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 11 inclusive, answered orally.

National Irish Bank Investigations.

Liz McManus

Question:

12 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the report of the High Court inspectors into the affairs of banks (details supplied) will be published. [18064/04]

The investigations into the affairs of the National Irish Bank Limited and National Irish Bank Financial Services Limited are being conducted by inspectors appointed by the High Court, on application by me, under section 8 of the Companies Act 1990. I understand from press reports that the final report is expected to be presented to the High Court on or before 31 July. Its publication is a matter for the court to decide.

Job Creation.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

13 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the total number of new jobs announced during 2003 from new investments or expansion of IDA backed plants; the expected level of announcements during 2004; and the steps being taken to promote job creation. [18085/04]

Not all projects agreed between IDA Ireland and its clients are announced. There is usually a time lag between the announcement of new jobs and their creation.

In 2003 as many as 32 greenfield and expansion job creation projects were announced. IDA Ireland approved 64 new investment and 39 research and development projects of which 33 were greenfield projects. The announced projects may represent nearly 5,600 jobs. In 2003 IDA Ireland supported companies recruited 9,182 people. These results were achieved against a background where there were fewer companies actively seeking to invest overseas and consequently less companies visiting Ireland.

It is difficult to predict the exact number of IDA supported project announcements for 2004. IDA Ireland is cautiously optimistic about the year ahead. It believes that this year will be its best since 2000 in terms of job announcements, both for new investments into Ireland and growth in the value and scale of activities in existing IDA backed plants. This view is based on contacts with client companies, strong indications of a substantial recovery in growth in the global economy and consequent increased flows of foreign direct investment.

Up to the end of May as many as 14 new projects were announced with possibly 780 jobs. IDA Ireland approved 32 new investment and ten research and development projects in the same period. This year job recruitment in IDA supported companies should be on a par with or slightly better than the level achieved in 2003.

I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development, will continue to bear fruit in terms of delivering the maximum level of additional jobs.

Job Losses.

Willie Penrose

Question:

14 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of redundancies notified to her Department from 2000 to date; the projected numbers for 2004; and the steps being taken to deal with the sharp increase in redundancies. [18074/04]

The number of redundancies notified to my Department in the years specified were 13,316 in 2000, 19,977 in 2001, 25,358 in 2002, 27,702 in 2003 and 11,001 to the end of May 2004. The corresponding figure to the end of May 2003 was 10,145. It is an 8% increase in the number of redundancies notified to my Department so far this year. The quarterly national household survey, prepared by the Central Statistics Office this month, shows that employment growth continued in the first quarter of 2004 with an increase of 52,300 or 2.9 % in the year on year position. This brings the total number of persons in employment up to 1.84 million.

The Government's policies are focused on the development of a competitive economy, a central tenet for generating sustainable employment and growth. Initiatives by the Government and the State's development agencies, including reducing the burden of unnecessary regulation, are aimed at helping us progress towards a knowledge and innovation driven economy. Ongoing six monthly assessments of our competitive position will ensure that appropriate and timely actions are taken to address identified weaknesses. In addition, the enterprise strategy group was given the task of developing strategic policy recommendations for enterprise here. I established it in July 2003. I expect it will submit a report to me shortly.

Radon Gas Levels.

Jack Wall

Question:

15 Mr. Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention was drawn to the potentially serious danger posed to workers from the presence of radon gas in the workplace; the action she intends to take to protect workers against its effects; if she is satisfied that the law is being imposed; and the number of prosecutions for the gas by the Health and Safety Authority. [18041/04]

The exposure of workers to radon gas in workplaces here is controlled by the Radiological Protection Act 1991 (Ionising Radiation) Order 2000 (S.I. No. 125 of 2000) and is enforced by the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. Therefore, enforcement is primarily a matter for the institute.

Under the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, employers are required to identify hazards arising in the workplace, assess the risks arising from them and put in place measures to eliminate or control the risks. The authority use seminars to remind employers located in areas likely to exceed the threshold limit value set out in the statutory instrument on ionising radiation of their obligations under the 1989 Act if the limit value is exceeded.

To date the HSA has not prosecuted anyone for the presence of radon gas at workplaces.

Research and Development.

David Stanton

Question:

16 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the need to maintain investment in research and development; her views on the present state of research and development here; and her plans to expand it. [17945/04]

Ireland's sustained economic growth and prosperity depends on establishing a culture of scientific and technological innovation, a high level of research and development and a globally competitive knowledge based economy.

Under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 as much as €2.48 billion was allocated to research, technological development and innovation activities across all Departments and agencies. The two major elements of the investment, the programme for research in third level institutes operated by the Higher Education Authority and Science Foundation Ireland are progressing well. They have led to a significant strengthening of the research base.

So far the programme for research in third level institutions has allocated over €620 million for research and infrastructure. These investments enable universities and institutes of technology to develop and realise long-term strategic plans for developing their research capacity. As many as 24 major research centres were established and major programmes in human genomics and computational physics.

SFI was established to fund industry oriented basic research. To date €362 million has been committed to 310 research projects. Selection was based on scientific excellence as measured by international peer review. SFI investments support knowledge creation and human capital development and they are corner stones of a knowledge economy. The funding is being used to recruit and retain researchers and research groups capable of developing high impact, internationally significant discoveries in the fields underpinning biotechnology and information and communications technology.

Research investment was also increased in other sectoral areas to underpin policy and economic development and social well-being in a range of areas including agriculture, food, marine, environment and health.

The Government has demonstrated a sustained commitment to investment in research. The Finance Act 2004 provided the following: the introduction of a 20% tax credit for companies for incremental research and development expenditure; a stamp duty exemption for transfers of intellectual property such as copyright, patents and trademarks; and an extension of the business expansion and seed capital schemes. Departments also have significant budgetary allocations for the development of a national science base.

The State's significant investment in science and technology is intended to create a vibrant and well supported research community, provide a substantial resource for technology solutions and a basis for a stream of technology based start-ups. We are creating vital synergies between the Government, universities and entrepreneurs. The Government has invested heavily in knowledge and ideas creation. It has also made an equal investment in the crucial activity of commercialising outcomes through programmes of applied research in colleges and near to market exploitation within companies.

Considerable progress has been made to date and will continue within the NDP framework. Ireland's comparative performance in science, technology and innovation needs to improve considerably to match top performers such as Finland, the US and Japan, particularly for business expenditure on research and development. The Government is committed to continuing to invest in this vital area with a view to creating the conditions that encourage the creation of new knowledge. We want to translate that into new products processes, services and enterprises that will underpin our future competitiveness and growth.

Corporate Investigations.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

17 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the further investigations that have taken place following the publication of the report of the inspectors appointed to inquire into the affairs of a company (details supplied); and if she expects prosecutions or further action to be taken on foot of it. [18120/04]

Following the commencement of the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001, it is now the statutory responsibility of the Director of Corporate Enforcement to pursue the possible breaches of the Companies Acts identified in the report. The Act requires him to perform his functions with respect to the Companies Acts on an independent basis. He does not report to me on an individual case or issue that is the subject of an examination by his office. However, he did emphasise his determination to take appropriate action on foot of the report.

The Revenue Commissioners were active in pursuing tax issues arising from the Ansbacher and other tax evasion mechanisms. A recent High Court decision approved, in principle, an application by the Revenue Commissioners to obtain access to certain papers of the inspectors not included in their report. The practical implications of the decision have yet to be determined by the court. The Director of Corporate Enforcement has a similar application before the High Court but the proceedings were postponed pending the outcome of Revenue's application.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

18 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the role her Department has in monitoring health and safety conditions for workers in national car testing centres; whether environmental working conditions in such centres are analysed; and the methods that are used to inspect them. [18126/04]

The day-to-day responsibility for the administration and enforcement of occupational safety and health legislation is a matter for the Health and Safety Authority. The legislation includes the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 and a range of regulations, including the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (General Application) Regulations 1993 and the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work (Chemical Agents) Regulations 2001.

NCT centres like all other workplaces are subject to occupational safety and health legislation. They are liable to inspection by the authority in accordance with its prioritised programme of work and standard operational procedures.

The methods used for the inspection of workplaces depends on a range of factors including the nature of the visit. It may be a routine inspection, a follow-up inspection, an investigation into an accident or a complaint. During an inspection inspectors may speak to managers, safety officers and, where available, worker safety representatives. Follow-up action includes verbal and written advice and, where necessary, the issuing of enforcement notices. In general a copy of a formal enforcement direction or notice is sent to the site safety representative for information.

Monitoring of the workplace atmosphere on the potential exposure to hazardous chemical agents is covered by the Chemical Agents Regulations 2001. They require employers to identify the hazards, assess the risks and put in place appropriate control measures. As part of the risk assessment it may be necessary for the employer to establish, or have established on his or her behalf, the level of chemical agents being emitted in the workplace atmosphere.

Proposed Legislation.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

19 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has considered the proposal to introduce legislation to provide for a new offence of corporate killing as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. [18039/04]

Last October the Law Reform Commission prepared a consultation paper on corporate killing. It recommended that a new offence of corporate killing be established and be prosecuted on indictment without exclusion of any entity whether incorporated or not. The offence would apply to acts or omissions of a high managerial agent that would be treated as those of the undertaking.

To reflect the seriousness of the offence the commission also recommended that the legislation should provide for an unlimited fine or, in certain circumstances, an individual high managerial agent should also be subject to imprisonment of up to five years. At present it is considering submissions on its consultation paper.

The Office of the Attorney General advised my Department that the issue of corporate killing has far broader implications than health and safety in the workplace. It also advised that the issue will require consideration in the Attorney General's Office after the Law Reform Commission publishes its final report and subsequent consideration by Government.

In order to go as far as legally possible on the issue of corporate responsibility the forthcoming safety, health and welfare Bill will include a provision. It will deal with the liability of directors and officers of undertakings to make more explicit an existing provision in the 1989 Act. In the past directors and managers in companies have been prosecuted under the same Act for safety and health failures that resulted in a worker's serious injury or death. The provision will send a clear message to decision makers at board of management level who carry a special responsibility for safety and health.

Motor Insurance.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

20 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her Department analysed the system of motor insurance in New Zealand where a special insurance levy is added to the price of petrol to fund a common motor insurance scheme; if she will consider developing such an approach here because persons who drive the most would have to pay proportionately more for their insurance and this would lead to administrative savings. [18133/04]

During 2001 the system was analysed by the special working group on personal injury compensation. In December 1996 the then Minister for Commerce, Science and Technology established the group following the Government's consideration of a Deloitte & Touche report on an economic evaluation of insurance costs here. The group's remit included the investigation and examination of issues surrounding other alternative or complementary systems for delivering personal injury compensation here.

In New Zealand the no-fault compensation system and rehabilitation scheme for motor related personal injury is funded by motor registration charges and taxes on motor fuel. It is operated on a pay as you go basis with no provision for the cost of future liabilities. The working group could not recommend the system due to uncertainties about its funding and operation. The working group felt constitutionally constrained from recommending the replacement of the existing systems of personal injury compensation here with a system that would impose restrictions on the existing right of tort action for personal injury compensation.

Cooney Carey Business Consultancy produced a report for my Department in December 1993. It examined the feasibility of replacing the current system of third party liability insurance with a levy on motor fuels. It concluded that the levy based system would penalise all sectors in industry. It also concluded that our competitiveness throughout Europe would be seriously affected and have a negative impact on growth, job creation and the economy.

Ultimately the issue of placing an insurance levy on the price of petrol rests with the Minister for Finance.

Arms Trade.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

21 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention was drawn to the recent report published by Amnesty International on the manufacture here of military and security equipment and dual use components; how she will deal with the issues raised in the report; and when the new legislation to control the export of arms and weapons components will be published. [18043/04]

John Gormley

Question:

53 Mr. Gormley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the action she intends to take on foot of the Amnesty International report on the domestic arms trade here. [18122/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21 and 53 together.

I noted the recent report by Amnesty International entitled Undermining Global Security. It examined the current policies and practices of EU member states with regard to their control of the transfer of arms, military, security and police technology, weaponry, personnel and training. The report contends that there are flaws in the EU arms control export system that allow a number of member states to transfer such equipment, technology and expertise. The organisation believes that recipients have used the items for serious human rights violations or breaches of international humanitarian law.

The report has an appendix that deals with a number of issues specifically on Ireland's export control system.

In the present international climate it is important that all countries behave responsibly when selling products that are military in nature or may have military applications. Ireland is a long-standing proponent of non-proliferation of weapons. It is keen to meet all international, legal and political commitments to control and monitor relevant exports from Ireland. The independent review of our export control system has been completed. It proposes a number of ways, both legislative and non-legislative, in which Ireland can continue to modernise and strengthen its export licensing controls while ensuring full compliance with its international obligations. I intend to bring the report to Government within the next week with a view to its publication immediately thereafter.

The recommendations of the report will be considered by all relevant Departments with a view to their implementation as a matter of priority.

Job Creation.

Billy Timmins

Question:

22 Mr. Timmins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the measures that are being taken to find replacement jobs for the Rathdrum area of County Wicklow following the announcement of 76 job losses at a company (details supplied). [17943/04]

I am conscious of the affect that a recent announcement of voluntary redundancies in Schering-Plough, Avondale, Rathdrum, County Wicklow has had on workers and their families. Alternative employment is a priority for FÁS and the State's development agencies. FÁS has provided the full range of support services, including skills analysis, training and job placement, to the staff.

The IDA has informed me that job creation is continuing in nearby Arklow where a Euroconnex Technologies phase 1 development has been completed. There are 230 people employed and planning permission has been sought for temporary office facilities to accommodate 130 additional employees.

The Inamed-McGhan investment expansion announced in 2003 for 200 jobs is well advanced and it employs over 340 staff in Arklow. The Servier Pharmaceutical investment expansion in Arklow has been implemented with over 100 extra jobs created. IDA Arklow business park is the host location for a new Vitra Tiles manufacturing and logistics project. Over €2 million has been invested in a major development programme at the business park. Negotiations are also well advanced for an expansion, involving 90 jobs, of a Bray based and IDA client pharmaceutical company.

Enterprise Ireland continues to work with its client companies in County Wicklow. They have become more competitive in their drive to increase export sales and it has resulted in further job creation in the area. Since 2003 Enterprise Ireland approved over €4.5 million for its client companies.

Enterprise Ireland approved more than €4.5 million in capital funding for enterprise centres in County Wicklow through the urban community enterprise scheme 1999-2000. The expansion of the Wicklow enterprise park and enterprise centres in Arklow and Bray were included.

The State development agencies operate under the aegis of my Department. They have successfully promoted and will continue to promote the Wicklow area for enterprise development.

Employment Schemes.

Seán Crowe

Question:

23 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of persons employed on JI schemes in each of the past three years; and the numbers expected to be employed such schemes in the coming year. [17947/04]

The participation rates in respect of job initiative participants are as follows:

Yearly Average

At End of Year

2001

2,793

2,762

2002

2,663

2,525

2003

2,391

2,207

FÁS estimate that there will be an average participation rate of 2,100 on the programme in 2004 and 2,000 participants will be employed by the end of the year.

The total funding allocation for employment schemes in 2004 was fixed at €351 million. It will support up to 25,000 places across the three FÁS employment schemes: community employment, social economy and job initiative.

Corporate Investigations.

Joe Costello

Question:

24 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on the recent report of the Director of Corporate Enforcement. [18046/04]

I presume that the Deputy is referring to the director of corporate enforcement's annual report for 2003. Some of its highlights include the following: there were just under 1,500 reports made to his office of the by auditors suggesting the commission of indictable company law offences by companies and directors, in particular, a four-fold increase over the number of such reports made in 2002; his office received 300 complaints from the public on suspected corporate misconduct; his office secured 43 convictions, or a three-fold increase over 2002, against companies and individuals; there were 651 reports by liquidators on insolvent companies pursuant to the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 and the director imposed an obligation on the liquidator in 202 cases to apply to the High Court to restrict all of the directors of the insolvent company; 153 directors were restricted by the High Court in the 121 cases heard by it in 2003; and 14 High Court orders were secured by the office against nine liquidators to remedy a failure by each liquidator to submit an insolvent company report.

In addition the office continued to pursue an active information and awareness campaign. This included the completion of the dissemination to 150,000 Irish registered companies of ODCE information books on the duties and powers of companies, company directors and company secretaries.

The 2003 annual report indicated a significant increase in the number of reports and complaints of suspected corporate misconduct reported to the office in 2003 compared to 2002. However, it would not be correct to draw any inference from this that there was an increase in corporate misconduct. Last year was only the second full year of operation for the office. As its existence becomes better known and the reporting obligations under the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 are acted upon the level of reporting of misconduct will increase in the short term.

It is probably too early to assess the full impact of the regime introduced by the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001. I am satisfied, having regard to the outcome for 2003 reported by the director, that the increased activity and detection of offences shows that the law and his office is working well.

Community Employment Schemes.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

25 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment about the analysis of community employment schemes commissioned or undertaken by her Department; their findings; and if she intends to publish the reports. [18077/04]

Active labour market programmes includes community employment schemes, job initiative, education and training and back to work programmes. A review of them was mandated by the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness and outlined in the programme for Government. The standing committee on the labour market is chaired by my Department and it undertook the review. It was unable to produce a final report in the absence of sufficient consensus on the various elements of the review. However, the considerable input from committee members was noted and their views continue to inform current discussions.

As part of the review process my Department, on the committee's behalf, commissioned Indecon International Economic Consultants to rigorously assess the overall effectiveness of existing programmes and inform the committee's deliberations. The Indecon report can be viewed on my Department's website, www.entemp.ie.

FÁS has also undertaken a review of CE and job initiative programmes. Its report will be published in due course.

A group of senior officials and FÁS are reviewing the future structure of the CE programme. I expect the group to submit a report shortly. Decisions on any future adjustments in the structure and the terms and conditions of CE participation will be taken when the review process is brought to a conclusion.

Drink Prices.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

26 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention was drawn to the decision of a firm (details supplied) to impose price increases that are likely to lead to an increase of 15 cent in the price of the pint; her views on whether such increases are justified; and the action she intends to take. [18050/04]

The decision to increase the price of specific products is a matter for the manufacturer or supplier and is something in which I have no role. I am aware of the announcement by the company concerned to increase their prices. I am also aware that at least one competing enterprise has decided not to increase the price of competing products. Therefore, consumers will have a choice.

The Retail Price (Beverages in Licensed Premises) Display Order 1999 (S. I. No. 263 of 1999) obliges publicans to display the price of alcoholic and soft drinks just outside or immediately inside their premises. Consumers can also avail of the information.

Price Regulations.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

27 Ms Lynch asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when she intends to make the promised order under the Consumer Affairs Act to require doctors, dentists and allied health professionals to publicly display their prices. [18079/04]

Work on the preparation of measures to increase consumer awareness of charges for medical and dental services, including the preparation of a charges display order under the Prices Act, is continuing in my Department. They will be brought to a conclusion as soon as possible.

WTO Negotiations.

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

28 Mr. McCormack asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her Department contacted the EU Trade Commissioner and the World Trade Organisation on the resumption of the Doha round of trade talks; the nature of that correspondence; and whether there will be a successful outcome of those talks. [17936/04]

Joan Burton

Question:

63 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment whether world trade talks shall resume. [18044/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 28 and 63 together.

The operation of the EU's common trade policy lies within the competence of the European Commission. In recent months the Commission has been to the forefront of efforts to re-launch the Doha development agenda negotiations. Last September they stalled following the failure of the WTO ministerial meeting in Cancún.

The most recent major initiative taken by the Commission took place on 9 May. The Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy and Agriculture Commissioner, Franz Fischler, issued a joint letter to all of the other members of the WTO. It set out the key areas where the EU felt that movement was needed if the negotiations were to progress and what the EU was prepared to propose in these areas.

The letter focused on agriculture, non-agricultural market access, Singapore issues and development. Most particularly the EU indicated that it was prepared to negotiate on the elimination of EU agricultural export subsidies provided other WTO members reciprocated on other forms of export competition such as export credits, state trading entities and food aid. An overall balance must also be achieved between and within the pillars on agriculture, including market access, domestic support and export subsidies.

The Singapore issues included investment, competition, trade facilitation and government procurement. The EU indicated that trade facilitation was the principle area it wanted early negotiations on. The EU is prepared to leave the other areas for further consideration within the WTO.

A significant element of the EU initiative related to the development aspect of the negotiations. The EU now proposes that, in so far as agriculture and non-agricultural market access is concerned, the least developed countries and other weak or vulnerable developing countries in a similar situation should not have to open their markets beyond their existing commitments. They should be able to benefit from increased market access offered by both developed and advanced developing countries. There has been a mixed reaction to the EU initiative. Intensive discussions are taking place in Geneva in an attempt to agree a basis for the re-launch of negotiations. The hope is that an agreed framework can be put in place by the end of July.

As Minister for trade and commerce, and in the context of the Irish Presidency of the EU, I have been actively involved in facilitating EU member state participation in the development of EU policy in this area. My officials and I have been closely involved with the Commission in the efforts to put the negotiations back on track.

EU Directives.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

29 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of EU directives for which her Department has responsibility that have yet to be implemented; the number of directives where the deadline for implementation has passed; if she is satisfied with the rate of compliance by her Department; and the number of cases where legal actions have been notified or commenced by the EU Commission arising from a failure to implement a directive. [18089/04]

A total of 21 directives must be implemented, including three for which the deadline for implementation, in full or in part, has passed.

Details of the directives, including, in so far as it was decided, the proposed transposition instruments, are available on my Department's website www.entemp.ie/trade/eudirectives. The website also contains information on directives where infringement proceedings have commenced. A number of them were transposed but are still the subject of legal proceedings by the EU Commission. The Commission issued a letter of formal notice, under Article 226 of the Treaty for one of the directives that have not been transposed and its deadline has passed.

I am satisfied that my Department is giving all due priority to the task of implementing directives in light of the available resources.

Oil Prices.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

30 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her Department has carried out a review of the implications for industrial policy here of the doubling of oil prices in the past two years and the likelihood of further dramatic increases in energy prices as a peak in worldwide global oil production is being approached. [18135/04]

Oil has traded at significantly high levels for some months. Crude oil prices have fallen back slightly from their recent high level although market volatility and concerns about supply and demand issues could mean that relatively high prices will remain a feature of the international oil market.

My Department does not propose to prepare a report on the implications of the present increase in oil prices. The Department of Finance shall take the matter into account when preparing its economic review and outlook. The report is due to be published later this year.

The International Energy Agency has warned that a sustained increase in oil prices will have an adverse effect on GDP and inflation in Eurozone economies. We have no control over international factors that influence world oil prices. Their impact re-emphasises the critical importance of strengthening competitiveness. Our ability to adapt and remain competitive is a key issue for Ireland in the face of adverse global economic conditions.

EU Directives.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

31 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the main features of the new consumer initiative agreed among member states on 18 May. [18049/04]

The proposed new unfair commercial practices directive aims to clarify consumers' rights and facilitate cross-border trade by establishing common, EU wide rules against aggressive or misleading business-to-consumer marketing. The directive provides for full harmonisation at EU level as soon as traders comply with its provisions.

Article 5 of the directive establishes two general conditions to apply in determining whether a practice is unfair. The practice must be contrary to the requirements of professional diligence and materially distorts consumers' behaviour.

The benchmark consumer to be considered in assessing the impact of a practice is generally the average consumer. There are also measures to prevent the exploitation of consumers, such as children who may be vulnerable to particular practices. Two specific types of unfair commercial practice are defined in more detail as misleading, Articles 6 and 7, and aggressive, Articles 8 and 9.

The directive contains an annex. It lists some specific types of unfair commercial practice that are banned in all circumstances. For example, making false claims about products or creating the impression that the consumer cannot leave the premises until a contract is formed.

Under Article 11 member states will have a duty to ensure the rules on unfair commercial practices are enforced and that traders in their jurisdiction who break them are punished. The duty to pursue rogue traders applies equally whether the consumers targeted live in the member state or another part of the EU.

I am pleased that political agreement was reached on the proposal under my chairmanship of the Competitiveness Council. In the autumn it will go back to the European Parliament for a second reading. Agreement on the proposal was complimented by the first reading agreement of the proposal for a regulation that provides for co-operation between the various consumer enforcement authorities of member states. It shall be easier to tackle cross-border abuses of consumer rights. On 18 May the Council noted this fact.

In an Internal Market of 25 member states trade and commerce is increasingly conducted across borders. Therefore, it is critical for consumer confidence that we provide strong protection measures and effective redress mechanisms. These two initiatives were positively progressed under the Irish Presidency and they will contribute greatly to this goal.

Groceries Order.

Seán Ryan

Question:

32 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when she will publish the results of her review of the 1987 Groceries Order that forbids below cost selling. [18087/04]

My review of the order is ongoing and I hope to conclude it in the near future.

Job Losses.

Richard Bruton

Question:

33 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of industrial jobs her Department expects will be lost here in 2004; the reasons for the losses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17942/04]

It is not possible to predict with any accuracy the future decisions of companies regarding industrial employment, nor is it my intention to try to do so. In terms of job losses in the year to date, however, manufacturing redundancies notified to my Department to the end of May were around 3,900, compared with just over 4,300 in the same period last year.

On balance the outlook for the economy is good, with both the OECD and the ESRI expecting economic growth to recover this year to around 3.5%, reaching 4.5% in 2005 from a low of 1.5% in 2003. Over the medium term, Ireland is expected to revert to its potential growth rate of 5% as we continue to reap the benefits from our fast-growing labour force and strong position in high-technology sectors. The ESRI also expects that employment will continue to expand, rising to about 1.84 million next year.

We are a vibrant market economy where new jobs are generated by entrepreneurial activity while other jobs are lost due to a myriad of factors, including technology developments, competitive pressures etc. Industrial employment is a key element of our economy and will be in the future. While industrial employment has declined in the past couple of years, we must view those losses against employment expansion in the broader economy. Since 1998, over 270,000 jobs have been created, and the unemployment rate is among the lowest in the European Union and significantly lower than that in France, Germany, Finland or Sweden. That has been helped in no small part by my Government's economic policies and my Department's support for enterprise through its agencies. The quarterly national household survey, or QNHS, prepared by the Central Statistics Office, shows that employment grew in 2003, with an increase of 44,600 or 2.5% in the September to November year-on-year position. Full-time employment accounted for over three quarters of the annual increase.

My Department and agencies are committed to the task of reinvigorating regions where job losses occur through the attraction of new investment. In the future, sustainable employment will be based on competitiveness, higher productivity and the application of technology in both existing and new enterprises. The challenge is to assist companies to move into the type of higher value-added activities that will provide well-paid jobs for our increasingly educated workforce. We are meeting that challenge as the enterprise development agencies re-engineer their support programmes to help clients improve competitiveness, innovation and research and development and smooth their transition to higher-value and more profitable activities.

Insurance Industry.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

34 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which motor and public liability insurance here is higher than in most other EU countries; the action or actions she proposes to take to deal with the issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18095/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

83 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the way in which the relative position of public liability insurance costs here and those throughout Europe have changed in recent times with a view to benefiting the consumer here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18221/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

84 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which she has taken steps to bring public liability insurance costs here into line with those prevailing in other EU states; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18222/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

86 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which motor insurance costs here are out of line with those in other EU states; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18224/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 83, 84 and 86 together.

The European Insurance in Figures June 2003 report published by the Comité Européen des Assurances, or CEA, shows details of average non-life premia per inhabitant. Those figures include motor and public liability insurance.

The figures for 2001 which are the latest given, show that of 29 European countries listed, Ireland ranked fourth highest, with a value of €1,123, Luxembourg was highest, with a value of €2,084, Switzerland was second highest, with a value of €1,642, the Netherlands were third, with a value of €1,125. The United Kingdom, with a value of €1,072, was fifth-highest. Estonia was second-lowest, with a value of €67, and Turkey was lowest, with a value of €23. The average premium in Europe in 2001 was €581.

The ratios must be analysed carefully. The figures comparing premium amounts to the number of inhabitants do not correspond to sums actually paid by those insured, and in addition they do not always include only or all premia paid by the inhabitants of the country concerned. In Luxembourg, for example, insurers largely benefit from freedom to provide services, or FOS, whereby any insurer authorised to write business in the EEA may provide insurance into any other member state. Countries like Switzerland, Ireland and the UK have a high density of insurance.

The difficulties caused by high insurance premia for all sectors are of great concern to the Government. The agreed programme for Government includes a commitment to tackling the high cost of insurance, and it is the Government's firm intention to implement the necessary measures indicated therein.

The insurance reform programme that I announced on 25 October 2002 comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market. I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Departments and other bodies concerned. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help tackle the high cost of insurance. The key measures include: implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board action plan within a target timeframe; and establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The board was established and members appointed on 13 April 2004. The PIAB commenced dealing with employer liability cases from 1 June 2004, and it is my intention that it commences dealing with motor and public liability claims from autumn 2004. A book of quantum — an aid for assessing the level of compensation based on the type of injury involved — which is essential for the successful operation of the PIAB, was published by PIAB on 2 June 2004 and the undertaking by my Department and the Competition Authority of a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003, and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following consultation, a final report will be published later in the year which will contain recommendations based on the findings.

Significant progress has been made by the Department of Transport regarding the implementation of the road safety strategy. For example, the introduction of the penalty points system has already reduced the number of accidents on our roads, which has benefits far beyond the cost of insurance. Two new road traffic Bills are expected to be enacted by the end of July 2004. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy McDowell, published the Civil Liability and Courts Bill on 11 February 2004, and it is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas. That Bill contains measures to streamline the law regarding personal injury claims, including measures to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance, I have made it clear that I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premia to consumers and businesses. Indications to date are that the reform programme is having its desired effect. The CSO publishes monthly indices of costs for a number of classes of insurance. Those statistics show that there was a reduction of 12.9 index points, or 12.1%, in motor car insurance between the months of October 2002, when the programme was launched, and April 2004, which is the latest figure available. Reductions are also beginning to occur in the cost of employers' liability and public liability insurance premia, which represent a significant burden for businesses. As implementation of the reform programme continues, I expect further reductions to occur in all forms of insurance. I am also confident that the measures that the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will attract new players into the market leading to further downward pressure on premia.

Work Permits.

Joan Burton

Question:

35 Ms Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the recent report published by the Migrant Rights Centre, Ireland regarding work permits in which it suggested that temporary work permits should be the exception rather than the rule and that permits should be detached from the employer; her views on the recommendations made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18042/04]

I am aware of the report in question and of similar proposals from other interested parties.

At present the work permit system grants the permit to an employer to recruit a specific employee to fill a specific vacancy, where the employer has been unable to find a suitable employee within Ireland or the wider European Economic Area. That arrangement does have the safeguard that the non-EEA employee in question is coming to fill a specific vacancy, an important factor when most of the personnel in question are at the lower end of the skills spectrum.

In recent years, work permit personnel have being readily facilitated in changing jobs, and in such circumstances a new work permit is issued to an eligible employer. That flexibility has being possible and warranted by the relatively high number of vacancies arising in recent years.

If we moved to a situation where a work permit were given to the individual employee, we would in effect be giving on authorisation to come to Ireland in search of an employer. Such a system is not impossible, but it gives rise to several serious policy questions and raises very significant resource issues. Any informed decision to move to a new system should take those into account.

Any proposal to issue employment permits directly to employees raise questions such as: To whom would permits be issued? In respect of what skills? How many per year? Would we give quotas to other countries, if requested, and if so, to which countries? For how long might a person seek a job? What would be done if a person did not find a job within the period allowed? Would families of the work permit holder be permitted to travel immediately and, if so, who would be responsible for their support in Ireland? What impact, if any, would such a programme have on the housing market, particularly at the lower end of the rented private sector? The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has had to put in place very significant resources in recent years to give detailed consideration to applications from 10,000 to 12,000 asylum seekers per year. Given the likely level of demand for employment permits from aspiring employees, the question arises as to whether the State would be prepared to devote an equivalent amount of resources to detailed assessment of employment permit applications from a similar or even greater number of applicants and whether that would be a priority call on resources.

It is anticipated that, following EU enlargement, the greater portion of our overseas personnel needs will be met from within the EU, thus obviating the need for a work permit.

Departmental Investigations.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

36 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the total costs incurred by the State, at the latest date for which figures are available, arising from the various inquiries instigated by or on behalf of her Department; the element of those costs that have been recovered from any of the other parties involved; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18091/04]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

58 Mr. Sherlock asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position in regard to each of the inquiries being carried out by or on behalf of her Department; the projected date for the conclusion of each such investigation; the inquiries in respect of which reports have been referred to the DPP; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18090/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 36 and 58 together.

Sixteen investigations into company law matters have been initiated by me since I first came into office as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

In three cases, the High Court appointed, on an application by me, inspectors under section 8 of the Companies Act 1990. The inspectors appointed to Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited presented their report to the High Court on 10 June 2002. The report was subsequently published. The report has been passed to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Section 8 inquiries into the affairs of National Irish Bank Limited and National Irish Bank Financial Services Limited are continuing. I understand that the final report of the inspectors is expected to be presented to the High Court on or before 31 July 2004.

One investigation under section 14 of the Companies Act 1990 was completed in 1998. The report on that has been passed to the DPP.

Eleven investigations were initiated by me under section 19 of the Companies Act 1990. Six of those have been concluded. Of the six investigations completed, two of the reports were passed to the DPP. Several summary prosecutions have since been successfully concluded in one case. One report provided an input into the successful application to the High Court for the appointment of inspectors under section 8, while the fourth report was passed to the relevant High Court inspectors. One report was completed in September 2002, and a further report was completed in March 2003. Both reports have been referred to the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

Three investigations under section 19 are ongoing. The authorised officer has recently indicated to me that he is now unlikely to meet his previous estimate of mid-2004 for completion of reports on those investigations. I am not in a position at this stage to say when the authorised officer is likely to have completed his work.

Two investigations were held up by legal appeals. Those inquiries are now the responsibility of the Director of Corporate Enforcement.

One investigation was undertaken under section 59 of the Insurance Act 1989. The report on that has been referred to the DPP as well as to the inspectors undertaking the section 8 investigation into that company.

The costs incurred since 1997 through company investigations initiated by or on behalf of my Department currently amount to approximately €10.5 million. That amount does not include the salary costs of Civil Service staff working on several of those investigations or the legal costs which are primarily being borne by the Vote of the Chief State Solicitor. Most of that €10.5 million derives from the costs to date of the High Court inspectors appointed under section 8; €5.5 million in the case of National Irish Bank Limited and National Irish Bank Financial Services Limited, and €3.5 million in the case of Ansbacher (Cayman) Limited.

The question of recovering costs from the section 8 investigations does not arise until such time as the inspectors complete their investigations. In the case of the Ansbacher inquiry, the High Court proceedings taken by the State to recover the costs of the inquiry were settled out of court for the sum of €1.25 million in favour of the State. Section 19 as originally enacted did not provide for the recoupment of costs. That has now changed by the enactment of the Company Law Enforcement Act 2001.

Price Inflation.

Damien English

Question:

37 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the measures that her Department is taking to monitor prices and report excessive price increases in light of the warning from the Consumers’ Association; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17938/04]

The responsibility of the Government regarding the prices of goods and services is generally limited to ensuring that markets are working properly for the benefit of consumers and of the economy as a whole. Many people in the country share concerns over the price of goods and services, and emphasise that the Government is acutely aware of the difficulties which price increases pose for the average Irish consumer and our tourists. However, we must note the progress made in bringing inflation below the Government target of 2%, which we set last year, with the inflation rate for May being 1.7%.

The National Competitiveness Council and the Competition Authority undertake on a continuous basis investigations into the competitiveness of the Irish economy and the level of competition within it. Those investigations highlight the key areas that require attention to enhance Ireland's competitiveness and economic performance.

As Deputies know, I have also set up the new consumer strategy group, whose main role is to advise and make recommendations for the development of a national consumer policy strategy. In the performance of that role, the group is entitled to initiate studies which demonstrate objectively whether Irish consumers are getting a fair deal. The group has announced its public consultation on consumer issues and invited individual consumers, representative organisations, businesses and any other interested parties to contact it with views and submissions by 9 July next. The group is to produce a final report to me by the end of 2004.

With regard to other measures, I mention the ongoing work of the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, which has published and highlighted the results of price surveys of products ranging from products such as CDs to petrol, car insurance to drinks prices over a rugby weekend, and potatoes to over-the-counter medicines.

As well as price surveys, the consumer is assisted in making purchasing choices through the four price display orders made under the Prices Acts and by the European Communities (Requirement to Indicate Product Prices) Regulations 2002, which oblige retailers to display prices and, where appropriate, the unit price for products. Consumers have their part to play in acting on such information and seeking out the most competitive prices available.

Work Permits.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

38 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the total number of work permits issued to date under the new arrangements to give access to employment to the spouses of non-EEA nationals working here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18068/04]

I am informed that, from 1 January 2004 to date, a total of 179 work permits have been issued in respect of the spouses of non-EEA nationals working here.

Job Creation.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

39 Mr. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on the concerns of Enterprise Ireland concerning the effect that the suspension of the business expansion scheme is having on the emergence of start-up companies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17941/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, my colleague, the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, in his 2004 Budget Statement, announced that both the business expansion scheme, or BES, and seed capital scheme, or SCS, were being extended for a further three years to 31 December 2006 and that the maximum amount a company could raise under the two schemes was being increased from €750,000 to €1 million. I supported that decision, as there was a strong business case for extension of both the BES and SCS. Businesses, particularly small and start-up companies, often experience difficulty in accessing early stage development capital, and the BES and SCS help to bridge the financial difficulties experienced by new entrepreneurs. To that end, Enterprise Ireland has been actively marketing both schemes.

Following that announcement, the European Commission raised issues on a number of budget announcements on state-aid grounds, including the extension of the BES and SCS. Accordingly, the Finance Act 2004 provided that the extension of the schemes to 31 December 2006 and the increase in the company limit, along with some additional changes regarding the operation of the schemes provided for in that Act, would be subject to a commencement order being made by the Minister for Finance to allow clarification of the state-aid issues raised by the European Commission. Accordingly, the schemes are in effect in suspension from 5 February 2004 for new investments until such time as the Minister signs the commencement order.

I can assure the Deputy that my Department and Enterprise Ireland are working very closely with the Department of Finance to provide the clarification required by the Commission. The objective is to re-launch the BES and SCS as soon as the state-aid ruling is received. I fully appreciate the importance of both schemes to encourage entrepreneurs and private investors to invest in new start-up business and micro-enterprises.

In the meantime, Enterprise Ireland continues to work with client companies to identify alternate sources of funds, such as its seed and venture partners. Under the National Development Plan 2001-2006, Enterprise Ireland has committed €95.23 million towards the establishment of 14 new funds. However, the BES will remain a key source of start-up funding.

Trade Union Recognition.

Martin Ferris

Question:

40 Mr. Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if IBEC, or representatives of IBEC, have raised the issue if trade union recognition with her since 1997; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17951/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

47 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to Question No. 56 of 13 May 2004, the details of the meeting which she held in June 1999 with representatives of a number of high-tech companies at which the issue of trade union recognition was on the agenda; the context in which trade union recognition was put on the agenda at that meeting; if she was asked by the representatives of the high-tech companies for any commitments regarding the non-introduction of trade-union recognition; if she made any commitments to those companies regarding the introduction of trade union recognition; the positions outlined by all parties present at the meeting regarding trade union recognition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17954/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40 and 47 together.

In my reply to Question no. 56 of 13 May 2004, I identified one meeting that I had in the past five years in which the issue of trade union recognition was raised in a substantive way. In the time available to me to answer Deputy Ferris's current question, I have not been able to examine all relevant records before 1999. I will continue to check my records, and I will contact the Deputy separately as soon as I have completed that search.

With regard to my meeting in June 1999 with representatives of several high-tech companies, that meeting was sought after the report of the high-level group on trade union recognition was finalised. The topic of trade union recognition was raised within the context of the recommendations of that report. The group had recommended procedures for dealing with disputes in employment where negotiation arrangements were not in place. Consultations by the high-level group with various interested parties on the implementation of the recommendations were ongoing at that time, and the high-tech company representatives were interested in how the Government, in consultation with the social partners, intended to give effect to the procedures. I advised them of the Government's commitment to maintaining the voluntary approach to industrial relations issues in line with the recommendations of the high-level group. The recommended procedures were subsequently given effect through the code of practice on voluntary dispute resolution and the Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act 2001.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

41 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position with regard to her consultation with the social partners on proposals to increase penalties for breaches of the health and safety legislation, especially in view of the ongoing level of death and injury being caused to workers; if, in particular, her attention has been drawn to the concerns expressed by the Buildings and Allied Trade Union at the fine of just €5,000 imposed on a company (details supplied) as a result of safety breaches that led to the death of a worker; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18040/04]

Proposals to repeal and amend the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 have been developed at departmental level, and the Government has approved the publication of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill 2004. The proposals in the Bill are largely the result of a review carried out by the tripartite board of the Health and Safety Authority, which includes representation from the social partners. The board had been requested to carry out a fundamental review of the Act with a view to identifying where changes and improvements could be made to the existing principal legislation.

The social partners have also been consulted individually on the proposed Bill, and their views have been taken into account.

The new Bill will have provision for increased fines following conviction in the courts. It will provide for penalties of up to €3,000 and imprisonment of up to six months, or both, on summary conviction in the District Court and of up to €3,000,000 and imprisonment of up to two years, or both, on conviction on indictment in the Circuit Court. The Bill also has provisions for on-the-spot fines.

The level of fine applied in respect of convictions for breaches of occupational safety and health legislation is a matter solely for the courts to determine in the particular circumstances of each case. A range of factors impact on that, including whether the relevant proceedings are summary prosecutions or prosecutions on indictment, whether the accused pleads guilty to the charges, as well as the level of penalties provided for in the legislation.

Where convictions arise for serious breaches of the legislation, provisions should exist to enable the courts to apply penalties which they consider commensurate with the nature and circumstances of the offences. The new Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Bill will strengthen and enhance existing provisions in that respect.

Partnership Agreements.

Martin Ferris

Question:

42 Mr. Ferris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will commission a study of the numbers of workers who have not benefited fully from each national pay agreement; if her attention has been drawn to any sectors in which the problem exists; the plans she has to tackle the problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17952/04]

Arthur Morgan

Question:

55 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on whether low-paid workers have not benefited from recent partnership agreements; the steps she will take to deal with the problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17953/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 55 together.

Social partnership has made a significant contribution to the Irish economy over the past 17 years. The scope of national partnership has widened and deepened over the years, and national agreements now cover not just pay but a broad range of issues, including employment and enterprise development, competitiveness and greater social inclusion. The shared overall goal of the current agreement is to continue progress towards sustaining economic growth and maintaining high levels of employment and securing living standards for all, while strengthening the economy's competitiveness.

The private sector pay element of the agreements is negotiated by IBEC on behalf of employers and by ICTU representing employees. Agreement is reached following detailed discussions between the parties.

The most recent agreements have included recommendations for increases in the national minimum wage. The current agreement, Sustaining Progress, recommended an increase in the national minimum wage to €7. That increase was given effect from 1 February 2004 by statutory order.

Research has been undertaken by the ESRI before and since the introduction of the minimum wage. That body of research shows that the minimum wage has benefited the low-paid, in particular, women and young workers. It has also shown that the percentage of workers on the minimum rate has reduced substantially — from 21% in 1999 to 4.5% at the end of 2002.

The series of national agreements since 1987 has facilitated and encouraged Ireland's economic development and brought benefits to employers, employees and the country as a whole. Unemployment now stands at 4.4%, compared with 17% in 1987; the national debt-to-GDP ratio has fallen from 125% in 1987 to 32.8% at the end of 2003; while in the ten years to 1987 inflation was running at an average of 12%, in May of this year the rate of inflation, as measured by the CPI, was 1.7%. Furthermore, during the period of partnership, the real earnings of workers increased by 40.3%.

Economic Competitiveness.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

43 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made by the monitoring process established to consider and track progress in implementing the recommendations of the National Competitiveness Council’s annual report for 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18081/04]

Last month my Department chaired an interdepartmental meeting to discuss progress on the implementation of the National Competitiveness Council's recommendations with the relevant Departments concerned. My Department is preparing the first report to the Government arising from its decision of 25 November 2003 to review Ireland's competitiveness status, including the implementation of the National Competitiveness Council's recommendations at twice-yearly intervals. It is intended that that report will be presented to Government for its consideration later this month.

Industrial Relations.

Liz McManus

Question:

44 Ms McManus asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the call from the trade union Mandate for action to outlaw trading by major stores on Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day, particularly in view of the decision of one chain to open on Easter Sunday in 2004, which had been one of the few days on which all major stores closed; the details of her response to the call made; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18065/04]

The law on trading hours is governed by the Shops (Hours of Trading) Act 1938. That Act was introduced to control competition in the retail sector through the making of regulations which controlled the closing times for shops in specific areas and for specific trades.

As regards opening on Easter Sunday or any other Sunday, that is governed by an order made by the Minister in 1938, SI No. 188 of 1938, which exempted the whole country from any restrictions on trading on Sundays. In general shop opening hours are best left to individual enterprises in consultation with their employees. There is no power under the Act to close shops on public holidays.

I am aware that there is some limited trading on public holidays, but there is protection for employees under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. Under that Act, employees have rights in respect of nine public holidays during the year. The options open to employees who have to work on public holidays are an additional day's pay, or a paid day off within a month of the day, or an additional day of paid annual leave.

Industrial Development.

Dan Boyle

Question:

45 Mr. Boyle asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the plans the Government has to find a replacement industry to locate in the former plant of a company (details supplied) in Macroom, County Cork. [18134/04]

Since becoming available for sale in September 2002, both IDA Ireland and Enterprise Ireland have actively marketed the facility to a range of target sectors and existing client companies. I understand that the facility was sold recently to a private developer and that the plant is now let to Delta Homes Limited. The company currently employs 75 people in its plant in Cobh, County Cork, and has announced that it expects to grow its workforce in Macroom to 300 in the coming years.

The major decentralisation package announced in the budget includes 70 jobs to be relocated to Macroom. That move demonstrates the Government's commitment to balanced regional development and will provide a further boost to enterprise development in the area.

While those are positive developments for Macroom and the surrounding area, I wish to assure the Deputy that the State development agencies, under the aegis of my Department, will continue to actively promote Macroom for investment and job creation.

Departmental Investigations.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

46 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has received a preliminary report from the Director of Corporate Enforcement into reports of improper activities in a firm (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18047/04]

The Company Law Enforcement Act 2001 requires the Director of Corporate Enforcement to perform his functions with respect to the Companies Acts on an independent basis. The director also has a legal obligation to safeguard the confidentiality of information obtained by virtue of the performance of his functions. It is not therefore the practice of the director to report to me on any individual case or issue which is the subject of examination by his Office.

It is, however, a matter of public record that the Director has acted under section 19 of the Companies Act 1990, as amended, to require the production by AIB Investment Managers Limited of certain documents related to the investigations undertaken by AIB plc into the relationship between Faldor Limited, AIB Investment Managers Limited and former senior AIB executives and other similar matters. In accordance with law, the director will make his own evaluation and decisions regarding those matters in due course.

Question No. 47 answered with QuestionNo. 40.

Consumer Protection.

Mary Upton

Question:

48 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will consider amending the Pyramid Selling Act 1980 to outlaw so-called gifting schemes specifically; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18094/04]

The EU Competitiveness Council, under my chairmanship, gave political agreement on 18 May 2004 to a proposed directive which, inter alia, will prohibit a wide range of “pyramid schemes”, including schemes of the type referred to by the Deputy. I hope that the directive will be adopted by the Council and Parliament later this year. A further period of two years is provided for the transposition of the directive into national law.

In the meantime, I believe the best remedy is common sense. It is clear that some participants in such schemes inevitably lose their money. People are entitled to use their money as they please, but given the publicity that has attached to the issue, they cannot be in any doubt about the risk they are taking if they participate in those schemes. If a scheme sounds too good to be true, it is probably just that — too good to be true.

Job Protection.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

49 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to the commitment in the programme for Government to review the ways in which older persons can be encouraged, when they so wish, to extend their working lives without financial penalty, if she will bring forward legislation to remove the provisions which disqualify those over the age of 66 from the terms of the Redundancy Acts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17949/04]

The commitment in the programme for Government was met by the 15% increase in the special income exemption limits for those aged over 65, resulting in an almost doubling of the limits since 1997.

The redundancy review group report of July 2002, which produced recommendations for the updating of statutory redundancy legislation, considered that increasing the upper age limit of 66 for redundancy qualification purposes would not be a priority in the short term if resources were scarce. It could be argued, therefore, that the age cap should remain unchanged to maintain consistency with the Unfair Dismissals Acts 1977 to 2001 and the Employment Equality Act 1998.

The group recognised, however, that the labour force is becoming older and that participation in the labour force by older people, if desired, should be facilitated. Accordingly, it was recommended that consideration be given in the medium term to removing the age cap or raising the age cap in conjunction with similar changes to unfair dismissals, equality and social and family legislation as recommended by the Equality Authority.

There are no plans at present to remove the upper age limit in respect of statutory redundancy. However, in the light of the evolution of age-related legislative provisions, it will be necessary to review the age-related provisions of the Redundancy Payments Acts. That will have to be done before making legislative proposals for submission to the Government.

Job Losses.

Joe Costello

Question:

50 Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the claim made by the Small Firms’ Association that the country was on track to lose more than 30,000 jobs in 2004; her views on this assessment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18045/04]

While significant levels of redundancies continue to be notified to my Department, employment growth in Ireland continues to be extremely robust and considerably better than the European average. That is a reflection of the strength of the Irish economy.

As the Small Firms' Association itself recently recognised publicly, I have now, as Minister with responsibility for small business, presided over the most prolonged period of economic success that the owner-managed sector in this country has ever enjoyed. Personal taxes have been reduced, and living standards for 1.8 million workers have increased beyond the average of the EU for the first time in our history. Education, health, welfare and infrastructural spending have all increased. Ireland has an historically low interest rate regime, and the association also acknowledged that our current inflation rate is also low by historical standards.

The development of a competitive economy is a central tenet of generating sustainable employment and growth and is the focus of this Government's policies.

Initiatives by the Government and the State development agencies, including reducing the burden of unnecessary legislation, are aimed at helping the country progress towards a knowledge and innovation driven economy.

Ongoing six-monthly assessment of our competitive position will ensure that appropriate and timely actions are taken to address identified weaknesses.

I might also add that the IDA believes that this year will be the best since 2000 for new investment into Ireland and an increase in the value and scale of activities in overseas companies operating here. That view is based on contacts with client companies and strong indications of a substantial recovery in growth in the global economy and consequent increased flows of foreign direct investment.

Research Funding.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

51 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress which has been made in finalising the European Union’s sixth framework programme for research and development, specifically the details of the provisions for the funding of embryonic stem cell research. [18125/04]

The sixth framework programme and associated budgetary envelope was adopted by Council decision of 27 June 2002 in respect of the overall programme, and 30 September 2002 in respect of the relevant specific programme, encompassing the various thematic areas, including advanced genomics and its application to health. A total of €1.1 billion has been allocated to that broad thematic area. The theme makes provision for stem cell research. However, no specific funding lines are allocated to individual research topics, nor does the framework programme make a specific distinction between adult and embryonic stem cell research as regards the submission of proposals or the allocation of funding.

At the time of the adoption of the specific programmes in September 2002, it was envisaged that detailed guidelines and safeguards to regulate the conduct of research activity in respect of human embryonic stem cells should be adopted by the end of 2003. In the event, it did not prove possible to secure the necessary qualified majority in Council for the adoption of such guidelines.

Given that situation, responsibility now rests with the Commission to examine such proposals as it may receive for research into stem cells acquired from human embryos, bearing in mind the provisions of the established regulatory procedure which governs research in the area. Under that procedure, and in accordance with the relevant Council decision of 28 June 1999, the Commission refers proposals for projects to the Council if there is no agreement in the programme committee tasked with examining them in the first instance. The Council may, by qualified majority, oppose such proposals. At this point no such proposals have been referred by the Commission to the Council.

European Council Meetings.

David Stanton

Question:

52 Mr. Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the outcome of the most recent meeting of the Employment Council which was held in Luxembourg; the recommendations that have flowed from this Council meeting; the actions the Government intends to take on foot of this meeting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17944/04]

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

59 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the main features of the labour market reforms agreed by EU Employment Ministers at their meeting on 1 June 2004; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18053/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52 and 59 together.

The Employment Social Policy Health and Consumer Affairs Council met on 1 and 2 June 2004 in Luxembourg. I chaired the employment items on the agenda. The Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Coughlan, chaired the social protection items and the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O'Dea, chaired the equality items. The health agenda was chaired by the Minister for Health and Children, DeputyMartin, on 2 June.

The Council reached political agreement on the 2004 employment guidelines and on a recommendation on the implementation of member states employment policies. The employment guidelines and the recommendations will form the basis for the national employment action plans, which are to be submitted by the member states to the Commission by October 2004.

The labour market reforms cover the areas which the European Employment Taskforce identified as needing priority attention by member States: increasing adaptability of workers and enterprises; attracting more people to enter and remain on the labour market; and investing more and more effectively in human capital and lifelong learning.

These areas have been given practical application through a series of specific recommendations for individual member states which, in the case of Ireland, include the following: increase access to active labour market measures for a larger share of the unemployed and inactive population and ensure their effectiveness; increase the supply aid affordability of child care facilities and take urgent action to tackle the causes of the gender pay gap; and implement a coherent life-long learning strategy to reduce early school leaving and increase participation in training, especially for the low-skilled and for older workers.

The overall employment package has been submitted for endorsement by the EU Heads of State at the European Council meeting in Brussels on 17 and 18 June 2004.

At the June Council meeting I also briefed my colleagues on the work of the Irish Presidency on an amended proposal for a directive on the minimum health and safety requirements regarding the exposure of workers to the risks arising from physical agents — optical radiation. The Irish Presidency is now in the final stages of preparation of a revised draft for a Council directive in this important area. The proposal will be formally presented at the Council Working Party before the end of June.

Full details of the June Employment Council meeting can be found on the Europa website at www.Europa.eu.int.

Question No. 53 answered with QuestionNo. 21.
Question No. 54 answered with QuestionNo. 6.
Question No. 55 answered with QuestionNo. 42.

Work Permits.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

56 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the promised legislation to put the employment permit regime on a comprehensive and sound statutory footing will be introduced; the reason for the delay in bringing forward the legislation, which was originally premised for 2003; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18067/04]

While the Bill has been drafted, several significant legal issues have arisen, and those are being addressed in consultation with Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Office of the Attorney General. Those issues will be resolved as quickly as possible.

Personal Injuries Assessment Board.

Willie Penrose

Question:

57 Mr. Penrose asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position with regard to the operation of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board; the number of staff recruited to date; the number of claims received to date by the board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18072/04]

The Personal Injuries Assessment Board was established by Ministerial Order on 13 April 2004. From 1 June 2004, all personal injury claims arising from workplace accidents, where an employee is seeking compensation from his or her employer, must be referred to the Personal Injuries Assessment Board before legal proceedings are issued.

The structure and staffing levels of the PIAB have been agreed. The PIAB, when fully operational, will have a staffing complement of up to 85, in addition to the CEO. The PIAB is also utilising an outsourced service centre to assist injured parties in the completion of their claim submissions and ensure that a comprehensive, fair and independent service is provided.

The actual recruitment of staff is an operational matter for which the CEO of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board has responsibility. However, I understand that a significant recruitment campaign is underway and that several key management and assessor positions have been filled.

While matters relating to the claims received by PIAB are also an operational matter for which the CEO has responsibility, I understand that 70,000 website inquires have been received, 600 approaches for claims registrations have been made and 45 claims have been received.

The establishment of the PIAB is a significant milestone in the Government's insurance reform programme, which will lead to reduced insurance premia to the benefit of consumers and businesses alike. By eliminating the need for litigation costs where legal issues are not in dispute, the PIAB will significantly reduce the cost of delivering compensation. The PIAB will also offer speedier assessments to the benefit of claimants.

Question No. 58 answered with QuestionNo. 36.
Question No. 59 answered with QuestionNo. 52.

County Enterprise Boards.

Denis Naughten

Question:

60 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will provide additional funding to efficient county enterprise boards; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17966/04]

In determining the allocations for individual city and county enterprise boards, or CEBs, this year, my Department adopted a systematic approach to ensure the maximum degree of objectivity and equity of treatment. That approach involved the provision of a basic allocation to each board, as well as an additional allocation that was determined mainly by population but which also took account of issues such as unemployment, capacity to spend, existing commitments and regional spread. I do not expect to be in a position to provide any additional funding under any heading to any board this year.

With regard to the issue of efficiency, my Department, in partnership with the CEBs, continually monitors and evaluates the level of service provided by the boards to their client base. There is both a formal procedures manual and operating agreement in place between the Department and the boards to ensure that the efficient delivery of services by all CEBs is standardised across the country.

Decentralisation Programme.

Mary Upton

Question:

61 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her Department has yet carried out a risk assessment of the decentralisation plans announced on budget day 2004, in so far as they may impact, either directly or indirectly on her Department, or on any agency or body operating under the aegis of her Department; when she expects to receive the risk assessment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18093/04]

Officials of my Department have recently finalised a comprehensive implementation plan on the decentralisation of those sections or offices of the Department which have been approved by me for relocation to Carlow. That initial plan, along with plans from all other decentralising Departments, has now been submitted to the central implementation group. The document clearly demonstrates that my Department prioritised risk minimisation when taking decisions regarding the decentralisation of the selected areas of the Department. In addition, many of the areas of the Department identified for relocation have recently undergone business process re-engineering exercises, which will now be revisited in the context of decentralisation. Furthermore, the central applications facility will provide additional information which will be crucial to the further development of risk assessment and risk mitigation strategies.

Following the completion of my Department's implementation plan, an overall risk assessment framework will now be carried out which will assess direct and indirect risks, threats to, and opportunities for the synergies between the Department and its agencies during and post decentralisation. At this stage it is not possible to provide an exact time frame for the completion of the assessment.

The four agencies operating under the aegis of my Department which have also been identified for decentralisation — FÁS, the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the Health and Safety Authority and Enterprise Ireland — have finalised their initial implementation plans, and some of the agencies have indicated that they will undertake separate risk assessments in their own organisations to identify potential issues with regard to their own internal and external interfaces.

EU Directives.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

62 Ms Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on whether the new EU regulations designed to cut the price of spare car parts introduced as part of the block exemption changes will lead to substantially lower servicing bills for car owners here; her further views on whether that will end the grievance of high prices for car parts exclusively made and distributed by car makers through franchised dealers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15876/04]

Block Exemption Regulation 1400/2002 on the distribution and servicing of motor vehicles in the European Union entered into force on 15 October 2002. The regulation provided for a one-year transitional period during which pre-existing agreements were to be brought into line with new rules.

The new regulation introduced several important changes to the previous regulation and, in particular, broke the sales/service link. Accordingly, dealers are now allowed to choose between carrying out repairs themselves or subcontracting there to an authorised repairer within the dealer's network.

With regard to the issue of spare parts, the regulation introduced measures that will increase competition in repairs and maintenance. In particular, authorised and independent repairers must be allowed to source original spare parts, that is, spares that are of the same quality as those used in the manufacture of the car, directly from the manufacturer of the spare parts and also non-original — matching quality — spare parts supplied by others. In addition, authorised repairers cannot be prevented from re-selling original spare parts to independent repairers, repairing and maintaining cars of competing brands, or selling the business to any other authorised repairer of the same brand.

It is anticipated that the ability of both independent and authorised repairers to source spare parts from a variety of sources is likely to result in greater competition in the market for spare parts and enable the independent sector to compete more effectively with repairers that are linked to the manufacturer. While it is not possible to predict the impact which these developments will have on consumer prices, it is likely that, over time, they will benefit consumers both in terms of price and choice.

Question No. 63 answered with QuestionNo. 28.

Interdepartmental Committees.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

64 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the interdepartmental committees her Department is engaged in with regard to energy policy issues here; the number of times such a committee meets; and the membership and reports that are expected to be published as a result of this work. [18123/04]

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is represented on the cross-departmental team that has been established under the Cabinet sub-committee on housing, infrastructure and public private partnerships, which considers energy policy issues, among other items. The team, which is chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach, meets on an ad hoc basis to prepare for Cabinet consideration of major policy issues. Publication of the results of the team’s work programme is a matter for sponsoring Departments when the deliberation on the topic in question has been completed.

Decentralisation Programme.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

65 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of any survey that has been undertaken in regard to proposals for decentralisation to establish the number of persons employed in her Department and in boards or agencies operating under the aegis of her Department who are willing to move to the new locations announced in budget 2004; the results of any such survey; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18092/04]

Following the announcement of the decentralisation programme in last year's budget, the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment undertook a survey to gauge the level of interest in the programme among its staff. Approximately 50% of staff responded to the survey, the results of which indicated that 32% of respondents were interested in moving to the various locations identified in the decentralisation programme. Surveys have been conducted by some of the agencies operating under the aegis of the Department which have been identified for decentralisation to establish staff interest in relocation. The surveys concentrated on the specific location to which agencies are relocating, as opposed to the new locations announced in the budget 2004. The responses do not, therefore, provide a complete picture of the willingness of staff of the agencies to relocate under the decentralisation programme. I am confident that information emerging from the central applications facility, which was launched on 12 May, will provide a more reliable and realistic indication of the number of staff in the public service who are willing to relocate under the decentralisation programme.

Employment Support Services.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

66 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the serious concern expressed by trade unions, commercial firms in the region and the board of the company itself regarding her proposals to break up Shannon Development; if an independent assessment has been done of her proposal to transfer the company’s rental income from the Shannon free zone to the Shannon Airport authority; the reasons behind her proposal to transfer 100 jobs from Shannon Development to Enterprise Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18038/04]

As the House is aware, a number of recent developments will impact on the mid-west region and the State agencies located there. Some 1,210 staff from Departments and State agencies will be decentralised from Dublin to the mid-west region. The headquarters of Enterprise Ireland will be moved to Shannon, affecting 300 of the agency's Dublin based staff. It has been agreed that the management of Shannon town should be transferred from Shannon Development and vested in Clare County Council. The Minister for Transport's proposal to establish an independent Shannon Airport authority, which is supported by the board of Shannon Development, is also important in this context. In the light of the changed circumstances, I met the chairman, some members of the board of Shannon Development and the chief executive of the company on several occasions to explain and expand on matters under consideration. I asked the board to bring forward detailed proposals in respect of the role Shannon Development can play in the future development of the region and this discussion is ongoing. I am aware of concerns expressed by trade unions, companies in the region and other interested parties. I wish to stress my commitment to the future of Shannon and the mid-west region as a whole. I am concerned to ensure that we put in place the most sensible and efficient structures and that we manage the region's most valuable and strategic assets to optimise their benefit for the entire region.

Criminal Prosecutions.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

67 Mr. Quinn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment further to Questions Nos. 128, 129 and 130 of 18 May 2004, her views on whether allegations of fraud perpetrated on her Department by a person (details supplied) have, in view of subsequent documentation having become available, become null and void; if, in order to bring this matter to finality she will state, on behalf of her Department that it is her and its opinion that no fraud was perpetrated by this person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17967/04]

I have previously advised the House that the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was not a party to the allegations of fraud made in this case. It is not aware of the basis on which the organisation that made the allegations formed the view that a possible fraud had taken place. I confirm that the Department was advised by the organisation in question that the Garda fraud squad had been alerted to suspected irregularities. Following an investigation, with which my Department co-operated, a file was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions who decided that there were no grounds for action. The Department and I were happy to accept the results of the investigation. I confirm that neither the Department nor I have any issue or concern to pursue with the individual concerned.

Insurance Industry.

John Bruton

Question:

68 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the urgent consultations on making employers liability insurance compulsory, promised in the Joint Programme, have yet been completed; the timing, scope, agenda and outcome of these consultations; and the decision the Government has taken arising from them. [17946/04]

Extensive consultations have taken place with the social partners about the cost and availability of insurance. The consultations, coupled with the recommendations made by the Motor Insurance Advisory Board, resulted in the establishment of the Government's insurance reform programme. A comprehensive set of recommendations emerged following the MIAB report and consultations with the social partners. The question of making employers liability insurance compulsory did not emerge as an issue. The reform programme has focused on implementing the recommendations which emerged. The MIAB report was the most comprehensive study and analysis of the motor insurance industry ever undertaken in this country. The analysis, conclusions and recommendations extend to other areas of liability insurance, including employer liability insurance and provide a sound basis for addressing the problems being experienced in respect of insurance.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

69 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of her action plan for the insurance industry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18069/04]

The insurance reform programme, which I announced on 25 October 2002, comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the insurance market. I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Departments and other bodies. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help to tackle the high cost of insurance. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's action plan within a target timeframe.

I wish to refer to the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The latter board was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The board was established and members appointed on 13 April 2004. The PIAB started to deal with employer liability cases from the 1 June last. I intend that it will commence dealing with motor and public liability claims from autumn 2004. A book of quantum — an aid for assessing the level of compensation based on the type of injury involved — which is essential for the successful operation of the PIAB was published by PIAB on 2 June 2004.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Competition Authority have undertaken to conduct a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003 and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following consultation, a final report will be published later in the year which will contain recommendations based on the findings.

Significant progress has been made by the Department of Transport in the implementation of the road safety strategy. The introduction of the penalty points system has reduced the number of accidents on the roads, which has benefits far beyond the cost of insurance. Two new road traffic Bills are expected to be enacted by the end of July 2004. On 11 February last, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the Civil Liability and Courts Bill, which is before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill contains measures to streamline the law in respect of personal injury claims, including measures to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance, I have made it clear that I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premia to consumers and businesses. Indications to date are that the reform programme is having its desired effect. The CSO publishes monthly indices of costs for a number of classes of insurance. The statistics show that there was a reduction of 12.9 index points, or 12.1%, in motor car insurance between the months of October 2002, when the programme was launched and April 2004, the latest month for which figures are available. Reductions are also beginning to occur in the cost of employers' liability and public liability insurance premia, which represent a significant burden for businesses. I expect further reductions to occur in all forms of insurance as the implementation of the reform programme continues. I am also confident that the measures the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will attract new players into the market, leading to further downward pressure on premia.

Finian McGrath

Question:

70 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the position regarding her Department’s efforts to reduce the high cost of insurance. [18155/04]

I am concerned about the difficulties that are being caused by high insurance premiums. The insurance reform programme, which I announced on 25 October 2002, comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the insurance market. I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Departments and other bodies. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help to tackle the high cost of insurance. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's action plan within a target timeframe.

I wish to refer to the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The latter board was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The board was established and members appointed on 13 April 2004. The PIAB started to deal with employer liability cases from the 1 June last. I intend that it will commence dealing with motor and public liability claims from autumn 2004. A book of quantum — an aid for assessing the level of compensation based on the type of injury involved — which is essential for the successful operation of the PIAB was published by PIAB on 2 June 2004.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Competition Authority have undertaken to conduct a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003 and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following consultation, a final report will be published later in the year which will contain recommendations based on the findings.

Significant progress has been made by the Department of Transport in the implementation of the road safety strategy. The introduction of the penalty points system has reduced the number of accidents on the roads, which has benefits far beyond the cost of insurance. Two new road traffic Bills are expected to be enacted by the end of July 2004. On 11 February last, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the Civil Liability and Courts Bill, which is before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill contains measures to streamline the law in respect of personal injury claims, including measures to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance, I have made it clear that I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premia to consumers and businesses. Indications to date are that the reform programme is having its desired effect. The CSO publishes monthly indices of costs for a number of classes of insurance. The statistics show that there was a reduction of 12.9 index points, or 12.1%, in motor car insurance between the months of October 2002, when the programme was launched and April 2004, the latest month for which figures are available. Reductions are also beginning to occur in the cost of employers' liability and public liability insurance premia, which represent a significant burden for businesses. I expect further reductions to occur in all forms of insurance as the implementation of the reform programme continues. I am also confident that the measures the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will attract new players into the market, leading to further downward pressure on premia.

Unemployment Levels.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

71 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the initiatives she proposes in order to address the incidence of unemployment in north Monaghan, particularly in the Border areas, which currently stands at 50% higher than elsewhere in the country; her strategies for job creation in the area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18180/04]

According to the latest quarterly national household survey, published by the Central Statistics Office on 16 June 2004, the unemployment rate in the Border area is 5.4%. The corresponding figure this time last year was 6.2%. Support for job creation is a day-to-day operational matter for the industrial development agencies. Job creation and job losses are a feature of economic development worldwide as various sectors expand and contract in response to market demand for goods and services, competitive forces, restructuring and technological change.

IDA Ireland is actively marketing the area on an ongoing basis as a location for foreign direct investment, through its network of overseas offices, to secure new investment and jobs. Enterprise Ireland is working with the Armagh-Monaghan digital corridor project committee to develop these areas into a cluster of ICT-related industries. Enterprise Ireland is working closely with the furniture industry in Monaghan in areas such as design and technology. I am satisfied that a combined agency approach, including the county enterprise board and the local business community, will address job creation needs in the area.

Flexible Work Practices.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

72 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the efforts her Department has made to encourage employers to allow employees extended career breaks to look after their very young children. [18237/04]

The development of work-life balance policies in Ireland is addressed on two fronts: through appropriate legislative measures which provide for statutory entitlements such as maternity leave, adoptive leave, carer's leave and parental leave and through the work of the national framework committee for work-life balance policies, allied to a partnership approach in the workplace between employers, employees and trade unions.

To support and facilitate family-friendly policies in the workplace, the social partners agreed under Sustaining Progress to extend the remit of the national framework committee, which was originally established under the Programme for Prosperity and Fairness. The committee, which is chaired by my Department, is now known as the national framework committee for work-life balance policies. The committee has been charged with supporting and facilitating the development of a package of practical measures that can be applied at the level of the enterprise. One of the tasks assigned to the committee is examining how best to improve access to family-friendly working arrangements, to realise the potential benefits that the arrangements would offer from an equality and competitiveness perspective. A range of work-life balance options may be considered at the level of the enterprise, including part-time working, e-working, career breaks and flexi-time.

As we try to achieve work-life balance in individual enterprises, we are challenged with establishing policies that reflect the reality of the workplace and meet the many diverse needs of employees. A partnership approach is the best way to address work-life balance policies at this level, to achieve tailor-made solutions to the benefit of the workforce and the employer. The Government is committed to a two-pronged approach to achieving the goal of making workplaces more family-friendly. I refer to the provision of statutory entitlements through legislative measures and the voluntary approach at the level of the enterprise, which is encouraged at national level by the national framework committee for work-life balance policies.

Chemicals Regulation.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

73 Mr. Sargent asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if, of the 30,000 chemicals in current use here and in the EU generally; she will list those that are and are not regulated. [16612/04]

The position in respect of the regulation of chemicals in current use is complex. It is not possible to give the definitive list requested by the Deputy. Chemicals are subject to a range of specialised legislation. Separate legislation on industrial chemicals, medicines, pesticides, biocides, cosmetics, workplace health and safety, prevention of environmental pollution and food safety, are implemented by a range of Departments and agencies. Different aspects of a chemical's action may be controlled by several types of legislation.

The present system for general industrial chemicals distinguishes between existing substances which were on the European market in September 1981 and new substances, which have been placed on the market since that date. There are about 4,000 new substances that have been rigorously tested before they were placed on the European market. Over 100,000 existing chemicals, which were included on the European inventory of existing commercial substances, were on the European market in September 1981. They have been exempted from notification and testing to date. It is estimated that 30,000 of the chemicals are still on the EU market.

A review of the current legislative system has led to the development by the European Commission of a draft Council regulation on the registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals, known as REACH. The REACH initiative aims to establish a single coherent system in which all substances new and existing will be treated similarly. It is proposed that all existing substances still on the market will be phased into the new system over an 11-year period, with higher tonnage chemicals and those of highest risk being registered first. Substances with certain hazardous properties that give rise to high concern will have to be given use-specific authorisation before they can be used. The Irish Presidency has been actively involved in progressing the dossier at Council level over the past six months, but the legislation is likely to take a number of years to finalise.

Insurance Industry.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

74 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she has plans to tackle the huge cost of public liability insurance, which is inhibiting plans to increase recreational and sporting amenities nationwide, including bowling greens, skateboard parks, playgrounds; if State-funded insurance has been looked at as an option; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15347/04]

I am concerned about the difficulties that are being caused by high insurance premiums. The insurance reform programme, which I announced on 25 October 2002, comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the insurance market. I chair a ministerial committee established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across the relevant Departments and other bodies. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help to tackle the high cost of insurance. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board's action plan within a target timeframe.

I wish to refer to the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board. The latter board was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The board was established and members appointed on 13 April 2004. The PIAB started to deal with employer liability cases from the 1 June last. I intend that it will commence dealing with motor and public liability claims from autumn 2004. A book of quantum — an aid for assessing the level of compensation based on the type of injury involved — which is essential for the successful operation of the PIAB was published by PIAB on 2 June 2004.

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Competition Authority have undertaken to conduct a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003 and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following consultation, a final report will be published later in the year which will contain recommendations based on the findings.

Significant progress has been made by the Department of Transport in the implementation of the road safety strategy. The introduction of the penalty points system has reduced the number of accidents on the roads, which has benefits far beyond the cost of insurance. Two new road traffic Bills are expected to be enacted by the end of July 2004. On 11 February last, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the Civil Liability and Courts Bill, which is before the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill contains measures to streamline the law in respect of personal injury claims, including measures to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance, I have made it clear that I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premia to consumers and businesses. Indications to date are that the reform programme is having its desired effect. The CSO publishes monthly indices of costs for a number of classes of insurance. The statistics show that there was a reduction of 12.9 index points, or 12.1%, in motor car insurance between the months of October 2002, when the programme was launched and April 2004, the latest month for which figures are available. Reductions are also beginning to occur in the cost of employers' liability and public liability insurance premia, which represent a significant burden for businesses. I expect further reductions to occur in all forms of insurance as the implementation of the reform programme continues. I am also confident that the measures the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will attract new players into the market, leading to further downward pressure on premia.

The Deputy has asked whether State-funded insurance has been looked at as a means of providing cheaper insurance. I do not believe that State-funded insurance would be appropriate. My priority is to reform the Irish insurance market and make it attractive to new private sector entrants. State funding of an insurance company is not in compliance with EU rules on state aid.

Work Permits.

John Bruton

Question:

75 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the Government’s policy in regard to the grant of work permits to persons already married to work permit holders, with particular reference to the constitutional provisions requiring the State to support marriage. [18189/04]

The Deputy will be aware that I recently announced new arrangements designed to give greater ease of access to employment for the spouses of certain skilled non-EEA nationals working in the State and decided to waive the fees normally payable. Detailed guidelines on how to apply for work permits as well as the eligibility criteria and procedures relating to the new spouses scheme are available on my Department's website, www.entemp.ie. The spouses of persons in respect of whom work permits have been issued are eligible to seek employment and have their employers apply for a work permit in the same way as for all non-EEA workers. Where the immigration authorities have granted a spouse visa to permit family reunification, such visas are granted on the condition that the spouse does not work. In such cases, my Department is precluded from considering work permit applications in respect of that spouse.

Economic Competitiveness.

John Bruton

Question:

76 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her views on whether the economic growth model for the economy here is unduly dependent on foreign direct investment in view of likely market conditions over the next ten years. [18191/04]

Foreign direct investment has been an important catalyst in our economic growth and development in recent years. I do not expect that this will change in the foreseeable future.

Overseas investors in sectors such as information and communications technologies, pharmaceuticals, health care and financial services have added significantly to output, exports and the sophisticated scale of foreign direct investment. The newer technology orientated and specialised value-added service investments have significant, positive multiplier effects on the indigenous sector in terms of excellent and well-paid employment creation, skills development and quality improvements, as local companies successfully meet rigorous supplier requirements.

There is vigorous international competition for advanced foreign direct investment. Ireland's ability to win technologically advanced foreign direct investment is undiminished. We retain our reputation as a prime investment location for leading multinationals with world-class technologies and operations. The recent decision by Intel to invest a further €1.6 billion in making new processors for its next generation technology and the €22 million investment by IBM in putting more specialised research and development research into its Dublin laboratory are recent examples of how we are managing the transition from production-orientated enterprises to those that use knowledge, superior technologies and innovation and are important for the long-term corporate strategies of their shareholders.

While foreign direct investment has been important in recent economic growth, employment expansion and consequent wealth generation has been rather broadly based. Since 1993, employment has increased from 1.2 million to over 1.8 million. The bulk of all new jobs created have been outside the foreign direct investment sector, with thousands of indigenous companies driving growth and job creation as unemployment fell from 15% of the workforce to less than 5% at the moment. Underpinning this transformation has been the stimulation of a vigorous entrepreneurial economy, where in 2003 Ireland had the highest rate of new business start-ups in the EU.

I recognise that market conditions for foreign direct investment are changing, but our enterprise development policies are also evolving to ensure that Ireland is a serious contender when board room decisions are made about where to locate knowledge intensive, sophisticated and high value added investments. Through Science Foundation Ireland we are building a third level research infrastructure to reinforce our exiting competitive attractions for this market, while at the same time providing intensive research and development support to strengthen the competitive characteristics of indigenous firms in the context of a more aggressive and global cost environment.

My Department's policy development strategy is to ensure that support programmes, public investment and funding mechanisms are tailored for the different growth needs of both foreign direct investment and indigenous sectors. I have been careful to ensure that growth and employment is not unduly dependent on either enterprise categories or narrow sectors, where changes in world markets or consumer preferences could seriously jeopardise our enterprise base. The enterprise development agencies under my Department have re-engineered their operational strategies in recent years to move away from individual projects. Our model now has a focus on developing clusters of excellence in which technology companies, whether foreign and indigenous, education and research activities and venture capital providers form networks to create more competitive and sustainable businesses based on a reinforcing climate of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Following the expansion of the EU and the emergence of dynamic and competitive Asian economies, the direction of business investment is very much less certain than before. To ensure we have the right mix of polices for the future I asked the Enterprise Strategy Group under the chairmanship of Eoin O'Driscoll to propose a medium-term strategy and to develop policy options to make Ireland an internationally successful, competitive and knowledge-based enterprise economy. I expect to receive the group's report shortly.

Research Funding.

John Bruton

Question:

77 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the percentage of their outlay devoted to research and development by firms here by comparison with the corresponding OECD percentage as a whole and each OECD country. [18202/04]

In 2001, the latest year for which data is available, business expenditure on research and development in Ireland reached €917 million. This represented 0.95% of GNP or 0.8% of GDP, compared to an OECD average of 1.56%. The following table shows Ireland's ranking in terms of business expenditure on research and development as a percentage of GNP and GDP among 26 OECD countries. It shows that Ireland stands 15th of the 26 countries in question.

Business expenditure on R& D as a percentage of GDP

1993

1995

1997

1999

2001

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

Value

Rank

Australia

0.69

17

0.86

16

0.75

18

0.65

18

0.72

18

Belgium

1.23

10

1.23

10

1.34

9

1.40

8

1.45

9

Canada

0.90

14

1.01

13

1.01

14

1.02

15

1.08

14

Czech Republic

0.88

16

0.66

17

0.73

19

0.78

17

0.79

17

Denmark

1.02

11

1.05

11

1.19

10

1.32

10

1.32

11

Finland

1.27

9

1.45

7

1.79

6

2.19

2

2.39

2

France

1.48

7

1.41

8

1.39

8

1.38

9

1.37

10

Germany

1.58

6

1.50

6

1.54

7

1.70

7

1.80

7

Greece

0.13

25

0.14

25

0.13

26

0.19

25

0.19

25

Hungary

0.32

22

0.32

22

0.30

23

0.28

24

0.36

22

Iceland

0.42

21

0.49

20

0.76

17

1.10

13

1.77

8

Ireland (GNP)

0.89

15

1.01

13

1.04

13

1.03

14

0.95

15

Italy

0.60

18

0.53

18

0.52

20

0.51

19

0.56

19

Japan

1.90

2

1.94

2

2.04

2

2.08

3

2.11

3

Korea

1.84

4

1.84

4

1.95

3

1.76

6

1.96

5

Netherlands

0.99

12

1.04

12

1.11

12

1.14

12

1.13

13

New Zealand

0.31

24

0.26

24

0.31

22

0.31

22

0.31

23

Norway

0.93

13

0.97

15

0.93

15

0.92

16

0.92

16

Poland

0.32

22

0.27

23

0.28

24

0.31

22

0.24

24

Portugal

0.12

26

0.12

26

0.14

25

0.17

26

0.17

26

Slovak Republic

0.51

19

0.53

18

0.83

16

0.42

21

0.44

21

Spain

0.44

20

0.39

21

0.40

21

0.46

20

0.52

20

Sweden

2.28

1

2.57

1

2.75

1

2.84

1

2.84

1

Switzerland

1.86

3

1.86

3

1.93

4

1.95

5

1.95

6

United Kingdom

1.42

8

1.30

9

1.18

11

1.25

11

1.21

12

United States

1.78

5

1.80

5

1.91

5

1.98

4

2.04

4

OECD Average

1.44

1.45

1.48

1.52

1.56

EU Average

1.18

1.12

1.13

1.19

1.21

Source: Forfás R&D in the Business Sector 1999
Source: MSTI OECD 2002 Volume 2, nearest year used if data not available

National Minimum Wage.

John Bruton

Question:

78 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the minimum wage per hour and the equivalent hourly minimum wage in each other OECD country. [18207/04]

The national minimum wage in Ireland is €7 per hour. The table below sets out the monthly minimum wages in euro in the US and the EU member states and candidate countries with statutory national minimum wage rates. As most of the countries have a minimum wage which is set at a monthly rate, for comparative purposes, the minimum wage for each is calculated at the monthly rate. Data in respect of other OECD countries has been sought from the OECD. I will advise the Deputy of the outcome of this request for further data when my Department receives a response from the OECD.

Statutory Monthly Minimum Wage Rates (€)

Feb 2004

Jan 2004

Jan 2003

Belgium

1186.00

Greece

605.00

Spain

537.25

France

1172.74

Ireland

1183.00

1073.00

Luxembourg

1369.00

Netherlands

1264.80

Portugal

497.62

United Kingdom

1083.40

Bulgaria

61.00

Czech Republic

207.00

Estonia

158.50

Hungary

191.00

Lithuania

125.00

Latvia

121.00

Malta

543.00

Poland

177.00

Romania

69.00

Slovenia

471.00

Slovak Republic

148.00

Turkey

240.00

United States

727.00

Source: EUROSTAT

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

John Bruton

Question:

79 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she will make a statement on Ireland’s ranking in the global entrepreneurship monitor report 2001. [18211/04]

I am delighted with Ireland's ranking in the current global entrepreneurship monitor report, which found that Ireland is the most entrepreneurial active country in the European Union. The research undertaken in the report shows that Ireland remains a leading country for entrepreneurship in Europe and, equally importantly, it shows that entrepreneurship is regarded as a high-status, highly rewarding career choice. I am happy to see the days where fear of failure was regarded as one of the greatest inhibitors of entrepreneurship in Ireland at an end. As one of the most open trading economies in the world, we need ambitious entrepreneurs to take business risks. We also need a society which recognises risk-takers and values their endeavours in success and failure.

Health and Safety Regulations.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

80 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the inspections which have been carried out by the Health and Safety Authority on the national car testing centre in Deansgrange, County Dublin; the recommendations which have been made by the authority on foot of such inspections; the follow-up procedures the authority has in regard to such recommendations; if its reports are available as a right to employees within the relevant companies; the State body which has the responsibility for commissioning and carrying out occupational health hygiene assessments in the workplace; and if such assessments have taken place in the national car testing centre in Deansgrange. [18212/04]

According to the Health and Safety Authority's records, six inspections were carried out at the national car testing centre in Deansgrange, County Dublin, comprising three routine inspections for compliance, two complaint investigations and one follow-up visit, between June 2000 and April 2004. It should be noted that this centre is only one of many national car testing centre centres nationwide and, overall, the Health and Safety Authority's records indicate that a minimum of approximately 33 inspections of national car testing centre centres, performed by 13 different inspectors, took place in the same period.

It is difficult to separate the information on inspection and enforcement action performed or taken by the authority as it relates solely to the Deansgrange centre as these visits often reflected the need to observe the procedures and work conditions in national car testing centre sites overall so as to achieve a consistency and adequate level of control for all national car testing centre workers while at work.

However, in the course of inspections, inspectors speak to managers, safety officers and, where available, worker safety representatives. Follow-up action includes both verbal and written advice and, where necessary, the issuing of enforcement notices.

The Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 and regulations made under it require employers to provide their employees with such information as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, their safety, health and welfare at work. Information gathered by inspectors during their visits is subject to certain disclosure restrictions. Section 45 of the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989 sets out the circumstances in which, and for what purposes, information obtained under the relevant statutory provisions may be disclosed. However, where an inspector issues a formal enforcement direction or notice this is generally copied to the site safety representative for information.

There is no State body charged with the responsibility for commissioning and carrying out occupational health hygiene assessments in the workplace. Under worker protection legislation the responsibility to commission and carry out risk assessments rests with employers. In cases where a hazardous chemical agent is used, a risk assessment regarding potential for exposure to this agent must be performed, recorded in writing, reviewed regularly and revised where appropriate. Should the employer not have a competent person or persons in his or her employment to perform such a risk assessment the employer must engage the services of a competent person or persons to do this task. It is understood that such risk assessments have been carried out at the national car testing centre in Deansgrange, County Dublin.

Services Sector.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

81 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the steps she has taken or proposes to take to counter rip-off price increases; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18218/04]

The responsibility of Government for the prices of goods and services generally is, in the main, limited to ensuring that markets are working properly for the benefit of consumers and of the economy as a whole. Many people share concerns over the price of goods and services and I would like to emphasise that the Government is acutely aware of the difficulties which price increases pose for the average consumer. However, progress has been made in bringing inflation below the Government target of 2%, with the consumer price index for May showing inflation at 1.7%.

The National Competitiveness Council and the Competition Authority undertake on a continuous basis, investigations into the competitiveness of the Irish economy and the level of competition within it. These investigations highlight the key areas that require attention to enhance Ireland's competitiveness and economic performance. The Competition Authority is involved in investigative work in the insurance, banking and professional services sectors. In regard to professional services, comprehensive studies are being undertaken of eight individual professions, namely medical practitioners, veterinarians, dentists, optometrists, barristers, solicitors, engineers and architects.

I have also set up the new consumer strategy group, whose main role is to advise and make recommendations for the development of a national consumer policy strategy. In the performance of this role the group is entitled to initiate studies which demonstrate objectively whether Irish consumers are getting a fair deal. The group has announced its public consultation on consumer issues and invited individual consumers, representative organisations, businesses and any other interested parties to contact them with views and submissions by 9 July 2004. The group is due to produce a final report to me by the end of 2004.

The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs is undertaking price surveys and bringing the results to the public's attention. The Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs has published the results of price surveys of products ranging from products such as compact discs to petrol, car insurance to drinks prices over a rugby international match weekend, and potatoes to over-the-counter medicines. The consumer is also assisted in making purchasing choices through the four price display orders made under the Prices Acts and by the European Communities (Requirement to Indicate Product Prices) Regulations 2002 which oblige retailers to display prices and where appropriate the unit price for products. Consumers have their part to play in acting on this type of information and seeking out the most competitive prices available.

Economic Competitiveness.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

82 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment her proposals to address the issue of increased lack of competitiveness in the economy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18220/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

87 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the extent to which she has taken action to improve Ireland’s competitive position with regard to low wage economies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18225/04]

I propose to take Questions 82 and 87 together.

Ireland's economy is undergoing fundamental change, which is affecting all sectors of our economy. Ireland can no longer be seen as a low cost location for investment as our strengths and competitive advantages have inexorably changed. High output and productivity together with high returns to labour in the form of wages, salaries and better living standards now typify Ireland's economy. As a result, Ireland is no longer seen as a location for what could be called basic low-tech production and is being overtaken by low-wage economies in terms of cost competitiveness.

A key component of the Government's strategy to tackle the competitiveness challenge posed by low wage economies is to concentrate on increasing the levels of investment in research and development and innovation in industry in Ireland. This will assist companies in moving up the value chain, which will in the long term safeguard employment and provide more sustainable and high quality jobs. As part of this strategy, the Government in the 2004 budget announced details of a 20% tax credit for expenditure on research and development. Another important element of this strategy was the establishment of Science Foundation Ireland to administer the €646 million technology foresight fund, which will lead to increased innovation and research. This will also drive long-term growth and competitiveness by attracting new high technology firms to Ireland while enhancing the capabilities of existing firms operating in Ireland.

The Government is committed to developing a competitive economy that will be resilient to the toughest competitive pressures from today's global economy. This involves providing a pro business environment that will provide firms with a solid stable platform from which they can successfully compete on both domestic and international markets. The Government's continued commitment to the social partnership process and its desire to achieve a virtuous circle of low inflation, moderate wage growth and higher productivity is a testament to the Government's desire to provide a benign environment for businesses operating in Ireland.

Competition in all sectors of Ireland's economy must be encouraged to ensure goods and services are provided at an efficient and affordable price. We cannot afford to have sheltered sectors of the Irish economy immune from price competition. The Competition Authority is charged with combating anti-competitive practice in the economy and is undertaking several studies in key areas of the economy such as the banking and insurance sectors. The Government looks forward to the publication of the authority's reports into these key sectors later this year.

My Department is preparing a report into the implementation of the National Competitiveness Council recommendations for submission to Government later this month. The report will set out progress to date in implementing the recommendations set out in the National Competitiveness Council's competitiveness challenge 2003 report and will enable the Government to evaluate Ireland's competitiveness, as it intends to do twice yearly in accordance with the Government decision of the 25 November 2003.

Questions Nos. 83 and 84 answered withQuestion No. 34.

Insurance Industry.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

85 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if she or her Department has investigated the negative impact of high insurance costs here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18223/04]

The negative impact of insurance costs for businesses with regard to profitability and competitiveness and for members of the public in general has been brought to my attention. The difficulties caused by high insurance premia for all sectors are of great concern to the Government. The agreed programme for Government includes a commitment to tackling the high cost of insurance and it is the Government's firm intention to implement the necessary measures indicated therein.

The insurance reform programme that I announced on 25 October 2002 comprises a comprehensive set of inter-related measures designed to improve the functioning of the Irish insurance market. The key measures include the implementation of the recommendations in the Motor Insurance Advisory Board action plan within a target timeframe. They also include the establishment of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board which was signed into law on 28 December 2003. The board was established and members appointed on 13 April 2004. The Personal Injuries Assessment Board commenced dealing with employer liability cases from 1 June 2004 and it is my intention that it will commence dealing with motor and public liability claims from Autumn 2004. A book of quantum, an aid for assessing the level of compensation based on the type of injury involved, which is essential for the successful operation of the Personal Injuries Assessment Board, was published by the Personal Injuries Assessment Board on 2 June 2004.

My Department and the Competition Authority have undertaken a joint study into the insurance market. The study will identify and analyse barriers to entry and limitations on rivalry in the insurance marketplace. The bulk of the study was completed in 2003 and a preliminary report and consultation document on competition issues in the non-life insurance market was published on 18 February 2004. Following consultation, a final report will be published later in the year which will contain recommendations based on the findings.

Significant progress has been made by the Department of Transport in the implementation of the road safety strategy. For example, the introduction of the penalty points system has already reduced the number of accidents on our roads, which has benefits far beyond the cost of insurance. Two new road traffic Bills are expected to be enacted by the end of July 2004. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform published the Civil Liability and Courts Bill on 11 February 2004, currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas. This Bill contains measures to streamline the law on personal injury claims, including measures to deal with fraudulent and exaggerated claims.

I chair a ministerial committee, established to drive the co-ordinated implementation of the reform programme across relevant Departments and other bodies concerned. Substantial progress is being made on a range of measures that will radically overhaul the functioning of the insurance market and help tackle the high cost of insurance.

While EU law prohibits the imposition of price control on insurance, I consider there to be an onus on the insurance industry to ensure that the reforms to be taken will have the effect of significantly reducing the cost of premia to consumers and businesses. Indications to date are that the reform programme is having its desired effect. The Central Statistics Office publishes monthly indices of costs for a number of classes of insurance. These statistics show that there was a reduction of 12.9 index points — 12.1% — in motor car insurance between the months of October 2002, when the programme was launched and April 2004. Reductions are also beginning to occur in the cost of employers' liability and public liability insurance premia, which represent a significant burden for businesses. As implementation of the reform programme continues, I expect further reductions to occur. I am also confident that the measures the Government is putting in place to reform the Irish insurance market will attract new players into the market leading to further downward pressure on premia.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 34.
Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Industrial Development.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

88 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the new markets that have been opened up to exporters; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18226/04]

Part of the role of Enterprise Ireland is to encourage and facilitate export markets for its clients companies. Enterprise Ireland encourages companies to identify those export markets which are profitable and expanding and benefiting the growth and development of the company.

Enterprise Ireland client companies export to all regions of the world. According to Enterprise Ireland's survey, annual business review 2003, the major export market for its client companies is Britain and Northern Ireland, followed by continental Europe. Exports to continental Europe in 2003 increased by 4.7% over 2002.

As part of monitoring client export activities Enterprise Ireland began to collect data in 2003 on the number of companies who were exporting to a new market. Results show that the greatest growth was again in exporting to Europe.

Enterprise Ireland has a range of services and an overseas office network, which is designed to expand current markets and to identify new markets for client companies. Enterprise Ireland runs workshops, seminars and exploratory market visits to familiarise companies with the requirements of successful export market penetration. It provides access to international market reports and undertaking research on behalf of clients, or groups of clients, to identify specific opportunities. It identifies recruiting or up-skilling key marketing personnel and specialist consultants. It provides access to potential buyers/partners/distributors through individual itineraries, trade missions, participation at trade fairs or through introductions to buyers on inward missions. Enterprise Ireland also provides incubator space in overseas markets for early stage market entrants and supporting these incubators with back-up services.

Enterprise Ireland has put in place a range of new initiatives geared towards clients developing export markets for the first time such as market mentors, training workshops, market visits, winning sales seminars, which aim at helping companies to achieve international sale, etc. in response to client demand.

Work Permits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

89 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of work permits applied for in each of the past six months; the number approved, rejected or pending; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18227/04]

The number of eligible work permits applications received, approved and issued, refused and pending for the past six months are shown in the table below.

Month

Eligible applications

Approved and Issued

Refused

End of month pending

December 03

2,590

2,327

173

3,498

January 04

3,470

2,778

38

4,127

February 04

4,116

3,105

150

4,847

March 04

3,957

4,448

109

4,202

April 04

3,040

2,743

159

4,072

May 04

2,778

2,150

287

4,479

Departmental Staff.

Billy Timmins

Question:

90 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position on the 1/97 agreement which provided for supervisory agricultural officers in potato, poultry and eggs and seed production to be upgraded to district superintendent; if any other supervisory agricultural officer outside these groups was upgraded to district superintendent level under the agreement; the basis of such upgrade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18213/04]

A group in ERAD, who were supervisory agricultural officers with an allowance, was upgraded to district superintendent under the terms of the 1/97 agreement. No other supervisory agricultural officer, outside of the groups listed in the question, was upgraded to district superintendent level under the agreement.

Billy Timmins

Question:

91 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of district superintendent officers who had been upgraded from supervisory agricultural officer level under the 1/97 agreement and who retired between 1 September 1996 and 1 May 1998; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18214/04]

One of the district superintendents who had been upgraded under the 1/97 agreement retired between 1 September 1996 and 1 May 1998.

Billy Timmins

Question:

92 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position on the monitoring group comprising union and management representatives which oversaw the implementation of the 1/97 C and A agreement; the names and rank of the officers comprising the monitoring group on both sides, union and management; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18215/04]

The names and rank of the officers comprising the monitoring group on both sides, union and management were, initially Mr. Kevin Callinane, assistant general secretary, IMPACT; Mr. Kieran Sheehan, branch secretary, IMPACT; Mr. John McDermott, branch chairperson; Mr. Peter Roche, area superintendent; Mr. Frank Reidy, technical agricultural officer; Mr. Richard Molloy, supervisory agricultural officer; Mr. John Gillespie, assistant secretary; Mr. William Shanahan, deputy chief inspector; Mr. Albert Costello, deputy chief veterinary officer; Mr. Joseph Shortall, principal officer; Mr. John McCarthy, assistant principal; and Mr. Noel Molloy, executive officer.

Since 1997 the names and ranks of the officers on both the union and management sides have changed on a number of occasions.

Billy Timmins

Question:

93 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position on two supervisory agricultural officers, one in Galway city and one in Ballinasloe, County Galway, serving in the seed potato group who were upgraded under the 1/97 C and A agreement; the headquarters to which the latter was appointed; the length of time the appointment lasted at the initial headquarters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18216/04]

The headquarters of the officer who lived in Galway city was Galway city at the time of his upgrading and remained at Galway city after the upgrading took place. The headquarters of the officer who lived in Ballinasloe was Carlow at the time of his upgrading. The officer's headquarters remained at Carlow from November 1996 until September 1997.

Grant Payments.

John Cregan

Question:

94 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Limerick has accrued an overpayment from his Department in respect of the early retirement scheme, despite their spouse not being in receipt of a social welfare payment at the time of application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18233/04]

The person named is a participant in the 1994 early retirement scheme introduced under EU Council Regulation 2079/92, which she entered in joint management with her husband. This scheme, and its successor introduced in November 2000, are both governed by EU Council regulations. It is a requirement of these regulations that the early retirement pension may only be paid as a supplement to any national retirement pension payable. This means that any national retirement pension to which a participant, and his/her spouse or partner in a joint management arrangement become entitled, whether before or after entry to the scheme, must be deducted from the early retirement pension.

The overpayment for the person named arose from the concurrent payment of her husband's old age contributory pension and the full amount of early retirement pension. Arrangements have now been put in place to allow for repayment of the amount overpaid. My Department is obliged to recover all overpayments under the scheme, as failure to do so would jeopardise its obligations with regard to EU funds.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

95 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will review an agricultural grant entitlement for a person (details supplied) in County Cork in view of depopulation of suckler cow herd on veterinary advice in the year 2000. [18239/04]

The person named has been notified that the circumstances outlined in this case did not satisfy the criteria for force majeure-exceptional circumstances under Article 40 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003. Following this decision the person named submitted an appeal, to the single payment appeals committee. The decision on the appeal will be issued shortly to the named person.

Consumer Price Index.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

96 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the action he proposes to take to address the issue of price increases above and beyond those reflected in the inflation rate through the consumer price index; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18219/04]

The Director General of the Central Statistics Office has sole responsibility for and is independent in deciding, the statistical methodology and professional standards to be used in compiling the consumer price index. It is designed to measure the change in the average level of the prices paid by consumers for goods and services. It measures in index form the monthly changes in the cost of purchasing a representative basket of consumer goods and services. The latest consumer price index release shows inflation in May was 1.7 per cent, down from a high last year of 5.1 per cent in February 2003. The moderation in inflation is a very welcome development.

Tax Code.

Dan Neville

Question:

97 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance if he has plans to abolish taxation of all charities. [18158/04]

The tax code provides exemption for charities from income tax, corporation tax, capital gains tax, deposit interest retention tax, capital acquisitions tax, stamp duty, probate tax and dividend withholding tax.

The Revenue Commissioners are responsible for the administration of the relevant tax exemptions and for this purpose determine whether a body of persons or a trust claiming the benefit of any exemption is established for charitable purposes only. In the first instance, applications for exemption are examined having regard to whether the body concerned is engaged in either the relief of poverty, the advancement of religion, the advancement of education, or certain other works of a charitable nature beneficial to the community. In addition, the body must be legally established in the State and have its centre of management and control therein; must ensure that its objects and powers are so framed that every object to which its income or property can be applied is charitable, and must be bound, as to its main objects and the application of its income or property, by a governing instrument such as a memorandum and articles of association in the case of an incorporated body, deed of trust, constitution or rules in the case of an unincorporated body.

Charities are not obliged to submit annual returns of income. However, charities are obliged to submit a copy of the first year's financial accounts together with a report on activities within 18 months of the date that exemption from tax is granted. In addition, they are obliged to keep annual accounts and make them available to the Revenue Commissioners on request. Bodies with charitable tax exemption are reviewed by the Revenue Commissioners with a view to ensure their continued compliance within the terms of the exemption granted. Should the Revenue Commissioners form the opinion that the funds are not applied for charitable purposes only, or the body fails to submit annual accounts on request, they have general powers to withdraw the exemption granted.

I have no plans to change the above tax treatment of charities at this time.

State Properties.

David Stanton

Question:

98 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the location of each coast guard station in the State under the responsibility of the Office of Public Works; the stations that are due to be replaced or refurbished; the timescale for such upgrading; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18168/04]

On the basis of current records, the following is a list of coast guard stations which are currently in the Office of Public Work's property portfolio.

Doolin, County Clare

Ballycotton, County Cork

Baltimore, County Cork

Barry's Cove, Lisbevane, Bandon, County Cork

Rosscarbery, Clonakilty Road, Castlefreke, County Cork

Crosshaven, Myrtleville Road, Crosshaven, County Cork

Leap, Glandore Road, Glandore, County Cork

Goleen, Mizen Head Road, County Cork

Gyleen, County Cork

Summer Cove, Kinsale, County Cork

Old Head of Kinsale, Kinsale, County Cork

Oysterhaven, County Cork

Seven Heads, County Cork

Toe Head, County Cork

O'Briens Place, Youghal, County Cork

Moville, Greencastle Road, Greencastle, County Donegal

Mulroy, County Donegal

Tory Island, County Donegal

Trabeg, County Donegal

Red Island, Skerries County Dublin

Inisheer, Aran Island, County Galway

Kilronan, Inishmore, Aran Islands, County Galway

Aughrismore Road, Cleggan, County Galway

Ballingall, Ballydavid, County Kerry

Ballydavid, County Kerry

Emlagh West, Dingle, County Kerry

Ballyheigue, Kerry Head Road, Glenderry, County Kerry

Farranreagh, Knightstown, Valentia, County Kerry

Waterville, County Kerry

Park Oriel, Clogherhead, County Louth

Greenore, County Louth

Ballyglass, Knockan Point, Belmullet, Ballina, County Mayo

Ardmore, County Waterford

Bonmahon, Dungarvan, County Waterford

Dungarvan Road, Helvic, County Waterford

Doneraile Walk, Tramore, County Waterford

Dunmore East, County Waterford

Ballyteigue Bay, County Wexford

Carna, Carnsore Point, County Wexford

Ballinatray, Courtown, County Wexford

Curracloe, County Wexford

Fethard, County Wexford

Forlorn Point, Crossfarnoge, Kilmore Quay, County Wexford

Rosslare, County Wexford

Arklow, County Wicklow

Trafalgar, Kimberley Road, Greystones, County Wicklow

Wicklow, New Line Road, Wicklow, County Wicklow.

A new coast guard station at Rosslare Strand, Mauritiustown, Rosslare, County Wexford is under construction. Work began on site in February 2004 and the completion date is October 2004. A pre-qualification process for contractors for the construction of a new coast guard station at Bunbeg, County Donegal will take place before the end of June.

Tax Code.

John Bruton

Question:

99 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he has studied the introduction of a flat rate of VAT and income tax, as introduced in Slovakia, in terms of its attractiveness to domestic and foreign investors; and the rate at which such a tax would have to be levied here to collect revenues at the rate collected by the existing tax structure. [18198/04]

I am aware of the recent tax reforms in Slovakia which are centred on the introduction of a flat rate of tax of 19% across a number of tax heads including income tax, VAT and corporation tax. The reforms include the abolition of most income tax reliefs and exemptions. While certain other taxes including gift and inheritance tax have also been abolished, the Slovakian reforms also provide for increased rates of excise duties.

The Irish tax system as it has developed, particularly over the period 1997 to date, has proven to be a successful tool in incentivising and creating employment and in attracting and retaining inward investment. The role that taxation has played in the success of the Irish economy, especially in recent years, has been widely recognised internationally. The tax policies of individual countries reflect a range of factors and democratic choices, social, economic and cultural.

For example, in the case of VAT, Ireland has three rates in contrast to the single rate now applying in Slovakia. A zero rate applies to most food, children's clothes and shoes and oral medicines; a reduced rate of 13.5% applies mainly to domestic fuels, labour intensive services and general repairs and maintenance and goods or services which are not zero rated or reduced rated are generally standard rated at 21%. To raise the same revenue by having a single rate of VAT across the whole base would allow a reduced rate for those goods currently standard rated but would involve a very significant rate of VAT on food items. Similarly, in recent years we have moved to a tax credit system and increased such credits so that the lower paid are taken out of the tax net altogether. A flat-rate income tax regime, in the absence of a specific exemption, would mean that those on very low incomes would face a tax liability where at present they do not.

Having regard to the success of the Irish tax system in contributing to our economic development, I see no reason to explore alternative models which would involve a dramatic shift from our current approach. However, purely on a technical basis, assuming abolition of the existing levels of tax allowances, credits, reliefs and exemption thresholds including the zero VAT rate, other than wear and tear allowances associated with the use of capital assets in a trade or profession, it is tentatively estimated that to maintain the current yield to the Exchequer from VAT and income tax combined would require the imposition of a single flat rate of the order of 17% across both taxes.

State Properties.

John Bruton

Question:

100 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance his plans for the disposal of State-owned assets over the next five years. [18199/04]

The examination of the State property portfolio by the Commissioners of Public Works with a view to identifying vacant, under-utilised, under-developed or surplus property is continuing. In all cases it is very important to have perfection of title. This may involve long, tedious investigation of burdens, covenants, ground rent etc., and in many cases involves the registration of property. The work involved in the perfection of title is outside the control of the Office of Public Works and is dependent on available resources in the Chief State Solicitor's office or the Land Registry.

To date the process has produced a number of properties deemed suitable for disposal in the Dublin area, including Lad Lane and Lord Edward Street, which were disposed of recently. The former Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform head office at 72-76, St. Stephen's Green is currently on the market with tenders due on 9 July 2004. Some smaller properties throughout the country, including Church Street, Dungarvan, County Waterford and the former customs post site, Blacklion, County Cavan, were also disposed of recently.

A number of sites have also been identified for redevelopment and planning permission is in the process of being obtained for the West Gate redevelopment at St. John's Road, Dublin 8. In addition two sites have been offered to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government for use for affordable housing, including a former Department of Defence property on Infirmary Road, Dublin 7, and the former central engineering workshop, Inchicore, Dublin 8.

As the decentralisation programme progresses over the coming years it is envisaged that a number of other properties will also become surplus to requirements and the final decisions on disposal or redevelopment will follow the detailed assessment of each of the properties in question.

Tax Collection.

Billy Timmins

Question:

101 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position of the case of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; if the tax can be refunded as speedily as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18200/04]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the taxpayer submitted a total claim for relevant contract tax withheld of €11,172.82 in respect of the year 2003. From this, an amount of €10,020.17 was offset automatically against income tax outstanding for the four years ending 31 December 2001. The remaining sum of €1,152.65 is being held pending receipt of preliminary income tax for 2003 and an outstanding P35 return for 2003.

Personal Savings Ratio.

John Bruton

Question:

102 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the savings rate in the economy here by comparison with the average OECD rate as a whole, and each OECD country. [18201/04]

The table below sets out the latest available savings rate for Ireland as calculated from data published by the Central Statistics Office, National Income and Expenditure, and data for other countries as published by the OECD, Economic Outlook. It should be noted that the OECD states that countries differ in the way household disposable income is reported.

Savings as a % of disposable income

2001

Australia

3.2

Austria

7.4

Belgium

13.3

Canada

4.5

Denmark

7.0

Finland

-1.2

France

11.5

Germany

10.3

Ireland

10.3

Italy

15.4

Japan

6.9

Korea

7.7

Netherlands

9.0

New Zealand

-4.2

Norway

3.7

Portugal

10.9

Spain

10.1

Sweden

5.2

Switzerland

9.1

United Kingdom

6.7

United States

2.3

Industrial Development.

John Bruton

Question:

103 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if agglomeration factors arising from geographic proximity of firms to one another in complementary economic sectors contribute positively to their overall growth rates; and if similar agglomeration factors apply to efficiency and knowledge maximisation in public administration. [18210/04]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to the possible benefits of the geographic clustering of certain industries. The possible benefit of industrial concentration is well-known from studies in many countries over the years. I am not aware of any particular studies of the effect of concentration in public administration.

EU Presidency.

Finian McGrath

Question:

104 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the Government did not comply with the Secretary General of the UN, Mr. Kofi Annan, in providing relevant information to enable him to prepare a report on the implementation of the UN General Assembly Resolution No. 58/7 entitled, Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo imposed by the USA against Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18161/04]

The Government's position on the US embargo has been made clear over the years by our voting pattern, and that of our EU partners, in the UN General Assembly, most recently on 4 November 2003. On that date, the General Assembly approved Resolution 58/7 — necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.

The main effect of Resolution 58/7 is to reiterate the General Assembly's call upon all states to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures such as the Helms-Burton Act of 1996. The resolution further urges states that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.

Each year, in accordance with the terms of the resolution, it is customary for the UN Secretary General to prepare a report on the implementation of the resolution. In line with this, on 19 April 2004, the UN Secretary General, Mr. Annan, invited all UN member states to provide any relevant information by 16 June 2004.

Since the Government has never promulgated or applied laws or measures such as the Helms-Burton Act, it has not been customary to make a submission to the UN Secretary General on this matter. The Irish Presidency has, however, conveyed an EU submission to the UN Secretary General, which includes the following:

The European Union believes that United States trade policy towards Cuba is fundamentally a bilateral issue. Nevertheless, the European Union and its member states have clearly expressed their opposition to the extraterritorial extension of the United States embargo, such as that contained in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.

EU Funding.

John Gormley

Question:

105 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether funding is now essential for the European Youth Parliament; if such funding will be forthcoming; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18228/04]

The Government attaches great importance to promoting wider public awareness and understanding about the EU, particularly amongst young people, and is aware of the role played by the European Youth Parliament in this regard, in Ireland and in other countries where it is established. Government funding for EU information initiatives undertaken by NGOs in Ireland is provided through the communicating Europe initiative. The communicating Europe initiative group, administered by the Department of Foreign Affairs, brings together representatives of the Departments of the Taoiseach and Education and Science, the European Movement Ireland, the Institute for European Affairs and representatives of the European Commission and European Parliament Offices in Ireland. It invites organisations to apply for funding to implement EU information initiatives. Under this scheme, the communicating Europe initiative provides funding and support to selected groups and organisations to develop and implement projects aimed at promoting awareness and public discussion about the EU through various initiatives, events and communications media.

Last year the European Youth Parliament applied for communicating Europe initiative funding for an international session of the parliament which took place in Dublin in July 2003. However, bearing in mind that the European Youth Parliament received grant funding for the session from the European Commission and that conference facilities were also provided to European Youth Parliament in Dublin Castle free of charge, as well as the wide range of other projects submitted, the communicating Europe initiative group decided not to allocate funding to this event.

The European Youth Parliament also applied to the communicating Europe initiative in March 2004 for funding for an event which took place in April. The communicating Europe initiative group will meet in July to review all project proposals recently submitted by groups and organisations, including applications for retrospective funding. The communicating Europe initiative group continues to encourage and welcome proposals and applications from all groups and organisations for EU information projects. The group looks forward to working together with groups and organisations over the coming year to develop and implement initiatives aimed at promoting wider public awareness and discussion about the EU and how it impacts on our lives.

Special Educational Needs.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

106 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Offaly has only been sanctioned two and a half hours resource teaching and no special needs assistant; when the required assistance will be given to this person; the reason it has not been sanctioned to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18143/04]

I can confirm that my Department received an application for special educational resources for the pupil referred to by the Deputy. The pupil in question is in receipt of 2.5 hours resource teaching support per week.

Applications for special educational resources received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 are being considered. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year. The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of special educational resources provision conducted over the past year and the data submitted by schools as part of a nationwide census of special educational resources 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.

In the case of teacher resources, the outcome for each applicant school will be based on a recently announced new weighted system of allocation. This system, as part of which an additional 350 teaching posts will be allocated, will involve making a staffing allocation to schools based on a predicted incidence of pupils with special educational needs. It will also involve making individual allocations in the case of children with more acute lower-prevalence special educational needs. It is expected that the change to a weighted system will bring with it a number of benefits. The new system will reduce the need for individualised educational psychological assessment, reduce the volume of applications to my Department for additional resources for individual pupils and give greater flexibility to schools, which will facilitate the development and implementation of improved systems and procedures in schools to meet the needs of pupils with low achievement and pupils with special educational needs.

Transitional arrangements for the introduction of the weighted system are being developed at present in consultation with representative interests. As soon as those consultations have been completed, the detailed arrangements for processing applications for resources, including those for special needs assistants and those received after 31 August last, including the one for the pupil in question, will be set out in a circular to be issued to schools shortly.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

107 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which he has prioritised the backlog of applications for resource teaching and special needs assistance in his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18144/04]

Applications for special educational resources received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 are being considered. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year. The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of special educational resources provision conducted over the past year and the data submitted by schools as part of a nationwide census of special educational resources 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.

In the case of teacher resources, the outcome for each applicant school will be based on a recently announced new weighted system of allocation. This system, as part of which an additional 350 teaching posts will be allocated, will involve making a staffing allocation to schools based on a predicted incidence of pupils with special educational needs. It will also involve making individual allocations in the case of children with more acute lower-prevalence special educational needs. It is expected that the change to a weighted system will bring with it a number of benefits. The new system will reduce the need for individualised educational psychological assessment, reduce the volume of applications to my Department for additional resources for individual pupils and give greater flexibility to schools, which will facilitate the development and implementation of improved systems and procedures in schools to meet the needs of pupils with low achievement and pupils with special educational needs.

Transitional arrangements for the introduction of the weighted system are being developed at present in consultation with representative interests. As soon as those consultations have been completed, the detailed arrangements for processing applications for resources, including those for special needs assistants and those received after 31 August last, will be set out in a circular to be issued to schools shortly.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

108 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Education and Science the position of a special needs assistant application for a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18156/04]

I can confirm that my Department received an application for special needs assistant and resource teaching support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy in September 2003.

Applications for special educational resources received between 15 February and 31 August 2003 are being considered. In all, more than 5,000 such applications were received. Priority was given to cases involving children starting school last September and all these cases were responded to at or before the commencement of the current school year. The balance of more than 4,000 applications has been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the national educational psychological service. These applications are being further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of special educational resources provision conducted over the past year and the data submitted by schools as part of a nationwide census of special educational resources 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.

In the case of teacher resources, the outcome for each applicant school will be based on a recently announced new weighted system of allocation. This system, as part of which an additional 350 teaching posts will be allocated, will involve making a staffing allocation to schools based on a predicted incidence of pupils with special educational needs. It will also involve making individual allocations in the case of children with more acute lower-prevalence special educational needs. It is expected that the change to a weighted system will bring with it a number of benefits. The new system will reduce the need for individualised educational psychological assessment, reduce the volume of applications to my Department for additional resources for individual pupils and give greater flexibility to schools, which will facilitate the development and implementation of improved systems and procedures in schools to meet the needs of pupils with low achievement and pupils with special educational needs.

Transitional arrangements for the introduction of the weighted system are being developed at present in consultation with representative interests. As soon as those consultations have been completed, the detailed arrangements for processing applications for resources, including those for special needs assistants and those received after 31 August last, including the one for the pupil in question, will be set out in a circular to be issued to schools shortly.

Literacy Levels.

John Bruton

Question:

109 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the way in which rates of functional literacy and numeracy for Irish persons in the 25 to 35 year old age group, or similar age groups, compare with their equivalents in other OECD countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18192/04]

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development carried out an international literacy survey of adults aged 16 to 64 years in 1994/95. Findings indicated that approximately half a million people, 25% of Irish adults in that age-group, were at the lowest level, level one, indicating a reading ability no higher than that of an average 12 year old. The comparative figures for the other countries in the survey are Canada: 17.2%, Germany: 10%, Netherlands: 10.3%, Poland: 42.4%, Sweden: 6.8%, USA: 21.8%, Switzerland, French-speaking: 16% and Switzerland German-speaking: 17.2%.

The survey assessed literacy ability under three headings, prose literacy, document literacy, and quantitative literacy. The percentages given above represent the aggregate score in the three categories. The survey report did not link aggregate scores to the ages of the participants. However, age-categories were given with the scores in document literacy. In Ireland, 17.0% of adults aged 16 to 25 years scored at level one in document literacy.

Comparative figures were: Canada: 10.4%, Germany: 5.2%, Netherlands: 6.1%, Poland: 32.2%, Sweden: 3.1%, USA: 24.7%, Switzerland French-speaking: 8.7% and Switzerland German-speaking: 7.1%. Since the publication of the survey report in 1997, annual funding by my Department of the adult literacy service has increased from just under €1 million in 1997 to over €19 million this year. In addition to expanding the general literacy service, specially targeted literacy initiatives for people with particular needs have been introduced. As a result of the increase in funding, the number of literacy clients nationwide has increased from 5,000 in 1997 to over 30,000 today.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

John Bruton

Question:

110 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science if he proposes to introduce performance pay or bonuses for teachers who display exceptional talent and application in classroom work; and if not, the reason therefor. [18193/04]

All matters regarding pay and conditions of service of teachers is a matter for the Teachers Conciliation Council which comprises representatives from the managerial authorities of schools, teacher unions and the Departments of Education and Science and Finance. There are no proposals before the council in relation to the introduction of performance pay for teachers and any such proposal would have to be considered in the context of Government pay policy and the Sustaining Progress agreement, which precludes any cost-increasing claims for improvements in pay or conditions of employment other than those provided by the agreement.

Early School Leavers.

John Bruton

Question:

111 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Education and Science the proportion of children leaving school here with junior certificate standard education or less; and if comparable figures are available for OECD countries generally. [18194/04]

The most recently published analysis by my Department of retention rates at second level was released in August 2003. The report indicates that of those who commenced the junior cycle programme in September 1994, approximately 3,900, or 5.7%, left school before completing the junior certificate three years later, and approximately 12,500, or 18.2%, students leave school annually without the leaving certificate.

The OECD employs a different methodology which divides the number of graduates from upper second level by the estimated number in the population at typical age of graduation.

School Staffing.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

112 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is his intention to provide the services of a learning support teacher exclusively to a school (details supplied) in County Monaghan in view of the school’s particular circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18195/04]

The school referred to by the Deputy currently has the services of a full-time shared learning support teacher.

My Department is at present reviewing existing arrangements for the allocation of special educational supports to primary schools. In that context, my officials have initiated discussions on the matter with representative interests. At this stage, it would be premature to anticipate the outcome for the school in question. I can confirm, however, that the basic purpose of that review is to ensure that each school has the level of resources required to cater for its pupils with special educational needs.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

113 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has plans to reduce the primary pupil-teacher ratio, in view of the commitment in the programme for Government to reduce the ratio below 20:1 by 2007 in line with international best practice and of the failure to make any reduction in each of the past three school years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18196/04]

The pupil-teacher ratio at primary level has improved significantly in recent years.

The ratio has fallen from 22.2:1 in the 1996-97 school year to 18.0:1 in the 2002-03 school year. The projected ratio for the current school year is 17.35:1.

In line with Government policy, my Department will continue to provide further reductions in the pupil-teacher ratio within available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector. Priority will be given to pupils with special needs and those from disadvantaged areas.

School Staffing.

Paudge Connolly

Question:

114 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Education and Science if the pledge given by his predecessor to abolish all one-teacher schools still stands; if it is his intention to ensure that no primary school will be staffed by less than two teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18197/04]

In accordance with the agreed staffing schedule for primary schools, an enrolment of 12 pupils on 30 September of the previous year is required for the purposes of the appointment or retention of a second teacher for a particular school year.

The question of reducing this enrolment figure in the future will be considered in the context of available resources and subject to spending priorities within the education sector.

Pension Provisions.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

115 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason regulations which have been changed to allow service by teachers and administrative staff employed by vocational education committees on a temporary or part-time basis to be reckoned for superannuation purposes do not include similar service by caretakers or cleaners; and if his attention has been drawn to an example of a person (details supplied) in County Cork who has been employed by the Cork County VEC for the past 16 years and is still excluded from the superannuation scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18241/04]

Part-time and temporary service given by teachers employed by vocational education committees is pensionable on an ongoing basis with effect from 1 September 1996.

Temporary service given by members of the administrative staff of vocational education committees is pensionable on an ongoing basis with effect from 1 January 1998. Part-time service given by such staff is pensionable on an ongoing basis with effect from 20 December 2001 under the terms of the Protection of Employees (Part-time Work) Act 2001.

With regard to caretakers and cleaners, the position is that wholetime staff have been pensionable on an ongoing basis for many years. With regard to those employed on a part-time basis, the position is that, in 1996, vocational education committees were advised in a circular letter issued by the Department of the Environment, which then had responsibility for the superannuation of VEC staff, that part-time caretakers and cleaners should be given the option of joining the pension scheme, and paying the appropriate contributions, or of retaining their existing entitlement to payment of a non-pensionable gratuity.

In view of the fact that all cleaners and caretakers are fully insured for social welfare pensions and that the occupational pension, following co-ordination with the social welfare pension as provided for in the scheme, would be very low, very few of the part-time cleaners and caretakers have opted to join the scheme.

I should add that the question of providing improved occupational pensions to public servants on low pay is one of the questions which was considered by the Commission on Public Service Pensions. The commission recommended that a new method of co-ordination with social welfare pensions be introduced. This recommendation, along with other recommendations made by the commission, has recently been considered by a joint union-management working group. It is expected that a report on the group's deliberations will shortly be made to Government. If it is decided that a new method of co-ordination should be introduced, the cleaners and caretakers who have opted to remain outside the scheme will be given a further option to join the scheme.

In relation to the person referred to specifically by the Deputy, the position is that the vocational education committee in question has no record that he was given the option of joining the scheme. I can confirm that such an option will now be afforded to him.

Harbours and Piers.

David Stanton

Question:

116 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the funding available to enable the development of Ballycotton Harbour in County Cork to proceed; the expected timescale for the development of the harbour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18165/04]

The harbour at Ballycotton is owned by Cork County Council and responsibility for its maintenance and development is a matter for the local authority in the first instance.

In 2001 the council submitted a report prepared by consulting engineers on the estimated cost of the Ballycotton Harbour development plan. The proposed development is estimated to cost a total of €6 million. This includes the cost of constructing a marina.

There is no funding available to my Department in 2004 under the fishery harbour development programme for works at Ballycotton Pier. The question of funding works at Ballycotton Pier post-2004 will be considered in the context of the funding available for fishery harbour development works and overall national priorities.

The Deputy will be aware that Cork County Council applied for funding in 2002 under the marine tourism grant scheme of the national development plan for a development including a marina — 18 berths — at Ballycotton, County Cork. However, as the applicants had not obtained the necessary statutory permissions, that is, planning permission and foreshore lease, as required under the conditions for the scheme, their application could not be considered further. The applicants were informed of this and that they could apply for funding under a future call following the receipt of the required permissions.

Due to budgetary constraints, no funding was available for the grant scheme in 2003 or 2004. In light of the findings of the mid-term review of the regional operational programmes completed by the ESRI, which recommended reallocation of funds to other priorities, it is unlikely that the scheme will be reactivated within the term of the national development plan.

Port Safety.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

117 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the concerns regarding safety in relation to operations at Waterford and New Ross Ports (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18235/04]

It is my considered opinion that the introduction of a unified pilotage authority in the Waterford estuary is the best solution to the recurring difficulties relating to the pilotage services provided in the pilotage districts of the Port of Waterford Company and New Ross Port Company.

This solution was recommended in the 1997 report of the review group on pilotage in the Waterford estuary. The benefits of such an authority are not only cost savings but also a safer operation and a better collaboration between the two port companies concerned.

I have requested both companies to work together to identify the steps necessary to put in place a unified pilotage authority for the estuary and to revert to my Department with a joint plan and timeframe for implementation.

Departmental Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

118 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism , further to Question No. 164 of 2 June 2004, if consideration can be given to allowing the person to transfer to the Department of Agriculture and Food at Backweston or Maynooth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18217/04]

The individual referred to in the Deputy's question, who is currently serving in my Department, applied for a transfer to the offices of the Department of Agriculture and Food in Backweston or Maynooth in January 2003. In accordance with normal procedure, this application was passed on to the Department of Agriculture and Food. The question, therefore, relates to a matter which is more appropriate to my Cabinet colleague, the Minister for Agriculture and Food, Deputy Joe Walsh, to whom the Deputy might address his inquiries.

Health Board Services.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

119 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children the contacts he has had during the past month with the Adelaide and Meath and National Children’s Hospital, the ERHA and the South Western Area Health Board in respect of the difficulties at the hospital highlighted by the media; the action he is taking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18140/04]

Responsibility for the funding of services at the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

120 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called to see an orthopaedic consultant in Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, County Mayo. [18141/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

John McGuinness

Question:

121 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if an appointment at Waterford Regional Hospital will be expedited for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny. [18142/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Kilkenny is a matter for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

122 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for an operation to have cataracts removed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18148/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Health Board Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

123 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if urgent assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 with the maximum support and advice; and if assistance with the regular cost of taxis to the hospital will also be given. [18160/04]

The provision of health services to people with a physical and-or sensory disability rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards in the first instance. Accordingly, the Deputy's question has been referred to the regional chief executive of the Eastern Regional Health Authority with a request that he examine the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy, as a matter of urgency.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

124 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Donegal will be called for orthodontic treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18164/04]

Responsibility for the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in County Donegal rests with the North Western Health Board. Therefore, my Department has asked the chief executive officer to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to her directly.

David Stanton

Question:

125 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the help that is available to low income families whose children are in need of orthodontic treatment but whose orthodontic problems are not severe enough to benefit from treatment through the health boards according to guidelines issued by his Department; the number of such applications that have been refused in the respective health boards in 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18167/04]

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of orthodontic treatment services is the responsibility of the health boards/authority in the first instance.

The aim of my Department is to develop the treatment capacity of orthodontics in a sustainable way over the longer term. Given the potential level of demand for orthodontic services, the provision of those services will continue to be based on prioritisation of cases based on treatment need, as happens under the existing guidelines.

The guidelines were issued in 1985; they are intended to enable health boards to identify in a consistent way those in greatest need and to commence timely treatment for them. Patients in category A require immediate treatment and include those with congenital abnormalities of the jaws such as cleft lip and palate, and patients with major skeletal discrepancies between the sizes of the jaws; patients in category B have less severe problems than category A patients and are placed on the orthodontic treatment waiting list. Patients in category C have less severe problems than in category B. The number of cases treated is dependent on the level of resources available, in terms of qualified staff in the area, and this is reflected in the treatment waiting list; in fact, the provision of orthodontic services is currently severely restricted due to the limited availability of trained specialist clinical staff to assess and treat patients. Consequently, a category C waiting list may not be maintained in some health boards. There is currently no mechanism for reimbursing costs of orthodontic treatment obtained privately; however, tax relief is available in respect of such treatment costs.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that I have taken a number of measures to address the shortage of specialists and so increase the treatment capacity of the orthodontic service.

The grade of specialist in orthodontics has been created in the health board orthodontic service. In 2003, my Department and the health boards funded 13 dentists from various health boards for specialist in orthodontics qualifications at training programmes in Ireland and at three separate universities in the United Kingdom. These 13 trainees for the public orthodontic service are additional to the six dentists who commenced their training in 2001. Thus, there is an aggregate of 19 dentists in specialist training for orthodontics. These measures will complement the other structural changes being introduced into the orthodontic service, including the creation of an auxiliary grade of orthodontic therapist to work in the orthodontic area.

Furthermore, the commitment of the Department to training development is manifested in the funding provided to both the training of specialist clinical staff and the recruitment of a professor of orthodontics for the Cork Dental School. This appointment at the school will facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to specialist qualification in orthodontics. The chief executive officer of the Southern Health Board has reported that the professor commenced duty on the 1 December 2003. In recognition of the importance of this post at Cork Dental School my Department has given approval in principle to a proposal from the school to further substantially improve the training facilities there for orthodontics. This project should see the construction of a large orthodontic unit and support facilities; it will ultimately support an enhanced teaching and treatment service to the wider region under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.

In June 2002, my Department provided additional funding of €5 million from the treatment purchase fund to health boards/authority specifically for the purchase of orthodontic treatment. This funding is enabling boards to provide both additional sessions for existing staff and purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners.

Information for the years requested by the Deputy, on the number of children regarded by health boards/authority as outside the criteria in the guidelines for orthodontic treatment, is not routinely collected by my Department. My Department has therefore asked the chief executive officers of the health boards/authority to provide the information requested directly to the Deputy.

National Lottery Funding.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

126 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if consideration will be given to the lottery application by the Charleville Sheltered Housing Services for essential equipment for their new central care unit. [18171/04]

My Department received an application for a grant from the health and children allocation of national lottery funds on the 2 June 2004 from Charleville Sheltered Housing Services.

There is a protocol in my Department for processing applications for national lottery grants. When the completed application form is received in my Department it is registered in the finance unit and forwarded to the relevant services division for their assessment, evaluation and recommendation. All applications are then considered in the context of the recommendation and the overall level of funds available to me. The application is one of many under consideration for a grant from my Department and the organisation will be informed as soon as a decision has been made.

Health Board Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

127 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if changes have been made to the arrangements for palliative care administered in Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, County Mayo; if so, the nature of these changes; the reason the changes have been made; the number of persons who have been affected by these changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18173/04]

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of palliative care services in County Mayo is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. The board has advised my Department that there have been no changes made to service delivery arrangements in respect of palliative care at Mayo General Hospital.

Michael Ring

Question:

128 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if further speech therapy hours will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Galway. [18174/04]

The provision of health services, including speech and language therapy, to people with a physical and/or sensory disability 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 Western Health Board with a request that she examine the matter raised and reply directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Health Board Allowances.

Finian McGrath

Question:

129 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the domiciliary care allowance and respite grant ceases when a person with a disability is 16 years of age; and if a person (details supplied) in County Carlow will be given the maximum support and advice. [18175/04]

Domiciliary care allowance is a monthly allowance administered by health boards and may be paid in respect of eligible children from birth to the age of 16 who have a severe disability requiring continual or continuous care and attention which is substantially in excess of that normally required by a child of the same age. The condition must be likely to last for one year.

When the child is approaching the age of 16, he or she should be advised to apply for disability allowance, DA, which is administered by the Department of Social and Family Affairs. The boards should notify the parent(s) of the child at least six months prior to the child's 16th birthday. DA is a weekly payment for persons with a disability and generally someone who satisfied the medical conditions for DCA will satisfy the medical conditions for DA. However, the claimant must also satisfy a means test. Entitlement to DCA ceases on the child's 16th birthday.

In this regard, as domiciliary care allowance is paid to recipients up to the age of 16 the respite care grant cannot be paid by the health board after the child reaches 16. To be eligible for the grant at this stage from the Department of Social and Family Affairs, the applicant must be in receipt of the carer's allowance or the carer's benefit.

Public Health Expenditure.

John Bruton

Question:

130 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the percentage of the health budget here spent on prevention programmes; and the way in which this compares with the OECD average. [18181/04]

In 2002, the latest year for which relatively comparable data is available on the OECD database, public expenditure on prevention and public health as a percentage of public expenditure on health in Ireland was 3.13%. The OECD average for the same year was 3.48% for the 15 countries, including Ireland, of the 30 OECD members which made returns for this area.

John Bruton

Question:

131 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the ratio of growth in health expenditure to growth in the GDP here over the past seven years; and the way in which this compares with the OECD average ratio. [18182/04]

The following tables show the latest information available from the OECD regarding Ireland's public health expenditure as a percentage of GDP and relative to the OECD average. The information for 2002, the latest available, is based on preliminary data recently released by the OECD which also includes a revision for Ireland's reported health expenditure for 2001.

Table 1: Irish Public Health Expenditure & GDP 1996-2002

Year

*Public Health Expenditure

% Growth of public health expenditure over previous years

**GDP

% Growth of GDP over previous years

Public Health Expenditure as % of GDP

€ million

%

€ million

%

%

1996

2,734

58,080

1997

3,222

17.8

67,123

15.6

4.8

1998

3,677

14.1

77,543

15.5

4.7

1999

4,085

11.1

89,614

15.6

4.6

2000

4,794

17.4

102,845

14.8

4.7

2001

6,015

25.5

114,743

11.6

5.2

2002

7,075

17.6

129,344

12.7

5.5

*Source: OECD Health Data

**Source: Central Bank Spring Bulletin 2004

The Vote for the Department of Health and Children contains funds to cover a broad range of personal and social services, including social care, as well as what is recognised by OECD as coming within the standard boundaries of health care. The figures published by the OECD take account of adjustments necessary to bring Ireland's health expenditure better into line with the boundaries for health systems set out in the OECD system of health accounts.

Table 1 shows that over the period 1997-2002, Ireland's public health expenditure grew at a rate faster than that of GDP over the same period.

The latest comparable OECD data relates to 2002 and includes 24 out of 29 countries, including Ireland. The table below, showing the increase in health expenditure as a percentage of GDP from 1997-2002, is based on data from those 24 countries.

Table 2: Increase in Health Expenditure as a percentage of GDP 1997-2002

Health Expenditure as % of GDP 1997

Health Expenditure as % of GDP 2002

Increase 1997-2002

%

%

%

Ireland

4.8

5.5

14.6

Rest of OECD

5.8

6.3

8.6

This table shows that Irish health spending as a percentage of GDP has increased at a higher rate than the OECD average. This reflects the Government's sustained investment in the public health services over the period.

The Deputy should be aware that the approach of comparing health expenditure based on percentage of national income has some limitations. Increases in GDP will reflect growth on the basis of the economy expanding over a period of time. This may mean that although funding provided for a particular sector such as the health service may increase significantly in real terms, the percentage committed may fall due to overall GDP growth, this being particularly evident in a fast expanding economy such as has been evident in Ireland in recent years.

Hospital Accommodation.

John Bruton

Question:

132 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the way in which the ratio of hospital beds per thousand persons here compares with the OECD average. [18183/04]

At the outset it should be pointed out that the OECD advises caution in the interpretation of cross-country data on health. Health care systems differ significantly across the range of OECD countries. It should also be noted that the Irish data on the number of acute beds does not include the acute beds located in private hospitals in Ireland while some OECD countries include acute beds in private hospitals.

Based on the most recent set of OECD data, the average number of acute in-patient beds is 3.7 per 1,000 population and the rate for Ireland is 3.0 per 1,000 population.

Mortality Rates.

John Bruton

Question:

133 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason Ireland has the lowest life expectancy for both males and females amongst the former 15 EU countries. [18184/04]

The European Health for All database, published in January 2004, shows that for the year 2001, life expectancy for Irish males is 74.6 years and for Irish females 79.9 years. While there were a number of other countries among the former 15 member states of the European Union whose life expectancy was less than this, nevertheless, the Irish figures are less than the average for the former EU at 75.6 years for men and 81.7 years for women. It is encouraging to note, however, that life expectancy in Ireland is increasing by approximately one year every decade.

It is acknowledged that mortality from chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease contributes mainly to the Irish experience described above but it is encouraging, however, that there have been significant decreases in mortality from these conditions in recent years, especially for cardiovascular disease.

In recognition of the importance of these conditions, the Department of Health and Children has developed and implemented cardiovascular and cancer strategies which are expected to continue the trend of reducing mortality from these conditions.

Also, the health promotion strategy is tackling lifestyle issues which contribute to the development of these diseases. The recent successful smoking initiative is expected to play a significant role in reducing mortality from diseases linked with smoking.

Hospital Services.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

134 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 243 of 1 June 2004, when a deal was signed on behalf of his Department using money from the Limerick Trust Fund whereby public patients will be treated in the mid-western region at the private hospital under the deal with the Mater Hospital (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18185/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

135 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children, further to Question No. 243 of 1 June 2004, the financial implications for either his Department or the Mid-Western Health Board in regard to the new private radiotherapy hospital in Limerick to provide public patients with cover (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18186/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 134 and 135 together.

Neither I nor my Department are parties to any deal or agreement regarding the treatment of public patients at a private radiation oncology facility that is to be established in the mid-western region.

I have met with both the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust and the Mid-Western Health Board in relation to the 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 made available by the Mid-Western Health Board with funds provided by the Mid-Western Hospitals Development Trust. I understand the trust intends to make arrangements with a private hospital to operate the facility on its behalf. My understanding is that it is intended to treat public and private patients at this facility. However, I have been assured that the development will not require revenue or capital resources from my Department.

I have advised the representatives of the Mid-Western Health Board of the establishment of a national radiation oncology co-ordinating group which will advise, inter alia, on the national co-ordination and delivery of existing and planned radiation oncology services, including agreeing quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities.

My plans for the development of radiation oncology services are in line with the report of the expert working group on the development of radiation oncology services in Ireland, which I launched 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 development of these centres as a clinical network is of paramount importance and will, in the shortest possible timeframe, begin to address the profound deficit in radiation therapy capacity that has been identified in the report. The implementation of the report's recommendations is my single most important priority in cancer services in the acute setting.

In relation to patients in the mid-western region, significant progress is being made to ensure improved access to radiation oncology services that are in line with best international practice at the supra-regional centres at Cork University Hospital and University College Hospital Galway. The immediate developments in Cork and Galway will result in the provision of an additional five linear accelerators. This represents an increase of approximately 50% in linear accelerator capacity. I have provided for the appointment of an additional five consultant radiation oncologists. Recruitment for these posts is under way. Two of these posts will have significant sessional commitments to the mid-western region. We currently have ten consultant radiation oncologists nationally. This will result in a significant increase in the numbers of patients receiving radiation oncology in the short term.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

136 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the discussions which have taken place between his Department and the South Eastern Health Board regarding the provision of radiotherapy services for public patients and the promoters of a €45 million private hospital planned for Butlerstown North, County Waterford (details supplied); the outcome of such discussions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18187/04]

No discussions have taken place between my Department, the South Eastern Health Board and the promoters of a private hospital planned for County Waterford in relation to the provision of radiotherapy services for public patients. My Department has not committed any revenue or capital resources towards the provision of radiotherapy services in private hospitals.

My plans for the development of radiation oncology services are in line with the report of the expert working group on the development of radiation oncology services in Ireland, which I launched 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 development of these centres as a clinical network is of paramount importance and will, in the shortest possible timeframe, begin to address the profound deficit in radiation therapy services that has been identified in the report. The implementation of the report's recommendations is the single most important priority of my Department in cancer services in the acute setting.

In relation to patients in the south eastern region, significant progress is being made to ensure improved access to radiation oncology services that are in line with best international practice. Approval has issued for the provision of two additional linear accelerators for the supra-regional centre at Cork University Hospital and the necessary capital investment amounting to over €4 million to commission the service as rapidly as possible. In 2004, €1 million ongoing revenue funding is being made available for this development which will improve services for cancer patients in the Southern, South Eastern and Mid-Western Health Boards.

The immediate developments in the south and west will result in the provision of an additional five linear accelerators. This represents an increase of approximately 50% in linear accelerator capacity. We have provided for the appointment of an additional five consultant radiation oncologists. Recruitment for these posts is under way. One of these posts will have significant sessional commitments to the south eastern region. We currently have ten consultant radiation oncologists nationally. These developments will result in a significant increase in the numbers of patients receiving radiation oncology in the short term.

It is my intention to develop a national integrated network of radiation oncology, based on equitable access regardless of location and an effective national quality assurance programme. As recommended in the report, I have established the national radiation oncology co-ordinating group. The group comprises clinical, technical, managerial, academic and nursing expertise from different geographic regions. The group's remit encompasses the national co-ordination and delivery of existing and planned radiation oncology services, including agreeing quality assurance protocols and guidelines for the referral of public patients to private facilities. I expect the group to develop proposals in these important areas.

Medical Cards.

Finian McGrath

Question:

137 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason young travellers in the 16 to 18 year old age group, who are not in full-time education, training or employment, are not eligible for medical cards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18229/04]

Responsibility for the provision of a medical card is, by legislation, a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board-authority. No particular groups in society, other than persons aged 70 years and over, are automatically entitled to a medical card. Each case is assessed on it's individual merits.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

138 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children his proposals to provide funding to finance two projects (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18238/04]

Responsibility for the provision of funding for services to persons with disabilities, including intellectual disability and those with autism in the Waterford region is a matter, in the first instance, for the South Eastern Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive officer of the health board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and reply directly to him.

Health Board Services.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

139 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to a recent letter issued to private orthodontists by the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, which states that the public dental services are no longer in a position to take referrals for routine care, including orthodontic extractions, even when it is deemed necessary by an orthodontist; when such a change in policy occurred; the statutory instrument under which it was made; if this is a correct policy vis-à-vis children’s entitlement to dental services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18242/04]

As the Deputy is aware, statutory responsibility for the provision of dental services to eligible persons rests with the health boards-authority in the first instance. Under section 67 of the Health Act 1970, the children eligible for health board dental services are pre-school and national school children in respect of defects noted at child health examinations. Child health examinations are provided by health boards to children attending national school in accordance with section 66 of the Health Act 1970.

All health boards, including the ERHA, have adopted a planned targeted approach to the delivery of dental services to national school children; this ensures the optimum use of dental resources, and equal access for all national school children to the same level of dental care. Children in specific classes in national school, usually second, fourth and sixth class, are targeted for preventive measures under the school based approach; the children in these classes are screened and referred for treatment as necessary; the programme has been specifically designed to ensure that children are dentally fit before they leave national school. The screening provided in second, fourth and sixth classes ensures that follow-up appointments for examination, treatment or orthodontic review are made, as necessary, with the dental surgeon in the clinic designated for the particular school.

The Health (Amendment) Act 1994 amended the Health Act 1970. The regulations made under this Act — the Health (Dental Services for Children) Regulations 2000 — extended eligibility for free primary dental care to all children under 16 years of age who have attended national school. Additional funding of €1.698 million has been provided to the ERHA for this extension of eligibility. However, treatment is provided within the resources available to the authority; this means that along with the national school screening and treatment programme provided systematically by the authority, emergency dental treatment may only be available on demand.

The responsibility for the management of dental services in the ERHA area is a matter for the regional chief executive of the authority. My Department has therefore asked the regional chief executive to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to her directly.

Hospital Services.

Denis Naughten

Question:

140 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person, details supplied, in County Roscommon will be called for a hip replacement in Galway; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18244/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Roscommon is a matter for the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer of the board to investigate the position in relation to this case and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Light Rail Project.

Finian McGrath

Question:

141 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the policy on free travel for pensioners and the disabled on the new Luas project. [18162/04]

I understand from the Railway Procurement Agency that the board has agreed to conclude negotiations with the Department of Social and Family Affairs on a package which will allow all free travel pass holders unlimited access to Luas services.

Crime Prevention.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

142 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will report on efforts to deal with crime in the Garda division covering Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18145/04]

The Garda authorities have informed me that the Tallaght district comprises Tallaght and Rathfarham sub-districts. The detective unit is responsible for the investigation and detection of crimes in the district. In addition, the drugs unit is also responsible for the investigation of the supply of illicit drugs in the district. These resources are further supplemented by a divisional task force based in Crumlin.

In addition, the Garda authorities have informed me that a dedicated scenes of crime unit has been established in the division to aid criminal investigations and, when required, the above units receive assistance from the national units, such as the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the National Bureau of Fraud Investigation and the National Drugs Unit. A crime prevention officer is also based at Tallaght and is available to advise members of the community on crime prevention methods. I have been assured by the Garda authorities that, while the units I have referred to above are tasked with the investigation and detection of crime, the various regular units at Tallaght and Rathfarham also play a major role in the prevention and detection of crime.

I would also like to note the positive effects achieved through the three Garda youth diversion projects in the Tallaght Garda district. These include KEY, Key to Engaging Youth, Killinarden, Fettercairn and Glenshane, JAY, Jobstown Action for Youth and YEW, Youth Enhancement in Whitechurch. Garda youth diversion projects are a community based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from becoming involved, or further involved, in anti-social and-or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing Garda-community relations. A total of €296,420 was made available in 2003 to the three projects in the Tallaght district.

Legal Aid Service.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

143 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the contacts he has had with the Legal Aid Board in respect of its services in Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18146/04]

As the Deputy is aware, the Legal Aid Board is examining the possible benefits of relocating some or all of its suburban law centres in Dublin to locations in the city centre to bring them closer to the courts. The Deputy will appreciate that in accordance with good public service management practice, the Legal Aid Board keeps the operation of its law centre network under constant review. About 90% of the board's caseload falls in the area of family law. The legal remedy available in such cases is provided through the courts. When time spent at court consulting with barristers, adjournments, interim applications etc. is taken into account, a situation arises where a significant portion of the time taken to resolve a case, by both client and solicitor, is actually spent at court and not in the law centre.

Where a law centre is remote from the court, a solicitor can spend quite a large portion of his or her time travelling to and from the court and the amount of time involved can be quite considerable. Whereas, if the law centre is close to the court, the solicitor would spend less time travelling and should have more time to deal with a greater number of clients. This would particularly be the case when the court adjourns a case to a later time or date. The time saved would enable the solicitor to deal with other work in the law centre and this should contribute to an improved throughput of cases and reduce the amount of time that applicants to the law centre have to wait for legal services. The client has to travel to court for hearings, consultations with barristers etc. in any event.

Under the terms of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995, an applicant for legal services may apply to any law centre in the State, regardless of his or her home address. In this regard, applicants from the greater Dublin area may apply for legal services at any of the Dublin law centres most convenient to them. In conclusion, I can inform the Deputy that I have not yet received any concrete proposals in relation to this matter and I would expect that any such proposals would take into account any proposals by the Courts Service in relation to the location of family law court sittings.

Refugee Status.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

144 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a person, details supplied, in County Louth will be granted permission to remain here. [18159/04]

The person referred to in the question was refused refugee status in the State following consideration of his case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and on appeal by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal. A notification under section 3(3)(a) of the Immigration Act 1999 issued to the person on 10 March 2004 in which he was advised that the Minister had decided to refuse him a declaration as a refugee and setting out the options now open to him, that is, to leave the State voluntarily before the Minister decided whether or not to make a deportation order in respect of him; to consent to the making of a deportation order in respect of him; or to make written representations to the Minister setting out reasons he should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State.

On 5 May 2004 a deportation order was made in respect of the person concerned and he was notified of same by letter served on him by hand on the same date. Late representations have recently been received in my Department and these will be considered by me. In view of this development, I expect to make a final decision in this case shortly.

Visa Applications.

David Stanton

Question:

145 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will consider the application from a person, details supplied, to come to live here with her daughter who is working here as a nurse; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18166/04]

The person in question, the mother of a person employed in the State, made a visa application in December 2003 to enable her visit her daughter here. The application was refused because it was not established, on the basis of the documentation supplied to my Department, that the applicant would observe the conditions of the visa. In particular it was considered that the applicant had not displayed evidence of obligations to return home following her proposed visit. It was noted that the applicant and her daughter both stated in the application documentation that the proposed visit was for a nine month period, however, a visit visa is for a stay of a maximum period of 90 days.

The daughter of the person in question submitted an appeal against the refusal, in which she indicated that the proposed visit was now for the purpose of a three month holiday. The visa appeals officer, having re-examined the application, upheld the original decision to refusal the application. It is open to the applicant to make a fresh application with up to date supporting documentation and the matter will be considered anew.

Immigration Policy.

John Bruton

Question:

146 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the Government’s policy on immigration. [18188/04]

The Government's policy on immigration is to facilitate the orderly migration of non-nationals to the State for a purpose and in a manner which is consistent with the needs of our economy, the security and authority of the State itself, the general welfare of our citizens and respect for the rights of immigrants. The Government's view also is that Ireland must, as a fundamental expression of its humanitarian ideals, afford protection to refugees and fair consideration, accommodation and sustenance to those claiming refugee status. The Government is determined to ensure that our immigration laws and procedures are respected, upheld and enforced, not alone in the interests of the welfare of our citizens, but also in the interests of the efforts of the international community to combat transnational crime syndicates that exploit and abuse the human rights of migrants.

Legal Costs.

John Bruton

Question:

147 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way in which the legal costs associated with dispute resolution here compare with those in other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD, countries; and his views on whether an OECD study should be carried out on this matter. [18190/04]

The policy of the Government in this area generally is reflected in the provisions of the Courts and Court Officers Act 2002, the Personal Injuries Assessment Board Act 2003 and the Civil Liability and Courts Bill 2004. I have indicated my intention to establish a group to examine the matter of the taxation of costs. Moreover, the Competition Authority, as part of its study of regulatory reform in the State, is examining the role of the legal profession. This follows on from a study by the OECD on regulatory reform in Ireland.

The Civil Liability and Courts Bill contains provision to tackle insurance costs and fraud in cases of personal injuries. It facilitates the use of mediation. The Rules of the Superior Courts (Commercial Proceedings) 2004, made by the Superior Courts Rules Committee with my concurrence, have provision for mediation, conciliation or arbitration in commercial proceedings. The rules apply generally to claims, other than claims for damages for personal injuries, with a value of at least €1 million.

The second programme of the Law Reform Commission, approved by Government, includes alternative dispute resolution, ADR, among the topics which will be examined by the commission. I look forward to the outcome of this work in due course.

At European level, in April 2002, the European Commission produced a Green Paper on ADR in civil and commercial law. This was with the objective of launching a broad consultation process as to how best to promote ADR. It is understood that the Commission may present a proposal for a legislative instrument on ADR before the end of this year.

I have no ministerial responsibility in relation to the OECD. As far as I am aware, there is no international league for comparison purposes of costs associated with dispute resolution and there are no proposals to ask the OECD to carry out a study for this purpose.

Garda Retirement.

John Cregan

Question:

148 Mr. Cregan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the plans he has to increase the retirement age for existing gardaí, sergeants, superintendents and chief superintendents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18234/04]

I currently have no plans to increase the retirement age for gardaí, sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and chief superintendents who were recruited to the force prior to 1 April 2004. The changes in the retirement age for members of the Garda Síochána, outlined in the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004, will apply only to new entrants who are recruited to the Garda Síochána after 1 April 2004.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Michael Ring

Question:

149 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if special funding will be provided for footpath adaptation to provide crossings and dish kerbs for wheelchair users. [18147/04]

The memorandum on grants for non-national roads issued by my Department urges road authorities to take measures to facilitate people with disabilities. Road authorities have been advised when planning and executing road works and particularly the planning and design of pedestrian facilities to pay particular attention to the needs of the mobility-impaired, including the visually impaired. Authorities have been specifically advised that care should be taken to avoid steep or irregular gradients or sharp changes in the alignment of footpaths which might prove deceptive to blind or partially sighted persons; and that kerbs should be dished and wheelchair ramps, constructed of non-slip material, should be provided at pedestrian crossing points, where possible.

Local authorities may use their own resources, as supplemented by my Department's discretionary improvement and block grants, to fund the provision of pedestrian crossings and dished kerbs. In 2004, the total discretionary improvement grant allocation by my Department to county councils is €22 million, which represents an increase of 6.5% on the 2003 grant payment. The total 2004 block grant allocation by my Department to city, borough and town councils is almost €14.1 million, which represents an increase of 8.6% on the 2003 block grant payment. The selection of works to be funded from these grants is entirely a matter for the relevant local authority.

In 2004, regional traffic management scheme grant allocations totalling €2.183 million have also been made to Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford City Councils, representing an increase of almost 19% on the 2003 grant payment. While this scheme is primarily intended to assist the provision of urban traffic management schemes, eligible works would include the provision of pedestrian crossings and dished kerbs in residential areas, subject to the approval of my Department.

The allocation of grants for national roads is a matter for the National Roads Authority. The Dublin Transportation Office also allocates grants for traffic management measures to local authorities in the greater Dublin area.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Michael Ring

Question:

150 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the widespread concern in consumer, food retailing and many farming sectors regarding the sweepingly increased use of human sewage from public treatment plants in agriculture; if the Department of Health and Children or the Food Safety Authority were consulted before he gave effect to the existing human sewage in agriculture regulations of this Department; if, since then, his attention has been drawn to the repeatedly expressed fears of the acting head of the Food Safety Authority concerning dangers which it considers the application of raw sewage from smaller public treatment plants represents in terms of food safety and public health; if, in view of the growing disquiet, he will consider banning the practice here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18179/04]

Sewage sludge is an inevitable and potentially useful by-product of advanced waste water treatment processes. Overall, volumes of such sludge are increasing as a result of the major investment in waste water treatment facilities now under way as part of the national development plan. It is therefore desirable, and in accordance with EU requirements that sewage sludge should be reused wherever appropriate. Where sewage sludge is reused in agriculture it is subject to compliance with the Waste Management (Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture) Regulations 1998, as amended, which give effect to Council Directive 86/278/EC on the protection of the environment and particularly of the soil when sewage sludge is used in agriculture. These regulations specify a range of requirements for the safe use of the product, and prohibit its use in certain circumstances such as on land where fruit or vegetable crops are growing or on grasslands to be grazed within three weeks of such use.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland has been fully informed of national sludge management policy and supports the measures being undertaken for its implementation. The authority considers that the requirements of the Waste Management (Use of Sewage Sludge in Agriculture) Regulations satisfy their concerns.

Local Authority Funding.

John Bruton

Question:

151 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when the review of local government funding will be complete; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18208/04]

I anticipate that this review will be completed by spring 2005.

Question No. 152 withdrawn.

Government Policy.

John Bruton

Question:

153 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the Government’s policy in regard to the promotion and definition of marriage. [18206/04]

Government policy is designed to ensure that the State meets its constitutional obligations to the institution of marriage. Social, economic, demographic and other changes are having an impact on families and on the institution of marriage and policy has to be developed and adapted having regard to these changes.

The Commission on the Family, which reported in 1998, made a number of recommendations on support for marriage. These included support for and further development of counselling and family mediation services. The Family Support Agency, which I established in May 2003, represents one of the main responses to these recommendations in the commission's report. It draws together the main family related programmes and services developed by the Government since 1997. Specifically, out of the Family Support Agency's total budget of over €20 million, I have made available €7.16 million for the scheme of grants to voluntary organisations providing marriage preparation courses, marriage and relationship counselling and other family supports. This year over 500 voluntary groups nationwide will receive financial support for the provision of these services to strengthen and support families throughout the country. The remainder of the agency's budget provides for a nationwide family mediation service, information on parenting, and support for the promotion and development of family and community services.

I have been conscious that the profound rapid changes taking place in society may be leading to outcomes in terms of family life that many may not desire either for themselves or others. I am conscious also 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 last year on a nationwide consultation process on families and family life. A report on this consultation process entitled Families and Family Life in Ireland: Challenges for the Future has been published.

Last month, to mark the 10th anniversary of the UN International Year of the Family, the Irish Presidency, with the support of the EU Commission, hosted a major international conference on families, change and social policy in Europe. Ireland has also directly participated in a major OECD international study on reconciling work and family life.

The outcome of these developments is being fully taken into account in the preparation of a strategy on supports for families, which I intend to have completed and issued before the end of this 10th anniversary year. The role of the State in meeting its constitutional obligations to "guard with special care the institution of marriage" at this time of profound change will be one of the issues to be addressed in the strategy.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

154 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the assistance that can be offered in the case of a person, details supplied, in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18230/04]

Subject to certain conditions, the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides assistance to eligible people whose means are insufficient to meet their basic needs. In addition to a basic allowance, assistance may be given in the form of supplements which are payable in respect of certain needs such as rent, mortgage interest, diet and special heating requirements. A board may also award a single payment to meet an exceptional need if, in the opinion of the board, the circumstances of the case so warrant.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted regarding this case and has indicated that the person concerned should contact her local health centre where the community welfare officer will be able to provide her with advice regarding entitlements and also carry out an assessment of her circumstances so as to determine whether or not she qualifies for assistance under the terms of the supplementary welfare allowance scheme.

Michael Ring

Question:

155 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason, when a person, details supplied, in County Mayo arrived for an appointment with a medical assessor in relation to an application for the disability benefit, the medical assessor did not turn up. [18232/04]

The date for the medical examination of the person concerned had to be changed and unfortunately, due to an administrative error, this information was not communicated to him. The inconvenience caused to him is regretted. The examination has now been re-scheduled and the person concerned has been informed.