Adjournment Debate.

Company Closures.

I wish to share time with Deputy Dennehy. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this matter which concerns my constituency. This is the second such matter I have raised in the past fortnight which deals with company closures in my constituency.

Yesterday, the Ridge Tool company, which was been in Cork for 25 years, announced its decision to lay off its staff of 66 by May of this year. With the announcement two weeks ago of job losses at CG Services and the closure of Jetmagic, this is the third in a series of company closures and announced job losses in my constituency since the start of the year. In light of further lay-offs at the Schering Plough factory in Dunderrow and Irish Distillers — I accept that the latter is not located in my constituency but many of its workers live there — it has been a bleak time in economic terms. An appropriate Government response is required for those who have found themselves in the unhappy situation of losing jobs in industries they thought were secure. There are also indications that jobs in the manufacturing sector in many other institutions throughout the country may not be secure.

I wish to relate to the Minister of State the experience of a person with whom I went to school who has been working for Ridge Tool since completing his leaving certificate 23 years ago. As a result of the decision to relocate most of the company's activities to the United States and the remainder to China, he finds himself in a situation in which many other Irish workers are likely to find themselves in the near future. I want the Government to address the drift in manufacturing away from this country and on to Asia, in particular, and the effect this is likely to have on many Irish workers.

When the company was down-scaling in recent years and offering voluntary redundancy packages, a person with my friend's experience was offered €20,000 more than what the company is now prepared to offer in closing the factory. Knowing where the threats lie and where the phase-out is likely to happen would help workers prepare for eventualities such as that at Ridge Tool. The inconsistencies between packages on offer before final closure and those on offer when the announcement was made, which were barely above statutory requirements, make this closure announcement upsetting to the workers involved. I want the Tánaiste and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment to make an appropriate intervention to ensure that these inconsistencies are addressed.

I thank Deputy Boyle for sharing time. I echo his concerns about the employees and I support his expression of regret regarding the closure of the Ridge Tool company. I was Lord Mayor of Cork in 1983 when the company commenced operations and I had the privilege of attending the official opening of the factory. Everybody saw Ridge Tool as a progressive, stable company. It is a matter of deep regret that it has decided to relocate.

I support Deputy Boyle's call for assistance to be given to the employees of the company. This matter highlights the constant need to continue to make progress and not to become blasé about existing jobs. In the Mahon area we will hopefully be launching 6,000 service jobs shortly but these do not replace a solid production unit such as Ridge Tool. People can become casual, believe that everything is fine and forget about trying to encourage the establishment of new industry.

I thank Deputy Boyle for raising this matter and Deputy Dennehy for his expression of concern. Both Deputies represent Cork South-Central and they fully appreciate and understand the consequences for the people of Cork of the decision by the company to close its operations.

The Tánaiste was disappointed at the announcement by the Ridge Tool company that it plans to close its manufacturing plant at Blackrock in Cork. She is also conscious of the adverse effects on those who will lose their jobs. Finding alternative employment for the workers affected is a priority for FÁS and the State development agencies. In the coming days, FÁS will contact the company and make available its full range of support services, including skills analysis, jobs placement, guidance and counselling interviews, and identification of training needs and courses.

While there has been some disappointing news in respect of job losses in Cork recently, there have also been a number of positive developments. There are 134 IDA Ireland-assisted companies in County Cork employing approximately 18,000 people. This is an increase of more than 20% in IDA Ireland-supported employment since 1999. In 2003, IDA Ireland announced 11 new projects from overseas companies for the Cork area, with the potential to create up to 800 new jobs. Highlighting the continuing confidence in the region, four of these new projects were expansions of existing operations, some of which included significant research and development investment. In addition, seven new start-ups were announced during the year, which include activities ranging from manufacturing and international services to high value research and development based activities.

Some of the high value added projects to note in 2003 include the €35 million investment in research and development by GlaxoSmithKline, MA Com's investment in IC design and development, while ACS, TR Sensors, Schlumberger, Trend Micro and Transas will engage in high value software development, information technology support and operations management activities. Recordati, with an investment of €28 million, and Altana, with an investment of €70 million, will continue to expand the region's competencies in pharmaceuticals. New developments at Pepsi Cola and Minelab will include high value shared service and manufacturing activities. IDA Ireland will continue to market the Cork area actively to potential investors across a range of sectors including pharmaceuticals, medical technologies, internationally traded services, financial services and information and communications technologies through its network of overseas offices and project divisions.

Indigenous companies in Cork committed to invest €55.9 million last year to develop their businesses and were supported with Enterprise Ireland assistance packages of €10.5 million. Some 25% of Enterprise Ireland's investment in the county took the form of research and development and assisting companies to develop new products and technologies to increase their competitiveness.

The major decentralisation package announced in the budget includes 920 jobs to be relocated to County Cork. This move demonstrates the Government's commitment to balanced regional development and will provide a further boost to enterprise development in Cork.

I assure Deputies Boyle and Dennehy that the State development agencies, under the aegis of the Tánaiste's Department, will continue to promote both Cork city and county actively for investment and job creation. I have taken note of the case Deputy Boyle made about a person known to him who worked at Ridge Tool for a considerable period and also his concerns about inconsistencies in redundancy packages. I will bring his view on the matter to the attention of the Tánaiste at the first available opportunity.

Schools Building Projects.

When will the green light be given to Ennis national school, which caters for more than 700 pupils? The most dramatic increase recorded in the recent population census was in County Clare in the mid-west region. The population of the county is now more than 103,000 with recorded growth standing at 9.9%, three times the rate of the previous five years. According to the Central Statistics Office, the population of the county is likely to increase even further. Much of the population is centred on the strong urban core of Ennis, which, with a population of more than 22,000, has become the tenth largest town in Ireland.

To the disappointment of many, Ennis national school was not included in the 2004 capital building programme and, like all schools in County Clare, it was also excluded from the additional funding of €30 million announced recently by the Minister for Education and Science. I am disappointed the Minister is not present but I am sure the Minister of State will convey my sentiments to him.

More than 700 pupils are registered in Ennis national school, which has a staff of 33. The school has 11 prefabricated buildings, consisting of six classrooms and five resource rooms. Students must endure terribly overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in these buildings, which are too warm in summer and very cold in winter. The main school is a single storey building designed in the 1970s with a flat roof. As the Minister of State will be aware, regardless of the architect, schools designed with flat roofs suffer constant water leaks. In addition, odours permeate the classrooms which is unhealthy for students and staff. The office is a small, congested cloakroom type building in which staff must also eat. The conditions, which I have observed at first hand, are unacceptable. Any time I call to the school, maintenance staff are working on the roof or making other repairs.

I commend Mr. Gary Stack, the principal of the school, and his staff for the excellent work they have done to try to keep the school operating. In 1999, three prefabricated buildings were erected and paid for by the school board at a cost of €90,000, a sum still outstanding from the Department. I urge the Minister of State to convey this fact to the Minister.

I understand the Irish National Teachers Organisation authorised the Health and Safety Authority to inspect the school and now awaits its report. I also understand that a team of five inspectors from the Department who visited the school before Christmas were amazed at the sub-standard conditions prevailing in the school.

A green field site is available at St. Flannan's College for a new national school and Bishop Willie Walsh has been in contact with the Department in this regard. The current site is in a prime location on the junction of the Kilrush Road and is valued in excess of €6 million. To relocate the school to the green field site provided would not cost anything.

In 2000, Ennis was the first area to go down the public private partnership route for a primary school. At the time, EUROSTAT raised objections about projects of this nature. I understand that these concerns were addressed in recent weeks and EUROSTAT has since given clearance for PPP school projects. Will the Minister of State provide an assurance that the project will proceed without further delay? The staff, teachers and parents do not know the status of the school on the Department's schools building list. Is it a high priority? I hope the Minister of State is in a position to answer my questions.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it affords me the opportunity to outline to this House, on behalf of the Department of Education and Science, its strategy for capital investment in education projects, and the current position regarding the application received in the Department for improved accommodation at Ennis national school, Ennis, County Clare.

Ennis national school is a co-educational primary school. Enrolments have been increasing steadily in recent years, from 654 pupils in 1998-99 to 704 pupils in September 2003. The school has a staff of a principal, 25 mainstream assistants, two learning support teachers, one special needs assistant and four resource teachers.

An application for capital investment to carry out an extension at the school has been received in the Department. While the need for improved accommodation at the school is acknowledged, it was not possible to include provision for this project in this year's schools building programme. The 2004 schools building programme at primary and post-primary level, which amounts to €387 million, will deliver more than 200 large-scale projects. As the House will appreciate, however, it is not possible to include all necessary projects in one year's programme. The proposed project at Ennis national school is one of a number which must be considered in the context of future capital allocation for school building. I appreciate that Deputy Pat Breen may not be interested in other projects and his priority is to secure progress on Ennis national school.

The Minister of State has not mentioned public private partnerships.

When publishing the 2004 schools building programme, the Department stated that its strategy will be grounded in capital investment based on multi-annual allocations. Officials of the Department are reviewing all projects which were not authorised to proceed to construction as part of this year's schools building programme, with a view to including them as part of a multi-annual school building programme from 2005 onwards. They expect to be in a position to make further announcements on this matter in the course of the year and the needs of Ennis national school will be considered in this regard.

As an interim measure, significant grant aid has been provided to alleviate accommodation difficulties at Ennis national school. In 2001, grant aid was provided for the purchase of eight temporary classrooms and for air conditioning in the computer room. In June 2002, the Department authorised giant aid of more than €200,000 to fund health and safety works.

That is a waste of money.

I appreciate the Deputy's point as regards funding provided at local level for three prefabricated classrooms and I will bring the matter to the attention of the Minister at the first available opportunity. The Deputy also noted that five Department officials visited the school recently. I assure him, on behalf of the Minister, that officials will maintain ongoing contact with the school authority with a view to progressing the proposed building project required to meet the school's need. Again, I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. He can be assured that I will convey to the Minister his genuine views on this matter, with a view to ensuring that Ennis national school will be considered at the earliest opportunity.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

I thank the Minister and the House for the opportunity to raise the urgent need to improve the sewerage scheme at Kilmallock, County Limerick. The current scheme is 50 years old resulting in environmental and developmental concerns in the village. There is concern that damage is being done to the Loobagh and Maigue Rivers as a result of a lack of adequate facilities for sewerage disposal in Kilmallock. The existing treatment system is unable to take the loading from the town. There is a serious lack of development in Kilmallock, a matter with which I will deal in greater detail later.

On 31 July 2003 the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Cullen, promised by way of letter that the scheme would commence in 2004. When will it commence and what is the expected date of completion? These are two vital questions to which the people, traders and organisations in Kilmallock want answers. The environmental section of the council is anxious to ensure sewerage disposal in Kilmallock complies with EU urban waste water treatment work directives.

The scheme is costed at €9 million and the preliminary report is with the Department awaiting response. There is serious concern regarding development in the town. A proposal for the construction of 300 houses and a 20 bedroom hotel which would be of enormous benefit to the town is dependent upon completion of the scheme. There is a serious lack of employment opportunities in Kilmallock which lost approximately 260 jobs in the past five years: 120 in Diamond Engineering; 20 in Kerry Group Mill and 120 in Neo-Data Services. The people of Kilmallock are anxious to renew their town.

In December 2003, Environmental Resources Management Limited presented a report commissioned by the Kilmallock town traders which outlined 37 recommendations for improvement in the town, many of them dependent on the construction of the sewerage scheme. The population in Kilmallock has also declined. It was 1,220 in 1986; 1,311 in 1991 and 1,231 in 1996. With proper support and a sewerage scheme, the population, as predicted by Limerick County Council development plans, could grow to 2,080 by 2021, an increase of 849 people. This is not a minimum or maximum population but a realistic guide to provide a framework for the provision of housing land and ancillary services in the town for the foreseeable future. The report by Environmental Resources Management Limited states that having consulted the people, traders and organisations, a practical vision of the town for the next decade has been developed. That vision includes Kilmallock as an attractive place in which to live with an increased population of 1,000 people. It will be a town with a full range of trading retail availability and full services.

The proposals currently before the Department will provide for a population equivalent of 4,000 with a possibility of future development. I urge the Minister to address the serious concerns of the people and traders of Kilmallock to ensure the town has an opportunity to develop.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue which arises in the context of the major investment being made by my Department, through the national development plan, in improving water services infrastructure throughout the country. Last August, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government published the Water Services Investment Programme 2003-2005. Comprising 737 schemes at different stages of development, with a total investment of €5.4 billion, it is the most significant milestone yet in the push to bring our water services infrastructure up to world standards.

The total allocated to Limerick under this latest phase of the water services programme amounts to approximately €350 million, extending to 24 individual schemes. These include major sewerage projects for Castleconnell, Adare, Patrickswell. Athea, Askeaton, Foynes, Shanagolden, Croagh and Glin. The Limerick main drainage scheme which will service large areas of the city and county is nearing completion. Castleconnell sewerage is now also operational.

The programme also contains major water supply improvements throughout the county, including the upgrading of the Clareville water treatment plant. improvements to the Foynes water supply scheme, an upgrade of the Shannon Estuary water treatment works and the provision of new trunk water mains in various parts of the county. In addition, funding has been provided under the serviced land initiative to bring additional residential sites on stream as rapidly as possible to meet local housing needs.

It is clear that a large number of towns and villages in Limerick are benefiting directly from the drive to bring our water and sewerage infrastructure up to modern standards. Rapid strides are being made to meet our obligations under the EU wastewater treatment directive. Local communities in Limerick, and throughout the country, are being provided with the infrastructure needed to facilitate new housing development, to support commercial growth and to protect the environment.

I am pleased to confirm that €9 million of national development plan funding, under the current water services programme, has been allocated for the new sewerage scheme for Kilmallock. The programme provides for a 2005 start-up of the scheme and that is on track to be achieved.

Deputy Neville referred to a letter he received from the Minister dated 31 July 2003 indicating a 2004 start-up date. That was the projected start-up time but the Deputy will appreciate there are so many stages involved in such schemes that short delays can occur. There are many bodies involved such as consultants, local authorities and the Department. A 2005 start-up has been scheduled and I will monitor developments to ensure we can achieve it. Limerick County Council's preliminary report for the scheme is under consideration in the Department. That report, as Members will be aware, is a detailed document which sets out the objectives, overall scope and outputs expected from the scheme. The Deputy will appreciate it cannot be dealt with overnight. I accept the Deputy's concerns and hope he will agree the projected date is a realistic one. The Department is committed to ensuring the Kilmallock scheme is moved forward as quickly as possible and will give the preliminary report every possible priority. Limerick County Council will be informed of the outcome as soon as a decision has been made.

I appreciate the points made on the environmental concerns and the potential damage to the Loobagh and Maigue rivers and the development opportunities that will arise for the town and surrounds of Kilmallock as soon as this scheme is provided. I have no doubt that, with the increase in population from the 1,230 in 1996 to a projected 2,080 in 2020, this scheme will address those development opportunities.

I assure the Deputy that I have listened carefully to what he has said. His comments will be taken into account by my Department in its examination of the preliminary report and in regard to the advancement of the scheme towards construction stage.

Animal Welfare.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me time to speak on this issue which I consider to be a flagrant breach of the Protection of Animals Act. I refer to the granting of licences to the Ward Union hunt to use packs of hounds to hunt tame domesticated deer. I raise this matter in the context of what I consider to be the appalling record of disregard of animal welfare in this State.

We recently saw exposed the so-called puppy farms, with their dreadful conditions, operating here in the absence of any legislative restraint, an activity not tolerated in Britain or other EU countries. We also have the unregulated growth in fur farming of Arctic fox without veterinary supervision and operated in a callous and cruel manner. This has been banned in other EU countries.

This State still tolerates the barbaric treatment of timid animals in live hare coursing, which was recently outlawed in the North, yet here the responsible Minister refuses even to countenance the humane alternative available in drag coursing using a mechanical lure. The hunting of foxes with packs of hounds is in the process of being banned in England but continues unrestricted here when drag hunting with a scented lure could easily remove the cruelty aspect.

Perhaps most blatant of all is the issue I raise now, that of tame captive, farmed deer used to supply the Ward Union hunt which cruelly terrifies and hunts them with packs of hounds in clear breach of the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 which explicitly state that it is an offence to terrify or cause unnecessary suffering to any tame animal and expressly provide that a domesticated animal may not be treated in this manner.

It was for that very reason that, in 1997, the department of agriculture in the North took legal and veterinary advice and concluded that deer tamed by their semi-intensive rearing system must be regarded as domestic animals and hunting them would be an act of cruelty and in breach of their welfare of animals Acts. The authorities in the North ceased to issue hunt licences and outlawed the practice. What happened in the Republic? The Attorney General's advice was sought but never revealed. It seems it is top secret, for whatever reason, and licences continue to be issued.

Incredibly, that same year, 1997, our Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry's veterinary inspector, Mr. K.W.S. Kane, was authorised to compile a report on the activities of the Ward Union hunt. Mr. Kane's report is a damning indictment of that hunt. He states: "As the Red Deer herd presently kept at Green Park by the Ward Union Hunt has been maintained in captivity for something in the region of 150 years and is augmented regularly by stock from captive herds farmed solely for venison production, it is hard to see how they avoid falling into the category of "domestic animal" for the purposes of the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965". He further stated that stags are terrified, distressed and exhausted and that the hunts must be terrifying and stressful for the animal, that domesticated red deer are obviously unfit for a prolonged chase by hounds, and concluded: "It could be argued legally ... that the stags are domestic animals and do not fall within the ambit of the Wildlife Act, 1976 and thus that the hunts contravene the Protection of Animals Acts, 1911 and 1965." Mr. Kane's report was ignored and was even refused by the Department concerned under the Freedom of Information Act when it was requested by animal welfare groups.

I know the Minister of State will read his prepared script but I urge him to ask the responsible Minister to have this matter re-examined. It must be a scandal that the Government should connive in the manner I have outlined to subvert the protection of animals legislation in this State. This matter demands action and a resolute stand against the vested interests involved in torturing helpless animals.

I thank Deputy Gregory for raising this matter and giving me the opportunity to clarify the position. The statutory responsibilities of the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are for the protection and conservation of wildlife species, including deer. Responsibility for implementing legislation on animal welfare rests with the Minister for Agriculture and Food.

Section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976, as amended, which governs the licensing of the hunting of deer by stag hounds, refers generically to deer, and the question of whether deer are domestic or wild is not an issue in that section.

On foot of a question raised by the heritage council in December 1997, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands, then responsible for nature conservation, sought the then Attorney General's advice on the legal status of the deer used by the Ward Union Hunt Club as wild or domesticated animals and on any implications for the exercise of her powers under the Wildlife Act 1976 to license carted stag hunting by the Ward Union hunt, having regard to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 .

The substance of the legal advice was that section 26(1)(ii) of the Wildlife Act 1976 had consistently been applied to license carted stag hunts, which are carried out only by the Ward Union stag hunt. At the time of the enactment of the 1976 Act, the only form of stag hunting within the State was a carted stag hunt and the section as enacted covers that; to interpret the Protection of Animals Acts 1911 and 1965 as prohibiting the carted stag hunt was to ignore the clear and emphatic language of section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976. Deer maintained in the Ward Union Hunt Club deer park come within the clear scope of section 26(1)(ii) of the Wildlife Act 1976. The inclusion of deer in section 26 of the Wildlife Act 1976 was sufficient to empower the Minister to licence the Ward Union hunt. If the Minister refused to consider an application for a licence, the hunt could apply for an order of mandamus.

Issues concerning animal welfare in the conduct of the Ward Union carted stag hunt were comprehensively addressed in the hunting code of practice of September 1999 agreed between the Ward Union Hunt Club, the then Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the Department of Agriculture and Food. A condition of the hunt club's annual licence requires compliance with this code of practice.

Compliance with the conditions of the licence is monitored by conservation officers from my Department and, in an advisory capacity to my Department, by veterinary officers from the Department of Agriculture and Food. Their reports are considered in the context of issuing a licence for the following year. There is an annual inspection of the deer at the park at the end of the season to ensure that the deer are healthy and sound and that hunt records are complete. The last inspection was at the end of the 2002-3 season and showed no grounds for concern.

The Dáil adjourned at 7.40 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Friday, 5 March 2004.