I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 48 together.
The most recent meeting of the Government task force on emergency planning was held on Thursday, 22 April. I have scheduled a further meeting for 27 May. The task force has met on three occasions — 18 February, 25 March and 22 April — during 2004. The task force met on a total of nine occasions in 2003.
The Government task force on emergency planning has worked, since it was set up in 2001, to co-ordinate emergency planning and response arrangements across those Departments that lead and support the State's response in an emergency.
The focus for this work continues to be on making the necessary arrangements to, at best, prevent or at least minimise the risks from terrorist activities, ensuring that the protection available to the Irish people is maximised, putting mechanisms in place to support the response agencies and providing co-ordination for maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Potential threats to the State arising from international terrorism are continuously monitored by those involved, principally the Garda Síochána and the Defence Forces. The advice available to me is that, while the Garda authorities recognise that the terrorist threat to Europe may currently be high, in regard to Ireland it is low. The awareness that the situation could change rapidly, and with little warning, has ensured that vigilance is maintained.
Should the situation with respect to Ireland change, the Government task force on emergency planning will provide the necessary co-ordination to promote the best use of the State's resources and compatibility between the varying emergency planning requirements. Arrangements regarding security issues that may arise in connection with the EU-US summit to be held in June are primarily a matter for the Garda Síochána. Emergency planning preparations are designed to ensure that as far as possible the necessary advance planning is in place to deal with the consequences of any incident that may arise.
A critical issue in an emergency is the question of issuing adequate and timely warnings and providing the necessary information to the general public on threatened or developing emergency situations. The EU civil protection mechanism and other international mechanisms provide Ireland with certain warning and alert systems and mechanisms. Television and radio broadcasting will be the key means of contact with the public in such circumstances but all other means of communication will be utilised.
International links have also been important as a means of sharing expertise and resources. The European Union continues to develop programmes to improve co-operation within the Union and prevent and limit any consequences of chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear terrorists threats. This was given new impetus by the EU Declaration on Combating Terrorism agreed under the Irish Presidency, which, among other things, emphasises the benefits of co-operation and co-ordination.
I am pleased to report to this House that there continues to be excellent co-operation between my Department and all other Departments and public authorities. I continue to report regularly to Government on emergency planning, on a confidential basis. I presented the most recent of these confidential reports to Government last October. The report noted that the year had been one of consolidation of emergency planning development. Steps continue to be taken to build on the work done since 2001, formalise the arrangements that have been put in place and lay the groundwork for the future.
The objective of the Government is to ensure that all State bodies can react quickly and efficiently to any large-scale emergency.
As chairperson of the Government task force, my approach continues to be that such responses should be characterised by effective management of all aspects of emergency planning and by a high level of public confidence in all the response arrangements. I will continue this work and I will report regularly to Government and to this House on these matters.