have not already done so, to pursue the ratification process.

I am preparing legislation to enable Ireland to ratify the convention and the two protocols and I expect to publish this legislation in 2004.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Tony Gregory

Question:

277 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the cost to the Exchequer of each tribunal of inquiry for the year 2003; and the individual payments made to each legal representative or personnel participating in the tribunals for 2003. [4229/04]

The tribunals of inquiry currently in operation are the responsibility of a number of Departments. The information sought by the Deputy about the tribunals of inquiry, which fall under the responsibility of my Department is set out below.

1. Morris Tribunal.

(a) Total staff costs for the Morris tribunal for 2003 was €673,945.00. It should be noted that one solicitor involved was paid from the Chief State Solicitor's Office Vote.

(b) Amounts paid to the legal teams to the Morris tribunal in 2003 were as follows: Morris tribunal legal team — Mr. Peter Charleton SC, €518,686; Mr. Paul McDermott SC, €583,974; Mr. Anthony Barr BL, €390,411; Mr. Shane Dwyer BL, €137,757; Ms. Kathleen Leader BL, €30,247; Garda Síochána legal team — Mr. Eamon Leahy SC (R.I.P), €254,552; Mr. Patrick Marrinan SC, €549,943; Mr. Michael Durack SC, €207,817; Ms Nuala Butler BL, €243,814; Ms Tara Burns BL, €98,615; Mr. Paul Gormley BL, €93,923; Department legal team — Mr. Paul O'Higgins SC, €36,780; Mr. Fergal Foley BL, €25,908; Ms Mary Kerrigan BL, €46,224; Garda Síochána Complaints Board legal team — McGrath Gleeson and Baldwin, Solicitors, €21,477.50; Mr. David Barniville BL, €5,984.50.

2. Barr Tribunal.

Costs for Barr Tribunal in 2003

(a) Costs for miscellaneous expenses for witnesses, consultancies, stenographers and furniture: €1,197,829.68, £156,252 — sterling, $51,916.07 — dollars.

(b) Total staff costs for Barr tribunal for 2003 was €232,202.50.

(c) Amounts paid to legal teams to the Barr tribunal for 2003 were as follows: Barr tribunal legal team — Mr. Michael McGrath SC, €449,212.50; Mr. Ray Comyn SC, €577,170.00; Mr. Pat O'Dwyer BL, €370,260.00; Mr. John Nolan, solicitor, €184,646.00; Ms Jenny Bulbulia, researcher, €141,350.00; Garda Síochána legal team — Mr. Diarmuid McGuinness SC, €36,300.00; Mr. Cian Ferriter BL, €175,147.50.

Vetting of Staff.

Fiona O'Malley

Question:

278 Ms F. O'Malley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on having schools included in a designated agency so that they may avail of Garda vetting. [4263/04]

The working group on Garda vetting is currently finalising its report and it is hoped that it will be submitted to the Garda Commissioner and myself in the coming weeks. Full consideration will then be given to the recommendations of the working group, including modes of implementation, where appropriate.

Drug Seizures.

Seán Crowe

Question:

279 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount and estimated value of heroin seized in the Cabra area in each of the past five years up to 2003; and the number of such seizures. [4266/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

282 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of arrests arising from seizures of heroin in the Cabra area in each of the past five years up to 2003; and the number of such seizures. [4269/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 279 and 282 together.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following is the information requested.

Heroin

Amount seized

Approx. value

Number of seizures

Number of arrests

1999

1/2 ounce

2,666

3

3

2000

Over 1 ounce

5,500

5

5

2001

1 ounce

5,332

8

8

2002

2 ounces

10,664

11

11

2003

1 ounce

5,332

4

4

Seán Crowe

Question:

280 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount and estimated value of cocaine seized in the Cabra area in each of the past five years up to 2003; and the number of such seizures. [4267/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

281 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of arrests arising from seizures of cocaine in the Cabra area in each of the past five years up to 2003; and the number of such seizures. [4268/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280 and 281 together.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the following is the information requested.

Cocaine

Amount seized

Approx. value

Number of seizures

Number of arrests

1999

3/4 ounce

2,133

4

4

2000

1 3/4 ounces

4,977

5

5

2001

1 1/2 ounces

4,266

3

3

2002

Over 1/2 ounce

1,700

3

3

2003

Over 1/2 kilo (c. 18 oz.)

51,500

7

7

Question No. 282 answered with QuestionNo. 279.

Crime Levels.

Seán Crowe

Question:

283 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the house break-ins reported in the Cabra area in each of the past five years up to 2003; and the number of arrests that have been made as a result. [4270/04]

I regret that it has not been possible in the time available to obtain the information requested by the Deputy. I will contact the Deputy again when the information is to hand.

Garda Strength.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

284 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí for Tallaght for 2001, 2002, 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4357/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength of Tallaght Garda station as at 1 January 2001 was 159; on 1 January 2002, it was 159; on 1 January 2003, it was 159 and on 9 February 2004 it was 163.

The situation will be kept under review and when additional personnel next become available, the needs of Tallaght Garda station will be fully considered within the context of the overall needs of Garda divisions throughout the country.

Garda Stations.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

285 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the 1997 decision to accord divisional status to Tallaght in the matter of policing has not been implemented; when the resources that accompany divisional status will be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4358/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that Tallaght is eleventh on the Garda building programme priority list. It is proposed to construct a new divisional headquarters on the site as part of a joint development with South Dublin County Council. The Office of Public Works is currently considering a report on the feasibility of redeveloping the site at Tallaght. However, it is not possible to give a timeframe for the commencement of this project.

The personnel strength, all ranks, of Tallaght Garda station at 9 February 2004 was 163. The situation will be kept under review and when additional personnel next become available the needs of Tallaght will be fully considered within the overall context of the needs of Garda districts throughout the country.

Illegal Immigrants.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

286 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the statement in January 2004 of the Minister for Foreign Affairs welcoming the US President's decision to regularise illegal immigrants and describing it as an important first step in addressing the situation of undocumented foreign workers in a pragmatic and compassionate way; if regularisation of illegal immigrants is now Government policy; and his plans in this regard. [4359/04]

The Irish migration system in recent years has been very open, in particular for the purpose of labour migration. In 2003, over 48,000 work permits were issued, following over 40,000 issued in 2002, 36,000 in 2001 and 18,000 in 2000. In addition, there are people availing of the working visa and work authorisation schemes. In this system there are no nationality quotas and migrants have arrived from a wide range of countries, 140 in total. While the work permit system encompasses the entire spectrum of work skills, those arriving in Ireland in recent years have been predominantly at the lower skill levels. In these circumstances, where the State has provided these legal opportunities for migrants, I do not know why any non-national wishing to work in Ireland in recent years would have done so illegally.

While providing ample opportunities for legal migration to Ireland, if we also reward people who have chosen not to take the legal option by "regularising" their situation, we will undermine our system of legal migration. Such a move would also reward any unscrupulous employers who may have used illegal workers to keep workers below legal wage levels or to deny them their employment or other rights. It would also reward those people who have abused the asylum system by entering the State under the guise of seeking asylum and who have tied up resources which should be devoted to those who are genuinely fleeing persecution. I could not justify rewarding this abuse of our system by "regularising" the situation of such persons. To do this would be contrary to the interests of the vast majority of employers and non-national workers who have used the legal channels to come to Ireland and contrary to the interests of refugees.

If a person who is illegally in Ireland wishes to regularise his or her position, he or she should leave the State voluntarily and seek to return through the legal channels.

Prison Visits.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

287 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since January 2004, legal counsel have been barred from visiting their clients in Mountjoy Prison on Wednesdays; if this situation is the result of a ministerial order; and the actions he will take to ensure that legal counsel are permitted to meet with their clients on Wednesdays. [4360/04]

In light of the revised financial budgets within which each prison has to operate, the management in Mountjoy Prison recently made the decision not to facilitate family visits to prisoners on Wednesdays. This decision was not intended to interfere with professional visits and no ministerial order prohibiting such visits has been issued.

There may have been some initial confusion on the part of prison staff as to the intent of these new procedures and a number of legal representatives were turned away from the main gate at Mountjoy Prison. Once he was made aware of these events, the governor of Mountjoy Prison instructed staff to ensure that professional visits are facilitated in the future. The governor has also indicated that if any member of the legal profession encounters difficulties in gaining admittance to Mountjoy Prison, they should contact his office immediately.

Prison Staff.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

288 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide a list of the research documents and other materials used by Government officials in the deliberations into transferring the management of Loughan House and Shelton Abbey from the Prison Service operations to outside the service. [4361/04]

On 11 November 2003, the Government decided to implement, from 1 January 2004, a number of measures in the event of failure to reach agreement with the Prison Officers' Association in ongoing talks on the proposed change agenda aimed at eliminating overtime payments and reducing prison costs. These measures include the transformation of the open centres at Loughan House and Shelton Abbey into post-release centres for the reintegration into society of prisoners on conditional temporary release. The precise arrangements for the running of such facilities are being finalised in my Department.

The proposal to transform the open centres into hostel type accommodation took into account all relevant information. The idea of hostel type accommodation for prisoners in order to reintegrate them into society has been put forward in many reports, including the National Economic and Social Forum report on the reintegration of prisoners, forum report No. 22; the final report of the expert group on the probation and welfare service; the national crime forum report, 1998; the management of offenders — a five step plan.

I have made it clear on several occasions, both inside and outside the House, that I want the Prison Officers' Association to agree to a reasonable and sustainable cost structure for the continued involvement of prison officers in operating our prisons and open centres. However, if consensus is not possible, I will have no option but to continue to proceed with implementation of the measures decided by Government, including alternative arrangements for the operation of Shelton Abbey and Loughan House.

Privatisation of Prisons.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Question:

289 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the identity and details of all conferences and meetings that representatives of his Department and the Prison Service have attended at which privatisation of prisons and criminal justice services have been discussed since 1 January 2000, including the names and dates of the conference meetings and the names of the representatives. [4362/04]

No member of my Department or the Irish Prison Service has attended any conferences about privatisation of the prisons or the criminal justice agencies over the period in question.

As part of a general review of the prisoner transport system in Ireland, officials of the Irish Prison Service, the Courts Service and the Garda Síochána visited the United Kingdom Prison Service in early 2000 to develop a general understanding of how that service manages the prisoner escort function. However, no detailed research was undertaken into the experience of privatised prisoner transport in other jurisdictions. The group also visited Securicor at Sutton, near London, on 7 February 2000 and Group 4 at Broadway, Worcester, UK, on 8 February 2000 on an operational information gathering basis regarding prisoner transport. No further contact was made following the visits.

While my Department is aware that the private sector has become involved, in varying degrees, in a number of penal systems in Europe, detailed research has not been conducted into the privatisation of the prisons or the criminal justice agencies. It has always been my priority, and that of the Government, to run a decent prison service as a State service. However, such a service must be operated within a containable budget.

Special Areas of Conservation.

Paul Connaughton

Question:

290 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if bog owners in the Ballinasloe, County Galway area, who recently had their properties designated as special areas of conservation will be allowed to cut their domestic supply of turf in 2004; and if he will clarify the matter as the turf season is fast approaching. [4252/04]

It has been the policy of my Department to allow turf cutting for domestic purposes to continue for the time being, including in 2004, in bogs which have been designated for conservation in the Ballinasloe area and in other parts of the country. However, the Department does not permit cutting by sausage machine in these bogs. Where it becomes necessary in a small number of particularly sensitive areas to further restrict domestic turf cutting, this will be notified to the parties concerned by the local conservation ranger.

Planning Issues.

Enda Kenny

Question:

291 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he intends to scrap all county development plans as part of the Government's strategy to provide more one-off housing in the countryside; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4082/04]

Overall Government policy on one-off rural housing is set out in the national spatial strategy, NSS, which was published in November 2002. The rural settlement policy framework contained in the NSS aims to sustain and renew established rural communities, while strengthening the structure of villages and smaller settlements to support local economies, ensuring that key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and ensuring also that rural settlement policies are responsive to the differing local circumstances in different areas.

It is vital that there is certainty and consistency in the implementation by planning authorities of Government policy in this matter through their development plans and in the operation of the development control system under planning legislation. This is the purpose of the guidelines under the Planning and Development Act, which I intend to bring forward to deal with this issue. These are at an advanced stage of preparation and I hope to issue them as soon as possible. The guidelines should not entail that existing development plans will become obsolete. Planning authorities will need, however, to review their development plans to ensure that they fully reflect the provisions of the forthcoming guidelines.

Enda Kenny

Question:

292 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he proposes to enable members of the indigenous population to access the planning process with fewer restrictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4083/04]

I assume the question relates to the issue of facilitating, where possible, planning permissions for housing in rural areas for applicants who have roots in or links to the area.

Overall Government policy on rural housing is set out in the national spatial strategy, NSS, which was published in November 2002. The rural settlement policy framework contained in the NSS aims to sustain and renew established rural communities, while strengthening the structure of villages and smaller settlements to support local economies, ensuring that key assets in rural areas are protected to support quality of life and ensuring also that rural settlement policies are responsive to the differing local circumstances in different areas. While it has been a traditional feature of many local authority development plans that provision is made for accommodating the housing requirements of the rural community, there is a need for national guidance on this issue, working within the framework set out in the NSS.

Furthermore, it is vital that there is certainty and consistency in the implementation by planning authorities of Government policy in this matter through their development plans and in the operation of the development control system under planning legislation. This is the purpose of the guidelines under the Planning and Development Act which I intend to bring forward. These are at an advanced stage of preparation and I hope to issue them as soon as possible.

Enda Kenny

Question:

293 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the way in which he intends to co-ordinate/synchronise a planning process at national, regional and local level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4084/04]

The Planning and Development Act 2000 provides for a structured hierarchy of plans at national, regional and local levels and these are now actively being put in place. A range of measures is under way to advance the implementation the national spatial strategy, NSS, which was published by the Government in November 2002.

At national level, my Department is co-ordinating a process for the integration of NSS considerations into the programmes and activities of Government Departments and agencies. At regional level, to support NSS implementation, regional planning guidelines are currently being prepared by all regional authorities, with the objective of having guidelines adopted in all regions by May 2004. Regulations made by me already provide that regional authorities must take account of the NSS in making regional planning guidelines.

At planning authority level, section 10 of the 2000 Act requires a development plan to set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the relevant local authority functional area. Section 27 of the Act further provides that in making and adopting a development plan, a planning authority must have regard to any regional planning guidelines in force for its area. In terms of NSS implementation at local level, planning authorities are putting in place development frameworks and plans, at the gateway and hub level, that will support the achievement of a critical mass of development at strategic locations. These are already established in a number of locations, for example, Cork area strategic plan, Galway transportation and planning strategy, and are well advanced in others.

The Planning and Development Act also provides for statutory local area plans. Local area plans are mandatory for areas designated as towns in the most recent census of population, which have a population in excess of 2,000 and which are situated within the functional area of a county council. In addition, a planning authority may prepare a local area plan for any area within its jurisdiction which it considers suitable, in particular for those areas that require economic, physical and social renewal and for those likely to be subject to large scale development within the lifetime of the plan. The Act requires that a local area plan must be consistent with the objectives of the relevant development plan.

Section 28 of the Act provides that the Minister may, at any time, issue guidelines to planning authorities regarding any of their functions under the Act and requires planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to such guidelines in the performance of their functions. Such guidelines have been issued to date with regard to a variety of specific planning matters, for example, residential density, retail planning, telecommunication masts and so forth, to ensure the handling of such types of development by the planning system in a standardised manner that is fully aligned with national policy. Work is underway in my Department on the preparation of a number of further guidelines which I propose to issue during 2004.

Development Contribution Schemes.

Enda Kenny

Question:

294 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the proposed date the development levy will be enacted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4085/04]

A number of planning authorities have already adopted development contribution schemes, under section 48 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which significantly revise the previous development contribution system. All development contribution schemes under the new provisions of section 48 must be made by 10 March 2004.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

John Bruton

Question:

295 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the procedures he has put in place to allow specialist community groups to apply for funds collected by the Minister for Finance from dormant accounts, to allow the specialist community groups to use the funds in local communities; if he has provided advisers to groups who are seeking funds under this scheme to assist the community groups in their applications and in the completion of any project evaluation to obtain such funds as are now available from funds collected from dormant accounts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4091/04]

The dormant accounts fund disbursements board published its first disbursement plan on 7 November 2003. The plan sets out the board's priorities and provides for the distribution of funds to assist programmes or projects targeting three broad categories of persons — those affected by economic and social disadvantage, those affected by educational disadvantage and persons with a disability. A significant level of disbursements from the fund will be ring-fenced for programmes and projects within RAPID, CLÁR and drugs task force areas.

The board has engaged Area Development Management Ltd., ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf. Detailed guidelines outlining the application and appraisal procedures have been developed by ADM in consultation with the board. These guidelines, which are available from ADM or through the board's secretariat, set out clearly the criteria against which applications will be assessed and provide examples of eligible actions.

An invitation to organisations, groups and so forth to make applications for funding under the scheme was advertised in the national press on Friday, 21 November 2003. ADM is processing and assessing applications received and making recommendations to the board for decision on an ongoing basis. If any organisation or community group requires assistance in completing an application for funding, it should contact ADM directly.

Community Development.

Seán Crowe

Question:

296 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress of the Government's review of the community development programme, local development and social inclusion programme, the Leader programme, the national drugs strategy and the RAPID programme; if an agreement has been reached; and when those people expected to implement any and all decisions will be informed of what has been decided. [4114/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

297 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the decisions taken by the Government in the course of the review of the community development programme, local development and social inclusion programme, the Leader programme, the national drugs strategy and the RAPID programme. [4115/04]

Seán Crowe

Question:

298 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if a Cabinet memo dealing with decisions taken in the course of the review of the community development programme, local development and social inclusion programme, the Leader programme, the national drugs strategy and the RAPID programme has been produced and disseminated to various community development programme groups; and if all such decisions taken were communicated. [4116/04]

I propose to take Question Nos. 296, 297 and 298 together.

I am assuming that the Deputy is referring to the review of local and community development structures that was initiated by myself and my colleagues, the Ministers for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and Justice, Equality and Law Reform, in February 2003. I refer the Deputy to earlier questions on this topic, in particular my reply to Questions Nos. 151, 153, 156, 163, 172, 173 and 185 on 4 February 2004, which give details of Government decisions arising from the review.

The decisions are being communicated to the various local and community agencies.

Community Support for Older People.

Michael Ring

Question:

299 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of elderly people and community groups in each county which have received grants from his Department for personal alarms; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the personal alarms of many elderly people in the western region are now inoperable due to a change in telephone numbers; if his Department will provide funds to community groups to have these alarms re-programmed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4341/04]

Denis Naughten

Question:

300 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the fact that many personal alarms provided to the elderly and funded through grant aid from his Department are currently inoperable due to the recent change in phone numbers by ComReg; if he will provide funds to community groups to have these alarms re-programmed in view of the prohibitive cost facing many elderly people; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4343/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 299 and 300 together.

The purpose of the scheme of community support for older people is to improve the security and social support of vulnerable older people. This funding is provided by way of grant aid to voluntary groups and organisations that have undertaken to identify those elderly people in need of assistance under the scheme. My Department has not received any complaints of the nature described by the Deputies. In light of the Deputies' inquiry, my Department has contacted the main service providers who have advised that they have not encountered any particular difficulties with the changes in phone numbers. If the Deputies could furnish me with details of the individuals affected, I will arrange for their circumstances to be investigated.

Scheme of Community Support for Older People, 2003

County

No. of groups funded

Amount funded

No. of people funded

Carlow

6

13,000

39

Cavan

19

84,750

311

Clare

10

66,620

142

Cork

52

230,094

693

Donegal

23

91,348

348

Dublin

35

1,090,929

3253

Galway

27

121,165

399

Kerry

14

38,900

116

Kildare

12

54,240

203

Kilkenny

9

54,265

161

Laois

6

32,998

114

Leitrim

11

45,263

153

Limerick

15

202,001

531

Longford

3

15,276

39

Louth

9

69,400

201

Mayo

22

99,412

310

Meath

14

70,500

263

Monaghan

8

14,442

55

Offaly

7

44,887

173

Roscommon

11

28,128

76

Sligo

18

44,856

164

Tipperary

18

72,274

219

Waterford

13

45,684

207

Westmeath

3

12,961

43

Wexford

16

46,735

133

Wicklow

11

166,938

423

TOTALS

392

2,857,066

8,769

Question No. 301 answered with QuestionNo. 104.
Question No. 302 answered with QuestionNo. 96.
Question No. 303 answered with Question No. 104.

EU Reports.

Martin Ferris

Question:

304 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she will make a statement on the EU report of June 2003 on women in rural areas; and the way in which her Department proposes to implement the report's recommendations on retirement, maternity, disability and other benefits. [4166/04]

The report on women in rural areas of the European Union was developed by the European Parliament's committee on women's rights and equal opportunities to inform the mid-term review of the Common Agricultural Policy. The main issue of relevance to my Department relates to the availability of social insurance and consequent benefits for women working in agriculture with particular regard to the situation of existing spouses.

In this country, the social insurance status of men and women engaged in a family business, including farms, varies with the circumstances of the case. The legislation provides that a person, man or woman, who is employed directly by his/her spouse is not covered by social insurance. Likewise, if a spouse participates in the business of a self employed contributor but is not a partner in the business, he/she is not liable for social insurance.

However, where both are engaged in a business partnership together, they are treated as individual self employed contributors. Both make social insurance contributions and enjoy social insurance benefits accordingly, including maternity benefit and old age pensions. Furthermore, where a family business is incorporated as a limited company, spouses in the business pay contributions either as employees of the company or as self employed persons if they are proprietary directors of that company.

A working group was established under social partnership, and is chaired by my Department, to "produce proposals for the development of a fully inclusive social insurance model which would facilitate combining work and family responsibilities in the context of changing working and social patterns". The social partnership group is currently examining further the issue of insurability of spouses, including how to assist in promoting knowledge among farming communities of the availability of the partnership option. The social partnership group is expected to report in the near future.

International Day of the Family.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

305 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the input her Department will have in the international conference planned for 13 and 14 May 2004 with regard to the international day of the family; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3817/04]

The conference in question is being hosted by me as part of the celebrations of the tenth anniversary of the international year of the family and in conjunction with the EU Presidency. This conference, entitled "Families, Change and European Social Policy" will take place in Dublin Castle on 13 and 14 May and will mark, at EU level, the tenth anniversary in the run up to the international day of the family on 15 May.

This conference is being designed, in line with the objectives of the year, to focus on the demographic, economic, political and social changes affecting families, with particular reference to EU policies in this field. It will also provide a forum for exchanges on the latest policy developments. The conference will also be one of the first international social policy conferences of the enlarged Union, following formal enlargement on 1 May.

My Department, in co-operation with the EU Commission, is currently making the preparations for the conference and a draft programme is being prepared. The conference's departure point is a view of the family as a valuable and key resource in society and will facilitate three types of discussion: the role of families in European societies, the nature of family life today, how it is changing and the positive contributions which the family makes to society and social life; the challenges facing contemporary social policy in Europe from the perspective of families and family change; how future social policy on families should be configured.

I am aware of the interest being raised in regard to the Irish Presidency in general and social policy issues in particular and I look forward to progressing this agenda actively during our Presidency. I will arrange for a copy of the conference programme to be forwarded to the Deputy when it is finalised.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

306 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she intends to improve the dental benefit scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4364/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

307 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to improve the optical benefit scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4365/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 306 and 307 together.

The treatment benefit scheme provides a range of benefits in the areas of dental, optical and aural treatment for qualified PRSI contributors and their dependent spouses where appropriate. The operation of the schemes is subject to ongoing monitoring by my Department and the question of further improvements would be a matter for consideration in a budgetary context and in the light of available resources. There are no immediate plans for changes to either the dental or optical benefit scheme.

Question No. 308 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

309 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to extend the free telephone rental allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4367/04]

The free schemes, including the electricity/gas allowance, telephone allowance and free television licence schemes, are generally available to people living in the State, aged 66 years or over, who are in receipt of a social welfare type payment or who meet the conditions of a means test. They are also available to all people aged 70 years and over, to carers and to people with disabilities under the age of 66 who are in receipt of certain welfare type payments. Widows and widowers aged from 60 to 65 whose late spouses had been in receipt of free schemes retain that entitlement to ensure that households do not suffer a loss of entitlement following the death of a spouse.

The telephone allowance scheme is provided as a cash credit to the value of €24.70 monthly, including VAT. To facilitate competition in the market, a hub operator system has been developed in consultation with my Department and the Commission for Telecommunications Regulation, ComReg, to facilitate the participation of other land line operators and mobile phone operators in the scheme. The current arrangements for the free schemes, including the telephone allowance, will be kept under review in the context of future budgets and available resources.

Question No. 310 answered with QuestionNo. 84.
Question No. 311 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

312 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she can identify means of expediting the processing of applications for entitlements where contributions from one or more countries are involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4370/04]

My Department has bilateral social security agreements with Austria, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the USA, Switzerland and Quebec. EU regulations govern arrangements with other EU member states.

In 2002, as part of a review of the implementation of EU and bilateral arrangements, my Department examined the time taken to have social insurance records made available. The results indicated that my Department is not experiencing difficulty with any one country at this point in time. However, the situation is being monitored and further action will be taken if circumstances warrant it.

Most applications for short-term claims where contributions from one or more countries are involved, require a person's record for a single "governing contribution year", for example, for claims beginning after 1 January 2004 a person's 2002 contribution record would be required. In general these claims are dealt with in a reasonable length of time. For a long-term claim, since applications are based on a combination of Irish insurance contributions and contributions from another country, the process takes longer than normal for a variety of reasons.

Entitlement to a standard rate pension must first be determined. Where there is no such entitlement, the applications are then considered in the context of any EU contributions they may have. These cases are more complex than standard cases and involve checking insurance records from various sources. In cases where employment contributions have been made outside EU countries, entitlement may have to be tested under more than one agreement. In all cases the over-riding consideration is to ensure that customers receive their correct entitlement and, accordingly, decisions cannot be taken until all appropriate information is received and clarified. Delays in processing applications do not result in any losses to pensioners, the majority of whom are already in receipt of a basic pension. Those who qualify for additional payment on the basis of contributions in other countries have their claims backdated in accordance with the appropriate provisions.

This Department is currently participating in the work of the EU technical commission on data processing for the administrative commission on social security for migrant workers. The main objective of the technical commission is to monitor and initiate projects aimed at simplifying administrative procedures in order to improve arrangements for the acquisition of rights and the award and payment of social security benefits. Officials from my Department are currently involved in a working group to draw up a plan of action for data exchange, to identify any obstacles to progress, both technical and administrative, and to propose measures to progress this work, including financial aspects. It is expected that a plan of action will be presented to the administrative commission before the end of 2005.

Social Welfare Budget.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

313 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of people who have been affected by the cutbacks announced by her Department in the budget; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4372/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

314 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the extent of the savings accruing to her Department arising from cutbacks announced in the budget; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [4373/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 313 and 314 together.

Following the publication of Estimates 2004 and the social welfare improvements announced in budget 2004, social welfare spending in 2004 will be a projected €11.26 billion, an increase of 7% over the outcome for 2003. The 2004 Estimates for social welfare expenditure, published last November, were framed so as to stay within the overall spending guidelines agreed by the Government.

In the 2004 Estimates, a number of measures were announced which will result in an estimated net savings in the social welfare spending of €55.8 million in 2004, representing 0.5% of social welfare total spend. In a number of cases the adjustments were made on the basis that the service in question is more appropriate to the remit of another Department and not in keeping with the underlying objectives of the social welfare scheme concerned. The associated social welfare savings and the number of recipients affected by each measure in 2004 are as follows.

The increase in the qualifying period for back to education allowance, BTEA, from six months to 15 months in respect of the third level option will affect approximately 1,200 claimants and the estimated gross savings will be €2.2 million. With regard to the abolition of the transition payment that currently exists for recipients of OPFP, the estimated average weekly number of persons affected is 350 and estimated savings are €1.3 million in 2004. The increase in the rate of the minimum contribution for rent supplement to be made by the recipient from €12 to €13 per week will affect approximately 60,000 recipients and will result in savings of €3 million. Exclusion from rent supplement where either of a couple is in full-time employment will save €1 million and will affect approximately 150 recipients.

Entitlement to rent supplement, with certain exceptions, where the applicant has not already been renting for a period of six months is discontinued, with provision for exceptions such as the homeless and people who are at risk. It is expected that 2,000 applications for rent supplement will be affected by this measure with an estimated net saving of €10.5 million. With regard to referral of rent supplement claimants to the local authority to have their housing needs assessed and refusal of rent supplement where an applicant has left or refused offers of local authority housing, it is estimated that approximately 100 such cases may arise in the year which will generate savings of approximately €0.6 million. Discontinuance of the crèche supplement scheme will affect approximately 1,600 supplements, generating savings of €2.3 million.

Discontinuance of the MABS supplement will affect approximately 370 supplements, generating savings of €0.7 million in the SWA budget. With regard to restructuring the diet supplement scheme to take account of changes in the level of social welfare payments generally, the expected savings are €1 million approximately, with 1,700 supplements affected. Entitlement to child dependant allowance, CDA, in respect of all unemployment benefit and disability benefit claims where the claimant's spouse/partner has gross weekly earnings in excess of €300 is discontinued. The estimated savings for this measure are €10.4 million. The weekly average number of recipients affected is approximately 16,800. There is an increase in the current weekly earnings threshold for the purposes of the payment of reduced rates of disability benefit, unemployment benefit and health and safety benefit, known as graduated rates, from €88.88 to €150 and, as a consequence, an increase in the thresholds for the three bands used for the purposes of these graduated rates. This measure is, in effect, an adjustment of the threshold in line with inflation. The gross savings are estimated at €14.3 million. The net savings, having regard to the number of persons who will otherwise qualify for UA or SWA, are €7.4 million. The approximate numbers of persons affected in 2004 will be 10,300.

The discontinuance of additional half rate payment of disability, unemployment and related benefits, where the recipient is already in receipt of widow/ers pensions, lone parent payments and so forth for new claimants will result in estimated savings of €5.8 million in 2004. The approximate number of persons affected will be 2,000. The increase in the underlying number of paid contributions required from 39 to 52 for entitlement to disability benefit, unemployment benefit and health and safety benefit will yield estimated gross savings of €2.5 million. The average weekly number of recipients affected will be approximately 400 in 2004. There is an increase in the period within which claims are linked with a previous claim from 13 weeks to 26 weeks. The estimated annual savings are €2 million and the average weekly number of persons affected is 275. There is a reduction in maximum duration unemployment benefit from 390 days to 312 days where less than 260 PRSI contributions have been paid since first entering employment. The estimated savings are €5.2 million. This measure will affect an average weekly number of recipients of approximately 700.