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.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Joan Burton

Question:

12 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made in finalising the terms of reference of the inquiry, to be chaired by Judge Maureen Harding Clark, into the activities of a person (details supplied); when the inquiry will begin; the form it will take; and the steps being taken to address the serious concerns about the adequacy of the proposed inquiry expressed by Patient First and others. [18364/04]

The Medical Council investigated the conduct of Dr. Michael Neary and found him guilty of professional misconduct in the case of ten patients. The Government then decided to establish a non-statutory inquiry chaired by Judge Maureen Harding-Clark.

A formal announcement of the terms of reference will be made shortly. In broad terms, it will examine the rate of peripartum hysterectomy at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda. Particular reference will be made to the period covered in the report of the fitness to practise committee of the Medical Council about Dr. Michael Neary and the period since the publication of its report. It will determine how this rate compared with the rate in other maternity units of similar status. It will also inquire into whether Dr. Neary's practice was commented or acted upon by others at the hospital. It will examine whether internal or external reviews were conducted. It will also inquire into the measures put in place to prevent a repeat of those events at the hospital and offer advice on any additional systems that should be put in place.

A number of meetings were held with Patient Focus, the patient support group, and the most recent occurred on 20 May. As part of the process the group was briefed by counsel to the inquiry on how it proposes to conduct its investigations. It was assured that any woman who wishes to give evidence will be facilitated. I am aware that the group has some concerns about the scope of the report to be furnished by the inquiry and on the compellability of witnesses. My Department has raised its concerns with the inquiry and I will revert to the group in due course.

If the inquiry finds itself unable to fully discharge its remit due to non-co-operation by relevant persons or bodies then the judge will report it to me. I will then ask the Government to consider what further action may be necessary. It may include recourse to an investigation under the Commissions of Investigation Bill 2003 when enacted.

The inquiry team has already examined a substantial amount of documents and records. It was asked to report within nine months.

National Drugs Strategy.

Dan Boyle

Question:

13 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Health and Children the effect that the closure of the Bradan day programme, Navan, will have on the national drugs strategy. [16832/04]

The provision of drug treatment services is the statutory responsibility of the health boards. I am informed by the North Eastern Health Board that the day programme is not closing.

The overall objective of the Government's strategy on drug misuse is to significantly reduce the harm caused to individuals and society through a concerted focus on supply reduction, prevention, treatment and research. It wants to provide a range of options to encourage and enable drug misusers to avail of treatment with the aim of reducing dependency and improving overall health and social well-being. This is being achieved by addiction treatment service providers, statutory and non-statutory, working together in partnership.

Recently I approved national lottery funding of €50,000 for the Bradan day programme. The NEHB has advised me that it provided funding to Bradan House. The health board gave the day programme €27,000 in 2002 and €35,000 in 2003.

Since the middle of last year negotiations took place between the board and the Bradan day programme about developing a service level agreement for referral of drug free clients from the board's addiction service to the day and aftercare programmes. An agreement was reached. As soon as it is signed by Bradan, the health board will fund clients referred by it on a per client basis. This is based on the premise that the services offered by the programme will enhance those of the board's and not replicate what was already being provided. These new arrangements are likely to result in a greater number of clients being referred to the Bradan day programme.

Departmental Funding.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

14 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of funding provided annually to the primary care strategy for each of the years 2001 to 2004, inclusive [18399/04]

In 2002 development funding of €5 million was provided to support the implementation of the strategy. An additional €2 million was allocated in 2003 and brought the ongoing additional development funding to €7 per annum. In 2002 €2 million in capital funding and a further €1 million in respect of information and communications technology supports was also provided.

Since the strategy was published I have also provided significant further support for the development of general practice out-of-hours co-operatives. Additional funding of €17.3 million was provided in 2002 and a further €4.14 million in 2003. Therefore, an additional €21.44 million is now included in the base funding. It is in addition to the substantial funding already in the system for the delivery of a wide range of primary and community care services. The strategy identified that a significant component of the development of primary care teams, in the short to medium term, would involve the reorientation of existing staff and resources.

Vaccination Programme.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

15 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children the uptake level of the MMR vaccine in each health board area for the latest period for which figures are available; and the steps being taken to promote greater uptake, especially in view of reports of a significant increase in the number of cases of measles in some areas. [18376/04]

The MMR vaccine protects against measles, mumps and rubella. In accordance with the recommendations of the immunisation advisory committee of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland it can be administered to children between 12 and 15 months of age. A vaccine uptake rate of 95% is required to protect children from the diseases and to stop them spreading in the community. Measles is a highly infectious and serious disease and approximately one in 15 children that contract measles suffer serious complications.

I am concerned about the MMR immunisation rates because of the risk of children contracting potentially serious diseases. The outbreak of measles in 2000 resulted in approximately 2,000 cases and three deaths. It is evidence of the consequences of insufficient immunisation uptake.

Data provided by the National Disease Surveillance Centre indicates that MMR uptake rates for children of 24 months of age per health board region for the fourth quarter of 2003 are as follows:

Quarter 4, 2003*

%

ERHA

77

MHB

89

MWHB

82

NEHB

83

NWHB

86

SEHB

84

SHB

80

WHB

76

Ireland

80

*The most recent period for which uptake figures are available from the NDSC.

Based on information available from the NDSC, there was a significant increase in 2003 in the number of reported measles cases. In 2002 as many as 243 cases of measles were reported but provisional returns for 2003 indicate that there were 576 measles cases during that year. It underlines the importance of raising the immunisation uptake level to the optimal level of 95% against measles and the other potentially serious infectious diseases. I am encouraged by the most recent statistics from the NDSC that show that MMR uptake for children up to 24 months of age was 80% for the fourth quart of 2003, an increase on 75% in the comparative quarter in 2002. Data provided by the NDSC indicate that from week one to week 23, inclusive, of 2004, or up to 12 June, as many as 92 cases of measles were notified compared with 460 cases notified for the comparative period in 2003. There appears to be a significant reduction in the number of cases reported so far this year. However, we cannot afford to become complacent particularly as the number of notified cases of rubella has risen from 28 in the period from week one to week 23, inclusive, of 2004 compared with 26 cases notified in the comparative period last year.

In 2003 the chief executive officers in all health boards and the ERHA were asked to ensure that specific immunisation measures were prioritised in all regions to prevent a serious measles outbreak. A national immunisation steering committee was established to address a wide range of issues related to childhood and other immunisation programmes, including the identification of issues that are hampering the achievement of uptake targets. In April 2002 I launched its report. A national implementation group was established to draw up a phased plan based on the report's recommendations.

Following consideration of proposals for childhood immunisation that were submitted by the implementation group through the Health Boards Executive, on behalf of the health boards, a sum of €2.116 million was allocated by my Department in 2003 to fund initiatives to improve childhood immunisation uptake. A further €2.778 million was allocated for that purpose this year. At present funding in the region of €800,000 is being allocated to health boards via HeBE specifically for regional and localised projects that will focus on measures to improve immunisation uptake.

Some parents are concerned about the MMR vaccine. Negative coverage has added to their confusion about whether to vaccinate their children. In April 2002 I launched the MMR vaccine discussion pack. It is an information guide for health professionals and parents. It was produced by the NDSC and the Department of public health and the Southern Health Board. It was published by HeBE on behalf of the health boards. The pack sets out the most common concerns about MMR in a way that will help health professionals and parents to explore them together, review the evidence and provide a basis for making an informed decision. The information will allow a full discussion between health professionals and parents on each issue. The pack also contains an information leaflet for parents. The pack is set out in a question and answer format. It addresses such issues as the alleged link between MMR, autism and Crohn's disease, its safety and side effects, the purpose of a second dose of vaccine, combined vaccine versus single doses and contraindications to it. The pack will enable health professionals to respond to the real concerns of parents.

Some health boards have undertaken measures in their regions to improve vaccine uptake. These include the following: information sessions for professionals such as doctors and nurses in the area; information sessions for parents; distribution of information to the public such as providing leaflets on MMR available in public areas; advertisements taken out in local newspapers; advertisements on local radio stations; advice on immunisation, including MMR, forms part of every public health nurse consultation with parents; information leaflets displayed prominently in all health centres; information given to schools regarding the booster MMR; follow-up of parents by letter and telephone where children have not been vaccinated; a follow-up with general practitioners and nurses about children in their area who have not been vaccinated; and information sessions for staff.

I urge all parents to immunise their children against the diseases covered by the childhood immunisation programme. I want them to ensure that their children and the population have the maximum protection against such diseases. This is important in light of the increase in reported measles cases during 2003.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Damien English

Question:

16 Mr. English asked the Minister for Health and Children when BreastCheck will take place in the remaining areas set to receive the service. [18444/04]

The national breast screening programme commenced in March 2000. Phase one covered the Eastern Regional Health Authority, Midland Health Board and the North Eastern Health Board regions. Last year I announced the extension of the BreastCheck programme to counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and the national roll-out to the southern and western counties. Last March screening commenced in Wexford.

The BreastCheck clinical unit in the western area will be at the University College Hospital, Galway, with two associated mobile units. The area of coverage is counties Galway, Sligo, Roscommon, Donegal, Mayo, Leitrim, Clare and Tipperary North Riding. The clinical unit in the southern area will be located at the South Infirmary-Victoria Hospital with three associated mobile units. Counties covered include Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Waterford and Tipperary South Riding.

The national roll-out of BreastCheck requires detailed planning to include essential infrastructure. Two project teams, one in each region, were established to develop briefs for the capital infrastructure needed for the static units in the south and west. The South Infirmary, that deals with the southern region, considered it necessary to commission a site strategy study to ensure the integration of the breast screening service into its present and future development. My Department provided a capital grant of €230,000 for the study to be undertaken by professional architectural, engineering and quantity surveying experts. The study was submitted to my Department at the end of March and a detailed brief is being prepared by BreastCheck and the hospital. As regards the west, BreastCheck submitted a number of options for the construction of a static unit on the grounds of University College Hospital, Galway. My Department is considering both projects in the context of the framework for capital investment 2004-2008 that is being discussed with the Department of Finance.

An essential element of the rollout of the programme is investment in education and training of radiographers. BreastCheck employs qualified and experienced radiographers who have specialised postgraduate training and qualifications related to mammography. BreastCheck and the symptomatic breast cancer services combined have a significant ongoing recruitment and training requirement in this area. Last year I announced the development of a training centre for radiographers and mammography at Eccles Street that will become the national training centre in breast imaging. Resources are being made available to BreastCheck to support the initiative that will cost in excess of €750,000. Design specification work was undertaken, the core elements of the training programme are being addressed and the recruitment process for a course leader has been initiated.

HIV Infection.

Eamon Ryan

Question:

17 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of heterosexual males and females who are HIV positive here; and the steps being taken to ensure HIV-AIDS does not increase. [18480/04]

Recently the national disease surveillance centre published overall HIV figures for 2003. There were 399 newly diagnosed cases in 2003 which represents a 10% increase on 2002. The total number of cases of HIV infection diagnosed to the end of 2003 is 3,408.

In the first six months of 2003 there were 207 newly diagnosed cases of HIV infection. Of the 147 newly diagnosed cases where exposure category is known, there were 87 heterosexuals — 23 of which were male, 64 were female. In relation to other exposure categories, there were 35 men who have sex with men, 14 injecting drug users and seven cases of mother to child transmission. Of the 207 cases diagnosed in the first six months of 2003 as many as 106 or 51.2% were female and 100 or 48.3% were male. The gender in one case was unknown.

The report of the national AIDS strategy committee was published in 2000. It made recommendations to deal with HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. At present my Department, through the strategy committee and its sub-committees on education and prevention, surveillance and care and management is working to implement these recommendations.

The care and management sub-committee of NASC visited hospitals and health boards involved in the provision of services to people with HIV-AIDS and STIs. The purpose of these visits was to identify gaps and make recommendations for the future direction of treatment services. The report of the sub-committee is being finalised.

Education is an important aspect in raising awareness of the dangers in risky sexual behaviour that could result in the transmission of HIV and other STIs. Health boards undertake information and awareness activities at regional level and amongst the issues addressed is the prevention of STIs, including HIV. Where appropriate the health boards work in conjunction with and fund voluntary organisations who work with people living with HIV.

My Department's health promotion unit is also involved in and support a range of initiatives aimed at preventing and raising awareness of HIV-AIDS and other STIs. These include a national public awareness advertising campaign to promote sexual health that is aimed at men and women in the 18 to 35 age group. The campaign was run for several years in third level colleges, bars, clubs and youth clubs. Recently it was revised by the health promotion unit and now it targets an increased number of venues. In addition, the unit produces a range of awareness raising leaflets on HIV, other STIs and safe sex practices. They are available through the health promotion departments in each health board area. This year a national survey of sexual knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in Ireland will be funded by my Department and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency.

Since 1997 almost €5.5 million additional funding was provided to health boards to address the problems of HIV-AIDS and other STIs. It resulted in a substantial increase in facilities. At present there are seven consultants specialising in the treatment of HIV-AIDS and STIs. There are five consultants based in Dublin, one deals with children and another is based in Cork. Recently the Western Health Board appointed a new infectious disease consultant. My Department will continue to monitor the position of HIV-Aids and other STIs.

Health Action Plan.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

18 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention was drawn to a threatened Europe-wide flu-pandemic; and the state of readiness here. [18404/04]

On 12 February I held an informal dinner for EU health ministers to discuss the matter of avian influenza and mutual co-operation in Europe to combat it. At the meeting the ministers agreed to keep each other informed in advance of taking any further control measures. They also agreed to endeavour to co-ordinate measures to protect public health to the greatest extent possible across the EU. Member states and the Commission agreed to engage with the pharmaceutical industry to consider the preparation of protocols for the manufacture, availability and distribution of vaccines and antivirals as part of pandemic planning preparedness.

Each state undertook to review their national pandemic preparedness plans. Health ministers also asked the Commission to bring forward its EU pandemic preparedness plan, as a matter of urgency.

On 12 May the matter was discussed at a meeting of EU health ministers. There was consensus on the need for member states and the European Commission to work together for early agreement on the adoption of a co-ordinated approach to the purchase of antivirals and vaccines.

On 2 June the health council agreed to extend the health security committee's mandate to cover the area of Community influenza pandemic preparedness and response planning for a temporary transitional period to the end of May 2005. A key task of the health security committee will be to assess the desirability or otherwise of any future collective negotiation process with the pharmaceutical industry for the development and purchase of vaccines and antivirals. Account shall be taken of the cost, storage, logistical and legal aspects of the area while respecting the competence of member states. A report on the issue is scheduled for consideration by the HSC in September.

Medical experts consider that it is almost inevitable that another influenza pandemic will occur but it is impossible to predict when. The outbreak of avian influenza in Asia earlier this year highlighted the need for vigilance and preparedness in this regard. Mortality during a pandemic is usually very high and may not be confined to the usual risk groups. An influenza pandemic would have serious effects in terms of mortality and morbidity. Services such as acute hospitals and general practice would experience greatly increased workloads, well in excess of those seen during more regular outbreaks of influenza.

I established a committee under the chairmanship of Professor William Hall, director of the National Virus Reference Laboratory. In September 2002 it presented an outline plan for influenza pandemic preparedness, entitled A Model Plan for Influenza Pandemic Preparedness, to my Department. A copy of it was forwarded to each health board and authority chief executive officer for circulation to all relevant personnel. In addition, each CEO was requested to establish a regional committee to develop a regional influenza pandemic plan that should include all key stakeholders. These plans will form part of the emergency plan for each region.

At present the model plan is being revised by an expert group that I established in late 2003 in light of the recent SARS experience. The outline plan sets out various recommendations and options. Following their detailed consideration the expert group will make specific recommendations on the implementation of various aspects of the plan. It will also give guidance, if required, to the health boards and regional committees to assist in the development of their regional plans. The group is comprised of medical experts as well as representatives of relevant organisations, including the Irish College of General Practitioners, Irish Medicines Board, NVRL, the National Disease Surveillance Centre and health board nominees. Its work was delayed by the ongoing non-participation of consultants in departmental committee meetings.

In addition, my Department established a contingency planning steering group last January. It will oversee the development of a generic public health contingency plan for the health system that would be activated in the event of a large-scale emergency resulting from an infectious diseases outbreak or incident such as SARS or an influenza pandemic to mitigate the impact of such an emergency. The plan will facilitate effective responses to international outbreaks and incidents. Work on the plan is progressing well as well as disease-specific operational plans for SARS and an influenza pandemic. I anticipate that the plan will be circulated to health boards shortly. It will enable health boards to develop, update and test their public health emergency plans.

The Health Act 1947 and the Infectious Diseases Regulations 1981 provide the legislative basis for the control of infectious diseases, including influenza, in Ireland. The national disease surveillance centre plays a key role in the prevention and management of infectious diseases here.

The Irish approach to an outbreak of an infectious disease is based on sound internationally accepted principles such as preventative measures, early identification of cases, effective clinical care including good hospital infection control, appropriate surveillance and contract tracing and management of contacts. The procedures for dealing with infectious diseases are based on these principles.

Many infectious diseases can be prevented by vaccine use. Immunisation against infectious disease has probably saved more lives than any other public health intervention, apart from the provision of clean water. Improvements in living standards have reduced the mortality from infectious diseases, but immunisation has also played a large role in the reduction of disease incidence. It would not have been possible to eradicate smallpox without vaccine. The eradication of polio in the European region is also largely due to immunisation. In recent years improved economic and social conditions, together with public health action, have virtually eliminated the pandemics of communicable diseases.

In the past I have, and will continue to do so, established expert committees or groups to advise on the most appropriate action given the particular circumstances of the outbreak concerned. Guidelines and protocols on the management of many different types of outbreaks have been developed based on the principles referred to above. They take into account guidance published by the World Health Organisation, the centres for disease control and prevention in the USA and a number of other reputable international public health bodies. Most outbreaks begin with the establishment of an outbreak control team that manages it and sets up the necessary control measures.

Vaccination is the principal measure for preventing influenza and reducing the impact of epidemics. The WHO recommends vaccination for elderly persons and persons of any age who are considered at high risk for influenza-related complications due to underlying health conditions. Vaccination will be the primary public health intervention in the event of an influenza pandemic. Until a specific vaccine against the prevalent strain of the influenza virus is developed, or has a chance to become effective in individuals, it will be necessary to use antiviral medicines to treat individuals who are ill, particularly those who may be more vulnerable to the virus. Essential workers and vulnerable groups must also be protected by such medicines. My Department secured a quantity of antivirals. Discussions are ongoing at national and EU level about the need to stockpile further supplies.

Health Reform Programme.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

19 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Health and Children about the representation of members of the medical profession in the new health structures. [18454/04]

The health service reform programme is based on the Government's decision of June 2003. It was based on the Prospectus audit of structures and functions in the health system and the report of the commission on financial management and controls in the health service. Both reports identified organisational improvements needed to strengthen the capacity of the health system to meet the challenges of implementing the programme of development and reform set out in the health strategy document, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You.

Their implementation is under way and will result in a health services executive, a single unitary national structure for health service planning and delivery. The Government intends to assign the functions of health boards and authority to the Health Service Executive with effect from next January. Formal assignation of these functions will require new legislation that is being prepared. The emphasis is being placed on ensuring that there is adequate governance of the new structures in a radically restructured health system. I am developing more detailed proposals on the arrangements for consultation at regional level.

The Government also accepted that there is a need to strengthen existing arrangements for consumer panels and regional co-ordinating or advisory committees in representing the voice of service users. These structures incorporate patients, clients and other users or their advocates. They will work to provide a bottom-up approach to understanding the needs of service users at a regional planning level. Existing models are at different stages of development and will continue to be enhanced. Their mechanisms will serve to bring the views of patients and clients to bear in the decision-making process.

I expect to see meaningful input in decision-making from medical and other professionals at all levels in the new structures. This will arise particularly in the areas of service planning, education and training and some aspects of the organisation and design of services. The new structures will be based on a competency rather than a representational model.

I am satisfied that the new arrangements, combined with the introduction of system-wide best practice governance and accountability systems, will ensure a stronger, more effective health system and an improved health service for patients and clients.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

20 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Health and Children the details of the programme of work undertaken to date by the national steering committee to oversee the different strands of the health reform programme; and when the composite plan used by the interim HSE will be made available to members of the Oireachtas Joint Oireachtas. [18373/04]

The NSC was established to oversee, monitor and steer the health reform programme. It is chaired by Mr. Kevin Kelly, the executive chairman of the interim health service executive. The committee is composed of key stakeholders from various strands of the reform programme.

The four inter-related strands of activity under way are the change management programme being led by the interim HSE that is planning for its move to a unitary system from 2005; the elements of the reform programme under the remit of my Department that includes,inter alia, its restructuring and the establishment of HIQA; the work of the acute hospital review group chaired by David Hanly; and the ongoing management of the health service and preparations by the health board CEOs for the change to a unitary system. The national steering committee met twice to review progress made under the four inter-related streams.

The initial phase of the implementation of the reform programme involved a widespread communications and consultation process. It also involved the establishment of 13 action projects to flesh out specific aspects. The action projects concluded, as planned, at the end of December and a composite document outlining the main findings was prepared. I intend to publish it shortly.

Health Board Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

21 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention was drawn to the unacceptable waiting period for orthodontic treatment in County Kerry that is now the longest in the country; and the action he will take to solve the problem. [18491/04]

The provision of orthodontic services in the Southern Health Board is the responsibility of its CEO in the first instance. I have taken a number of measures to improve orthodontic services in the area and on a national basis.

The grade of specialist in orthodontics was created in the health board orthodontic service. In 2003 my Department and the health boards funded 13 dentists from various health boards for the qualification at training programmes in Ireland and at three separate universities in the United Kingdom. The trainees for the public orthodontic service are additional to the six dentists who commenced their training in 2001. 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.

My Department's commitment to training development is manifested in the funding provided to the training of specialist clinical staff and the recruitment of a professor in orthodontics for the Cork Dental School. The appointment will facilitate the development of an approved training programme leading to a specialist qualification in orthodontics. The health board's CEO reported that a professor commenced duty on 1 December 2003. In recognition of the importance of the post my Department approved, in principle, a proposal by the school to further improve its training facilities for orthodontics. The project should see the construction of a large orthodontic unit and support facilities. It will ultimately support an enhanced teaching and treatment service for the wider region under the leadership of the professor of orthodontics.

In June 2002 my Department provided an additional €5 million from the treatment purchase fund to the health boards and authority to purchase orthodontic treatment. It has enabled the boards to provide additional sessions for existing staff and purchase treatment from private specialist orthodontic practitioners. The SHB was allocated an additional €720,000 from the fund for the treatment of cases in this way.

The board's CEO has informed my Department that 30 to 36 months is the average waiting time for orthodontic treatment in County Kerry. It is less than the average waiting time for orthodontic treatment in the entire board reported by him at the end of March. The CEOs of the health boards and authority informed my Department that at the end of the March quarter 2004 as many as 21,033 children had received orthodontic treatment. As many as 3,400 children are receiving treatment from the SHB. In other words, almost one out of every six children being treated by the public orthodontic service is from the SHB area.

There are nearly twice as many children receiving orthodontic treatment as there are children waiting to be treated. Almost 4,000 extra children have received treatment from the health boards and authority since the end of 2001.

Hospital Accommodation.

Joe Costello

Question:

22 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of new hospital beds that were provided to date in 2004 and the projected number that will be provided before the end of the year. [18367/04]

I provided additional annual revenue funding of €93 million and €25 million of capital funding to health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority. They were asked to commission 709 extra beds in the acute hospital sector as part of the Government's commitment under the health strategy to provide an additional 3,000 acute hospital beds over the period to 2011. As many as 589 of these beds have been commissioned to date. Funding was also made available to the health boards and authority to commission the balance of the 709 beds.

In 2004 I provided a total of €12.6 million to the ERHA and the Southern Health Board to facilitate the discharge of patients from acute hospitals to more appropriate settings, thereby freeing up acute hospital beds. The funding provides for the subvention of additional beds in the private nursing home sector and the provision of ongoing support in the community.

The Government is committed over the lifetime of the health strategy to providing additional beds in public acute hospitals. Its objective is to improve access for public patients to hospital services and reduce waiting times for treatment.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

23 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason adequate funding was not made available to the Southern Health Board to properly consider, without undue delay, applications for enhanced nursing home subvention from deserving applicants. [18396/04]

Decisions on the amount of nursing home subvention to be paid in individual cases are a matter for each health board in the light of its financial resources and consistent within the provisions of the Health (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1996.

Over recent years my Department provided the board with significant additional expenditure for the subvention scheme. The level of expenditure was increased from €2.5 million in 1996 to €17.3 million in 2003 and represents an increase of nearly €15 million or over 68%. The numbers in receipt of subvention have increased from 461 in 1996 to nearly 1,000 in 2003 and represents an increase of 539 or 117%. Similarly the numbers in receipt of enhanced subvention have increased from 29 in 1996 to over 530 in 2003. In 2004 a further €556,000 was made available to the board for the scheme and the total overall budget rose to €17.959 million.

The expenditure has enabled the board to pay average subventions in excess of the maximum amounts laid down in the nursing home subvention regulations 1993. For example, in 2003 the average subvention paid by the board was €297 per week. In addition approximately 58% of those in receipt of subvention in the Southern Health Board area were paid an amount which, when combined with the non-contributory old age pension rate, amounted to practically the full nursing home charge.

My Department provided €1.8 million in 2003 and €3.8 million in 2004 for the purchase of 112 beds in private nursing homes as part of a delayed discharges initiative aimed at relieving acute bed pressures in Cork city. As many as 270 patients were discharged from acute hospitals to more appropriate accommodation. In 2004 my Department also provided the board with an additional €125,000 to commence the introduction of a new scheme of personal care packages in line with pilot schemes that have operated in a number of health board areas. The funding is being targeted at maintaining older people in their own homes who would otherwise require residential care.

The SHB and I shall continue to monitor the situation to ensure that any difficulties encountered by patients in meeting the costs of nursing home accommodation are minimised.

Hospital Staff.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

24 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps being taken to deal with the shortage of nurses after a recent HSEA survey found that nearly 700 nursing jobs remain unfilled around the country. [18371/04]

The Health Service Employers Agency conducts quarterly surveys of nursing vacancies. Its latest survey is for the month ending 31 March. It contains a breakdown by hospital or health board and voluntary agency and I shall forward a copy to the Deputy.

All sectors reported that recruitment was well ahead of resignations and retirements. However, employers reported that 705 vacancies existed at 31 March 2004, a decrease from 947 vacancies in March 2003. The combination of utilising agency nurses and overtime adequately compensates for the shortfall.

The number of vacancies as at 31 March 2004 represents a substantial decrease from the end of September 2000 when employers reported 1,388 vacancies. The latest figure represents a reduction of 49%.

The current vacancy rate of 1.76% has been declining steadily in recent years. It could be considered as the normal frictional rate given that there will always be some level of movement due to resignations, retirements and nurses availing of opportunities to change employment and locations.

The Government has been concerned about the recruitment and retention of adequate numbers of nursing staff for some time. A number of substantial measures were introduced in recent years. The number of nursing training places was increased by 70% since 1998 to 1,640 from 2002 onwards. A comprehensive range of financial supports were introduced to support nurses in pursuing part-time degrees and specialist courses, including back to practice courses. Since 1998 nurses have been paid for overtime. Previously they were given time off in lieu. The introduction of payment represents a further significant financial incentive for nurses.

In February 2001 I introduced a scheme of flexible working arrangements for nurses and midwives. Individual nurses and midwives may apply to work between eight and 39 hours per week on a permanent, part-time basis. The figure of 33,765 wholetime equivalent nurses working in the health service translates into 40,119 nurses. Of these 29,629 work full-time and 10,490 job-share or work other atypical patterns. More than one quarter of the nursing workforce avails of family-friendly work patterns.

In 1998 there were 26,612 wholetime equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of December 2003 it was 33,765, an increase of over 7,150 during the period or 26.8%. It is clear that the recruitment and retention measures I introduced have proved effective.

The promotional structure in nursing, including the introduction of a clinical career pathway, was substantially improved on foot of the recommendations of the commission on nursing and the nurses' pay settlement in 1999. The national council for the professional development of nursing and midwifery was especially active in the area. To date 1,563 clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner posts have been created.

Figures from An Bord Altranais for the same period indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession. It is over and above those graduating from the Irish system and further increases the potential recruitment pool. Since 1998 there was a total of 19,945 nurses newly registered by the board of which 13,658 were overseas nurses.

The continuing attractiveness of nursing as a career for school leavers and mature code applicants is evident by the number of course applicants. For example, there are 8,300 applications for 1,640 places in the autumn 2004 intake. It is encouraging given that there is an ever-increasing array of attractive alternatives provided by our third level education system.

In late 2003 my Department approved the roll-out of the health care assistant training programme on a national basis. It fulfils a key recommendation of the nursing commission. The main objective of the programme is to upskill health care assistants so that, working under the supervision of nurses, they are enabled to take on a wider range of duties. They will free up nursing resources and will concentrate on nursing tasks exclusively.

Earlier I referred to the HSEA surveys. They also contain data on agency nurses. The average number of agency nurses used per day in 2001, 2002 and 2003 was 434, 401 and 312, respectively. These figures demonstrate a continuous and substantial downward trend in the use of agency nurses.

An extensive range of measures have been introduced to improve the number of nursing staff, including a substantial increase in training places, the recruitment of overseas nurses, a more effective utilisation of the professional skills of nurses and midwives and the close monitoring and assessment of the situation. I am confident that they continue to prove effective in addressing the nursing workforce needs of the health services.

National Treatment Purchase Fund.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

25 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children the average cost of each surgical procedure carried out under the national treatment purchase fund; the average travel cost for the patient and their companion; and if he will compare it with the cost of similar procedures in public hospitals here. [18418/04]

The NTPF purchases procedures from private and public hospitals in Ireland. If it is not possible to treat patients within a reasonable period, either in public or private hospitals, arrangements can be made to refer the public patients for treatment abroad. Quality, availability and cost factors are taken into account.

The majority of procedures funded by the NTPF to date were carried out in private hospitals here. It has not released prices paid for individual procedures for reasons of commercial sensitivity. It assured my Department that the prices negotiated compare favourably with the comparative benchmarks available for the vast majority of procedures.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

26 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Health and Children if, in view of the fact that the incidence of cervical cancer in Ireland is worsening, the roll-out of the national cervical screening programme will be expedited. [18431/04]

Statistics on the incidence of new cancers cases are collated by the national cancer registry. The most up-to-date data for the number of new cases of invasive cervical cancer are for the years 1994 to 2000, inclusive, are as follows:

Year

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

174

155

215

173

188

156

193

The data do not show a significant statistical increase in the number of invasive cervical cancer.

In October 2000 a pilot cervical screening programme commenced in the Mid-Western Health Board region. Screening is offered free of charge to approximately 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group at five year intervals.

The Health Board Executive commissioned an examination of the feasibility and implications of a national roll-out of a cervical screening programme. It is a major undertaking with significant logistical and resource implications. The examination includes an evaluation of the pilot programme, policy development and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The evaluation is a key element in informing the development of a high quality cervical screening model for Ireland. HeBE has advised that when the evaluation report is completed it will prepare a draft plan for the national roll-out of a programme for consideration by my Department.

The number of smear tests carried out nationally has increased by almost 20% in recent years. To meet the increased demand my Department provided an additional cumulative €11 million since 2002 to enhance the laboratory and colposcopy services. The laboratories employed additional personnel, purchased new equipment and introduced new technology thereby increasing the volume of activity. A number of hospitals have also undertaken initiatives such as give smear test analysis contracts to external laboratories. These initiatives have resulted in a reduction in waiting times. For example, the waiting time for routine results at Cork University Hospital was reduced from 129 days at March 2003 to less than 40 days today.

Medical Investigations.

Seán Ryan

Question:

27 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children the outcome of his meeting on 27 May with relatives of patients of a doctor now struck off the medical register who engaged in providing light treatment to seriously ill cancer patients. [18394/04]

On 27 May I met relatives of former patients of the doctor concerned. They outlined their experiences and concerns and sought immediate action to prevent him from providing the treatment. At that stage I undertook to reflect on the matter, to engage in further consultations and to revert to them at a future date. I have since met the Medical Council, the Irish Medicines Board and the Garda Commissioner with a view to exploring any potential sanctions. I intend to meet the relatives shortly to update them on progress made since our initial meeting.

Medical Reports.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

28 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children if he received the report, The Reality of Living with Spinal Cord Injury, published by Spinal Injuries Ireland; and if he will implement its recommendations. [18488/04]

I met representatives of the Spinal Injuries Action Association on two occasions and a number of issues were discussed. I also received a copy of the publication referred to and I have asked my officials to consider its contents.

Question No. 29 answered with QuestionNo. 11.

Water Fluoridation.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

30 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children when he will implement the recommendations contained in the fluoride forum report. [18477/04]

I established the forum to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies here. The report's main conclusion is that the fluoridation should continue as a public health measure.

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

In all the report made 33 recommendations covering a broad range of topics such as research, public awareness, and policy and technical aspects of fluoridation. The expert body recommended by the forum has been established. Its chairperson is Dr. Seamus O'Hickey, former chief dental officer with my Department. His mix of scientific knowledge, awareness of fluoridation issues and experience of administrative issues leave him well placed to chair it. The expert body shall be known as the Irish expert body on fluorides and health and it held its inaugural meeting last April.

The terms of reference are to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the forum on fluoridation; to advise the Minister and evaluate ongoing research, including new emerging issues, on all aspects of fluoride and its delivery methods as an established health technology and as required; and to report to the Minister on matters of concern at his request or on its own initiative.

The expert body has a broad representation, including areas of public health medicine, engineering, management, environmental protection, environmental health, dentistry and health promotion. It will have a strong consumer input in terms of members of the public and representatives of consumer interests, in addition to the necessary scientific, managerial and public health inputs. It will also oversee the implementation of the forum's wide-ranging recommendations and will advise me on all aspects of fluoride in the future.

The secretariat of the body is the Irish Dental Health Foundation. It is an independent charitable trust that has been to the fore in securing co-operation between private and public dentistry and the oral health care industry on joint oral health promotion initiatives. The foundation's stature and expertise place it in an excellent position to support the forum's work in its initial stage. The forum's report envisages that the work of the expert body may be subsumed into the health information quality authority in due course.

Mental Health Services.

Joan Burton

Question:

31 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children the waiting time for child and adolescent psychiatric services in each health board area in view of the serious deficiencies in same; the financial allocation for 2004 to develop the services; and the progress made in establishing a database. [18360/04]

In June 2000 the Minister established a working group on child and adolescent psychiatry. It was tasked with recommending how child and adolescent psychiatric services should be developed in the short, medium and long-term to meet identified needs. Its first report was published in March 2001. It recommended the enhancement and expansion of the overall child and adolescent psychiatric service, including the recruitment of additional consultant child and adolescent psychiatrists.

Since 1997 additional funding of almost €19 million was provided to allow for the appointment of additional consultants in child and adolescent psychiatry, for the enhancement of existing consultant led multidisciplinary teams and towards the establishment of further teams. It resulted in a considerable expansion in the number of professionals employed in the mental health sector. For example, since 1997 an extra 19 child and adolescent psychiatrists posts have been funded. There are now 52 child and adolescent psychiatrists in place. These developments have had a positive impact on the waiting times for initial psychiatric assessment.

To date the working group has made recommendations on the organisation of services for the treatment and management of attention deficit hyperactive disorder, the provision of child and adolescent psychiatric inpatient units and the provision of services for 16 to 18 year olds.

My Department does not routinely collect information on the number of children on the waiting list for psychiatric assessment and the waiting times for such assessments. In the course of its work on services for 16 to 18 year olds the working group noted a lack of information on referrals and non-attendees at outpatient clinics. Among its recommendations was the establishment of a database on this area. The recommendation will be considered in the context of the Estimates process for 2005 and subsequent years.

The future direction and delivery of all aspects of our mental health services, including child and adolescent psychiatry, will be considered in the context of the work of the expert group on mental health policy. I expect the group to submit a report in 2005.

Infectious Disease Screening Service.

Denis Naughten

Question:

32 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children if he is satisfied with the co-ordination of the asylum seekers’ health screening programme; his views on whether it is being carried out in an effective manner and patients receive follow-up treatment. [18411/04]

Operational responsibility for health screening for asylum seekers lies with the health boards that have appropriate regional and local management structures to deliver the programme. In 2004 more than €3 million was allocated to health boards to fund the health screening. The funding is provided on an ongoing basis.

Routine infectious diseases services are provided in all health board areas. In addition, an infectious disease screening service is provided for new asylum seekers. Shortly after their arrival a voluntary, confidential and free screening is offered to them. Its purpose is to detect and treat certain infectious diseases. This is done in the interests of the asylum seekers, their families and the community in general.

Usually the initial screening takes place at reception centres in Dublin where asylum seekers may reside for five days or more. It continues when they are relocated to other health board regions. Those who do not receive screening in Dublin are offered the service following relocation to other regions. When asylum seekers are accommodated outside of the Eastern Regional Health Authority area the relevant health board is advised on whether screening took place so that appropriate steps can be taken to offer the service where necessary.

The approach adopted for communicable disease screening for asylum seekers is reviewed on an ongoing basis by a group representative of the directors of public health and my Department. The current guidelines recommend screening for TB and hepatitis B and, where appropriate, for HIV, polio and varicella zoster or chickenpox. The guidelines do not preclude other investigations deemed necessary on clinical or public health grounds.

Care of the Elderly.

Mary Upton

Question:

33 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention was drawn to the recent poll of general practitioners commissioned by the Alzheimer Society of Ireland that shows that nine out of ten doctors believe that the State is failing to deliver proper care for people with the disease; and the steps being taken to ensure that persons with the condition receive adequate care. [18390/04]

My Department's policy on providing adequate services for patients suffering from Alzheimer's disease is as set out in the report, An Action Plan for Dementia. It was published by the National Council on Ageing and Older People in 1999. This commitment is endorsed in the 2001 health strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You.

A number of initiatives were taken to improve dementia services. Significant additional funding was made available for the express purpose of providing assistance to carers, including carers of Alzheimer's sufferers. Additional funding was made available to the Alzheimer's Society of Ireland to expand its services, particularly its day care services. A number of new community nursing units of older people had been constructed in recent years. They provide respite and day care for people with dementia. In addition, a number of extended care facilities operated by the health boards have been adapted to provide dedicated units for dementia sufferers as part of their overall accommodation. I will continue to work with health agencies to provide improved facilities for those with dementia.

General Medical Services Scheme.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

34 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children when he will publish the report commissioned from a company (details supplied) on the GMS, in view of the fact that it is over a year since a draft was submitted to him; if the report was brought to Government; and if he will implement the report’s recommendations. [18382/04]

As I have stated previously in response to a similar question, my Department received a draft copy of the Deloitte & Touche consultancy review of governance and accountability mechanisms in the GMS schemes in February 2003. While it was being considered by my officials the Brennan report, Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service, and the Prospectus report, Audit of Structures and Functions in the Health System, were published. Their content and recommendations were relevant to the subject matter of the GMS review. Therefore, my Department requested Deloitte & Touche to update its draft report and have regard to the latest financial data from the general medical services payments board. I still intend to bring the review to Government. Afterwards its publication and implementation will be discussed.

Organ Retention.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

35 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date by the Dunne inquiry into the retention of organs of deceased children; the date a report will be published; and the steps being taken to address the concerns of the families affected. [18388/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

200 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health and Children the objectives of the Dunne inquiry; its background; and when a report is expected. [18571/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 200 together.

The inquiry is chaired by Ms Anne Dunne, SC. It was asked to review postmortem policy, practice and procedures in all hospitals in the State since 1970, particularly relating to organ removal, retention and disposal. Following consultations that I had with the chairman in late 2002, it was agreed that the inquiry would give priority to the completion of its work in respect of postmortem issues in paediatric hospitals with a view to furnishing a report by the end of 2003. This would be followed by a second report on postmortem issues in maternity hospitals and a third report on other hospitals.

In recent correspondence the inquiry informed me that it has not proved possible to complete the report on paediatric hospitals within the timeframe as matters have taken longer to conclude than previously anticipated.

The inquiry advised that, with some exceptions, the information gathering on paediatric hospitals is complete. The analysis of information and establishing which matters remain in dispute has concluded. The inquiry must deal with the resolution of matters in dispute and the conclusion of its report. This involves communication to participants of matters in dispute; written evidence on matters in dispute; such oral hearings as are necessary on matters in dispute; resolution of such matters; and an opportunity for participants to make submissions where the report proposes to make criticisms.

The inquiry further advised that it has at all times kept in mind the need to proceed with its work on maternity hospitals as soon as the paediatric hospitals report was completed. It continued to work in this regard to ensure that all documentation will be available to the inquiry when required. Preparation for reports on other hospitals continues but its primary concern at present is the completion of the report on paediatric hospitals.

Parents for Justice represents a number of families affected by the retention of organs. Despite the fact that it decided to withdraw from the inquiry process in 2002, my Department continued to assist it in providing support to families. To date €814,011 was granted to PFJ.

Hospital Services.

Brendan Howlin

Question:

36 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention was drawn to the claim made by a person (details supplied) that intense pressure on the accident and emergency unit of Beaumont Hospital over the past year has resulted in neurology patients from all over the State finding it increasingly difficult to be admitted to have conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s disease investigated; and the steps being taken to deal with the problem and to ensure that all such patients receive prompt examination and treatment. [18370/04]

The Eastern Region Health Authority is charged with responsibility for commissioning health and personal social services on behalf of the population of the region. It also carries out the task on behalf of those outside the region who are referred for specialist treatment. Services at Beaumont Hospital are provided under an arrangement with the authority. My Department has asked the authority's regional cheif executive officer to investigate the issue and to reply directly to the Deputy.

Medical Investigations.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

37 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress of the inquiry being held into the death of a person (details supplied) in County Cavan; and when he will receive the final report. [18375/04]

Following the tragic death of the child concerned, the North Eastern Health Board established an expert group to undertake an urgent review of all factors involved. The group completed its review. The board received a detailed and comprehensive report and it is considering the report.

Hospital Services.

Damien English

Question:

38 Mr. English asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on research carried out by the ESRI on activity levels in 20 hospitals here between 1998 and 2002, inclusive; and if he will tackle the discrepancies in performance and value for money between some public hospitals. [18453/04]

Case mix is an internationally accepted management system for the monitoring and evaluation of health services. The health strategy states "...the most developed system for assessing comparative efficiency and for creating incentives for good performance is case mix." At present the programme operates in 34 hospitals nationally.

Arising from the national case mix programme my Department reviews performance across the public hospitals generally. It also discusses the results with hospital management to encourage performance and value for money improvements.

Case mix is used as part of the budgetary process to base funding on measured costs and activity rather than on less objective systems of resource allocation and to fund hospitals based on their mix of cases. It is also used in a broad way when considering investment options with the acute hospital sector, bed capacity and the national treatment purchase fund.

Following a recent review of the case mix system, the national programme will be significantly enhanced and expanded. The review will be applied to all acute hospital encounters and all acute and sub-acute hospitals by the end of the decade. It is intended that at least 50% of acute hospital funding will be based on peer group related case mix performance by 2009. This is a major development in the system. It will greatly enhance resource allocation, evaluation of investment and value for money aspects in the health sector.

Organ Transpants.

John Perry

Question:

39 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Health and Children the estimated cost of one heart and lung transplant at the new heart and lung transplant unit at the Mater Hospital. [18424/04]

John Perry

Question:

82 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Health and Children when the first heart and lung transplant will take place at the Mater Hospital, Dublin. [18422/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 39 and 82 together.

Services at the hospital are provided under an arrangement with the ERHA. My Department is advised that it proposes to carry out three lung transplants this year. It hopes to increase the level of activity to at least 15 transplants per annum as the programme develops. In addition, an agreement is in place with the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, that provides for a minimum of 15 lung transplants to be performed on Irish patients in the 12 month period to 31 March 2005, subject to the availability of suitable organs. The position can be further reviewed in the event of additional donor organs being available.

Once the programme is established the marginal cost per transplant patient, assuming fixed payroll costs, will be €115,000. The estimated cost includes the cost of the extensive assessment programme and post-operative treatment for patients who receive a transplant. It is anticipated that more than eight to ten additional heart transplants will result from the expanded organ donor pool.

Water Fluoridation.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

40 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason no comprehensive health tests were carried out on fluoride levels in Irish persons. [18478/04]

The general health status of people participating in the 1990 adult dental health survey of Ireland was assessed. General health was measured using the criteria developed by the American Society of Anaesthesiologists.

The fluoridation forum reported that the results of this part of the survey showed that there was no difference in the general health status of persons residing in fluoridated and non-fluoridated communities. A similar examination of general health status was undertaken as part of the current national oral health survey.

I established the forum to review the fluoridation of public piped water supplies in Ireland. Its report was launched on 10 September 2002. Its main conclusion was that the fluoridation of public piped water supplies should continue as a public health measure.

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

Cancer Treatment Services.

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

41 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects that the national cancer strategy will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18368/04]

As I have previously advised the House, the national cancer forum is developing a new national cancer strategy which is expected to be completed later this year. This strategy will build on the progress that has been made during the implementation of the 1996 national cancer strategy and set out the key priority areas to be targeted for the development of cancer services over the coming years. It will have regard to developments and best practice in other jurisdictions and will make recommendations in relation to the organisation and structure of cancer services nationally.

A significant body of work has been undertaken in the development of the strategy to date. Representatives of the national cancer forum have met with representatives of the ERHA and all health boards. The forum wrote to more than 90 professional bodies, voluntary bodies, and other stakeholders in order to obtain their views on cancer treatment services. Members of the public have been consulted through advertisements placed in the media.

As part of the preparation of the new strategy, an evaluation of the extent to which the objectives of the 1996 strategy have been met was carried out by Deloitte & Touche consultants and published last December. The key goal of the 1996 national cancer strategy was to achieve a 15% decrease in mortality from cancer in the under 65 year age group in the ten-year period from 1994. The Deloitte & Touche evaluation demonstrated that this reduction was achieved in 2001, which was three years ahead of target.

Sub-groups of the national cancer forum were established on generic screening, organisation of cancer services, evaluation and outcomes, evidence based medicine, genetics, nursing and patient issues. The work of these subgroups is informing the development of the new strategy.

In relation to the implementation of the 1996 national cancer strategy, since 1997, there has been a cumulative additional investment of approximately €550 million in the development of cancer services. This includes an additional sum of €15 million which was allocated in 2004 for cancer services. This substantial investment has enabled the funding of 92 additional consultant posts in key areas such as medical oncology, radiology, palliative care, histopathology, haematology and radiation oncology. An additional 245 clinical nurse specialists have also been appointed in the cancer services area.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

42 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding his consideration of the report of the pharmacy review group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18377/04]

I established the pharmacy review group in November 2001 to examine the pharmacy issues raised in the OECD report on regulatory reform in Ireland. I am continuing to examine the complex legal and public health issues in the group's recommendations. The report is available on my Department's website,www.doh.ie, along with reports prepared for the group by Indecon International economic consultants.

Cancer Treatment Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

43 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children the actions he has taken following the publication of Patterns of Care and Survival from Cancer in Ireland 1994-1998 by the national cancer registry 2004 which provided strong evidence that cancer treatment and survival can depend on where the person lives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18416/04]

Michael D. Higgins

Question:

84 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the recent report from the national cancer registry which shows that cancer treatment and survival rates depend on the region a person lives in; the steps he is taking to ensure that there is a consistent level of treatment all over the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18369/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 84 together.

The national cancer registry report, Patterns of Care and Survival from Cancer in Ireland 1994-1998 was researched and published at the request of the national cancer forum as part of the development of the new national cancer strategy. The report examined four cancers, breast, colorectal, lung and prostate in respect of patients diagnosed between 1994 and 1998. For two of the four cancers, breast and colorectal, there were significant differentials between the Eastern Regional Health Authority and other areas of the country in cancer survival. The outcome for lung and prostate cancer did not vary significantly.

At my request, the chief medical officer of my Department has referred the report to the chief executive officers and directors of public health in each health board-ERHA area to assess the findings contained in the report and the implications for the delivery of current services. I have also asked the national cancer forum, to assess the implications of the study and advise on its findings in the context of the new cancer strategy being developed. The findings contained in the report will provide an essential baseline for further research which is to be conducted by the national cancer registry.

The true measure of success of a targeted strategy such as the cancer strategy is a reduction in mortality. The key goal of the 1996 national cancer strategy was to achieve a 15% decrease in mortality in cancer in the under-65 age group in the ten-year period from 1994. An independent evaluation of the 1996 strategy carried out by Deloitte & Touche management consultants and published late last year shows that this objective was achieved in 2001, three years ahead of target.

The report covers the period 1994 to 1998 and since then significant developments in cancer services have taken place. The overall additional cumulative funding in cancer services in this country since 1997 is in excess of €550 million, including an additional €15 million revenue which I allocated this year. An additional 92 consultant posts in key areas of cancer treatment and 245 clinical nurse specialists across all health board areas have been funded. There has also been approximately €95 million in capital funding allocated specifically for the development of cancer related initiatives. These include an investment of €60 million in radiation oncology, and €11.9 million in BreastCheck.

The investment and appointments in cancer services have resulted in substantial increases in activity levels across the three modalities of care of radiation oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology. For example, since 1996 the annual number of discharges of patients receiving chemotherapy has more than doubled, from 22,000 in 1996 to more than 50,000 in 2002. Similarly, for radiotherapy the increase in discharges reported at Cork University Hospital increased from fewer than 7,000 cases in 1996 to nearly 15,000 in 2002. There has been a 36% increase nationally in surgical procedures for breast cancer, with an additional 500 procedures performed in 2002 compared to 1997.

Last year I announced the extension of the BreastCheck programme to counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and also the national roll-out to the southern and western counties. Screening commenced in Wexford in March of this year.

The report, The Development of Radiation Oncology Services in Ireland, provides the basis of Government policy in relation to the development and organisation of radiation oncology services. This report, which was developed by an expert working group under the chairmanship of Professor Donal Hollywood, has received considerable international endorsement. The first phase of this programme will be the development of a network of large clinical centres in Dublin Cork and Galway which will permit a rapid increase in patient access and also form a backbone for future service expansion. Already, substantial progress is being made in implementing the report's recommendations. In 2004, an additional €3.5 million is being used to develop the services at the supra regional centres at University College Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital. 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. I have provided for the appointment of an additional five consultant radiation oncologists. Recruitment for these posts is under way. We 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.

In relation to other areas of cancer services, significant work is also being undertaken. Under the Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium, awards to the value of €3.5 million are enabling Irish hospitals develop their infrastructure to enable them to carry out high quality clinical trials. Irish hospitals will be able to participate in world-class clinical trials involving the latest advances, helping to ensure that these new and effective treatments are available more readily to patients as a result of this funding.

The new national cancer strategy will target investment for cancer services over the next number of years and will make recommendations in relation to the development and organisation of services nationally. The strategy will also provide a mechanism for the development, implementation, monitoring and updating of clinical guidelines for the treatment of cancer.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

44 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the efforts made by his Department to establish the extent of the public waiting list of each consultant; if it is his intention to make such information available to patients and referring general practitioners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18398/04]

Responsibility for the collection and collation of data on waiting lists and waiting times now rests with the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. The NTPF is working closely with health boards and individual hospitals to obtain information on patients and the specific surgical procedure required in each case. The information collected by the NTPF is collected by hospital and specialty rather than by individual consultant.

As the NTPF evolves into its new role of collecting and reporting data on waiting lists and waiting times, I anticipate that in the future the fund will have available to it information on the waiting lists of individual consultants. In that event, I expect that this information would be available to general practitioners to aid their decision in referring patients to consultants. The sharing of waiting list data with GPs is in keeping with the commitment given in the health strategy to make such information available.

Foster Care.

Seán Crowe

Question:

45 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will extend fostering allowances to give greater support to extended families, particularly to grandparents, who are looking after grandchildren in the absence of parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [17543/04]

The foster care allowance can only be paid in respect of children who are taken into the care of the health board and placed in foster care or relative care in accordance with the Child Care Regulations 1995.

In 1998 the then Minister of State in the Department of Health set up a working group on foster care. The task of the working group was to make recommendations on all aspects of foster care. The issue of relative care was dealt with in detail in the 2001 report of the working group, entitled Foster Care — A Child Centred Partnership. The report sets out a number of basic principles that should guide placements with relatives. These are that the best interests of the child are paramount; that the child should be placed only in an appropriate, safe, healthy and stable environment; that the standard of care must be equivalent to that provided in a traditional foster care arrangement; that relative placements should only be made where a secure attachment exists or has the potential to develop between the child and the relative concerned; that a partnership approach should be used in developing skills and supports for relatives providing foster care; and that placements should not be made as a means to provide income support.

The working group considered the possibility that some children are placed in the care of the health boards in order to provide income support for the family in relation to the child. The group was strongly of the view that such a practice would be highly inappropriate. Income support is a matter for the Department of Social and Family Affairs and those in need of such support should contact that Department. The working group stated that children should only be brought into the care of the health boards if they meet the criteria regarding the need for care and protection set out in the Child Care Act. In addition, the choice of placement of any child in the care system should be based on the particular child's individual best interests.

Under the current legislation, a health board must assess the needs of a child placed in care and the suitability of the prospective foster or relative carers, and draw up a child care plan. The implementation of the child care plan places significant responsibilities and duties on foster carers, whether relatives or non-relatives. The foster care allowance is paid in recognition of these additional responsibilities and the additional costs of looking after foster children.

In view of the consideration given by the working group on foster care to the issue of relative care, my Department has no current plans to review the Child Care Act 1991 or the Child Care Regulations 1995 in this regard.

Mental Health Services.

John Gormley

Question:

46 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of anti-depressants prescribed each year here, in particular the number of anti-depressants prescribed under the medical card; if he intends to introduce measures to decrease the number of anti-depressants given out to persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18485/04]

Pat Breen

Question:

57 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on a recent television programme (details supplied) regarding the number of persons taking anti-depressants here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18437/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 57 together.

Prescriptions are issued by health professionals based on the symptoms of the presenting patient at the time of consultation. The level of medication prescribed, therefore, is a matter of clinical decision for the particular doctor involved.

Prescriptions for anti-depressants may be issued by either general practitioners or consultants in a variety of locations, including general practice, community psychiatric facilities or private or public psychiatric hospitals. Figures provided by the General Medical Services (Payments) Board for the year ending 31 December 2003 show that 205,764 medical cardholders were prescribed anti-depressants at a cost of €34,404,555. A total of 1,178 people were prescribed anti-depressants under the long-term illness scheme at a cost of €203,761 while statistics for the drugs payment scheme, DPS, indicate that 92,022 people were prescribed anti-depressants at a cost of €16,197,705. With regard to the drugs payment scheme, my Department does not have access to information where monthly expenditure by an individual in a community pharmacy is less than the monthly DPS threshold of €78. The above figures do not include certain categories of patients resident in the Eastern Regional Health Authority Area for whom separate arrangements are in place. I have asked the Eastern Regional Health Authority to forward the additional information directly to the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

An expert group on mental health policy was established in August 2003 to prepare a new national policy framework for the mental health services, updating the 1984 policy document, Planning for the Future. The group consists of 18 widely experienced people who are serving in their personal capacity. The membership encompasses a wide range of knowledge and a balance of views on many issues affecting the performance and delivery of care in our mental health services. All areas of mental health policy and service provision will be examined in the course of the group's work.

Clinical Indemnity Scheme.

Seán Ryan

Question:

47 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made by the working group on the development of a no-fault compensation system for birth-damaged children; when he expects the group to report; if he will seek to expedite the introduction of proposals in this area, having regard to the recent awards in the High Court and the increasing difficulties facing practitioners, especially obstetricians, in finding insurance cover; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18385/04]

The advisory group examining the feasibility of introducing a no-fault compensation scheme for brain-damaged infants has met regularly since its establishment in July 2001. The group has conducted an extensive investigation of the clinical and legal issues involved in the handling of those cases. It has also examined existing levels of service provision for those affected by cerebral damage. The group has had a presentation made to it by parents of children affected by cerebral damage on the day-to-day implications of providing care for them at home. It has also examined prevention strategies and the effects of reforms introduced in the United Kingdom on the handling of claims for compensation for injuries resulting from the provision of clinical care. As the group has already indicated its intention of completing its work by the end of this year, I feel that it would not be appropriate to ask it to expedite the process.

The Government has already taken measures to ensure that professional indemnity cover for all consultants in the private sector remains affordable. The cover which consultants, with the exception of obstetricians, need to purchase is capped at €1 million in respect of each and every claim against them. In the case of obstetricians the cover which they need to purchase is capped at €500,000 in each and every case with the further protection of an annual and aggregate cap for each doctor of €1.5 million. As a result of these measures Irish consultant obstetricians in private practice pay €100,000 per annum for their cover rather than the true economic rate of €350,000

Medical Investigations.

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

48 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects to receive the report of the independent review into the circumstances of the death of a person (details supplied); the reason for the long delay in finalising this report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18381/04]

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

The terms of reference of the panel are to consider the report of the ERHA in relation to the events of 30 June 2003 at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Dublin and to make such further inquiries and conduct such interviews as the panel considers necessary; to address the questions raised by the family; to examine protocols and procedures relevant to this incident having regard to prevailing standards of best practice, and to examine their application in this case; and to report to the Minister and to make such recommendations as it sees fit. Following the review, both reports will be made available.

The work of the review panel is ongoing and I am not in a position at this stage to comment on its work or to say when the report will become available.

Infectious Disease Screening Service.

Simon Coveney

Question:

49 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Health and Children the health measures or plans he has introduced or intends to introduce, in view of the release of statistics from the National Disease Surveillance Centre that STI’s, particularly hepatitis B, increased significantly in 2002 when compared with 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18413/04]

Recent statistics published by the National Disease Surveillance Centre, NDSC, show that, in 2002, 10,471 cases of sexually transmitted infections were notified to the NDSC. This compares with 9,703 cases notified in 2001 and represents an increase of 7.9%. Statistics in relation to hepatitis B infection show that 57 cases were notified to the NDSC in 2002, compared with 39 notified cases in 2001. Clearly these increases are a cause for concern.

Much of the increase in STIs during 2002 is likely to be associated with an increase in unsafe sexual behaviour. However, the NDSC reports anecdotal evidence that improved acceptability of STI clinic services, greater public and professional awareness of STIs and improvements in diagnostic tests have also contributed to the increases in identification and reporting of STIs. The NDSC also report that the increase in infectious hepatitis B notification since 1999 may reflect the introduction of screening programmes. Asylum seekers currently undergo health screening, including testing for hepatitis B infection. The high proportion of female cases notified may also be a result of antenatal screening of pregnant women in maternity hospitals.

The report of the national AIDS strategy committee, NASC, which was published in 2000, makes a range of recommendations for dealing with HIV-AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. My Department through the national AIDS strategy committee and its sub-committees on education and prevention, surveillance and care and management is currently working to implement these recommendations.

The care and management sub-committee of NASC visited the hospitals and health boards involved in the provision of services to people with HIV-AIDS and STIs. The purpose of these visits was to identify gaps and make recommendations for the future direction of treatment services. The report of the sub-committee is currently being finalised.

Education is an important aspect in raising awareness of the dangers of engaging in risky sexual behaviour which could result in transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Health boards undertake information and awareness activities at regional level and amongst the issues addressed is the prevention of sexually-transmitted infection. Where appropriate, the health boards work in conjunction with and fund voluntary organisations in this regard.

The health promotion unit of my Department is involved in and supports a range of initiatives aimed at preventing and raising awareness of HIV-AIDS and other STIs. These initiatives include national public awareness advertising campaigns aimed at men and women in the 18 to 35 age group. The campaign which has been running for several years in third level colleges, bars, clubs and youth clubs has recently been revised by the health promotion unit and now targets an increased number of venues. The health promotion unit also produces a range of awareness raising leaflets on STIs and safe sex practices. These are available through the health promotion departments in each health board area. A national survey of sexual knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in Ireland funded by my Department and the Crisis Pregnancy Agency will commence in 2004.

Almost €5.5 million additional funding has been provided to health boards since 1997 to address the problems of HIV-AIDS and other STIs. This has resulted in a substantial increase in the facilities in place. At present there are seven consultants specialising in the treatment of HIV-AIDS and STIs — five of these are in Dublin, one of whom deals with children, and one in Cork. The Western Health Board has recently appointed a new infectious diseases consultant. My Department will continue to closely monitor the position in relation to HIV-AIDS and other STIs.

Departmental Expenditure.

Liz McManus

Question:

50 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children if his Department has made an estimate of the amount required to bring into operation facilities in the health service that are built but not yet commissioned; if his Department has an estimate of the amount of public money spent on these facilities; the steps he is taking to secure the funding to allow them to be brought into operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18357/04]

Various funding issues, including the commissioning of new units, featured in the discussions during the 2004 Estimates campaign and have also arisen in the normal contacts between officials of my Department and the Department of Finance.

A proposal for the opening of new units that are completed or nearing completion, but not yet commissioned were recently developed by my Department. Discussions are taking place between the two Departments in relation to the revenue costs of the proposal and the impact of the proposal on staffing levels. The proposal estimated that the revenue cost of opening these new units was in the region of €35 million in 2004, with additional costs of €48 million in 2005 and €16 million in 2006 to enable the units to be funded on a full-year basis. The estimated capital cost required to bring these projects to commissioning stage is approximately €25 million. The capital cost to date on these facilities has been approximately €440 million. Some of these units are already partially in use as they are replacing old and outdated facilities.

Question No. 51 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

General Practitioner Co-operatives.

Richard Bruton

Question:

52 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the implications on the out-of-hours services for general practitioner co-operatives following the implementation of the recommendations of the Hanly report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18401/04]

My Department acknowledges the crucial role which general practice plays in the delivery of primary care services. This is recognised in the primary care strategy which envisages a multidisciplinary team model, with the GP as a key member. The primary care task force is examining the provision of primary care across the country.

The Hanly report makes a number of recommendations in relation to the future provision of primary care. The report recommended that we put in place a consultant-provided service, provide a wider range of appropriate services and procedures in local hospitals and further resource and strengthen primary care. This will mean a better service for patients. The report emphasises that the planning and provision of acute hospital care cannot take place in isolation from primary care. The report notes that primary care has the potential to meet 90% to 95% of all health care needs provided it is properly structured and resourced. In this context, the report provided for a 50% increase in GP numbers in its medical staffing projections.

At the core of the Hanly report is the decentralisation of a large proportion of elective care and other services to smaller hospitals like Nenagh, Ennis and St. Columcille's. Properly resourced local hospitals can do much more working in partnership with GPs and other communication and primary care services. The implications of the Hanly report recommendations for the provision of out-of-hours services for general practitioner co-operatives will be examined in this context.

The funding provided for out-of-hours co-operatives between 2000 and 2003 totalled €46.5 million including an additional amount of €4.143 million in 2003 for further expansions. The total funding available in 2004 amounts to €24.048 million. These funds have been included into health boards' base allocation for the continued provision of services under this heading. This dedicated funding is exclusive of the fees paid to participating general practitioners. At present there are out of hours co-operatives in all health board areas.

Health Reform Programme.

David Stanton

Question:

53 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress to date on appointing a chief executive for the Health Service Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18432/04]

The position of chief executive officer of the interim Health Service Executive is an important role in the implementation of the health service reform programme. Responsibility for the recruitment of a chief executive officer is a matter for the board of the interim Health Service Executive and a comprehensive recruitment campaign is under way.

Research Findings.

John Gormley

Question:

54 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of hours sleep received by the average person here; if this represents a decrease on previous generations; his views on the problem of sleep deficit; the action he intends to take to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18484/04]

I wish to advise the Deputy that I am not aware of any research indicating that Irish people are sleeping less and therefore I am not in a position to comment on the matter further. However, the National Health Promotion Strategy 2000 — 2005 identifies strategic aims and objectives that contribute to the overall health improvement of the Irish population.

EU Directives.

Liz McManus

Question:

55 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding the application of the European working time directive to non-consultant hospital doctors; the details of the latest assessment of the implications for staffing levels in hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18358/04]

Pádraic McCormack

Question:

88 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has satisfied himself that the State’s health service will comply with the European working time directive for non-consultant hospital doctors by the deadline of 1 August 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18439/04]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

194 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the outcome of negotiations which have taken place between his Department and the unions representing managerial staff, ECG technicians, phlebotomists, ward clerks, porters and others with a view to ending the practice whereby up to 17% of the long hours worked by NCHDs is accounted for by carrying out at night and at weekends hospital duties more appropriate to these grades; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18510/04]

Jerry Cowley

Question:

195 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children if he intends to allocate additional funding to give effect to the European working time directive; the contingency arrangements he has prepared, including the curtailment of services when dictated by inadequate medical staffing, in the absence of sufficient extra staffing and resources to enable the introduction of the directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18511/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 55, 88, 194 and 195 together.

The European working time directive, EWTD, requires a reduction in the average weekly working hours of non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, to 58 hours by 1 August, 2004 and ultimately to 48 hours by 2009. The national task force on medical staffing which produced the Hanly report has reiterated the measures that must be progressed to reduce NCHD hours, while providing safe, high quality acute hospital services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Responsibility for human resource planning rests with the chief executive officer of each health board. Each CEO in managing the workforce in his or her region is responsible for determining the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff to be employed in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining within the approved regional employment ceiling.

As far as medical personnel are concerned, the Hanly report details the number of consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors that will be required in the coming years to provide a high quality, consultant-provided service. An implementation phase will obviously be required to achieve this reconfiguration. The ability to deliver effective training to our doctors while maintaining a demanding medical service in a new model is significant in its own right. I am convinced, however, that this also presents a unique opportunity to improve training, services and the working lifestyles of all NCHDs.

The Deputies will be aware that the report of the national joint steering group on the working hours of non-consultant hospitals doctors identified a range of activities which could be delivered by other health professionals within a within a multidisciplinary team. It suggested a reconfiguration of service and enhanced skills mix which could improve the quality of service to patients and remove inappropriate duties from NCHDs. This would also enhance the skills and broaden the range of capabilities of other health professionals. Work has been ongoing in implementing these recommendations. One example of this is the imminent introduction of a new training programme for phlebotomists which is expected to come into operation later this year. It is clear, however, that more work must be done and that full co-operation from all stakeholders is now required to establish groups at local level, incorporating the appropriate mix of doctors, nurses, local management and other grades to progress these discussions on skill mix issues.

A national co-ordinator and support team have been seconded to oversee the implementation of the European working time directive in the health agencies. In addition, medical manpower managers, appointed as part of the NCHD 2000 agreement, are helping to oversee the reduction in NCHD working hours on the ground. They are playing an essential role in the phased implementation of these aspects of the Hanly report, and helping to ensure compliance with the requirements of the directive. Latest returns indicate that in excess of 60% of NCHDs will be compliant with the 58 hours requirement of the directive by 1 August 2004. Difficulties will arise, however, in ensuring full compliance with the specific provisions of the directive, especially those relating to rest breaks and compensatory rest. These issues are being actively reviewed and progressed on an ongoing basis in so far as is possible without having the substantive engagement or necessary agreement of the Irish Medical Organisation.

As the Deputies are aware, time is of the essence in this process. Management representatives have been ready and willing to participate in local working groups, representatives of key stakeholders, to implement these measures. These groups would also monitor progress in relation to the reduction in NCHD hours. One of the problems facing management in implementing the directive's requirements is the lack of substantive engagement by the Irish Medical Organisation, the Irish Hospital Consultants' Organisation and some of the medical training colleges. The refusal of the IMO to establish or participate in local implementation groups, the failure to reach any agreement on the industrial relations issues and the limited and individualised response from some of the colleges on the training-rostering issues are causing significant and ongoing difficulties in relation to implementation. The difficulties being faced in this regard have already been outlined to the European Commission in the Department's response to its consultation document on the review of the European working time directive.

Management has also been pressing to establish a national implementation group to co-ordinate the work being undertaken at local level, to provide guidance and to monitor progress. These groups at both national and local level should include appropriate hospital managers, consultants, NCHDs and other relevant healthcare professionals. The need to establish these groups has been discussed with the Irish Medical Organisation at the ongoing meetings in the Labour Relations Commission. Full co-operation from all the relevant stakeholders is vital in establishing these groups, to implement these measures that the medical organisations have been lobbying for many years to achieve.

I am aware that resource requirements may arise in the context of the work to be undertaken by both the local and national groups when agreement to their establishment is finally obtained. Such requirements will be considered in the context of the overall agreement that must be reached in relation to the implementation of the directive.

Responsibility for service provision within each health board-region is a matter for each chief executive officer concerned. This includes the preparation of contingency arrangements to address any situation which might affect the provision of services.

The deadlines imposed by the European working time directive will be difficult to meet, assuming the full co-operation of the key stakeholders concerned. I again call on the stakeholders concerned to participate with and co-operate with the necessary implementation processes. I think it is important to state that we face the same hurdles as many of our EU colleagues. They too are grappling with how to provide top quality health services while complying with the requirements of the directive. Every effort has been made and continues to be made to achieve compliance. The current difficulties in no way alleviate our legal obligations and only serve to emphasise the growing urgency of making the necessary progress to achieve implementation. I again call on all interested parties to play their part in achieving a healthier and safer working environment for doctors in training and equally important, the safer provision of services to patients.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Mary Upton

Question:

56 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to claims made by the Federation of Irish Nursing Homes that more than 1,000 elderly patients in nursing homes are being asked to pay top up fees of between €60 and €80 per week due to the fact that health boards have failed to increase subvention payments; the steps he intends to take to address this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18389/04]

I understand that the Federation of Irish Nursing Homes represents private nursing homes in the eastern part of the country in the area for which the Eastern Regional Health Authority has responsibility.

In accordance with Nursing Home (Subvention) Regulations, 1993, three rates of subvention are payable. They are €114.30, €152.40 and €190.50 per week in respect of the three levels of dependency which are medium, high and maximum. The subvention rates were increased by 25% with effect from April 2001.

Under the terms of section 22.3 and 22.4 of the Nursing Home (Subvention) Regulations, a health board may, at its discretion, pay more than the maximum rate of subvention in particular circumstances such as, for example, where an individual's personal funds are exhausted or where an individual is unable to meet the gap between the nursing home charge and the amount which he/she can contribute. The application of these provisions is a matter for the individual health board concerned in the context of meeting increasing demands for subvention within the board's revenue allocation as notified in the letter of determination. This is in keeping with the provisions of the Health (Amendment) (No 3) Act, 1996.

In the case of the Eastern Regional Health Authority administrative area there were on average 2,642 people in receipt of subvention in 2003. On average 1,359 persons in receipt of subvention were fully subvented, in other words, the full cost of their accommodation was paid with, in some cases, a contribution from them. A further 699 or 26% were in receipt of enhanced subvention at a rate above the maximum rate approved for their level of dependency. In 2003 the total spent on the nursing home subvention scheme in the Eastern Regional Health Authority amounted to approximately €63 million with the demand for subvention continuing to grow.

It is open to any individual who finds himself/herself unable to afford the cost of nursing home care to make an application to his/her local health board for a subvention towards the cost.

Question No. 57 answered with QuestionNo. 46.

Cardiovascular Health Strategy.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

58 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children when a cardiologist will be appointed at Tralee General Hospital in view of the fact that County Kerry has the highest rate of cardiac related illness in the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18492/04]

I have recently allocated additional annual funding of €500,000 to the Southern Health Board towards implementation of the cardiovascular health strategy. This additional funding will allow the board to begin the planning process for the appointment of a consultant cardiologist to Tralee General Hospital, develop its cardiac rehabilitation services and expand its first responder project.

National Health Strategy.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

59 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has received the report, Health in Ireland — An Unequal State, published by the Public Health Alliance of Ireland; the action he proposes to take on its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18489/04]

I am aware of the report by the Public Health Alliance to which the Deputy refers and the material contained therein in relation to health inequalities.

The Deputy will be aware that both the National Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You, and various reports of the chief medical officer, in particular the annual report of the chief medical officer 1999 and Better Health For Everyone: A Population Health Approach for Ireland, the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer, 2001, have pointed out the links between poverty and ill health in an Irish context.

The national anti-poverty strategy is the main vehicle through which the Government's response to the problems of poverty and social exclusion is being channelled. The targets to reduce health inequalities set in the Government's review of the NAPS have been integrated into the national health strategy. These targets were developed in the course of an extensive consultation process with poor and excluded groups. Key health targets are to reduce the gap in premature mortality and low birth weight between the highest and lowest socio-economic groups by 10% by 2007, and to reduce differences in life expectancy between Travellers and the rest of the population.

Because of the wide range of factors which affect health status and health inequalities, both the National Health Strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You and the report of the working group on NAPS and health envisage these targets being met through a range of actions including greater focus on multi-sectoral work and health impact assessment. A health element has been included in Ireland's National Action Plan Against Poverty and Social Exclusion 2003-2005 published in August 2003 — an EU requirement in relation to progressing the Lisbon agenda.

The report of the chief medical officer Better Health for Everyone sets out how a population health approach led by a population health division in the Department of Health and Children would enable the multi-sectoral nature of the determinants of health and health inequalities to be more effectively addressed. This issue is being considered in the context of the reorganisation of the Department.

The national health strategy asserts quite clearly that to achieve better health for everyone and to reduce health inequalities, health must be put at the centre of public policy. In this context health impact assessment, HIA, is being developed so that relevant policies, strategies and legislation undergo a comprehensive process of health proofing so that their impact on the physical, mental and social well-being of the population is positive. The Institute of Public Health is already involved in some initiatives in this area and the Department of Health and Children in partnership with the Institute is developing a programme in this area which will include: policy seminars for senior management; training courses for HIA practitioners (project management, hazard identification, risk management, health gain interventions, HIA appraisal, inter-sectoral action); and review of HIA tools. An introductory policy seminar for senior managers has been held and HIA methodology guidelines and a screening tool for HIA have been published.

The important role of primary care in effectively addressing health inequalities was highlighted in the consultation process for the national anti-poverty strategy. The national health strategy acknowledges the central role of primary care in the future development of the health services. The implementation of the primary care strategy, Primary Care: A New Direction, is introducing a new model of primary care involving a core multidisciplinary primary care team, which will work with a wider network of health and personal social care professionals and will offer 24 hour cover. There has been substantial progress in the development of the ten initial primary care teams — one in each health board area — which were approved in late 2002, and additional personnel were funded. Once-off capital funding of €2 million and a further €1 million in respect of information and communications technology supports for the teams was also provided in 2002. Already, some of the teams are providing new or enhanced primary care services, for example, physiotherapy, social work services, shared care, to their target populations. Various teamworking initiatives are receiving high-level support and investment, as are needs assessment developments and research relating to primary care. The establishment of 24 hour GP co-operatives as part of the strengthening of primary care will help to reduce demand from, and treat appropriately, patients who would otherwise have to attend at an accident and emergency department.

One of the key objectives of the health service reform programme is to put in place organisational structures that will facilitate roll-out of the primary care strategy, building on the work already undertaken by the health boards in that regard. The development of future primary care teams will be informed by a needs assessment process at regional and local level. The primary care strategy sets out a vision for the development of primary care, building on the existing strengths of the system to develop an integrated, high-quality, multidisciplinary and user-friendly primary care service to meet people's health and social care needs.

Community participation is being progressed in the context of the primary care strategy, the Combat Poverty Agency building healthy communities programme, in which my Department participates, and implementation of HeBE's community participation guidelines.

The national health promotion strategy 2000 — 2005 is also central to reducing health inequalities, as are the cardiovascular strategy, the new cancer strategy currently being developed and the mental health policy also in development. Many other actions to reduce health inequalities are also under way.

Intensive community based services which have been put in place to provide support for children who may have emotional and behavioural problems include the springboard initiative and the youth advocacy pilot projects. There are now 22 Government funded springboard family support projects countrywide. Some 700 children and 400 parents benefit from these services.

My Department has made available €1.5 million to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs this year to match RAPID money being provided for play facilities following on from the publication of the national play policy for children Ready Steady Play.

The consultation process for the all-Ireland study on Traveller health status and health needs has been concluded. A proposal from the Institute of Public Health in relation to the design, management and funding of the study is currently under consideration in my Department. It is expected that the study will commence later this year. A pilot study on the inclusion of an ethnic identifier in a number of data sources is also being supported. These initiatives are taking place in the wider context of the ongoing implementation of the national strategy for Traveller health.

My Department has commissioned the Institute of Public Health to undertake a programme of work involving the health boards, the Health Board Executive, the Office for Health Management and the Combat Poverty Agency to support health boards to implement actions to achieve the NAPS targets to reduce at health inequalities. The first phase of the work which relates to information gathering and agenda setting is well under way.

The Institute of Public Health is progressing work on data and monitoring requirements for NAPS health targets and is also finalising an extensive literature review to identify effective interventions to address the higher rates of low birth weight found in more disadvantaged groups. The NAPS and health working group, including the social partners, has been reconvened in a consultative capacity to inform implementation and monitoring of the NAPS and health targets and to situate the work in the broader NAPS context.

My Department is working jointly with the office for social inclusion in the Department of Social and Family Affairs to develop guidelines for poverty proofing tailored to the health services.

Performance indicators for a number of groups at risk of social exclusion have been included in the national suite of performance indicators developed jointly by the Department of Health and Children and the health boards and currently in use in the context of the annual service plans. The groups included are Travellers, refugees and asylum seekers, homeless and those with an addiction.

The Public Health Alliance report raises the issue of capacity in the health system. The health strategy sets out a programme of investment and reform that will stretch over the next decade. It provides for the largest bed capacity expansion in the history of the health service. €118 million was provided, capital and revenue, to meet the first phase of a programme to provide a total of 3,000 new acute beds over the period to 2011. The Department has been informed by the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards that, to date, 584 additional beds have been commissioned. Funding has been made available to health boards/authority to commission the balance of the 709 beds this year.

In relation to waiting lists in public acute hospitals, the target set out in the national health strategy states that by the end of 2004 all public patients requiring admission to hospital will be scheduled to commence treatment within a maximum of three months of referral from an out-patient department. Intermediate targets have been set to achieve this aim to ensure that the focus is being turned towards those patients waiting longest for treatment.

As the Deputy will be aware I have transferred responsibility for the recording and publishing of waiting list figures to the national treatment purchase fund. The NTPF has a multi-disciplinary team who have been working with individual hospitals to identify patients on waiting lists. The NTPF has been successful in locating additional capacity and arranging treatments for approximately 13,000 patients by the end of May this year. The NTPF has reported that waiting times have fallen significantly with 37% of patients now waiting between three and six months and 43% waiting between six and 12 months for surgery. Therefore, 80% of patients now wait less than one year for surgical treatment. This represents a major reduction in the length of time patients have to wait. The NTPF has the available capacity to treat patients and will continue to focus on reducing waiting times even further. The fund's target is to treat over 12,000 patients in 2004 and has the capacity to treat a minimum of 1,000 patients per month in Ireland and in the United Kingdom. If referrals can be maintained at this level the NTPF expects that waiting times for surgical operations should be reduced further and be brought in line with the health strategy targets of three to six months. It is now the case that, in most instances, adults waiting more than six months for an operation and children waiting more than three months will be facilitated by the fund.

In 2004 some €31 million was allocated to the health boards and Eastern Regional Health Authority as base funding to fund consultant and other support staff costs associated with reducing elective waiting lists. Funding for the national treatment purchase fund was also increased to €44 million in 2004. Therefore the total amount of dedicated funding available to tackle waiting lists in 2004 is €75 million.

In relation to the recommendation in the Public Health Alliance report advocating for publicly salaried hospital consultants who work exclusively for public hospitals, as the Deputy will be aware consultants currently holding the category 1 contract are contracted to devote substantially the whole of their professional time, including time spent on private practice, to public hospitals. There are approximately 1,200 approved category 1 consultant posts at present. The Deputy may also be aware that the Report of the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service, the Brennan report, recommended the recruitment of consultants on a public only contract. This recommendation, and other recommendations relevant to the consultant contract arising from the Brennan report, the report on the Audit of Structures and Functions in the Health System, Prospectus report, and the Report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing, Hanly report, will be progressed in the context of the negotiations on a new consultant contract. I am anxious to get these negotiations underway as soon as possible.

I might add that, as set out in the White Paper on Private Health Insurance, it remains Government policy to move, on a phased basis, to full economic pricing for private beds in public hospitals.

The Public Health Alliance report raises issues about eligibility for health services. The Government is fully committed to the extension of medical card coverage as set out in the health strategy. This will focus on people on low incomes and will give priority to families with children, particularly those with a disability. The timing of the introduction of the extension will be decided having regard to the prevailing budgetary position.

The reduction of health inequalities is a central objective of the national health strategy and of the Government's wider national anti-poverty strategy. My priority now is implementation of actions in the context of the these strategies and other related health strategies for particular groups and of the Government's health reform programme generally.

Health Board Services.

Emmet Stagg

Question:

60 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children if the number of the promised 850 community nursing units now available in regard to his announcement of July 2002; the hospitals in which they are available; the number in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18387/04]

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

The ERHA will be providing nine 50 bed community nursing units, three in each of the area health boards. The locations are as follows: Clonskeagh Hospital, Newcastle Hospital and Tivoli Road, Dún Laoghaire in the East Coast Area Health Board; St. Joseph's Hospital, Raheny, St. Mary's Hospital, Phoenix Park and Swords in the Northern Area Health Board; and St. Brigid's Hospital, Crooksling, Brú Chaoimhin, Cork Street and Cherry Orchard in the South Western Area Health Board.

The Southern Health Board proposes to develop eight 50 bed CNUs in the following locations: St. Finbarr's, Farranlea Road and Ballincollig in the Cork South Lee area: St. Stephen's Hospital Glanmire and St. Mary's Orthopaedic Hospital, Gurranbraher in the Cork North Lee area; Mount Alvernia Hospital, Mallow in the North Cork Area; Bantry in the west Cork area and Tralee in Kerry.

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

Public sector benchmarks for both projects have been prepared and finalised by the ERHA and the SHB. These are a comprehensive and detailed risk adjusted costing of the project elements using conventional procurement over the whole life of the project. The public sector benchmarks have been submitted to the Department of Finance for consideration and my Department is currently in consultation with the Department of Finance in relation to the projects. On approval contract notices will be advertised by each of the awarding authorities in theOfficial Journal of the European Union.

Hospital Services.

John Bruton

Question:

61 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has made an estimate of the population of visits to accident and emergency departments that were by persons whose conditions might more appropriately be treated at primary care level; if he has analysed the reason accident and emergency departments were used in those cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18395/04]

There are some 1.2 million attendances at emergency departments each year. While individual hospitals have systems and procedures in place to record attendance at the emergency department information in relation to the extent or severity of injuries or conditions of people attending is not routinely collected on a national basis by my Department. However, information supplied to my Department by health boards and hospitals indicates that approximately 25% of those who attend the emergency department require admission to hospital.

While many of the balance require hospital treatment, it is recognised, that a number of those who attend emergency departments may more appropriately be treated in a primary care setting.

The strategy, Primary Care: A New Direction recognises that the Irish health system places considerable reliance on hospital care and that an appropriately developed primary care system can meet between 90% and 95% of all health and personal social service needs. This strategy sets out a new direction for primary care as the central focus for the delivery of health and personal social services. It promotes a team-based approach to service provision which will help to provide a fully integrated primary care service. A properly integrated primary care service can lead to better outcomes, better health status and better cost effectiveness. Appropriately developed, primary care services can help prevent or reduce the impact of conditions that might later require hospitalisation, and can also facilitate earlier hospital discharge. Overall a strengthened primary care system can have a significant impact in alleviating demands on specialist services and the hospital system, particularly accident and emergency and out-patient services. General practitioner out-of-hours co-operatives have been established and are operating in at least part of all health board areas, with one health board, the North Eastern Health Board, having a region wide project. Between 2000 and 2003, €46.5 million has been allocated to the health boards for the purpose of out-of-hours co-operatives and this figure does not include the fees paid to participating general practitioners. An amount of €24 million has been allocated for 2004. The satisfaction rate with the GP co-op service is very high from both patient and provider perspectives. In fact a recent survey by the Western Health Board's service, WestDoc, indicated that of the persons surveyed 30% said that they would have gone to the emergency medicine department if the service had not been available.

In order to address the needs of patients presenting at the emergency department some hospitals have established minor injury or illness units. These units provide rapid assessment and appropriate treatment of minor injuries by nurse practitioners or junior doctors. The main advantages of having a separate minor injuries area within the emergency department include the better streamlining of patients and decreased waiting times.

Legislative Programme.

Jack Wall

Question:

62 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children when he intends to publish the promised health and social care professionals Bill to regulate health workers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18391/04]

The draft health and social care professionals Bill is currently being finalised for submission to Government for approval to publish before the commencement of the autumn session.

Rehabilitation Medicine.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

63 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has plans to increase the number of consultants in rehabilitation medicine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18406/04]

My Department had identified the need and requirement for new service developments in rehabilitation medicine in the context of Estimates discussions with the Department of Finance. However, the economic position in 2003 and 2004 has had implications for all aspects of public investment and this was reflected in the Estimates and budget adopted by the Government for those years. The funding allocated to the health services has been applied largely to maintaining existing levels of service across all service programmes.

My Department is aware of the need for a strategic approach to the enhancement of rehabilitation services, encompassing as it does services provided through the entire range of medical disciplines, including paediatrics, orthopaedics, respiratory medicine, cardiology and rheumatology, services for older people and mental health. Rehabilitation can be hospital based or community based and specialist or generalist led. It must be integrated and part of a comprehensive programme which identifies rehabilitation in all its forms as a priority.

The key challenge is to develop an integrated approach to driving and resourcing developments in all of these areas. This integrated approach would necessarily involve the recruitment of additional consultants in rehabilitation medicine, as identified by the Deputy, but could not be done in isolation.

Inevitably additional resources are already in great demand for these discrete services even before shared objectives are considered. My Department will continue to pursue the matter having regard to available resources.

Ambulance Service.

Gerard Murphy

Question:

64 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has plans to progress with the implementation of a helicopter emergency medical service for the island of Ireland following the recent report that was published by his Department and the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18426/04]

Gerard Murphy

Question:

83 Mr. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress to date of consultations that have taken place between his Department, the Department of Defence and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources concerning the introduction of a helicopter emergency medical service for the island of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18428/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 83 together.

My Department and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, Belfast, commissioned a feasibility study and report on the costs and benefits associated with the introduction of a dedicated helicopter emergency medical services, HEMS, for the island of Ireland.

The decision to commission the study followed a recommendation by a cross-Border working group on pre-hospital emergency care, one of a number of groups established under the North-South Ministerial Council to examine areas of North-South co-operation in the health field.

The report of the consultants appointed to undertake the study was published on 30 April 2004 and is available on my Department's website. The study identifies possible roles for a helicopter emergency medical service, HEMS: primary response — travelling directly to the scene of an incident to take the patient to hospital; and inter-hospital response — the planned, rapid transfer between hospital of patients requiring specialist care, escorted by skilled professionals.

The study concludes that an inter-hospital transfer service would be the most appropriate in an all-island context. The study indicates that this would involve significant capital investment and annual operating costs. The estimated cost is €12 million capital and €4 million annual operating costs for a single helicopter. Additional helicopters could be added with an additional annual cost for each aircraft of over €3 million.

An air ambulance service is currently provided to the health boards by the Air Corps on a request and availability basis. The Air Corps provides this service subject to the nature of the mission, available aircraft and other operational commitments. Air Corps helicopters operate from airports and, where available and deemed safe, hospital helipads. Most transfers are airport to airport with onward transfer by land ambulance. The service is well regarded and appreciated by those in the health service who avail of it.

My Department is exploring options in relation to HEMS development in the light of the recent study. As part of this exercise, it has initiated discussions with the Department of Defence and the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Irish Coast Guard.

Pharmacy Services.

Kathleen Lynch

Question:

65 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date in his Department’s review of pharmaceutical expenditure and community pharmacy services; when he expects that the review will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18372/04]

My Department is reviewing pharmaceutical expenditure and community pharmacy structures in light of the recommendations of several reports in the area, including the pharmacy review group and Brennan reports.

These reports have identified a number of areas that need to be addressed, including measures to control the increase in the cost of the community drug schemes and drug costs in the GMS. To this end, I have established a small working group to evaluate all aspects of drugs prescribing under the various schemes, to determine the feasibility of recommendations in the reports and to make detailed proposals in relation to a number of specific issues.

Among the policy options being considered are increased use of generic medicines, pricing and reimbursement structures for the community drug schemes and pharmaeconomic assessment of reimbursable medicines.

Health Information and Quality Authority.

Bernard Allen

Question:

66 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress of the establishment of the health information and quality authority; the purpose of the HIQA, its objective, functions and proposed structure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18414/04]

My Department is working to progress the establishment of the health information and quality authority, HIQA. A project manager has been appointed and it is anticipated that the board of the interim HIQA will be in place by early autumn. The board will be charged with developing a set-up plan for the HIQA, for my approval and with overseeing implementation of that plan.

A key policy aim of the health strategy is to deliver high quality services that are based on evidence-supported best practice. The health information and quality authority is being established to advance this aim. Its responsibilities will be built around three related functions: developing health information; promoting and implementing quality assurance programmes nationally; and overseeing health technology assessment. The structure of the organisation will reflect these functions. The HIQA will subsume relevant functions currently carried out by the national cancer registry, national disease surveillance centre and the Irish Health Services Accreditation Board. The proposed structure of HIQA will form part of the set-up plan.

Initially, the agency will be set up on an administrative basis. The new health Bill currently being drafted to underpin the health service reform programme will provide,inter alia, for the establishment of HIQA on a statutory basis.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

67 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has the intentions to provide general practitioners tax incentives to encourage their involvement in more diagnostic work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18403/04]

There are currently no plans to introduce tax incentives to general practitioners to encourage their involvement in more diagnostic work. The issue of tax incentives is a matter for the Department of Finance.

Hospital Staff.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

68 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he intends to take to ensure that Filipino nurses who provide such a valuable role in hospitals here, continue to stay in face of better conditions being offered in other states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18479/04]

The policies of my Department in relation to recruitment of overseas nurses are set out in the publication, Guidance for Best Practice on the Recruitment of Overseas Nurses and Midwives published in 2001. The guidelines cover all aspects of the recruitment process including: planning staff selection; visas and work permits; provision of advice before leaving home; the procedures for gaining registration in Ireland and induction, orientation and adaptation on arrival in Ireland.

The guidelines were developed by a committee of experts from Government Departments and the health services employers, and represent current best practice. The guiding principles underlying the policies are quality, ethical recruitment, equity, inclusiveness and promotion of nursing as a career. This document is currently being updated.

Supports provided to overseas nurses arriving to work in the health service include supervised clinical practice, orientation and assessment. A full-time clinical placement co-ordinator is employed to facilitate this. Nurses are paid at the minimum point of the staff nurse scale during this period, and following registration are given full incremental credit for relevant nursing experience. Overseas nurses enjoy the same employment protection as Irish and EU nurses, and are given the same career development supports and opportunities.

Employers are required to assist overseas nurses in obtaining registration with An Bord Altranais, and assistance in obtaining work permits, visas and work authorisations can also be provided. Employers should provide subsidised accommodation for six weeks following arrival and assist nurses in securing long-term private accommodation.

Since 1998, 5,678 non-EU nurses have been registered by An Bord Altranais. While these nurses come from a variety of countries, the predominant country of origin is the Philippines. Officials from my Department are in regular contact with the Philippines Embassy in London and with the honorary consul in Dublin. In fact, senior officials of my Department met with the Philippines ambassador as recently as 1 June last. Feedback from the Philippines authorities is that their nurses are treated well in Ireland, that Irish employment laws are worker friendly and adequately protect the rights of overseas nurses, and that Irish people are receptive and friendly to immigrant workers. The deputy head of mission at the embassy has stated that Ireland remains competitive for foreign skilled workers, particularly Filipinos.

As the Deputy may be aware, late last year media reports highlighted the dissatisfaction of many of the 3,000 or so Filipino nurses working in Ireland with the then arrangement which did not allow their spouses an automatic entitlement to work in Ireland. I also received individual representations from Filipino nurses and the embassy of the Philippines in London on this matter. Many Filipino nurses maintained that the situation in relation to work permits for their spouses effectively meant that the nurse was providing the sole income of the household. Other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia allowed the nurses' spouses an automatic right to work. Nurses cited this as a reason why some of them were transferring to work in other developed countries.

I very much welcomed the announcement in February 2004 by my colleague, the Tánaiste, Deputy Harney, of the introduction of new arrangements for work permits which will be confined to the spouses of certain categories of non-EEA employees, including nurses, in the State. These new arrangements will give greater ease of access to employment for eligible spouses, under specified schemes and facilities. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment recently published a guide to work permits for spouses of employment permit holders and this has been made available to all health service employers. The guide is also published on my Department's website.

A survey of EU nursing pay rates by my Department indicated in 2003 that the average annual salary for a nurse with ten years experience is €30,247 per annum. In Ireland, the same nurse was paid €34,103 per annum which represents a premium of almost 13%. In the United Kingdom, a nurse with ten years experience earned €25,940 per annum. In Ireland, premium pay, which included overtime, unsocial hours and night duty rates, typically added a further 23% to basic earnings.

Excellent relations and levels of co-operation have been established between the Irish and Filipino authorities, and I would like to place on the record my appreciation of the contribution Filipino nurses have made to our health service.

ERHA Expenditure.

Joe Costello

Question:

69 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children the current overspend in the ERHA broken down by health board, up to 1 June 2004; the reasons for the overspend and the measures being taken by him to address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18361/04]

The latest information available to my Department from the Eastern Regional Health Authority is in respect of expenditure for the four months ended 30 April 2004. The ERHA is reporting an excess of €25 million approx. over the period budget of €1,053 million or a variance of 2.4%. The variance against period budget to end April for each sector is as follows

Variance€m

Voluntary Acute Sector

9.308

Voluntary Non-Acute Sector

(0.838)

Intellectual Disability Services Sector

0.892

Northern Area Health Board

7.793

East Coast Area Health Board

2.690

South West Area Health Board

5.421

ERHA Corporate

nil

Total

25.266

The issues giving rise to the variance over budget, as identified by the ERHA, include an increase in acute hospital activity over the same period last year of 4% overall, with an increase in day case activity of 8.6%; non-pay costs, particularly in the area of clinical costs, including drugs and high cost treatments; and increased spending on demand-led schemes;

The ERHA is continuing to work with its service providers to manage expenditure within the annual determination as required under the financial control framework, while continuing to respond to the pressure on accident and emergency and acute hospital services and the knock-on effect on services for older people. As stipulated by the Minister for Finance and set out as a requirement in the letter of determination, the ERHA has a contingency sum set aside to deal with unexpected issues and service pressures arising during the year.

The over-riding accountability objective of my Department is to monitor the provision of health and children's services by reference to approved service plans and, in particular, to ensure that agencies, including ERHA, manage the delivery of services within the approved levels of expenditure.

Health Reform Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

70 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date with regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the Brennan report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18378/04]

The Health service reform programme announced by the Government in June 2003 is primarily based on the recommendations of the Commission on Financial Management and Control Systems in the Health Service, the Brennan report, and the Prospectus Audit of Structures and Functions in the Health System together with the Report of the National Taskforce on Medical Staffing, the Hanly report.

Implementation of the reform programme is now well underway. I announced the board of the interim HSE last November and the board has met on a number of occasions. The interim HSE was established as a statutory body on foot of SI 90/04 on 9 March. Under the establishment order, the interim HSE has been given the task of drawing up a plan for the transition to a unitary delivery system. The interim executive has also been given the task of making the necessary preparations to implement this plan, subject to ministerial approval, so as to ensure as smooth a transition as possible from the existing health board structure to the new Health Service Executive structure. It is intended that the Health Service Executive will be established on a full statutory basis by January 2005. Work on the preparation of the necessary primary legislation is well under way.

The Government has appointed a national steering committee to oversee the implementation of the reform programme. The committee will report to the Cabinet Committee on the Health Strategy, ensuring that the Government is kept fully informed on all important issues.

The Health (Amendment) Act 2004, which provides for the abolition of the membership of the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards was commenced on the 15 June. The Act also repeals the provisions providing for the appointment of members to the Eastern Regional Health Authority, area health boards and health boards.

An interim health information quality authority will be established on an administrative basis by early autumn. A financial transition team made up of representatives from my Department and the interim HSE are working together to lay the groundwork for the implementation of a number of the recommendations of the Brennan commission. The team is working to enable the HSE to comply with its role in the management and control of the health service delivery system from January 2005.

A national service planning team has also been established made up of representatives from my Department and the Interim Health Service Executive. The team will be working on the development of a national service plan for 2005 and subsequent years with associated performance indicators and a robust monitoring and evaluation framework.

The new system will provide a clear national focus on service delivery and executive management through reduced fragmentation and the creation of clear and unambiguous accountability throughout the system. I am satisfied that the new arrangements, combined with the introduction of system-wide best practice governance and accountability systems, will ensure a more effective, efficient and responsive health system.

Cancer Incidence.

Question No. 71 answered with QuestionNo. 9.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

72 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children if the incidence of cervical cancer here is worsening and, for the first time, is now higher than in Britain; when the cervical smear testing programme will be available nationwide; the steps being taken to reduce delays in the provision of results; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18374/04]

Statistics on the incidence of new cancer cases are collated by the national cancer registry. The most up-to-date data for the number of new cases of invasive cervical cancer are for the years 1994 to 2000 and are shown in the following table.

Year

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

174

155

215

173

188

156

193

The data show no statistically significant increase in the numbers of invasive cervical cancer.

I have set out in the following table the age-standardised rates per 100,000 women of newly diagnosed invasive cervical cancer in Ireland and England. The Deputy will note that the rates are different in comparison to similar rates in this country.

1994

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

2000

1998-2000 Average

Ireland

10.7

9.2

12.2

9.9

10.5

8.8

10.5

9.9

England

11.00

10.04

10.00

9.7

9.2

9.4

8.6

9.00

A pilot cervical screening programme commenced in October 2000 with the programme covering the Mid-Western Health Board region. Under the programme, cervical screening is being offered, free of charge, to approximately 74,000 women in the 25 to 60 age group, at five year intervals.

The Health Board Executive, HeBE, has commissioned an examination of the feasibility and implications of a national roll-out of a cervical screening programme. This is a major undertaking with significant logistical and resource implications. The examination includes an evaluation of the pilot programme, policy development and the establishment of national governance arrangements. The evaluation of the pilot programme is a key element in informing the development of a high quality cervical screening model for Ireland. HeBE has advised that, when the evaluation report is completed, it will be in a position to prepare a draft plan for the national roll-out of a programme, for consideration by my Department.

The number of smear tests carried out nationally has increased by almost 20% in recent years. In order to meet this increased demand, additional cumulative funding of €11 million has been provided by my Department since 2002 to enhance the laboratory and colposcopy services. This funding has enabled the laboratories to employ additional personnel, to purchase new equipment and to introduce new technology thereby increasing the volume of activity. In addition, a number of hospitals have undertaken initiatives such as contracting out of smear test analysis to external laboratories. These initiatives have resulted in a reduction in waiting times with, for example, the waiting time for routine results at Cork University Hospital being reduced from 129 days at March 2003 to less than 40 days currently.

National Health Information Strategy.

Billy Timmins

Question:

73 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children when he will publish the health information strategy; the reason its publication has been delayed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18420/04]

The national health information strategy has been approved by Government and will be published shortly.

While an earlier launch date had been intended, I decided to defer completion of the report in order to ensure full consistency with the suite of reports which form the basis of the health service reform programme. I consider this to be particularly important given the key role of information in supporting and enabling reform. These reports each address one of the frameworks for change identified in the health strategy, Quality and Fairness: A Health System for You. These are strengthening primary care, reform of the acute hospital system, funding, organisational reform and human resources. The remaining framework is information and is addressed by the national health information strategy.

Health Reform Programme.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

74 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children the way in which it is intended to meet the requirement for 21 specialists as specified in the Hanly report in view of the commitment given by him in a letter dated 27 May 2004 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18363/04]

The Hanly report argues that in the context of a 48-hour working week for doctors, for a hospital to be in a position to provide full emergency cover at all times, it would require seven consultants each in the specialties of medicine, surgery and anaesthesia.

In the case of the east coast region, I established an implementation group to progress implementation of the Hanly report recommendations. The exact services to be provided in each hospital, including Loughlinstown, and the detailed medical staffing requirements to bring this about, will be part of the implementation group's remit.

Unfortunately, the group has not been in a position to meet to date because of the non-participation of hospital consultants due to ongoing industrial relations difficulties.

Legislative Programme.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

75 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is expected that the heads of the medical practitioners Bill will be presented to Government; if it is intended to publish the heads; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18393/04]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy, that a memo for Government on this matter was on the agenda of this morning's Cabinet meeting. I will revert to the Deputy with the Government's decision on the matter in due course.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

76 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will consider the introduction of a Good Samaritans Bill to give exemptions from liability for persons who render emergency treatment with a portable defibrillator in order to facilitate a volunteer system in which defibrillators can be placed and used in rural communities, large offices or commercial buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18446/04]

It may not be possible for legal reasons to grant an exemption from civil liability to people who volunteer to give emergency treatment using portable defibrillators. I am aware that some health boards whose regions cover sparsely populated areas provide training in the use of portable defibrillators to appropriately qualified "first responders" such as fire crews. I have asked officials of my Department and the State Claims Agency, which operates the clinical indemnity scheme, to examine how the scheme might be able to offer indemnity cover to appropriately qualified and trained volunteers who agree to provide this service.

Medical Cards.

Willie Penrose

Question:

77 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who held medical cards in June 2002 and at the latest date for which figures are available and the proportion of the population this represents in respect of each such date; when it is intended to implement the commitment to extend eligibility for medical cards in order to bring in over 200,000 extra persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18380/04]

The details requested are as follows:

Date

No. of medical cards

No. of persons covered

Percentage of the population

June 2002

783,612

1,207,096

30.81%

May 2004

766,596

1,154,861

29.48%

As the Deputy is aware the health strategy includes a commitment that significant improvements will be made in the medical card income guidelines in order to increase the number of persons on low income who are eligible for a medical card and to give priority to families with children and particularly children with a disability. I regret that it is not possible to meet this commitment this year but the Government remains committed to the introduction of the necessary changes during its current term.

Strategy for Asthma Sufferers.

Pat Breen

Question:

78 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children if, following reports that approximately 400,000 persons here suffer from asthma, he intends to introduce a national strategy for asthma sufferers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18435/04]

My Department is aware of reports of a rise in the number of persons suffering from asthma in this country. Conditions which may contribute to an increase in the prevalence of asthma include food allergies resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms and allergies to substances in the environment which may lead to a variety of skin conditions. It is accepted that some of the factors which may influence this situation include environmental factors, not only smoking and workplace exposure to respiratory irritants, but a more general level of exposure to environmental substances which cause allergies to occur.

The Deputy may wish to note that at the Competitiveness (Internal Market, Industry and Research) Council on 22 September 2003 the Council approved a directive regarding the labelling of the ingredients present in foodstuffs. In particular, the new labelling rules aim to ensure that consumers suffering from food allergies, or who wish to avoid eating certain ingredients for any other reason, are informed of the ingredients present. The new directive also establishes a list of ingredients liable to cause allergies or intolerances. The new rules will also extend to alcoholic beverages if they contain an ingredient on the allergens list.

The European Commission is currently developing an action plan on environment and health, which is expected to be adopted later this year. The plan is intended to reduce the disease burden caused by environmental factors in the EU with special emphasis on children, to identify and to prevent new health threats caused by environmental factors and to strengthen EU capacity for policy making in this area. Officials of my Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government are involved in this issue.

At the recent meeting of EU chief medical officers, the chief medical officer of my Department placed the issues of food and asthma on the agenda in order to share experiences, information and knowledge with our EU partners on these issues. In addition, my Department has contacted the Health Research Board to discuss the issue of research into the incidence of asthma in the Irish population and the establishment of an asthma register is under discussion between professionals dealing with asthma and the ERHA.

These initiatives should help to clarify some of the causative factors relating to these conditions and, more specifically, to identify contributing factors. Thus, preventative and treatment strategies can be more effectively developed and implemented.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

79 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children the action which is planned to deal with the shocking level of overcrowding in accident and emergency hospitals in the greater Dublin area, as a result of which the ERHA was forced to issue a public statement asking people not to attend accident and emergency departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18366/04]

There are a number of initiatives under way at present in order to deal with pressures in emergency medicine departments in the eastern region.

I provided €13.8 million to the ERHA in 2003-04 to facilitate the discharge of patients from the acute system to a more appropriate setting thereby freeing up acute beds. To date, a total of 286 patients in the eastern region has benefited from this initiative.

I have provided additional annual revenue funding of €93 million and capital funding of €25 million to health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority to commission 709 extra beds in the acute hospital sector. Over 270 new acute beds have been commissioned to date in the eastern region under the bed capacity initiative.

Funding has been provided for the recruitment of additional emergency medicine consultants and consultant anaesthetists. The number of emergency medicine consultants in the eastern region has increased from ten to 21 in the past five years.

A review of the nurse staffing levels in emergency departments is also being progressed by the Health Services Employers Agency in consultation with the health service management representatives and the nursing unions.

General practitioner out-of-hours co-operatives have been established and are operating in at least part of all health board areas, with one health board, the North Eastern Health Board, having a region-wide project. A total of €46.5 million has been allocated for the development of out-of-hours co-operatives between 2000 and 2003, with an additional €24 million being provided in 2004.

In order to ease pressure on the emergency medicine departments in the city the ERHA is reminding the public of the need to only attend the emergency department if absolutely necessary. This is to ensure that those in greatest need of care have immediate access to services. I assure the Deputy that I will continue to work with the various health agencies in looking for short-term and longer-term solutions to the current difficulties.

Task Force on Childhood Obesity.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

80 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of meetings of the task force on childhood obesity that have taken place; the levels of remuneration for those involved in the task force; when the task force intends to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18482/04]

The national task force on obesity was established on the 10 March 2004. There have been five plenary meetings to date. The members of the task force do not receive any remuneration and an obesity strategy document is expected by December 2004.

Food Supplements.

Trevor Sargent

Question:

81 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on the health effects on young athletes of the use of creatine and food supplements, due to possible contamination in these substances; the action he intends to take to deal with this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18487/04]

Creatine is an amino acid made in the body by the liver and kidneys, and is derived from the diet through meat and animal products. Creatine is categorised as a food supplement in Ireland and in the European Union, and is available over the counter in health food and sports shops. It is also available over the Internet. Studies have shown that creatine can increase the performance of athletes in activities that require quick bursts of energy, such as sprinting, and can help athletes to recover faster after expending bursts of energy. It is also used by people with neuromuscular disorders under medical supervision.

All food supplements, including creatine, must comply with general food labelling regulations which are enforced by the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, FSAI. I am advised by the FSAI that short-term exercise studies have not reported any adverse effects associated with creatine supplementation. While no long-term studies have been done to evaluate the safety of prolonged administration, a recent report from the French food safety authority said that adverse events involving the digestive, muscular and cardiovascular systems of people taking high dosages of creatine have occurred. It also warned that impurities could exist in creatine that is marketed to consumers. However, no published investigation has been conducted on creatine to determine what impurities might be present in creatine supplements, and what their long-term effect might be. The Department of Health and Children recommends a balanced diet and advises that the health effects of supplementation with high levels of creatine over extended periods have not been investigated. Therefore, as a precautionary measure, the consumption of high doses of creatine over a long period should be avoided.

The European Commission recently published a draft directive on foods intended to meet the expenditure of intense muscular effort, especially for sports people. This draft incorporates the Scientific Committee on Food's, review of the safety aspects of creatine supplementation. The SCF noted that certain intakes of creatine are effective in increasing total muscle and improving performance of short-term, high-intensity exercise. However, high doses of creatine should be avoided. On the basis of this opinion, the draft directive states that it is appropriate that products containing creatine should have detailed instructions for use, including details on intake levels per day.

Officials of my Department and of the FSAI are actively involved in the discussions on this draft directive which will be implemented into Irish law once adopted by the European Commission.

Question No. 82 answered with QuestionNo. 39.
Question No. 83 answered with QuestionNo. 64.
Question No. 84 answered with QuestionNo. 43.

Medical Insurance.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

85 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding his discussions with the Irish Hospital Consultants Association regarding the proposed new system of medical insurance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18386/04]

Intensive efforts are continuing to resolve the issue of who should take responsibility for claims that result from events which occurred before the establishment of the clinical indemnity scheme. This is the issue which is of greatest concern to consultants arising from the introduction of the new indemnity arrangements. The Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation are kept informed of progress on a regular basis.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

86 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will report on arrangements for the future of the accident and emergency services at Bantry Community Hospital. [18397/04]

I presume this question has been prompted by concerns which have been raised about the implications for accident and emergency departments of the Report Of The National Task Force On Medical Staffing, the Hanly report. In fact, the Hanly report does not recommend the closure of accident and emergency departments. Instead, it argues that major hospitals should treat the most serious accident and emergency cases, namely, those requiring multi-specialist care. The great majority of current accident and emergency work would continue to be treated in hospitals such as Bantry.

While the task force report contains specific recommendations regarding the configuration of acute hospital services in the two pilot regions studied, the East Coast Area Health Board and the Mid-Western Health Board, no specific recommendations are made for other regions.

The next phase of work will involve the preparation of a national plan for the reorganisation of acute hospital services by the acute hospitals review group.

Medical Cards.

Michael Noonan

Question:

87 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he intends to raise the medical card income guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18443/04]

As the Deputy is aware the health strategy includes a commitment that significant improvements will be made in the medical card income guidelines in order to increase the number of persons on low income who are eligible for a medical card and to give priority to families with children and particularly children with a disability. This should be viewed in the broader context of the strategy's emphasis on fairness and its stated objective of reducing health inequalities in our society. Due to the prevailing budgetary situation I regret that it is not possible to meet this commitment this year but the Government remains committed to the introduction of the necessary changes within the lifetime of this Government. As a matter of course, the medical card income guidelines are revised annually in line with the consumer price index. The last such increase was notified in January 2004.

It should be remembered that health board chief executive officers have discretion in the issuing of medical cards and also that a range of income sources are excluded by the Health Boards when assessing medical card eligibility. Many allowances such as carer's allowance, child benefit, domiciliary care allowance, family income supplement and foster care allowance are all disregarded when determining a person's eligibility. Given these factors and the discretionary powers of the CEOs, having an income that exceeds the guidelines does not mean that a person will not be eligible for a medical card, and a medical card may still be awarded if the chief executive officer considers that a person's medical needs or other circumstances would justify this.

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

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

The strategy emphasises fairness and the objective of reducing health inequalities in our society. Shorter waiting times for public patients is prioritised, with the expansion of bed numbers and the introduction of a treatment purchase fund. In addition, there are clear commitments to targeting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups including continued investment in services for people with disabilities and older people; initiatives to improve the health of Travellers, homeless people, drug misusers, asylum seekers/refugees and prisoners; and implementation of the NAPS targets relating to health.

Question No. 88 answered with QuestionNo. 55.

Health Board Services.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

89 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made to date in regard to his Department’s discussions with the ERHA and the Northern Area Health Board on the steps necessary to ensure that the Ballymun health centre will be brought into operation and made available to the people of the area, in view of the fact that it has remained unused, although completed, for a year at an estimated cost of €3.5 million; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18384/04]

My Department has recently been in discussions with the Eastern Regional Health Authority, ERHA, and the Northern Area Health Board, NAHB, regarding this project. My Department is currently awaiting a report from the ERHA and the NAHB on a number of issues regarding this proposal.

Medical Insurance.

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

90 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has received an application for an increase in premium rates from the VHI; if it is intended to grant the application; the date and amount of each increase in premium rates approved since June 1997; the cumulative increase in premium rates during this period; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties created for VHI members by the huge rate of increase in rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18365/04]

Early this afternoon, notification was received from VHI stating that it intends to increase premiums by 3.8% for its hospital A to E plans and 2.5% for Options plans from 1 September 2004 as members renew. There is no increase for its primary care Healthsteps plans. My Department will now proceed to consider this notification.

The following are the premium increases since June 1997:

Effective date

% Increase

1 September 2003

8.5 (across hospital plans A to E and plan P)

7.5 (across option plans)

1 September 2002

18

1 September 2001

9

1 February 2001

6.25

1 September 1999

9.4

1 September 1998

9

1 September 1997

9The cumulative increase amounts to 92.7%, with the average annual increase being just under 10%.

Under VHI legislation, the VHI board has the primary responsibility to set premium rates. It is a matter for the VHI board, in discharging its responsibilities as regards setting premium levels, to take account of all the key considerations, including the matter of affordability for its members.

Hanly Report.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

91 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has received the response to the Hanly report from the Ennis General Hospital Development Committee; his views on its recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18362/04]

I have examined the report commissioned by Ennis General Hospital Development Committee in response to the Hanly report. I am pleased that it supports a substantial number of the Hanly proposals and that it acknowledges that the report should not be rejected out of hand. This is in marked contrast to some of the comments offered about the report from other quarters.

However, the report reaches some incorrect conclusions regarding the implications of the Hanly report for the future of Ennis General Hospital. For example, it compares staffing ratios and costs per case between Ennis General Hospital and other hospitals without taking account of differences in case complexity between smaller and larger hospitals. Comparisons of costs and staffing levels are meaningless unless the relative complexity and intensity of patients' treatment needs are taken into account. It is not possible to reach valid conclusions about the relative efficiency of hospitals without this information.

The report incorrectly assumes all acute beds in Ennis would be closed and transferred to Limerick. The Hanly report does not propose the closure of any beds in local hospitals. Its recommendations are based on the provision of an additional 3,000 acute hospital beds as envisaged in the health strategy.

The report also appears to expect that all accident and emergency cases currently seen in Ennis will be transferred to Limerick, with the effective complete closure of accident and emergency in the smaller hospitals. This incorrect assumption leads to a projected 35% increase in Limerick's accident and emergency numbers. In fact, the Hanly report argues that the major hospital should treat the most serious accident and emergency cases, namely, those requiring multi-specialist care. The great majority of current accident and emergency work would continue to be provided in hospitals such as Ennis.

The report commissioned for the hospital committee analyses journey times to hospital in the context of the "golden hour". Unfortunately it seems to take no account of the approach set out in the Hanly report, which argues that the critical issue is speedy access to emergency treatment at the scene by first responders, such as trained ambulance personnel or general practitioners. This should be followed by rapid transfer to a hospital most able to meet their needs. The critical issue, therefore, is not journey time to the nearest hospital, but speed of access by trained personnel with onward transfer to the hospital most able to deal with serious cases. The critique later argues that reliance on ambulances would leave remote areas more vulnerable where an ambulance has been called away from that region; however this depends on the number of ambulances available and their positioning within the region.

Finally, the critique points to a "population explosion" brought about by tourism in the summer months in the west Clare region. Any additional workload for accident and emergency services brought about by this increase is already reflected in the accident and emergency activity recorded in Ennis General Hospital. It was therefore taken into account by the Hanly group when framing its recommendations.

Overall, I welcome the work commissioned by the Ennis General Hospital Development Committee in analysing the Hanly report. I am pleased it is very supportive of many aspects of the Hanly report but its key criticisms are based on a series of incorrect assumptions which need to be challenged.

General Practice Manpower.

Dinny McGinley

Question:

92 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Health and Children the efforts he has made to address the current manpower crisis in general practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18440/04]

The issue of manpower in general practice in the new primary care settings is being addressed by the HR education and training subgroup of the primary care national steering group. Representatives from the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish College of General Practitioners are on this group along with other stakeholders.

The intake of trainees into general practice vocational training programmes in recent years has increased from 55 in 1998 to 84 in 2003, reflecting an acknowledgement that provisions had to be made to ensure for the future manpower needs in general practice. In fact, 186 applications were received for inclusion in the GP training schemes in 2003, giving a clear indication that general practice is still an attractive specialist option for graduates. In view of the recruitment and retention needs of general practitioners, my Department is consulting with the Irish College of General Practitioners with a view to achieving an increase of up to 50% in the number of training places available.

My Department has provided €1.314 million in 2003 for GP vocational training schemes and will seek to maintain and, I hope, increase funding in this area, as resources permit.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

93 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he has taken or proposes to take to address the anomalous situation whereby long hospital waiting lists appear to have become the norm, while at the same time hospital wards remain closed or beds decommissioned due to a lack of adequate resources and staff; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18463/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

203 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of patients awaiting treatment in respect of various surgical procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18637/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

205 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which he has dealt with hospital waiting lists having particular regard to his promise to eliminate all waiting lists within two years of the life of the present Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18639/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

213 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps he proposes to take to ensure that all hospital wards and beds are fully commissioned, available and utilised to the optimum extent in line with public requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18649/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

214 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason hospital wards and beds are closed or decommissioned in view of the public demand for services as illustrated by long waiting lists; if he has examined the cause or causes whereby the public cannot gain access to hospital services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18650/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 93, 203, 205, 213 and 214 together.

Responsibility for the collection and reporting of waiting lists and waiting times now falls within the remit of the national treatment purchase fund, NTPF. This will result in a more accurate and complete picture being available of the numbers waiting and more importantly the length of time they are waiting for their procedures. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the NTPF to respond directly to the Deputy regarding the number of patients awaiting treatment for surgical procedures.

With regard to waiting times, the NTPF has reported that 80% of patients now wait less than one year for surgical treatment. The NTPF has also reported that waiting times have fallen significantly in the past year with 37% of patients now waiting between three and six months and 43% waiting between six and 12 months for surgery. This represents a major reduction in the length of time patients have to wait. Patients who have been waiting more than six months for treatment can also contact the NTPF directly or through their general practitioners to arrange treatment.

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

It is a feature of all acute hospital systems that some beds are out of use for short periods. These beds are not decommissioned but are temporarily out of use for a variety of reasons such as ward refurbishment, essential ward maintenance, staff leave, seasonal closures and infection control measures. Data collected by my Department show that the total bed days lost due to beds being temporarily out of use in 2003 represents approximately 3% of the overall available acute bed stock.

Increasing the capacity of the acute hospital system continues to be a priority. I have provided additional annual revenue funding of €93 million and capital funding of €25 million to health boards and the Eastern Regional Health Authority to commission 709 extra beds in the acute hospital sector as part of the Government's commitment under the health strategy to provide an additional 3,000 acute hospital beds over the period to 2011. Some 589 of these beds have been commissioned to date and funding has been made available to health boards and the ERHA to commission the balance of the 709 beds.

My Department will continue to work with health agencies to bring on stream buildings, facilities and equipment which are being provided under the national development plan. The additional revenue required to open these new facilities will have to be considered against the background of available resources and other competing priorities.

Health Board Staff.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

94 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the full extent of staff shortages throughout the health services at present, with particular reference to community care and special needs; his plans to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18462/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

209 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans he has in mind to ensure the provision of adequate staff throughout the health services including hospital, community care and special hospital services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18643/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

210 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number and category of staff shortages in the health services throughout County Kildare; his plans to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18646/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 209, 210 together.

Staffing requirements in the areas highlighted by the Deputy should be viewed in light of the very substantial increases in employment levels achieved in the health service overall in recent years. The Deputy may wish to note that there has been an increase in the level of employment of 23,706, excluding home helps, in whole-time equivalence terms since 1999, or 32.6%. In this context, comparing employment levels at the end of December 2003 to those at end-1999, there were 26%, +1,407, more medical/dental personnel and 85%, +5,853, more health and social care professionals employed in the health services in whole-time equivalent, WTE, terms. In 1998 there were 26,612 whole-time equivalent nurses employed in the public health system. By the end of December 2003 this figure had reached 33,765. This is an increase of more than 7,150 during the period, or 26.8%.

Developments such as pay increases, improvements in career structure and enhanced opportunities for professional and career development have all supported increased staffing levels for key health and social care professions. The implementation of the pay recommendations of the Public Service Benchmarking Body — which are subject to the successful ongoing completion of the performance verification process — are making a further important contribution to recruitment and improved retention. The continued implementation of the action plan for people management — a key action under the health strategy — has a crucial role in improving retention and reducing turnover of skilled staff.

The Deputy may wish to note that specific human resource initiatives in key areas will contribute significantly to meeting the workforce requirements of the health services.

As far as medical personnel are concerned the report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing details the number of consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors that will be required in the coming years to provide a high quality, consultant-provided service.

The promotional structure within nursing, including the introduction of a clinical career pathway, has been substantially improved on foot of the recommendations of the Commission On Nursing and the 1999 nurses' pay settlement. The National Council for the Professional Development of Nursing and Midwifery has been especially active in this area and, to date, 1,563 clinical nurse specialist and advanced nurse practitioner posts have been created.

Figures from An Bord Altranais for the same period indicate that there is a steady stream of new entrants into the profession, over and above those graduating from the Irish system, thus further increasing the potential recruitment pool. Since 1998, the total number of nurses newly registered by An Bord Altranais is 19,945. Of this number, 13,658 were overseas nurses.

According to the most recent survey of nursing vacancies by the Health Service Employers Agency, the number of nursing vacancies stood at 705 at the end of March 2004. This represents a 49% reduction in the number of vacancies reported at the end of September 2000.

The current nursing vacancy rate of less than 2% could be considered to be a normal frictional rate, given that there will always be some level of movement due to resignations, retirements and nurses availing of opportunities to change employment and locations.

Significant progress has also been achieved in doubling the total number of professional therapy training places, namely, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech and language therapy — in line with the recommendations of the report entitled Current and Future Supply and Demand Conditions in the Labour Market for Certain Professional Therapists, commissioned by my Department from Dr. Peter Bacon and Associates and published in June 2001.

On the prioritisation of particular service and geographical areas, such as those mentioned by the Deputy, it should be noted that responsibility for human resource planning rests with the chief executive officer, CEO, of each board. Each CEO in managing the workforce in his/her region is responsible for determining the appropriate staffing mix and the precise grades of staff to be employed in line with service plan priorities, subject to overall employment levels remaining within the approved regional employment ceiling.

Hospital Services.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

95 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is expected that the new five story facility at James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, which cost more than €96 million to construct and equip, will be brought into service; the steps being taken to ensure that the facility is commissioned without further delay; the estimated costs arising from cleaning, light, heating, security and maintenance of equipment that would be required to bring it into operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18383/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services at James Connolly Memorial Hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority.

This major development is being funded jointly by the Northern Area Health Board, through the sale of surplus lands, and my Department. The projected full project cost is €101.4 million. This includes an amount of €5 million approved last year to facilitate refurbishment works at the hospital which are necessary as part of the transition process to the new hospital and to facilitate a land transfer in line with the project development arrangements.

My Department is advised that the first phase of the transition to the new development at James Connolly Memorial Hospital, Blanchardstown, has been completed. The coronary care and cardiac unit, the therapeutic psychiatry of old age unit, day hospital and the rheumatology service transferred to the new building in September 2003.

The further commissioning of this development is currently being examined by the ERHA and my Department.

Population Statistics.

John Bruton

Question:

96 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach his projection of evolution of the working age population here as a proportion of total population over the next 25 years on present trends and the equivalent available projections for other OECD countries. [18259/04]

The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the following table which is based on the medium variant of the UN population projections. The working age population is defined as those aged 15 to 64 years.

Projected percentage of the population aged 15-64 in OECD countries 2000-2030

Projection Year

Country

2000

2005

2010

2015

2020

2025

2030

%

Australia

67.2

67.8

68.2

67.2

65.8

64.1

62.5

Austria

67.8

68.2

68.5

68.2

67.0

64.3

60.6

Belgium

65.6

65.6

66.1

65.0

63.7

61.8

59.7

Canada

68.4

69.4

70.0

68.8

66.6

63.8

61.3

Czech Republic

69.8

71.2

70.9

68.1

65.7

64.5

63.4

Denmark

66.7

66.3

65.7

64.5

63.8

62.5

60.4

Finland

66.9

66.9

66.6

63.9

61.6

59.8

58.5

France

65.2

65.3

65.2

63.7

62.5

61.3

60.0

Germany

68.1

67.0

66.2

66.0

64.7

62.6

59.6

Greece

67.4

66.7

66.4

65.8

65.0

63.7

61.9

Hungary

68.4

69.4

70.0

69.3

67.1

65.5

65.0

Iceland

65.0

66.2

67.4

67.0

65.8

63.9

62.2

Ireland

67.2

68.2

67.7

66.3

65.5

65.1

65.0

Italy

67.6

66.6

66.3

65.3

64.6

63.0

60.0

Japan

68.2

66.3

64.0

61.0

59.5

58.9

57.8

Luxembourg

67.3

67.3

68.0

68.1

67.8

66.7

64.9

Mexico

61.4

63.5

65.3

66.8

67.6

68.0

68.0

Netherlands

67.9

67.7

67.6

66.2

65.1

63.3

60.9

New Zealand

65.3

66.0

66.8

66.1

65.0

63.2

61.2

Norway

64.8

65.7

66.3

65.4

64.2

62.4

60.5

Poland

68.6

70.7

72.2

70.6

67.7

65.3

64.5

Portugal

67.7

67.0

66.9

66.7

66.4

65.4

63.8

Republic of Korea

72.0

71.8

72.5

72.6

71.5

68.4

65.1

Slovakia

69.1

71.3

72.2

71.0

68.6

66.8

65.5

Spain

68.6

68.8

68.2

67.6

67.0

65.3

62.7

Sweden

64.3

65.3

65.2

62.9

61.3

60.0

58.8

Switzerland

67.3

67.4

66.9

65.4

63.3

60.2

56.7

Turkey

62.8

65.1

66.9

68.3

69.3

69.6

69.1

United Kingdom

65.1

66.1

66.9

66.3

65.5

64.2

62.5

United States of America

65.9

66.5

66.6

65.5

64.1

62.5

61.5

Source: Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, World Population Prospects: The 2002 Revision and World Urbanization Prospects: The 2001 Revision http://esa.un.org/unpp, 17 June 2004

Gross Domestic Product.

John Bruton

Question:

97 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the average GDP per head for Ireland and for each other OECD country in 1950, 1960, 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000 and to date. [18260/04]

The GDP per head for Ireland in current and constant terms — in terms of 1995 prices — are supplied in Table 1 for the years requested. There are discontinuities in the series in 1990 and 1985 and two sets of figures have been supplied for each of those years. This arises in the case of 1990 due to the accounts being compiled according to new rules — the ESA95 system as opposed to the ESA 1970 system. However, the values of GDP under the new and old systems are supplied for 1990.

In the case of 1985, the discontinuity arises due to improved methodologies being adopted while it was not possible to revise retrospectively prior to 1985. Here again, two sets of figures using the new and old methodologies have been provided for the year 1985.

The GDP figuresper capita in other OECD countries, in US dollars for the relevant years beginning with 1970, have been supplied in Table 2. These have been taken from the OECD website. OECD cannot provide the data prior to 1970. The conversion into dollars has been done using a special PPP, purchasing power parity, rate that compares the price of a representative basket of goods in each country rather than using the currency exchange rates. Similar tables in constant terms can be obtained on the OECD website.

Table 1

Ireland's GDPper capita at current and constant (1995) prices

Period: 1950-2003

Year

GDPper capita (€)

GDPper capita (€)

Current

1995 prices

2003

33,155

24,335

2002

33,021

24,381

2001

29,889

23,266

2000

27,157

22,211

1990

10,358

11,947

1990

9,846

11,323

1985

6,663

9,005

1985

6,445

8,711

1980

3,522

8,187

1970

702

6,183

1960

285

4,344

1950

159

3,232

Table 2

OECD GDP per head at current prices and current PPPs (US dollars)

Country

1970

1980

1990

2000

2001

2002

Australia

4,214.719

9,747.555

16,663.03

26,294.57

27,385.44

28,086.7

Austria

3,601.775

9,962.901

18,698.34

27,865.26

28,372.61

28,871.98

Belgium

3,667.228

9,809.5

17,931.78

25,916

27,096.28

27,716.49

Canada

4,223.356

10,830.99

19,100.63

28,366.59

29,290.04

30,302.71

Czech Republic

11,087.31

13,668.14

14,852.99

15,108.29

Denmark

4,530.475

10,344.42

18,296.06

28,143.9

29,222.95

29,231.2

Finland

3,373.793

9,154.551

17,990.29

25,358.52

26,390.27

26,494.63

France

3,769.408

9,647.375

17,717.73

25,292.78

26,552.11

27,216.64

Germany

3,662.261

9,369.552

17,621.32

24,851.36

25,455.81

25,917.24

Greece

2,558.882

7,175.642

11,072.94

16,074.54

17,020.13

18,436.27

Hungary

11,878.5

13,042.7

13,891.61

Iceland

3,466.84

11,250.31

20,047.15

27,948.54

29,030.91

28,398.86

Ireland

22,68.574

6,131.31

12,890.97

28,035.07

29,821.87

32,646.13

Italy

3,444.59

9,189.887

17,368

24,682.09

25,343.02

25,610.05

Japan

3,200.402

8,627.72

18,632.57

25,887.44

26,551.14

26,852.42

Korea

706.276

2,396.947

7,416.338

15,185.62

15,915.87

17,016.08

Luxembourg

4,526.414

10,671.96

25,068.44

48,419.78

49,229.86

49,149.71

Mexico

1,569.178

4,256.151

6,288.826

9,110.341

9,148.489

9,214.563

Netherlands

4,121.188

9,929.523

17,808.3

26,982.1

28,711.19

29,008.81

New Zealand

39,67.432

8,308.082

13,982.27

20,412.28

21,229.52

21,783.16

Norway

3,180.164

9,460.887

17,908.39

35,815.83

36,577.71

35,515.75

Poland

6,037.929

10,173.57

10,495.82

10,845.51

Portugal

1,881.694

5,237.291

10,805.96

17,149.85

17,885.79

18,433.66

Slovak Republic

10657.25

11322.87

12,254.56

Spain

2,627.579

6,647.209

13,013.8

20,316.7

21,346.52

22,405.65

Sweden

4,421.369

10,189.36

18,665.68

26,575.75

26,902.26

27,265.22

Switzerland

6,378.603

13,902.84

24,299.88

29,758.81

30,036.44

30,454.87

Turkey

968.794

2,268.518

4,526.084

6,729.826

6,045.501

6,407.769

United Kingdom

3,585.214

8,436.865

16,358.96

25,322.1

26,627.13

27,948.35

United States

5,000.268

12,170.33

23,004.76

34,601.67

35,178.81

36,120.66

Euro area

3,419.879

8,834.149

16,533.98

24,049.84

24,964.09

25,565.52

EU15

3,486.408

8,824.675

16,581.24

24,364.27

25,328.04

26,027.1

OECD-Europe

3,298.811

8,203.736

15,153.63

21,963.58

22,641.69

23,240.09

OECD total

3,550.821

8,821.716

16,656.62

24,562.91

25,162.85

25,801.65

Unemployment Levels.

John Bruton

Question:

98 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the figures for the rate of unemployment for different national categories of foreign-born persons here and for persons born here. [18261/04]

The information requested by the Deputy is contained in the following table:

ILO unemployment rate for persons aged15 years and over by place of birth — QNHS, 2004 Q1

%

Republic of Ireland

4.3

United Kingdom

5.9

Rest of the EU

3.4

Rest of the world

4.4

Total non-Irish-born

5.4

Total

4.4

Notes
1.For the purposes of this table it is assumed that when the country of birth is not stated it is the Republic of Ireland.
2.EU refers to EU-15.
3.The QNHS covers the usually resident population living in private households.
Data may be subject to sampling or other survey errors, which are greater in respect of smaller values or estimates of change.
Reference period: Q1 — December to February 2004.
Source: Quarterly National Household Survey, Central Statistics Office, Ireland.

Population Statistics.

John Bruton

Question:

99 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the proportion of the population here born outside the State and the equivalent proportion for the OECD as a whole and for each OECD country. [18262/04]

The information requested by the Deputy, insofar as it is available, is contained in the following table.

Percentage of Foreign Born Persons for years around 2000

%

Australia

27.4

Austria

12.5

Belgium

10.8

Canada

19.3

Switzerland

22.4

Czech Republic

4.5

Germany

N/A

Denmark

6.8

Spain

5.3

Finland

2.5

France

10.0

United Kingdom

8.3

Greece

10.3

Hungary

2.9

Ireland

10.4

Italy

N/A

Japan

N/A

Korea

0.3

Luxembourg

32.6

Mexico

0.5

Netherlands

10.1

Norway

7.3

New Zealand

18.8

Poland

N/A

Portugal

6.3

Slovakia

2.5

Sweden

12.0

Turkey

1.9

United States of America

12.3

Total

8.7

N/A = Not Available

Household Wealth.

John Bruton

Question:

100 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the proportion of household wealth here held in the form of housing assets; and the comparable figures for other OECD countries. [18209/04]

The information requested by the Deputy is not available.

National Minimum Wage.

Richard Bruton

Question:

101 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if the age differential under the minimum wage legislation can permit employers to pay a lower wage even when identical hours and productivity requirements apply to a worker who is under 18; and her views on whether the right of employers to pay a lower wage should only apply when there is an apprenticeship or other such special arrangement approved. [18327/04]

Sub-minimum rates of the national minimum wage apply where an employee is: under age 18; or in the first two years after the date of first employment over age 18; or undergoing a prescribed course of study or training.

All employees under the age of 18 are entitled to 70% of the national minimum wage. This percentage was recommended by the National Minimum Wage Commission to strike a balance between ensuring that young employees are not exploited and ensuring that the rate of pay does not encourage students to leave full-time education.

The National Minimum Wage Commission recommended that sub-minimum rates should also apply to employees in the first two years of employment over age 18 and to those undergoing structured training. These recommendations were endorsed by the interdepartmental group on implementation of a national minimum wage and implemented in the minimum wage legislation.

Regulations — SI 99 of 2000 — prescribe the criteria that a course of study or training must satisfy before these sub-minimum rates can apply. These include the requirement that the course must include an assessment and certification procedure.

The National Minimum Wage Act does not apply to statutory apprentices within the meaning of or under the Industrial Training Act 1967 or the Labour Services Act 1987.

Consumer Protection.

Mary Upton

Question:

102 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if her attention has been drawn to the practices of a person (details supplied) and the concerns expressed that vulnerable persons are being manipulated by this person; if she has satisfied herself with the regulatory regime in place here in order that allegations of manipulation of persons in this manner can be satisfactorily investigated and sanctions made when appropriate; her views on whether in respect of whether these allegations are true, there is a regulatory vacuum in this area; her plans to bring forward legislation to deal with this type of concern; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18547/04]

The current legislative regulatory framework for consumer protection makes provision for false trade descriptions. Section 2 of the Consumer Information Act 1978 makes it an offence to apply a false trade description to a product. These offences are prosecuted by the Director of Consumer Affairs. In addition, the consumer has rights under the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act 1980 regarding breaches as to the warranty of a particular product.

At the competitiveness Council on 18 May 2004 the unfair commercial practices directive received political agreement. This measure will create harmonised rules for the protection of consumers against misleading, unfair or aggressive practices which harm consumers economic interests.

The directive contains a list of practices which are considered at all times unfair and consequently prohibited. One of these banned practices is "falsely claiming that a product is able to cure illness, dysfunction or malformation". This directive will probably be formally adopted by the Council later this year after which it will be transposed into Irish law.

Extradition of Person.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

103 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if progress has been made with regard to efforts to bring to justice those responsible for the killings of persons (details supplied) in Lebanon in April 1980; if, in particular, efforts have been made to secure the extradition of a person identified in a television programme as being the killer of the persons, who it is reported is now resident in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18540/04]

The killing of Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne and the wounding of Private John O'Mahony while serving with UNIFIL was an abhorrent crime. The legal issues in this case have been reviewed on a number of occasions in the context of ascertaining whether persons alleged to have committed this awful crime could be brought to justice.

I have previously consulted the Attorney General on the question of the possibility of seeking the extradition to the State for trial here of the alleged perpetrators of this crime. However, I have been advised that the Irish courts do not have jurisdiction for acts, such as this, committed by non-nationals outside the State and that extradition proceedings would, therefore, have to be initiated in the country where the crime was committed, namely, in Lebanon.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which was inspired by the need to improve the level of protection of people, such as the late Privates Barrett and Smallhorne, serving on UN missions and to ensure the punishment of individuals who do not respect the mandate of UN peacekeepers, entered into force on 15 January 1999. The convention, however, does not apply retrospectively.

I will continue to explore such avenues as may be open to me to seek justice in respect of Privates Barrett and Smallhorne. However, it is the case that, given the passage of time, building aprima facie case at this remove is likely to prove difficult.

Registration of Title.

Michael Ring

Question:

104 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if matters will be expedited for persons (details supplied) in County Mayo. [18294/04]

I am advised that the Land Registry has completed this dealing.

Farm Waste Management.

Pat Breen

Question:

105 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason grant aid under the farm waste management scheme is not available for replacement of one gang slats in slatted cattle houses while such aid is available for the replacement of single slats one or otherwise; his proposals to amend this anomaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18299/04]

The farm waste management scheme does not provide grant aid for the repair of existing buildings. However, when the revised farm waste management scheme was introduced in January of this year, I decided to provide grant aid for the removal of single slats and their replacement by gang slats as an exceptional safety measure. Gang slats tend to be inherently safer than single slats and are now manufactured to a more rigorous standard specification. I have no plans to extend grant-aid under the scheme to the replacement of existing gang slats by new gang slats.

Rural Environment Protection Scheme.

Pat Breen

Question:

106 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way in which his Department’s view that the REP scheme is easier to operate and cheaper to enter can be justified in view of matters (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18300/04]

The detailed specification referred to by the Deputy is for the use of professional planners and is designed to assist them in drawing up REPS 3 plans. Farmers are not obliged to refer to the specification; instead, I have introduced a separate publication called theREPS Farmer’s Handbook which explains plainly and in user-friendly terms what the farmer must do to comply with the scheme.

Mapping requirements for each REPS undertaking are clearly set out and are similar to those under REPS 2. The need for amended plans has been reduced in REPS 3; they will now be needed only where there is a significant change to the land area or the farming system.

A sum of €1.3 million has already been invested in providing on-line access to Ordnance Survey maps for REPS planning purposes. I am making a further investment in an on-line REPS planning system, which is currently being developed by Teagasc and the Agricultural Consultants' Association and will be available to planners later this year. This will lead to further efficiencies and less time required for the preparation of plans.

REPS planners are no longer required to examine title documentation regarding REPS farms, except where the land is leased or part of a commonage. They are now required to visit a farm only once during the course of a REPS contract, whereas annual visits were required in previous years.

All of these changes will lead to a reduction in the time taken to prepare plans and in the planner's ongoing involvement in REPS contracts, and I would expect this to be reflected in reduced costs to the farmer.

Grant Payments.

Dan Neville

Question:

107 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a forestry premium will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18323/04]

The 2004 forestry premium was paid to the person in question on 7 April 2004 and the top-up premium payment was issued on 17 June 2004.

Dan Neville

Question:

108 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a green belt forestry grant will be made to a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [18334/04]

The forestry premium was paid to the person in question on 27 January 2004.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

109 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the reason a person (details supplied) in County Wexford has not been eligible for suckler cow premium in recent years; the action he will take to rectify this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18512/04]

Applicants under the suckler cow scheme must have a suckler cow quota to be eligible for payment. The person named does not hold a suckler cow quota and consequently cannot be paid suckler cow premium. He was informed of this requirement in writing on 19 May 2000, 11 April 2001 and as recently as 15 April 2004.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

110 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan can expect to receive special beef and bull premium payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18513/04]

The person named submitted five applications under the 2003 special beef-bull premium scheme; one on 24 February 2003, in respect of six animals, one on 4 June 2003, in respect of seven animals, one on 24 July 2003, in respect of three animals, one on 23 September 2003, in respect of nine animals and one on 30 December 2003, in respect of 21 animals.

The person named has a milk quota and, initially, payments were calculated using the national average milk yield figure of 3,982 litres, as a result of which the person named was deemed stocking density restricted. Subsequently, the person named provided evidence of being involved in official milk recording, with a confirmed average yield figure of 7,055 litres. This revised data have been inputted into my Department's mainframe computer system, as a result of which all outstanding payments under these schemes will issue shortly.

Seymour Crawford

Question:

111 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan can expect to receive the REP scheme payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18514/04]

A REPS payment will issue to the person named within the next ten days.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

112 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if a decision has been taken on his Department’s farm development office at Mallow in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18543/04]

Joe Sherlock

Question:

113 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if it is his intention to open an office in the Fermoy area in order that farmers avoid having to travel to Macroom from the north Cork region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18544/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 113 together.

As I announced on 22 April it has been decided to relocate the Department's local office from Cork city to Fermoy to serve Cork north and east. It has also been decided to relocate the agriculture, environment and structures office activities from Mallow to Fermoy.

Population Statistics.

John Bruton

Question:

114 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if, in relation to the evolution of the working age population here as a proportion of total population over the next 25 years, he will make a statement on the impact of these projected changes on the productivity of the economy here and the likely burden of taxation. [18259/04]

Over the next 25 years the working age population as a proportion of total population is projected to fall. The resultant lower levels of employment growth will mean that productivity growth will become a key ingredient in economic growth. In this context, increased labour force participation rates, particularly amongst female and older age groups, will be crucial.

The falling proportion of those of working age will be a factor which will impact on many aspects of budgetary policy going forward, including taxation policy.

Fiscal Policy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

115 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider reviewing the policy of levying rates on child care facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18286/04]

I have no plans to provide for special treatment of child care facilities under the Valuation Act. The Valuation Act 2001 maintained the long-standing position that commercial facilities — including child care facilities such as play schools, pre-schools, crèches and Montessori schools — are liable for rates. Exceptions to this key principle would quickly be followed by demands for similar treatment from the providers of other useful services and products, which would be difficult in equity to resist. The process could thus substantially reduce local authority revenues, which would have to be made good by imposing corresponding increases on the remaining ratepayers.

The rateable valuation of commercial property is based on net annual value, NAV, which is the rental value of the property. Any rate payer dissatisfied with the rateability of a property, the valuation assessed on a particular property or the method of calculation can appeal to the Commissioner of Valuation in the first instance and subsequently to the independent valuation tribunal. There is a further right of appeal to the High Court and ultimately to the Supreme Court on a point of law.

Outdoor Events.

Tony Gregory

Question:

116 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance , further to Parliamentary Question No. 226 of 27 November 2002, if each of the concerts held in the Phoenix Park, Dublin 7, since then has met the criteria within the policy framework; if the attendance limit of 100,000 has been adhered to in each case; the action that is taken to ensure these limits are adhered to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18470/04]

Each of the concerts held in the Phoenix Park since 27 November 2002 has adhered to the terms of the policy document dated May 1997 outlining the policy framework relating to the use of the Phoenix Park for large-scale public, cultural, musical and heritage events.

Each concert also secured a licence under Part 16 of the Planning and Development Regulations, 2001, for public outdoor events. There is no specific limit in the policy framework document on numbers attending these events. Numbers attending events are limited by the capacity of the venue and health and safety concerns.

School Site Transfers.

John McGuinness

Question:

117 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Finance if the transfer of a site for a new school (details supplied) in County Kilkenny has been completed; the stage the transfer is at; and if completion of the deal will be expedited. [18279/04]

The purchase of a site for the School of the Holy Spirit, Kilkenny city, was completed on 14 May 2004 and is currently in the process of being registered.

Tax Code.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

118 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Finance if there are plans to change the 12% vehicle registration tax on crew cab commercial vehicles. [18282/04]

The current situation with regard to crew cabs is that a crew cab with a gross weight less than 3,500 kg is classed as a category B vehicle for VRT purposes, and therefore is subject to a VRT rate of 13.5%. A crew cab that has a gross weight over 3,500 kg is classed as a category C vehicle and is subject to a VRT charge of €50. I have no plans to change the current arrangements.

Banking Sector Regulation.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

119 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if he has any plans to introduce a requirement on lending institutions to limit the amount of borrowing on domestic loans and mortgages to a multiple of annual income after taking into account the net worth of the person or persons. [18288/04]

The Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority, a constituent part of the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland, is responsible in the first instance for ensuring that credit institutions have prudent lending policies as part of its general supervisory role.

The Financial Services Regulator has continuously emphasised to credit institutions the importance of strict ongoing monitoring and management and control of credit risk and the need to maintain prudent lending practices in order to avoid problems which become apparent only when the economic climate is less favourable. In July 2001 the Central Bank issued guidance on "Additional Characteristics of Prudent Home Loan Assessment", the main focus of which was to strengthen lending practices. The bank has required that stress-testing techniques be performed in credit institutions to measure the capacity of lending institutions to withstand economic shocks. In November 2002 credit institutions were advised not to relax their lending criteria in order to increase their market share. They were also advised to alert their borrowers to the risks associated with all mortgage based lending products and to remain fully alert to the dangers of lending to marginal borrowers. However, it is the obligation of each credit institution and its board to ensure that prudent lending policies are adopted, that the appropriate standards are maintained and that loan books are of a sufficiently high quality to withstand an economic shock.

The Financial Services Regulator performed a mortgage credit review in the first quarter of 2003. The overall general findings from that inspection were that no matters of financial soundness came to light, however credit institutions were required to put more robust procedures in place in the area of client income verification and the funding of mortgage loan balances to ensure that loans are properly secured and will be repaid in full. It is important to note that the majority of credit institutions now utilise net disposable income criteria in underwriting mortgage applications. Net disposable income criteria are considered to be a more accurate reflection of repayment capacity. For example, a simple multiple would not capture the difference in the ability to make repayments on a loan at 10% interest and at 3% interest. An examination of net disposable income can capture this difference. At the same time, this has to be combined with a stress-test of the loan to assess the ability to repay should interest rates increase from current levels.

As will be clear from the foregoing, the question of the level of borrowing/lending that would be appropriate is, in the first instance a matter for the borrowers and lenders themselves, subject to overall monitoring from a prudential regulatory aspect by IFSRA, which is statutorily independent in the exercise of its regulatory functions. I have no plans for any detailed legislation in this area at this time. Should IFSRA report to me at any time that it felt it required additional powers in this regard, I would respond quickly to such a request.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

120 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the capital tax gains code should be reformed in order that the personal exemption of €1,270 of chargeable gain be subtracted from the chargeable gains of a year of assessment before deciding whether losses brought forward from earlier years should be deducted, in view of the fact that the present rules involve the taxpayer sacrificing the losses carried forward if the chargeable gains do not exceed €1,270; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18296/04]

The annual exemption from capital gains tax, CGT, is €1,270. If an individual's chargeable gains in a year are no greater than this amount, there is no CGT liability in respect of those gains. If the chargeable gains are greater than this amount, €1,270 continues to be deducted from the gains before calculating the liability. A CGT rate of 20% applies, which was halved from 40% in Budget 1998.

Section 31 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides that the total amount of chargeable gains arising in that year of assessment is arrived at after deducting: (a) any allowable losses accruing to that person in that year of assessment; and (b) in so far as they have not been allowed as a deduction from chargeable gains in any previous year of assessment, any allowable losses accruing to that person in any previous year of assessment.

This approach ensures that taxpayers in the same net situation — individuals with net gains after deducting any losses compared with individuals with gains of a similar amount without any losses — are treated equally. The annual exemption is then allowed after the net gains have been established.

This is similar to what is applied in income tax relating to the carry forward of the unused losses from earlier years. Under the normal set-off rules for income tax, any unused trading losses from a previous year would come forward against future profits from the same trade before establishing the individual's level of income for income tax exemption or marginal relief purposes in that year and before the granting of any personal allowances, reliefs or tax credits. Likewise, where rental income is involved, the normal tax rules apply which provide that any unused rental losses would be brought forward and be offset against the rental income in the subsequent year of assessment before any personal allowances, reliefs and tax credits are granted.

In view of the considerations outlined such that the current system treats taxpayers equally and is consistent with the approach adopted regarding other taxes, such as income tax, I have no plans to change the capital gains tax code as suggested by the Deputy.

Tax Yield.

Richard Bruton

Question:

121 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the details of his assessment on the cost of making all tax credits refundable when they are unused; the main category of refunds under such a proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18297/04]

I assume that the Deputy is referring to those personal credits, which were converted from personal allowances in the changeover to tax credits, which was completed in 2001. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the cost of making all personal tax credits refundable when they are unused including the personal and employee credits, the home carer tax credit, the one-parent family credit and the age credit as well as the minor personal credits such as incapacitated child credit and the blind person's credit, is broadly in the region of €1.6 billion annually.

The main category of refund would relate to the basic personal credit — single, married and widowed — where the annual cost of refunding the unused portion of the credit to income earners with insufficient income to fully absorb it would amount to approximately €830 million. The next two categories of refund in order of scale would be the employee credit, approximately €660 million, and the home carer credit, approximately €70 million. The figure of €1.6 billion above relates only to the cost of extending refundable tax credits to all those on Revenue's tax files. If a refundable tax credit system were to be introduced, one would have to consider those who are not on the tax files, for example, those who are of employable age but not working. This would increase the cost significantly.

Apart from the issue of cost, there would be a range of other policy and practical difficulties arising in introducing such a system. I have no plans to introduce refundable tax credits at present.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

122 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if tax relief is available to a person wishing to build a stable and arena area to break and train horses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18302/04]

There is no specific tax relief available for the construction of a stable and arena area to break and train horses. However, in certain circumstances I am advised that the Revenue Commissioners take the view that racehorse trainers are entitled to farm buildings allowances in respect of expenditure incurred on structures such as stables and yards. To qualify, a trainer must have the use of land or the right to graze livestock on land. The qualifying expenditure can be written off over seven years at the rate of 15% for the first six years and 10% for the seventh year.

Tax relief may also be available under one of the general property-based incentive schemes, depending on where the premises are to be located and the circumstances of the case. Tax relief is available for certain commercial premises under the urban renewal, town renewal and rural renewal schemes. Based on the information supplied it is not possible to say if tax relief under one of these schemes might apply in this case. The person concerned should check with his or her local authority to ascertain if the area in which the stable and arena is to be built has been designated for tax incentive purposes. If the outcome of that inquiry is positive the person concerned should then contact the Office of the Revenue Commissioners, Business Income Tax, Ship Street Gate, Dublin Castle, Dublin 2, whose phone numbers are 01-6475473 and 01-6475432, for further advice.

Decentralisation Programme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

123 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Finance if his Department will investigate the potential to move a Government office to Tallaght, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18475/04]

As the Deputy is aware, since 1997, the Revenue Commissioners have relocated a number of their offices to Tallaght. These include the large cases division; Dublin region; east-south-east — CAT and Kildare audit-compliance; information communication technology and e-business — ROS — offices. A staff of 264 works in the offices concerned. Having announced the Government's decentralisation programme last December, the Government has no plans at present to relocate any further offices to Tallaght.

Motor Fuels.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

124 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether allowing the use of green diesel in off-road dumper vehicles makes these vehicles very economic leading to an increase of on-road use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18529/04]

In accordance with Article 8(2) of Council Directive 2003/96/EC, which sets down rules for the taxation of energy products, reduced rates of duty may be applied to fuel used by vehicles intended for use off the public roadway. The majority of member states avail of this option. In Ireland the reduced rate of mineral oil tax is €47.36 per 1,000 litres for marked gas oil or "green diesel" as against a standard rate of €368.05 per 1,000 litres for regular road diesel. The VAT rate applicable to marked gas oil is 13.5% and the VAT rate for regular road diesel is 21%. So-called "off-road" dumpers qualify to use fuel at the reduced rate regardless of where they are used. However, the use of such vehicles on public roadways is subject to special permits issued by local authorities in accordance with Article 17 of the Road Traffic (Construction, Equipment and Use of Vehicles) Regulations 1963, SI 190 of 1963. The Revenue Commissioners do not have any data on the extent of on-road usage of these dumpers.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Question:

125 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider removing the stamp duty on credit cards for old age pensioners to promote the use of cashless transactions and reduce the risk to older persons of carrying cash. [18530/04]

The stamp duty on credit card accounts is charged to the financial institutions, which in turn pass it on to their customers in the vast majority of cases. The stamp duty charged on a credit card account is now €40 per annum. The stamp duty arises irrespective of the age of the person holding the account.

I do not believe this charge is excessive in the circumstances and there is no evidence that it significantly discourages people from using this form of transaction. If an exemption were introduced for one group of people, such as the over-65s, there would be demands for similar treatment for others and the tax base could be significantly curtailed. I do not, therefore, intend introducing an exemption from the stamp duty concerned.

As the Deputy knows, the Government has done more for those aged 65 and over than many previous Governments. The income tax age exemption limits have been increased by approximately 135% since 1997, removing 81,300 elderly people from the tax net. The current rate of payment for old age pensions has increased by approximately 69% over the rate payable in 1997. This is well ahead of the rate of inflation and represents an enormous improvement in the living standards of our older citizens.

Drainage Schemes.

Denis Naughten

Question:

126 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the role and function of the OPW in carrying out drainage works on the Arigna River, County Roscommon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18568/04]

The OPW has no role or function in carrying out drainage works on the Arigna River.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

127 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding persons wishing to join the Civil Service, in particular, those who wish to apply for jobs in the various centres outside of Dublin. [18620/04]

Recruitment to permanent positions in the Civil Service is carried out by the Civil Service Commissioners, who under the Civil Service Commissioners Act 1956 are bound by law to recruit by fair, open and merit-based means to various levels in the Civil Service. The Civil Service Commissioners are involved in recruitment to a range of positions in the Civil Service.

Recruitment is by way of open competition. All competitions held by the commissioners are advertised in one or more of the national papers and on their web site at:www.publicjobs.ie. Application forms, together with all relevant details, are only available when competitions are announced. However, potential candidates can register their interest in a position on the Civil Service Commission website and will then automatically be notified by e-mail when the competition is announced. From time to time the Civil Service Commission may advertise for positions in existing offices outside Dublin.

Under the decentralisation programme, the Government has decided to relocate more than 10,000 civil and public service jobs to 53 locations in 25 other counties outside Dublin. The decentralisation central applications facility gives information about the new locations and jobs. It allows certain public servants to apply for transfer to posts at the same or equivalent level in decentralised locations and to rank preferences for different locations. Applications can be made on the CAF website at:www.publicjobscaf.ie. In the medium to longer term, it will be necessary to consider the development of regional recruitment and promotion systems building on the existing regional arrangements. This will be the subject of further discussions with the Civil Service unions.

Tax Code.

Martin Ferris

Question:

128 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Finance if he will make a statement on employee discount schemes (details supplied) and the manner in which they will be affected by new tax rules on employee benefits. [18625/04]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a discount given by an employer, for example, an employer in the retail sector, on the purchase of goods by one of his or her employees is not regarded as a taxable benefit if the sum paid by the employee is equal to or greater than the cost to the employer of acquiring or manufacturing the goods. However, where goods are sold to an employee for a price that is below his or her employer's cost of such goods, the difference between that cost and the price paid by the employee is a taxable benefit giving rise to a liability to tax and PRSI under the PAYE system.

It is understood that some retail companies operate for their employees a discount system under which the employees are given a voucher that may be redeemed at any branch of the company against future purchases. In these circumstances, the value of the voucher given to the employee, like all other vouchers given by an employer to an employee, is liable to tax and PRSI under the PAYE system.

Overseas Missions.

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

129 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, during his meeting with President Bush, he will raise the reported presence in the United States of the person believed to be responsible for the killing in the Lebanon in April 1980 of two members of the Defence Forces, (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18542/04]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

132 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has raised with the United States authorities the reported presence in that country of a person believed to have been responsible for the killings of persons (details supplied) in the Lebanon in April 1980 who was identified in a television programme; if, in particular efforts have been made to secure the extradition of the person from the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18541/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 132 together.

The killing of Private Thomas Barrett and Private Derek Smallhorne and the wounding of Private John O'Mahony in 1980 while they served with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon were abhorrent crimes. The nation grieved for their loss and our sympathy for their loved ones has not diminished with the passage of time.

The legal issues in this case have been reviewed on a number of occasions with a view to determining whether persons alleged to have committed these crimes could be brought to justice. The Government has engaged in close consultation with the United States authorities on the question of bringing to justice the alleged perpetrator who is understood to be resident in the US and is a naturalised US citizen. The Deputy will understand that I am not in a position to go into detail. I can, however, assure him that the US authorities have been very helpful in the course of these consultations.

The question of seeking the extradition to the State for trial here of the alleged perpetrators of these crimes does not arise because the Irish courts do not have jurisdiction to try persons for acts such as these committed by non-nationals outside the State. An extradition request would therefore have to be made by the country where the crime was committed, namely Lebanon, with a view to a criminal prosecution there.

As the Deputy will be aware, the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel, which was inspired by the need to improve the level of protection of personnel such as Private Barrett and Private Smallhorne serving on UN Missions, and to ensure the punishment of individuals who do not respect the mandate of UN peacekeepers, entered into force on 15 January 1999. The convention, however, does not apply retrospectively. The Government will continue to explore such avenues as may be open to it to seek justice in this tragic case.

Support for Emigrants.

Finian McGrath

Question:

130 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason for the delay in implementing the report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants; and if the maximum support will be given to elderly Irish emigrants in Britain. [18258/04]

The report of the task force on policy regarding emigrants is being implemented progressively. As I have said before, the report contains a large number of wide-ranging recommendations, which will have to be implemented on a phased basis over a period of years. Action is currently being taken on more than two-thirds of the 71 recommendations contained in the report. A special group in my Department, chaired by the Secretary General, is meeting on a fortnightly basis to monitor progress in implementing the recommendations.

I have asked the DION committee to give priority to the needs of elderly and vulnerable emigrants in Britain in line with the recommendations of the task force. Last year, approximately €1.3 million, more than half the DION fund, went to vulnerable groups. Of this, €873,000 was allocated to projects to support the older Irish in Britain, €119,000 to projects for returning emigrants, and €332,000 to projects for Irish Travellers in Britain. This year, I have increased substantially the allocation of the DION fund to €3.57 million. This will enable a further increase in the provision of support to the elderly Irish in Britain.

Colombia Three.

Seán Crowe

Question:

131 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Government or its representatives have expressed concern at the unwarranted attention being given to at least one of the lawyers representing the three Irish prisoners (details supplied) in Colombia, by Colombian security services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18324/04]

From the outset of this case, my Department has provided all possible consular assistance to these three Irish citizens in Colombia and their families. Assistance of this kind, in accordance with the provisions of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, can only be provided by a State to its own citizens and my Department cannot therefore provide consular assistance to non-Irish nationals.

Question No. 132 answered with QuestionNo. 129.

School Staffing.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

133 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will report on the changes in teacher numbers at a school (details supplied) in Dublin 11; the number of teachers allocated to the school in each of the past three years and the number which will be allocated in 2005; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18268/04]

The staffing of a primary school for a particular school year is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on the 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners.

The staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy was a principal and ten mainstream class teachers, two learning support teachers, one special class teacher, one resource teacher, one home school liaison teacher and one early start teacher for the school year 2001-02. Since then, the mainstream staffing has remained unchanged. However, the school was allocated an additional resource teacher post from 2002-03.

The enrolment on 30 September 2003 entitles the school to a staffing of a principal and nine mainstream class teachers for the 2004-05 school year. However, on the basis of the projected enrolment for the 30 September 2004, provisional sanction to retain the tenth mainstream post under developing school status was given to the board of management on 20 May 2004, subject to the projected enrolment being achieved on 30 September.

To ensure transparency and openness in the system, an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals on mainstream staffing. Details of the appeals procedure are outlined in department circular 03/04.

Bernard Allen

Question:

134 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide sufficient teachers to avoid a situation at a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will provide adequate teachers to avoid this serious situation. [18269/04]

The staffing of a primary school for a particular school year is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on the 30 September of the previous school year. This is in accordance with guidelines agreed between my Department and the education partners.

In the current school year the mainstream staffing of the school referred to by the Deputy is a principal plus 15 mainstream posts based on an enrolment of 398 pupils at 30 September 2002. The enrolment of the school at 30 September 2003 was 374 pupils, which warrants a staffing of a principal and 13 mainstream posts for the 2004-05 school year. The staffing schedule is structured to ensure that all primary schools will operate to an average mainstream class size of 29 pupils. School authorities should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and the smallest classes is kept to a minimum.

To ensure transparency and openness in the system an independent appeals board is now in place to decide on any appeals on mainstream staffing. Details of the appeals procedure are outlined in department primary circular 03/04.

Grant Payments.

Bernard Allen

Question:

135 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will sanction a grant for a school (details supplied) in County Cork. [18275/04]

The scope of works required at the school referred to by the Deputy, is appropriate for consideration under the summer works scheme. While the school's application under the summer works scheme for 2004 was unsuccessful, it is open to the school's management authority to re-apply for the key priority works required at the school as part of the 2005 summer works scheme, details of which will be announced later this year.

Early Retirement.

John McGuinness

Question:

136 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application for early retirement in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny will be approved as soon as possible. [18277/04]

The person referred to by the Deputy has applied for a disability pension. Entitlement of an applicant to a disability pension is established through the verification by my Department in conjunction with the chief medical officer for the Civil Service that the applicant is not capable of performing his or her duties due to infirmity of body or mind and that the infirmity is likely to be permanent. In the case referred to by the Deputy, the chief medical officer has advised that he is unable to categorise the applicant as permanently incapacitated at this point. The chief medical officer has advised that the applicant's medical consultant should submit a detailed medical report on the applicant's illness, treatment and prognosis for return to work. The position will then be reviewed by the chief medical officer on the basis of the up-to-date medical evidence with a view to deciding on the award of ill-health retirement.

Schools Building Projects.

John McGuinness

Question:

137 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Education and Science if a new school building would be approved for construction on a site obtained by the Office of Public Works for a school (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and the timeframe for the project. [18278/04]

The large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 8 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project has been assigned a band 1 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. It is planned to progress this project to advanced architectural planning during 2004.

Indicative timescales have been included for large-scale projects proceeding to tender in 2004. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the school building programme, which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects that are not progressing to tender in this year's programme including the Holy Spirit special school. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Standardised School Year.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

138 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has plans to introduce a derogation from the standardised school year for schools operating a six-day week; and if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties faced by these schools in imposing standardised fixed Christmas and Easter holidays. [18283/04]

The arrangements for the standardisation of the mid-term, Christmas and Easter breaks were agreed at the teachers' conciliation council. The council comprises representatives of the Department of Education and Science, the Department of Finance, managerial authorities of schools and teacher unions.

The purpose of the discussions at the council was to implement a specific requirement in the national agreement Sustaining Progress. Sustaining Progress set the achievement of a standard school year as a requirement for all primary and post-primary schools in the country. In encompassing all schools in both sectors it was designed to bring certainty and clarity on a countrywide basis to the arrangements for the vacation periods covered by the agreement. The agreed arrangements achieve that purpose and will have general application.

The issue of a derogation for a number of schools, including boarding schools operating a six-day week, was discussed on a number of occasions at the council following representations from those schools. There is no agreement at the council to grant such a derogation. Boarding schools continue to have discretion in the start and end of the school year, which are not covered by the Sustaining Progress requirement.

Special Educational Needs.

Michael Ring

Question:

139 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if the vacancy for visiting teacher (details supplied) for visually impaired children in County Mayo would be filled immediately. [18304/04]

My Department is assessing the role of the visiting teacher service in the context of the level and range of teacher supports now being provided for children with special educational needs. Decisions regarding appointments to the visiting teacher service will be made when this assessment is completed.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Michael Ring

Question:

140 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if the correct wage will be provided to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if the arrears due to them will also be paid. [18305/04]

The person referred to by the Deputy is on the unqualified teacher rate of remuneration until such time as provisional recognition as a primary teacher is granted by my Department. If provisional recognition is granted, this person will be placed on the qualified rate of remuneration and the appropriate arrears will be paid.

The processing of this person's application for provisional recognition cannot, however, be finalised until my Department receives certified evidence of qualified teacher status, QTS, to teach the range of primary school subjects to children aged four to 12 issued by the competent authority in the State in which the qualifications were obtained. The person in question has been made aware of the documentation required to complete the processing of the application and informed that such documentation should be forwarded to primary administration section of the Department of Education and Science at Cornamaddy, Athlone, County Westmeath.

School Transport.

Finian McGrath

Question:

141 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if urgent assistance will be given to a school (details supplied) in Dublin 1 with its transport crisis and loss of a pre-school teacher. [18315/04]

My Department has received an application for transport to the school referred to by the Deputy. The matter is being considered at present. My Department provides grant assistance to this school towards the tuition costs for the pre-school children enrolled in the school. It is a matter for the school management to make the necessary arrangements to recruit the teachers who provide the tuition.

School Staffing.

Dermot Fitzpatrick

Question:

142 Dr. Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Education and Science when it is proposed that a classroom assistant, approved in September 2003, will be appointed to assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18337/04]

My Department received an application for special needs assistant support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy on 3 October 2003. The school in question will be advised of the outcome of the application as soon as possible in advance of the 2004-05 school year.

Special Educational Needs.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

143 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of special needs assistants employed by his Department; and the number based in schools on a county basis. [18338/04]

Pat Rabbitte

Question:

152 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science the figures for the numbers and distribution of special needs assistants in each of the country’s primary schools; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18353/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 152 together.

Approval for the position of a special needs assistant is granted by my Department. The post is sanctioned to help cater for the special needs of the pupil or pupils and is subject to review in light of their emerging needs. Each individual school authority is responsible for the employment of special needs assistants.

There are 5,026 wholetime equivalent special needs assistants at primary level being paid salary on my Department's payroll. To date, my Department has allocated 466 wholetime equivalent special needs assistants at post-primary level. A table setting out the breakdown on a county basis follows for the Deputies' information.

County

Primary

Post-primary

WTE

WTE

Carlow

58.75

7.36

Cavan

62.15

7.23

Clare

184.24

18.79

Cork

634.99

42.21

Donegal

194.43

54.34

Dublin

1,290.79

89.71

Galway

221.4

40.12

Kerry

140.1

10.35

Kildare

242.8

11.65

Kilkenny

92.78

11.32

Laois

89.67

1.77

Leitrim

19.34

4.5

Limerick

264.87

21.93

Longford

38.04

1.45

Louth

102.64

8.98

Mayo

147.45

19.91

Meath

172.17

21.32

Monaghan

33.24

10.09

Offaly

85.92

14.39

Roscommon

68.23

5.22

Sligo

97.98

5.46

Tipperary

217.61

26.36

Waterford

114.14

6.36

Westmeath

135.43

10.46

Wexford

128.32

2.67

Wicklow

188.38

11.98

Total

5025.86

465.93

Education Welfare Service.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

144 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to difficulties being experienced in a school (details supplied) in Tallaght, Dublin 24 in respect of the need for a school attendance officer; if he has made contact with the school in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18339/04]

The particular difficulties regarding educational welfare officer cover in Tallaght have been brought to the attention of my Department. Discussions are taking place between officials of my Department and senior management of the National Educational Welfare Board with a view to putting in place procedures to resolve these difficulties as soon as possible.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Haughey

Question:

145 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the functions of resource teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18340/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

146 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the functions of learning support teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18341/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

147 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the functions of special class teachers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18342/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

148 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the functions of special needs assistants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18343/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 145 to 148, inclusive, together.

The post of resource teacher is an additional post allocated to assist a school or cluster of schools in providing an education, which meets the needs of children assessed as having disabilities. Under the direction of the relevant principal, the role of the resource teacher is to provide additional teaching support for these children who have been fully integrated into mainstream schools and who need such support. In addition, he or she should advise and liaise with other teachers, parents and relevant professionals in the children's interest.

Learning support teachers provide additional teaching support for pupils with literacy or numeracy difficulties who score at or below the tenth percentile in standardised tests of literacy and numeracy. My Department has been developing a new weighted system for the allocation of teacher resources, which I announced recently. This system, as part of which an additional 350 teaching posts will be allocated, will involve two main elements: making a staffing allocation to schools based on a predicted incidence of pupils with special educational needs; and 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 assessments; 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. Under the weighted system, the post of learning support teacher and resource teacher will be merged to provide an allocation of special education teacher posts to primary schools.

Special class teachers are allocated to special schools and to special classes attached to mainstream primary schools. Such classes operate with enhanced pupil teacher ratios, for example, 6:1 in the case of pupils with severe or profound general learning disability, GLD, and 8:1 for pupils with a moderate GLD.

Special needs assistants are recruited specifically to assist in the care of pupils with disabilities in an educational context. They may be appointed to a special school or a mainstream school in cases where a pupil has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where their behaviour is such that they are a danger to themselves or to other pupils.

Psychological Service.

Seán Haughey

Question:

149 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the role and function of the National Educational Psychological Service; the way in which it can be contacted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18344/04]

In February 1999, the Government decided to establish the National Educational Psychological Service agency, NEPS. My Department has delegated authority to NEPS to develop and provide an educational psychological service to all students who need it in primary and post-primary schools and in other relevant centres supported by my Department. The Government also agreed that NEPS should be established in the first instance on an administrative basis as a dedicated executive agency of my Department and with an initial development period of five years. The NEPS agency was established accordingly with effect from 1 September 1999.

Contact details for NEPS, including its network of regional offices and telephone numbers etc. are available under NEPS on my Department's websitewww.education.gov.ie.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Haughey

Question:

150 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science the role and functions of the National Council for Special Education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18345/04]

The National Council for Special Education is an independent statutory body set up to deliver what is, in many respects, a new service. In essence, the National Council for Special Education will operate under two main headings. On foot of research to be commissioned by the council, it will define models of appropriate educational response for categories of special need, and it will assist in the delivery at ground level on the needs of individual students, mainly through the deployment of a new grade of special education needs organisers, SENOs.

The objective in establishing the new council is to have clarity of entitlement, an accessible service at local level and speedy delivery. The council will define the most appropriate educational response for various categories of special need. This will involve drawing on research and international best practice. The establishment of the council should impact on equality by ensuring that special educational services are provided to a standard comparable to best international practice and through simplifying access to those services through the deployment of special education needs organisers.

The SENOs will be responsible for ensuring that all special educational needs in their areas are addressed in an effective manner. They will be charged with facilitating access to and co-ordinating education services for children with special needs in their areas by liasing between local providers of educational services, local providers of necessary ancillary services, the council, the Department and parents. In many cases provision will be based on individual education plans for the children involved.

The first council has been appointed and the inaugural meeting was held on 2 February last. The council will assume its direct service role in 2004 following the recruitment and training of the special education needs organisers.

School Placement.

Seán Haughey

Question:

151 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Education and Science if assistance will be given to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9 in finding a suitable primary school placement for their child in view of the fact that no local school in Dublin 5 is in a position to enrol them for September 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18346/04]

I have made arrangements with my officials to investigate the matter referred to by the Deputy. Contact will be made with the family in question shortly.

Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 143.

Special Educational Needs.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

153 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Education and Science when the expected circular letter regarding the employment of special needs assistants will issue; the issues it will address; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18456/04]

Special needs assistants may be approved to support a pupil who has a significant medical need for such assistance, a significant impairment of physical or sensory function or where his or her behaviour means he or she constitutes a danger to himself or herself or other pupils. The criteria and procedures relating to the allocation of special needs assistant support are outlined in my Department's circular 07/02. This circular may be accessed on my Department's website under the heading "Children with Special Needs". The detailed arrangements for processing applications for special education resources, including those for special needs assistants, will be set out in an interim circular to be issued to all schools in the coming week.

School Security.

Tony Gregory

Question:

154 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science if his Department has received a request from the authorities of a school (details supplied) for funding to improve security, that is, prevent unauthorised access to the school grounds by gangs involved in anti-social activities; if assistance can be made available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18457/04]

The nature of the works required at the school referred to by the Deputy is appropriate for consideration under the summer works scheme. The school did not apply for funding under the 2004 scheme. It is open to its management authority to apply for the key priority works required at the school as part of the 2005 scheme details of which will be announced shortly.

Educational Projects.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

155 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science when he will make a decision on the submission of music network and the Donegal local music education services pilot proposal which was submitted in March 2004 to begin the implementation of a national system of local music education services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18493/04]

I am aware of the music network report which recommended the establishment on a phased basis of 24 local music education partnerships in collaboration with the VECs and county and city development boards to provide for a national system of music education services. The partnerships would provide for tuition in instrumental and vocal music performance for children and adults as well as curriculum supports for the school system. The Donegal submission proposed a pilot of the model set out in the national report to cater for the Donegal region. My Department has been examining the scope for an initial development in this area and I will inform the Deputy of the outcome of this process.

Private Sector Education.

Finian McGrath

Question:

156 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if urgent assistance will be given to a person (details supplied). [18507/04]

I understand that the Deputy is referring to an issue involving a part-time lecturer in Griffith College Dublin. This college is a private third level college and my Department has no involvement in its day-to-day operation including matters relating to personnel issues.

Special Educational Needs.

Olwyn Enright

Question:

157 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when he intends to process an application for a special needs teacher for a school (details supplied) in County Donegal; the reason this application has not been processed to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18515/04]

My Department has received an application for special education resources, SER, for three pupils from the school referred to by the Deputy. SER applications received between 15 February and 31 August 2003, including those from the school in question, have now been considered. The applications have been reviewed by a dedicated team comprising members of my Department's inspectorate and the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS. The applications have been further considered in the context of the outcome of surveys of SER provision conducted over the past year and the data submitted by schools as part of a nationwide census of SER provision. It is intended that applicant schools will be notified of the outcomes of their cases in the coming week.

Dermot Fitzpatrick

Question:

158 Dr. Fitzpatrick asked the Minister for Education and Science when a special needs resource teacher will be appointed to a primary school which is in a hugely disadvantaged area in Dublin city (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18516/04]

My Department has received applications for special educational resources, SER, from the school referred to by the Deputy. All applications for special educational resources received after 31 August 2003, including the applications from the school in question are being considered by the National Educational Psychological Service. In those cases, it is intended that the applicant schools will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible in advance of the commencement of the next school year.

Capitation Grants.

Joan Burton

Question:

159 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the financial difficulties being experienced by a school (details supplied) in Dublin 22 in which parents, in addition to being asked for weekly financial contributions, are also being asked to take over the cleaning of the school; and if he will make additional funding available to the school to facilitate this essential service. [18521/04]

As there are two national schools in the area referred to by the Deputy — junior and senior — it is not clear to which the Deputy is referring. My attention has not been drawn to financial difficulties being experienced by either school. In addition to capitation grants, both of these schools receive additional funding under the disadvantage initiative scheme.

Primary schools' running costs are met by my Department's scheme of capitation grants. These grants are intended to contribute towards the general operating costs of national schools which include heating, lighting, cleaning, insurance, painting, teaching aids and other miscellaneous charges. The capitation grant has been increased substantially in recent years. In the case of primary schools, the standard rate of capitation grant has been increased from €57 in 1997 to €121.58 per pupil from 1 January last. This represents an increase of almost 113% over the period. I am committed to improving further the funding position of primary schools in the context of available resources.

Teachers’ Remuneration.

Michael Ring

Question:

160 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo has not been remunerated for their years of service as a substitute teacher from 1970-2001. [18523/04]

My Department's records indicate that the person referred to by the Deputy did indeed serve as a substitute teacher and appears to have been remunerated at the appropriate rate. However, if there is a specific period for which details are required, I will have further enquiries made. The person in question is employed as a special needs assistant, or SNA, in a national school in County Mayo. An application by this person for incremental credit as an SNA for previous experience was not approved by my Department as no evidence was provided to indicate the person had previous experience as an SNA or in a similar care role.

Special Educational Needs.

Paul McGrath

Question:

161 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if a special needs assistant has been authorised for a person (details supplied) in Westmeath who is due to commence primary school in September 2004. [18546/04]

My Department received an application for special needs assistant and resource teaching support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy on 12 February 2004. All applications for special educational resources received after 31 August 2003, including the application for the person in question, are being considered by the National Educational Psychological Service. It is intended that the applicant schools will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible in advance of the commencement of the next school year.

Legislative Programme.

Finian McGrath

Question:

162 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of amendments that he accepted in the new Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill that were tabled by this Deputy; and if he will give an update on the Bill. [18564/04]

The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Bill was passed by the Dáil on 26 May and has been scheduled to commence Second Stage in the Seanad on Wednesday, 23 June. While it is a matter for the Select Committee on Education and Science and the Houses to accept or reject amendments to legislation, the debates held on this Bill were particularly constructive. I was anxious to reflect the views of others in my own amendments wherever possible. The Bill underwent very substantial changes as a result of the comments of all the Deputies involved.

On Report Stage, I moved more than 70 amendments to accommodate arguments made by the Deputy and others on Committee Stage. In many cases, those arguments were made separately by several Deputies including Deputy McGrath. The amendments were accepted by the House. In addition to the amendments I moved on Report Stage, a small number of amendments moved by others were accepted by the House, including one moved by the Deputy. These changes have very significantly improved the provisions of the Bill and I record again my thanks to all those who participated in our discussions.

School Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

163 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide extra temporary accommodation to a school (details supplied) in County Kildare due to the increase in students attending same and the provision of a fourth assistant from 2004; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the only accommodation available for those extra students will be the general purpose room which the school uses for physical education classes and as a result of same, the school will not be in a position to offer physical education to their students from October to March; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18565/04]

An application for additional accommodation was received from the school to which the Deputy refers. However, in the context of the available funding and the number of applications for it, it was not possible to approve all applications for temporary accommodation this year. Only those with an absolute and demonstrated need for additional accommodation were approved. All other schools are required, as an interim measure, to maximise the use of existing accommodation until my Department is in a position to make extra accommodation available.

School Placement.

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

164 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Education and Science if he and his Department have any control over a situation where parish boundaries are changed and children who previously had access to their local school are no longer granted entry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18582/04]

Enrolment policy is the responsibility of the boards of management of individual schools. My Department's main responsibility is to ensure that schools in an area can among them cater for all pupils seeking places. This may result in some pupils not obtaining a place in the school of their first choice.

Special Educational Needs.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

165 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Education and Science the current status of the proposed high support centre for children with autism in Middletown, County Armagh, launched jointly by the then Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Woods, and the then Northern Assembly Minister for Education, Mr. Martin McGuinness, MP, MLA; the funding that has been committed by both Governments; the person that actually owns the property; and the person that is primarily tasked with its resourcing and implementation. [18615/04]

The centre in question is the former St. Joseph's Adolescent Centre owned by the St. Louis Order. It is intended that the centre will be purchased in the near future and operated on a joint North-South basis to serve the needs of children and young persons with autism in both jurisdictions. The matter is being progressed jointly by my Department and the Department of Education in Northern Ireland and the costs involved will be shared on an equal basis. The purchase cost is £3 million sterling. Precise details of the annual operating costs will not be available until final decisions have been taken on the level of staffing and specialist inputs required. Proposals for the centre envisage a learning support service, an educational assessment service, a training and advisory service and an autism research, dissemination and information service.

Departmental Properties.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

166 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the provision of a right of way to Kerry County Council over its property at the Grove, Dingle; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18628/04]

My Department is currently considering the issue of providing a right of way to Kerry County Council over the site at Grove, Dingle. As soon as a decision is made on the matter, the Department will be in contact with the local authority.

Schools Building Projects.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

167 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the proposed extension to a school (details supplied) has not moved on to the next stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18629/04]

A large-scale building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is listed in section 9 of the 2004 school building programme which is published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. This project is at early stages of architectural planning and has been assigned a band 3 rating by my Department in accordance with the published criteria for prioritising large-scale projects. The budget announcement regarding multi-annual capital envelopes will enable me to adopt a multi-annual framework for the schools building programme which in turn will give greater clarity regarding projects not progressing to tender in this year’s programme including the school referred to by the Deputy. I will make a further announcement in that regard during the year.

Special Educational Needs.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

168 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if a special needs assistant will be allocated to a person (details supplied) in County Louth. [18632/04]

My Department allocates resource teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and vocational education committees to cater for pupils with special educational needs. Applications for such supports are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil or pupils involved and the nature and level of the support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

My Department has approved an allocation of additional teaching hours and special needs assistant support to the school in question to cater for the special educational needs of a number of pupils in the school, including the pupil to which the Deputy refers.

John Deasy

Question:

169 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Education and Science if a special needs assistant will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Waterford. [18644/04]

My Department has received an application for resource teaching and special needs assistant support for the pupil referred to by the Deputy. All applications for special educational resources received after 31 August 2003, including the application for the person in question, are being considered by the National Educational Psychological Service. It is intended that the applicant schools will be notified of the outcome as soon as possible in advance of the commencement of the next school year.

School Dispute.

Brendan Smith

Question:

170 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Education and Science if the appropriate measures will be taken to resolve the serious difficulties at a school (details supplied) in County Cavan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18714/04]

I am aware of the difficulties arising from the dispute in the school referred to by the Deputy and I have asked my Department's inspectorate to monitor the situation. The resolution of the dispute is a matter for the authorities of the school in the first instance. However, I urge all involved to take all the necessary steps to resolve the dispute as speedily as possible having due regard to the rights of all concerned.

Special Educational Needs.

Willie Penrose

Question:

171 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if a special needs assistant will be provided for a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18723/04]

My Department allocates resource teacher posts and special needs assistant posts to second level schools and vocational education committees to cater for students with special educational needs. Applications for such supports are made to my Department by the relevant school authorities. Each application is considered on the basis of the assessed needs of the pupil or pupils involved and the nature and level of the support provided is determined on the advice of the psychological service.

An application seeking the continued allocation of resources to address the special educational needs of a number of students in the school, including the student to whom the Deputy refers, was submitted to my Department by the VEC concerned. Following examination of this application, my Department allocated an additional 43.40 teaching hours plus 82 special needs assistant hours per week for the 2004-2005 school year to address the needs of these students. It is a matter for the VEC to deploy this allocation and review this deployment in line with the evolving needs of the students concerned. If the VEC is of the view that the prevailing level of assessed special needs within the school is such as to be incapable of being addressed from within the approved allocation, my Department will be prepared to consider its concerns.

Electricity Generation.

Pat Breen

Question:

172 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action he proposes to take to kick start the wind energy industry here in view of substantially increased fossil fuel costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18301/04]

Recently, I announced the establishment of a renewable energy development group to be chaired by my Department. The group comprises relevant experts from across the sector and will advise on future policies, targets, programmes and support measures taking into account the associated economic, social and environmental impacts of the development and deployment of renewable energy. The promotion of renewable energy technologies, of which wind energy is the dominant form at this time, is a priority of this Government. As Minister with responsibility for energy policy, my immediate goal is to add an additional 500 MW of renewables based electricity generating capacity to the electricity network by 2005 to deliver the target published in the Green Paper on Sustainable Energy. In addition, I have announced that subject to EU state aids clearance I will support the building of an additional 218 MW of new renewable energy projects.

The 500 MW target is currently being implemented and will be achieved in the main under contracts offered by me under the fifth and sixth alternative energy requirement competitions. While I am confident of securing state aids clearance for the additional 218 MW which will be allocated to AER VI projects, I cannot commit to individual projects until the European Commission has finalised its position on the state aids notification. The AER VI competition was based on lowest bid price and only the lowest compliant tenders were offered contracts up to the capacity threshold defined for each technology class. This process ensures that the general customer incurs the smallest price increase on their electricity bills through the operation of the public service obligation levy. The process was oversubscribed and as with any competition not everyone who takes part can be successful. While some of the unsuccessful competitors may be disappointed with the fact that they were not selected on this occasion, the terms and conditions of the competition were clearly stated and all of the competitors acknowledged receipt of and accepted these terms and conditions when they entered the competition.

I am confident that those projects which were successful in the competition will proceed to completion. In the event that any project does not, a reserve list is in place to take up any capacity that is surrendered. The completion of AER VI will close the current chapter of support for renewable energy technologies. However, at the end of last year I published a consultation document, Options for Future Renewable Energy Policy, Targets and Programmes. The consultation document and supporting annexes which examine in detail support mechanisms and renewable energy policies in Ireland as well as in other European countries were published on my Department's website. The document, which will be used to map out a future strategy for green energy in the coming years, follows a commitment I gave after the conclusion of the AER VI competition.

The consultation document considered key areas in the future including future renewables policy, future green energy contribution to Ireland's electricity markets, how to overcome barriers to the deployment of renewable energy and future options for market support mechanisms. Respondents were asked to outline their proposals in detail and to estimate the cost of any support measures they proposed. Over 40 responses were received and are currently being analysed with the technical assistance of Sustainable Energy Ireland. The analyses of the consultation document submissions will feed into the work of the renewable energy development group. It is intended that a new policy for developing the renewable energy sector will be submitted to Government for approval later this year.

In relation to generating capacity, the Commission for Energy Regulation continues to monitor the security of supply situation. The commission has initiated a number of positive actions to redress postulated generation capacity shortfalls in the short, medium and longer term as forecast by the ESB National Grid in its generation adequacy report which was published on 27 November 2003. In addition, the ESB is currently undertaking a significant networks investment programme of some €4 billion up to 2007 to bring the transmission and distribution systems up to required international standards and to meet projected capacity demand requirements. Furthermore, the Government has given its approval to proceed with the development of two 500 MW interconnectors between Ireland and Great Britain, while the desirability and feasibility of further interconnection North and South is being investigated.

Sustainable Energy Ireland, the independent non-commercial state body focused exclusively on sustainable use of energy including deployment of renewable energy sources, has commenced a challenging work programme to increase energy efficiency and to promote renewable energy technologies. In the renewable energy field specifically, Sustainable Energy Ireland has opened a research, development and demonstration programme for renewable energy technologies. The programme is open to a wide range of proposals including policy studies, field research, feasibility studies and technology research development and demonstration.

Mineral Resources.

Phil Hogan

Question:

173 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the reports supplied to the DCMNR technical team by a company (details supplied) and their consultants, contain chemical analysis of the rock found at the site of their proposed extension to substantiate the claim that the mineral resource at Dunbell, County Kilkenny, in the proposed extension lands of RPL is a scheduled mineral; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18561/04]

Phil Hogan

Question:

174 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the mineral content at a plant (details supplied) at Bennettsbridge, County Kilkenny, is sufficient to have it classed according to the Mineral Acts 1940 and 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18562/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 174 together.

Under the Minerals Development Acts 1940 to 1999, both dolomite and dolomitic limestone are included in the list of scheduled minerals encompassed by the Acts. Both rock types contain the mineral dolomite and it is the proportion of the latter that distinguishes the difference between the two rock types. Visual and chemical analyses provided for the deposit currently being worked at Maddoxtown, Bennettsbridge, County Kilkenny, show that the rocks are dolomite. In the area of the proposed extension, the existing mine lessee's experts, using chemical testing, identified dolomitic limestone in their limited drilling programme in 2002. As pointed out in my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 228 on 25 May 2004, this testing work followed an earlier drilling programme in 1996 which identified a potential dolomite resource in this area. The area of the proposed extension, like that in the area currently being mined, therefore contains minerals scheduled under the Acts.

Comprehensive chemical analysis in the area of the proposed extension have not been carried out by the mining company because it is satisfied that there is sufficient evidence that a sizeable mineral deposit exists. However, it might be worthwhile to carry out the analyses if the cost is reasonable. The Department will pursue this issue with the company and I will inform the Deputy of the outcome.

Sports Capital Programme.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

175 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will report on his contacts with a football club (details supplied) in respect of the unfinished stadium at Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the serious anxiety of the local community in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18467/04]

Through the sports capital programme administered by my Department over €320 million has been allocated in funding since 1997 in respect of over 4,200 projects. These have involved sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country assisting in the provision of sport and recreational facilities. Under this programme, grants totalling €2.57 million were allocated towards the development of a new stadium in Tallaght for Shamrock Rovers Football Club in each of the three years 2000, 2001 and 2002. These allocations were made following an application from the club and a recommendation from the Football Association of Ireland, FAI, that such funding should be provided to enable one of Dublin's oldest clubs to have its own facilities.

While responsibility for the delivery of this project rests with the club, my Department has written directly to the club on a number of occasions since the last grant payment was made in May 2002 requesting information on its likely completion date. In October 2002, the club advised my Department that costs on the project had risen considerably and they were in discussions with a number of interested parties in an effort to secure additional funding to complete it. The importance of completing the stadium has been raised at a number of meetings between my Department and the FAI. On 26 March 2004, the club informed my Department of further ongoing discussions with interested parties which could lead to a proposal to complete the stadium. My Department is in contact with the FAI to investigate how this matter can be progressed to a satisfactory conclusion.

Swimming Pool Projects.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

176 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the contacts he has had with South Dublin County Council in respect of the proposed swimming pool complex at Tallaght west, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18468/04]

Earlier this month I approved the contract documents submitted by South Dublin County Council for the proposed swimming pool project in Jobstown, west Tallaght. This approval allows the council to invite tenders for the work proposed.

Sports Capital Programme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

177 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if a grant under the sports capital programme will be awarded to a club (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18630/04]

An agreement exists between my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs whereby applications for funding under the sport capital programme from organisations located in designated Gaeltacht areas will be considered by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. On this basis, the application for grant assistance from Cumann Caide Peile, Liospoil, was not assessed under the sports capital programme operated by my Department but was transferred to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for consideration. I understand that the Department will contact Cumann Caide Peile, Liospoil, regarding the outcome of the application.

Health Board Services.

Joan Burton

Question:

178 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 22; and if this person will be accommodated in an area more easily accessible to their mother. [18522/04]

The provision of health services, including speech and language therapy, for 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.

Telephone Masts.

Arthur Morgan

Question:

179 Mr. Morgan asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on whether some persons with sensitive dispositions are suffering from multiple health problems from phone mast emissions; if his attention has been drawn to the number of persons suffering in this way; and if he has plans to take measures to protect persons so effected. [18563/04]

I am aware of concerns expressed by some persons in regard to hyper-sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation from phone masts. The Irish Electromagnetic Radiation Victims Network, IERVN, is an organisation representing their interests. My Department corresponds with IERVN on an ongoing basis and my officials have also met with its representatives. Scientific research to date has not established a causal relationship between electromagnetic radiation and ill health. Research is ongoing in this area and my Department will continue to review the findings of all new peer-reviewed studies.

In the absence of evidence of a causal relationship between electromagnetic radiation and ill-health, the approach adopted in Ireland is to minimise exposure in accordance with the 1999 recommendations of the European Community on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields. These recommendations are based on the 1998 guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation, ICNIRP, covering the frequency range from 0-300 GHz. Telecommunications companies licensed to operate in Ireland are required to comply with these recommendations.

The monitoring of emission levels from masts is a function of the Office of the Director of Telecommunications Regulation. My Department is in regular contact with the office of the chief technical advisor in the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources which represents Ireland's interests in the relevant international organisations — the World Health Organisation, the EU and the International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety.

Health Board Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

180 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will confirm the reported grant of core funding for the continued operation of Carmichael House; and if this funding will be paid annually. [18266/04]

Richard Bruton

Question:

187 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has visited Carmichael House (details supplied); his Department’s views on the desirability of developing such service centres as part of his community health strategy; and if he has made contact with the Eastern Regional Health Authority regarding present funding difficulties. [18333/04]

Tony Gregory

Question:

191 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on the funding crisis at the Carmichael Centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7; his further views on the services provided by the centre; the level of funding his Department can make available to help ensure that the centre does not close or the staff be let go; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18465/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180, 187 and 191 together.

I am aware of the funding issues which have been raised by the Carmichael Centre. I have agreed with my colleague the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that these issues merit further consideration by both Departments in consultation with the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards. In the meantime, my Department has asked the Eastern Regional Health Authority to make a grant of €150,000 available on a once-off basis this year to alleviate the immediate needs which have been outlined by the board of the Carmichael Centre.

Task Force on Alcohol.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

181 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the details of the membership of the Task Force on Alcohol; and when its report is expected. [18274/04]

The Strategic Task Force on Alcohol was established to recommend specific evidence-based measures to Government to prevent and reduce alcohol related harm. The membership is broadly based and is composed of representatives from Government Departments, health professionals, the Garda, non-governmental organisations and the drinks industry.

Membership

Dr. Jim Kiely (Chair)

Chief Medical Officer, Department of Health and Children

Mr. Chris Fitzgerald

Principal Officer, Health Promotion Unit, Department of Health and Children

Mr. Pat Barry

Drinks Industry Group of Ireland

Ms. Mary Golden

Principal Officer, National Children’s Office

Mr. Pat Donnelan

Health and Safety Authority

Dr. Ann Hope

National Alcohol Policy Advisor, Department of Health and Children

Mr. Owen Keenan

Chief Executive Officer, Barnardos

Mr. Eamonn Brazil

Consultant in Accident and Emergency, Mater Hospital

Mr. Stephen Rowan

Irish National Alliance for Action on Alcohol

Mr. Pat Costello

Chief Executive Officer, National Safety Council

Mr. Christopher McCamley

Assistant Principal, Department of Education and Science

Mr. Shay McGovern

Assistant Principal, Department of Health and Children

Mr. Seamus Carroll

Principal Officer, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform

Ms Bernie Hyland

Health Promotion Manager, North Western Health Board

Supt.Vincent Maguire

Community Relations, the Garda Síochána

Ms Mary Cunningham

National Youth Council of Ireland

Dr. John Sheehan

Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist, Mater Hospital

Ms Fionnuala Sheehan

Chief Executive Officer, MEAS

Ms Eileen Kehoe

Principal Officer, Social Policy Unit, Department of the Taoiseach

Inspector Con O’Donoghue

National Traffic Bureau, the Garda Síochána

Mr. Noel Brett

Regional Manager of Mental Health and Services for Older People, Western Health Board

Dr. Dermot Walsh

Inspector of Mental Hospitals, Department of Health and Children

Dr. Joe Barry

National Drugs Strategy Team

Dr. Declan Bedford

Faculty of Public Health Medicine

Ms. Fionnuala Kilfeather

Chief Executive Officer, National Parents Council (Primary)

Mr. John Treacy

Chief Executive Officer, National Sports Council

Ms. Caren Mulcahy

Assistant Principal, Sports Section, Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism

Ms. Kathleen Stack

Principal Officer, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs

The second interim report of the task force is currently being finalised and will be published in the coming weeks.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

182 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive an appointment with a consultant in regard to their need for cataract surgery. [18280/04]

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.

Medical Cards.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

183 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to the fact that 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 that a disproportional higher number of travellers are in this category compared to their peers in the settled community; and if he will make changes in order to assist young travellers. [18284/04]

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 its individual merits.

Substance Misuse.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

184 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if he will consider setting up and funding an independent and impartial support agency to educate and aid both the victims and the victims of victims suffering from alcohol’s negative side effects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18285/04]

I share the Deputy's concern that alcohol abuse continues to be a significant problem for Irish society.

The health promotion unit of my Department is involved in a range of initiatives aimed at preventing and reducing alcohol related harm. One such initiative was the establishment of the Strategic Task Force on Alcohol in January 2002, to recommend evidence based measures to Government, aimed at reducing and preventing alcohol related harm. Following a comprehensive review of the most effective alcohol policy measures by international experts, an interim report was published in May 2002. A second report, containing further recommendations, will be published in the near future. An interdepartmental group has been established to co-ordinate responses to the recommendations.

The health promotion unit of my Department has also provided funding to the Irish College of General Practitioners to implement an alcohol aware practice project to assist the GP in being more effective in helping patients with alcohol problems.

National policy on the treatment of alcohol abuse, as set out in Planning for the Future, stipulates that the emphasis in the management of alcohol related problems should be on community-based interventions. Health boards already provide and continue to develop a range of comprehensive community-based support services appropriate to the needs of persons affected and afflicted by alcohol abuse. These services include family support and community, medical and social services in the management of the problem.

The main therapeutic tools in the treatment of alcohol addiction are psychotherapy, counselling, family and martial therapy, either individually or in group settings. Therapy may take place in residential or day settings. As alcohol related problems occur, in many instances, in local and family settings, the community-based response can be direct and early, thereby reducing the associated levels of physical, psychological and social problems.

Legislation is presently being drafted within my Department to reduce the over-exposure of young people to alcohol advertising and marketing practices.

Inter-Country Adoptions.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

185 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if his attention has been drawn to delays of up to three years for persons hoping to adopt children to obtain a place on a preparation course; his views on whether this is very unfair, in particular for middle aged persons; and the steps he proposes to improve the situation. [18293/04]

A standardised framework for intercountry adoption assessment was introduced in 1999 to streamline assessments and to provide a transparent system to assess the suitability of applicants to adopt a child, centred on the child's best interests. When introduced, the framework was welcomed both by health boards and prospective adopters, and it is regarded very highly in countries from which Irish people adopt. The framework is being implemented nationally.

Assessments for intercountry and domestic adoptions are carried out by health boards or by registered adoption societies. At the outset of the process, applicants are placed on a health board/adoption society waiting list for assessment. The waiting list for assessment varies throughout the country. The assessment process itself involves a number of stages and would generally include an initial assessment, a considerable level of education/preparation work (including an exploration with prospective adoptive parents of the challenges and issues that are likely to arise when undertaking adoption) and a home study assessment. The length of the process can vary between applicants depending on the particular circumstances of each case, bearing in mind at all times the best interests of the child.

The length of time it takes to complete the necessary assessment and the allocation of resources within the health board is a matter for the management of each individual health board.

Accident and Emergency Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

186 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if there has been an improvement in waiting times for patients on trolleys in the accident and emergency department of Beaumont Hospital over the past six months; and if he has future plans to resolve this terrible situation. [18320/04]

Services at Beaumont Hospital are provided under an arrangement with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to examine the issue raised and to reply to the Deputy directly.

Question No. 187 answered with QuestionNo. 180.

Hospital Charges.

Róisín Shortall

Question:

188 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Question No. 132 of 5 May 2004, the reason for the delay in replying to this Deputy; and if he will give a detailed reply to the question asked. [18335/04]

Arising from the Deputy's question on 5 May 2004 my Department wrote to the chief executive officer of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, requesting that he investigate the case in question. The ERHA has now advised that charges were applied by the hospital under the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) Regulations 1976, as amended by the Health (Charges for In-Patient Services) (Amendment) Regulations 1987. The hospital has also advised that charges were inappropriate in this case. The ERHA has been advised by the hospital that arrangements are being made to reimburse the person in respect of these charges.

National Lottery Funding.

Seán Haughey

Question:

189 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Health and Children the details of lottery funded grant schemes administered by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18351/04]

The health and children allocation of national lottery funds for 2004 is €13.017 million. This includes €2.539 million which forms part of the funding for the capital programme. The remaining €10.478 million includes funding of €6.847 million which is allocated to health agencies to fund the respite care grants scheme, the disadvantaged youth scheme and the schemes of grants to voluntary organisations and the remaining €3.631 million is discretionary funding available to my Department.

The conditions which apply to the allocation by health boards of the scheme of grants to voluntary organisation funds are as follows: grants may be allocated to community based projects under the headings of intellectual and physical disability, services for older people, mental health services, child care services, personal social services, including information and counselling services; at least 70% of the funding should be allocated to local voluntary groups; grants should not be in substitution for section 65 grants; and particular care should be taken to ensure that grants are made to viable schemes which will be completed within a reasonable period and, in determining the priority of schemes, an assessment should be made of any ongoing revenue implications.

The amount of discretionary funding available to my Department for 2004 from the proceeds of the national lottery is €3.631 million. There is a set protocol in place in my Department for dealing with applications/requests for grants from discretionary national lottery funds. An application form is made available to any individual, group or agency which requests a grant. Requests for application forms come primarily from individuals, groups and organisations with an involvement in the provision of health services to specific client groups, national groups providing information and support regarding disability and illness and groups with a specific interest. 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.

Applications for national lottery grants far exceed the resources available in any one year. Where an application has been unsuccessful, the applicant is informed and advised that they may apply in the following year if funding is required for the particular project.

Health Board Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

190 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be called for orthodontic treatment; the length of time this person has been on the orthodontic treatment waiting list; and the position they are on the list at present. [18352/04]

As the Deputy is aware, responsibility for the provision of orthodontic treatment to eligible persons in County Mayo rests with the Western Health Board. My Department has asked the chief executive officer to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply to him directly.

Question No. 191 answered with QuestionNo. 180.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

192 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Health and Children if he can confirm plans for the redevelopment of the health centre at Millbrook Lawns, Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the need for immediate action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18472/04]

With regard to the provision of health centres generally, the position is that the identification, prioritisation and provision of such facilities to meet the needs of local communities within its functional area, is a matter for the relevant health board or the Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA). In the case of Millbrook Lawns Health Centre, Tallaght, Dublin 24, this responsibility rests with the ERHA.

The ERHA has indicated that the refurbishment of this health centre would constitute a regional priority. The ERHA has recently submitted proposals to my Department in relation to the funding of a number of priority projects, including Millbrook Lawns health centre and these proposals are currently being examined by my Department.

EU Directives.

Jerry Cowley

Question:

193 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the meetings which have taken place between his Department, the postgraduate training bodies and the Medical Council in relation to the implementation of the European Working Time Directive; the result of such meetings; the way in which he intends to ensure that NCHDs will be trained following the implementation of the European Working Time Directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18509/04]

My Department meets representatives of the medical education and training organisations and of the Medical Council on an ongoing basis to discuss a very wide range of issues of mutual interest, including the implementation of the European Working Time Directive (EWTD). These meetings, both formal and informal, are very helpful in informing my Department's approach to many issues, including the training of non-consultant hospital doctors (NCHDs) in the context of implementing the directive. Over the past number of years both the training bodies and the Medical Council have made a significant contribution to Government policy on medical education and training and on implementing the EWTD, most notably their membership of and contribution to the preparation and publication of the Report of the National Task Force on Medical Staffing, Hanly report.

As you will be aware, on publication of the Hanly report, I asked the sub-group of the Hanly task force which dealt with medical education and training issues to remain in place in order to examine and report to me on the measures required to accommodate NCHD training in all postgraduate programmes and to safeguard training and service delivery during the transition to a 48 hour working week. The group convened a major national seminar last January involving all stakeholders including training bodies, the Medical Council, employers and medical representative organisations. Drawing on the views expressed at this seminar and the ongoing work of the medical education and training group, draft proposals have been developed with a view to ensuring the provision of high quality training for NCHDs in the context of the initial implementation of the 58 hour week and the eventual implementation of the 48-hour working week. I anticipate that these proposals will be submitted to me in the near future.

Unfortunately, in recent months, it has been necessary to cancel a number of formal meetings of the medical education and training group due to continuing industrial relations action by the Irish Hospital Consultants Association arising from an unrelated issue. I would like to take this opportunity to again call on all concerned to re-enter formal discussions in the interests of ensuring that both patient care and training needs are fully met in the context of implementation of the directive.

Even though it has proved difficult to convene formal meetings of the MET group, the ongoing contacts with training bodies have facilitated the group's secretariat in making progress on a range of issues including, in particular, the draft proposals referred to above on addressing training needs in a 58 hour week. A significant and welcome development has been the forging of constructive dialogue between key medical training and employer representatives in order to jointly address how best to respond to the requirements arising from the implementation of the 58 hour week.

The deadlines imposed by the EWTD will be difficult to meet, assuming the full cooperation of the key stakeholders concerned. I again call on the stakeholders concerned to participate with and cooperate with the necessary implementation processes. I think it is important to state that we face the same hurdles as many of our EU colleagues. They too are grappling with how to provide top quality health services while complying with the requirements of the directive. Every effort has been made and continues to be made to achieve compliance. The current difficulties in no way alleviate our legal obligations and only serve to emphasise the growing urgency of making the necessary progress to achieve implementation. I again call on all interested parties to play their part in achieving a healthier and safer working environment for doctors in training and equally important, the safer provision of services to patients.

Questions Nos. 194 and 195 answered with Question No. 55.

Health Reform Programme.

Joe Sherlock

Question:

196 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has received a submission from 107 general practitioners in the Mallow General Hospital region, on the effects that the Hanly recommendations would have for the hospital; and if he is considering responding to the call for developments at the hospital to meet the needs of the people in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18545/04]

I welcome the submission prepared by general practitioners working in the region of Mallow General Hospital. The submission rightly identifies an important role for the hospital in the future, and points to the valuable contribution it has made to the community for many years. I am committed to ensuring that Mallow General Hospital will be part of an integrated network of hospitals, providing the highest quality treatment and care for patients.

The general practitioners' submission expresses concerns about the perceived consequences of the Hanly report for the population served by Mallow General Hospital. It argues that Hanly would reduce patient access to emergency services within the important "golden hour". However, Hanly argues that the critical issue is speedy access to emergency treatment at the scene by first responders, such as trained ambulance personnel or general practitioners. This should be followed by rapid transfer to a hospital most able to meet their needs. This approach would make access to emergency services within the "golden hour" possible for a greater number of patients than reliance on the location of any individual hospital.

It is important to emphasise that the second phase of the Hanly process will examine every acute hospital, including Mallow General Hospital, before recommendations about services are formulated. The concern will be to ensure the best possible service for patients, taking account of geographic, demographic and spatial considerations. I have no doubt that the future of Mallow General Hospital as a vital element of health care will be secured in this context.

Health Board Services.

Finian McGrath

Question:

197 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if Minister of State O’Malley will meet the family of a person (details supplied) in County Galway and further increase their PA hours. [18548/04]

The provision of health services, including personal assistants, for 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 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.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Question:

198 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the opening date for the orthopaedic unit in Mayo General Hospital, Castlebar, County Mayo. [18549/04]

The provision of hospital services for people living in County Mayo is a matter for the Western Health Board. I understand that the board are planning to open the orthopaedic unit in September 2004 as was outlined to the Deputy in the Adjournment debate on 16 June 2004.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

199 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason appropriate hospital based treatment is not available to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; if funding for private treatment can be given; if his attention has been drawn to the gross lack of services for children with anorexia; and his plans for improving the situation. [18553/04]

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

The Deputy may wish to note that persons presenting with eating disorders are generally treated through the psychiatric services of their local health board. Outpatient psychiatric services are provided from a network of hospitals, health centres, day hospitals and day centres. Where in-patient treatment is deemed necessary, it is provided in the local acute psychiatric unit or hospital, beds being allocated on the basis of patient need at any particular time.

A tertiary referral service for eating disorders is available to public patients in St. Vincent's Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin, where three in-patient beds are designated for this purpose. A similar service is available privately at St. Patrick's Hospital, James's Street, Dublin, and at St. John of God Hospital, Stillorgan, County Dublin.

Later this year, the Working Group on Child and Adolescent Psychiatry will commence the preparation of a report on services for people with eating disorders and how they can best be developed in the short, medium and long term.

Question No. 200 answered with QuestionNo. 35.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Jimmy Deenihan

Question:

201 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Health and Children when construction will begin on the new Dingle Community Hospital, County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18631/04]

The question of progressing the Dingle Community Hospital to construction is at present being considered by my Department in the context of finalising the capital investment framework 2004-08 for the health service. This will determine what new capital commitments can be progressed in 2004 or beyond, in line with overall funding resources available for the years in question. While it is not possible to give a precise date at this stage in relation to a construction date for this project, I expect this to be finalised shortly. My Department will continue to liaise with the Southern Health Board on the matter and I will ask that the Deputy be kept advised of developments.

Cancer Incidence.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

202 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has studied the reports on the incidents of the various forms of cancer throughout the country by county; if he can attribute any cause or causes for variations throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18636/04]

Reports of the national cancer registry have examined variations in incidence of cancer among counties and health board areas during the period from 1994 onwards. Variations in case numbers, overall or for particular cancers, obviously reflect variation in population size or in population age structure. Age-standardised rates show less variation, but nevertheless some variation is evident, although, for most counties or health authority areas, rates do not show statistically significant variation from the national average. The main exception is Dublin and the ERHA region, where incidence rates are higher than the national average for cancers as a whole, and for a number of individual cancers, including lung, breast and prostate cancers. For lung and a number of other cancers, variation is strongly influenced by smoking, which tends to be most prevalent in urban, particularly deprived urban, areas. For breast and prostate cancer, incidence rates may be increased in areas where there are higher levels of screening, e.g. breast screening. In general, cancers not strongly influenced by smoking, socio-economic or screening-related factors show less marked variation within Ireland, and any such variation cannot readily be attributed to specific factors without further research into specific cancers. Distinguishing true geographic variation from random or chance variation is also a problem given the small numbers of cases involved at county level for most cancers.

Since 1997, significant developments in cancer services have taken place in all regions. The overall additional cumulative funding in cancer services in this country since 1997 is in excess of €550 million including an additional €15 million revenue which I allocated this year. An additional 92 consultant posts in key areas of cancer treatment and 245 clinical nurse specialists across all health board areas have been funded. There has also been approximately €95 million in capital funding allocated specifically for the development of cancer related initiatives. These include an investment of €60 million in radiation oncology, and €11.9 million in BreastCheck.

The investment and appointments in cancer services have resulted in substantial increases in activity levels across the three modalities of care of radiation oncology, medical oncology and surgical oncology. For example, since 1996 the annual number of discharges of patients receiving chemotherapy has more than doubled, from 22,000 in 1996 to over 50,000 in 2002. Similarly, for radiotherapy the increase in discharges reported at Cork University Hospital increased from less than 7,000 cases in 1996 to nearly 15,000 in 2002. There has been a 36% increase nationally in surgical procedures for breast cancer, with an additional 500 procedures performed in 2002 compared to 1997.

Last year I announced the extension of the BreastCheck programme to counties Carlow, Kilkenny and Wexford and also the national roll out to the southern and western counties. Screening commenced in Wexford in March of this year.

The report on the development of radiation oncology services in Ireland provides the basis of Government policy in relation to the development and organisation of radiation oncology services. This report, which was developed by an expert working group under the chairmanship of Professor Donal Hollywood has received considerable international endorsement. The first phase of this programme will be the development of a network of large clinical centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway which will permit a rapid increase in patient access and also form a backbone for future service expansion.

Already, substantial progress is being made in implementing the report's recommendations. In 2004, an additional €3.5 million is being used to develop the services at the supra regional centres at University College Hospital, Galway, and Cork University Hospital. 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. I have provided for the appointment of an additional five consultant radiation oncologists. Recruitment for these posts is under way. 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.

In relation to other areas of cancer services, significant work is also being undertaken. Under the Ireland-Northern Ireland-NCI Cancer Consortium, awards to the value of €3.5 million are enabling Irish hospitals develop their infrastructure to enable them to carry out high quality clinical trials. Irish hospitals will be able to participate in world-class clinical trials involving the latest advances, helping to ensure that these new and effective treatments are available more readily to patients as a result of this funding.

The new national cancer strategy will target investment for cancer services over the next number of years and will make recommendations in relation to the development and organisation of services nationally. The strategy will also provide a mechanism for the development, implementation, monitoring and updating of clinical guidelines for the treatment of cancer.

Question No. 203 answered with QuestionNo. 93.

Health Board Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

204 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children his plans to upgrade the facilities available at the various health centres throughout the country with a view to alleviating the pressure on hospital accident and emergency departments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18638/04]

The primary care strategy, Primary Care: A New Direction, aims to shift the emphasis from the current over-reliance on acute hospital services to one where patients will be able to access an integrated multidisciplinary team of general practitioners, nurses, health care assistants, home helps, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and social workers in their local community. Appropriately structured, primary care can meet 90%-95% of all health and personal social service needs.

The strategy also envisages the development of extended-hours and out-of-hours cover for defined primary care services. The management of this wide range of care within the primary care setting represents the most appropriate, effective and user-friendly approach to the organisation of service delivery.

Primary care, planned and organised on this basis, can lessen the current reliance on specialist services and the hospital system, particularly accident and emergency and out-patient services. Based on available evidence, it has the potential to reduce the requirement for specialist services, reduce hospitalisation rates, reduce lengths of stay for those who are hospitalised, promote more rational prescribing and improve efficiency.

The primary care strategy also recognises that the provision of modern, well-equipped, accessible premises will be central to the effective functioning of the primary care team. One of the Government's key objectives is to facilitate and encourage the development, where appropriate, of modern, well-equipped, user-friendly buildings in which the broad range of primary care services, including general practice, can be delivered. The strategy also emphasises the need to gain full benefit from existing buildings and to fully exploit any opportunities for public private partnerships in implementing the development programme. I am committed to developing policy in such a way as to maximise the opportunities to attract private sector interests into the provision of facilities to support delivery of primary care service in accordance with the new interdisciplinary model.

The identification, prioritisation and provision of health centres, including the upgrading of such facilities, to meet the health and personal social service needs of local communities are matters for the health boards or the Eastern Regional Health Authority in the first instance.

Question No. 205 answered with QuestionNo. 93.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

206 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of patients on orthodontic waiting lists who have had to seek private treatment in the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18640/04]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

207 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in regard to the provision of orthodontic services with particular reference to waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18641/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 206 and 207 together.

The provision of orthodontic services is a matter for the health boards/authority in the first instance.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that I have taken a number of measures to improve orthodontic services on a national basis.

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 in 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 of 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.

Orthodontic initiative funding of €4.698 million was provided to the health boards/authority in 2001 and this has enabled health boards to recruit additional staff, engage the services of private specialist orthodontic practitioners to treat patients and build additional orthodontic facilities.

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.

The information requested by the Deputy on the number of patients who have had to seek private treatment in the past five years is not available.

Finally, the chief executive officers of the health boards/authority have informed my Department that at the end of the March quarter 2004, there were 21,033 children receiving orthodontic treatment in the public orthodontic service. This means that there are nearly twice as many children getting orthodontic treatment as there are children waiting to be treated and almost 4,000 extra children are getting treatment from health boards/authority since the end of 2001.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

208 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children when he expects to ensure the provision of adequate resources to meet the requirements of the Kildare psychiatric services; if his attention has been drawn to the urgent requirements in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18642/04]

Responsibility for the provision of the services referred to by the Deputy rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. The further development of our mental health services, including those in the Eastern Regional Health Authority, will be considered in the context of the estimates process for 2005 and subsequent years.

Questions Nos. 209 and 210 answered with Question No. 94.

Hospital Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

211 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has issued instructions to or received communications from the Eastern Regional Health Authority in regard to the opening of all the facilities at Naas General Hospital; the number of beds and wards, theatres or other facilities decommissioned; his plans to ensure the provision of a full range of services at the hospital; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18647/04]

Responsibility for the provision of services at Naas General Hospital rests with the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has received a request from the authority for additional revenue funding to complete the commissioning of additional services at the hospital. This request is being considered. My Department has asked the regional chief executive of the authority to reply directly to the Deputy on the other issues raised.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

212 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if he has received full information regarding proposals to discontinue the respiratory and tuberculosis unit at Peamount Hospital, Newcastle, County Dublin; if his attention has been drawn to the negative impact such a step is likely to have on the immediate and wider catchment area; if he has examined the implications whereby patients suffering from acute forms of tuberculosis or respiratory illnesses may in future be referred to other general hospitals thereby causing a possible risk of infection for other patients; if he has investigated the circumstances surrounding the refusal of admission to such a patient and subsequent re-admission; if he will personally intervene to ensure the continuation of the services currently provided to tuberculosis and respiratory patients at the hospital in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18648/04]

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

Questions Nos. 213 and 214 answered with Question No. 93.

Driving Tests.

Phil Hogan

Question:

215 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Transport when a driving test will be arranged for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18566/04]

The applicant has been placed on a cancellation list for a driving test at the Carlow driving test centre and a test and a test appointment will be arranged as soon as possible.

Michael Ring

Question:

216 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the intention to privatise driving testing; if legislation has been prepared to progress this proposal; and if driving testers can be taken from the driving instructors register. [18273/04]

The Government has approved the text of the driver testing and standards authority Bill which will enable the establishment of a public sector body to deliver,inter alia, the driver testing service. Arrangements are being made to publish the Bill shortly. Driver testers are recruited by open competition through the Civil Service and Local Appointments Commission.

Public Services Passenger Regulations.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Question:

217 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Transport if there are plans to amend the rules for crew cab vehicles in the near future to enable these commercial vehicles to carry more than one passenger. [18281/04]

Apart from public service vehicles, road traffic legislation does not regulate in a specific way for the number of passengers that may be carried in any particular type of mechanically propelled vehicle.

Light Rail Project.

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

218 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport the arrangements that have been entered into with the Luas operator in respect of income from fares over and above the level of the contract price; if such income accrues to the State, to the operator or will be shared; and if so, the relevant proportion. [18322/04]

The Railway Procurement Agency, RPA, has entered into a five-year performance-based contract with Connex to operate and maintain Luas. Revenues from the service accrue to the RPA and in return Connex is paid a contract fee which is performance related. The main basis of payment under the contract is related to reliability of service, punctuality and condition of the assets. Connex is also incentivised to maximise patronage on the service and the contract, therefore, provides for a sharing of income as patronage exceeds particular threshold amounts.

Taxi Hardship Panel.

Seán Haughey

Question:

219 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport if he has satisfied himself with the operation of the taxi hardship payments scheme; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that payments will not be made in cases in which no loan was obtained to purchase a taxi licence plate; the person who imposed this condition; the reason for this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18349/04]

The taxi hardship payments scheme is based on the recommendations and parameters set out in the taxi hardship panel report, as approved by Government. The taxi hardship panel was an independent three person panel established to report in general terms on the nature and extent of extreme personal financial hardship that may have been experienced by individual taxi licence holders arising from loss of income as a direct result of the liberalisation of the taxi licensing regime. The panel received and considered over 2,000 written submissions.

The report of the panel recommended the establishment of a scheme to provide payments to individual taxi licence holders who fall into one of six categories that the panel assessed as having suffered extreme personal financial hardship arising from taxi liberalisation. The payments range from €3,000 to €15,000 depending on the category of hardship involved.

The only category in which the panel recommended hardship payments related to loans was category five which concerns large loan repayments outstanding on loans obtained to purchase a taxi licence and secured against a family home.

Area Development Management Limited, ADM, has been engaged to administer and manage the implementation of the taxi hardship payments scheme and I am satisfied that it is operating the scheme in line with the recommendations of the taxi hardship panel report and the general and specific requirements for each category as outlined in the application form, which was the subject of consultation with taxi industry representatives.

State Airports.

Seán Haughey

Question:

220 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport the justification for the break up of Aer Rianta; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18531/04]

Seán Haughey

Question:

223 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport the position on the provision of a second terminal at Dublin Airport; the reason Aer Rianta’s own plans in this regard have been abandoned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18534/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 220 and 223 together.

As I have made clear on numerous occasions, I believe that with a fresh start both Shannon and Cork airports will be a commercial success and each will maximise sustainable employment both within the airport companies themselves and in their catchment areas.

The work which has been done by my Department's advisers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, in co-operation with Aer Rianta management and its advisers has underscored the fact that there are some major challenges facing the State airports and these challenges need to be addressed.

There has been a broad level of support at both national and regional level for the Government's decision to establish the three airports as fully autonomous authorities under State ownership. Through more focused commercial operation, all three airports can perform better and each can play a greater role in stimulating and supporting regional and national economic activity to the benefit of their customers, both airlines and passengers, and of Irish tourism, trade and industry. I have also given repeated assurances to ICTU and the Aer Rianta unions that there will not be any diminution in the terms and conditions of employment of workers in the company on transfer to the new independent airport authorities.

The Government has approved the publication of the State Airports Bill 2004 to give effect to the restructuring of Aer Rianta and the Bill has been circulated to Deputies today. It remains my intention that this Bill can be enacted before the summer recess.

With regard to the provision of a second terminal at Dublin Airport, passenger traffic through Dublin Airport is expected to grow from last year's level of almost 16 million passengers to 30 million by around 2020. New infrastructure capacity and facilities, both airside and landside, will be needed to cater for this growth including further terminal capacity. With regard to the latter, the programme for Government includes a commitment to examine proposals for a new independent terminal at the airport and to progress such proposals if the evidence suggests that such a terminal will deliver significant benefits. The question currently at issue, therefore, is not whether new terminal capacity should be provided at Dublin Airport but rather who should provide the next tranche of capacity, the authority responsible for the airport as a whole or the private sector.

As the Deputy is aware, the report of last year by the panel of experts chaired by Mr. Paddy Mullarkey concluded that an independent terminal at Dublin Airport would be operationally and technically feasible and that such a terminal is a viable strategic option for the airport. I continue to give urgent attention to the independent terminal concept and I will bring proposals in the matter to the Government very shortly.

Public Transport.

Seán Haughey

Question:

221 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport his intentions in relation to the future of CIE; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18532/04]

In my statement to the public transport partnership forum in November, 2002 I set out my proposals for public transport reform, including the dissolution of CIE and the establishment of Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann as independent commercial State companies. It is my intention to proceed to implement these proposals in line with the commitment in An Agreed Programme for Government.

I have no plans to privatise any of the three CIE operating companies. Instead, I propose to dissolve CIE and establish Bus Átha Cliath, Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann as independent commercial State companies with strong commercially focused boards. I am convinced that the changes needed to achieve this objective can be obtained in a way which respects the legitimate interests of public transport workers.

The overall aim of my reform proposals and investment programme is to deliver more and better quality public transport at reasonable cost to the user and in a way that demonstrates value for money for the tax payer.

Seán Haughey

Question:

222 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport the rationale for privatising some bus routes in the Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18533/04]

I set out my policy proposals for public transport reform in statements to the public transport partnership forum in November 2002 and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport in June 2003. The principal elements of my proposals are the establishment of an independent procurement and regulatory authority for transport, on a national basis, and the introduction of controlled competition into the bus market in the Dublin area in the form of franchising as the primary means of procuring bus services. I have no plans to privatise Dublin Bus.

I am firmly of the view that franchising is the most effective means of achieving genuine market opening in the Dublin market. International experience in cities such as London, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki is that franchising brings cost savings to public transport provision, savings which can be invested in the public transport system to ensure a better service to public transport users. A number of major studies carried out by independent consultants have supported this, including the ISOTOPE report carried out for the European Commission which found that franchising generally resulted in savings of between 15% and 20% of the cost to the State of the provision of bus services; and the NERA-Tis report commissioned by the public transport partnership forum which recommended franchising for the Dublin bus market. Franchising will allow for genuine market opening, with operators other than the existing State owned companies having a role to play in the delivery of services.

While recent public discussion on public transport reform has focused almost exclusively on organisational issues and public monopoly provider concerns, the focus of my reforms is primarily on delivering a better service to the customer and greater value for money to the taxpayer. It remains my intention to proceed with legislation on public transport reform in 2004.

Question No. 223 answered with QuestionNo. 220.

Transport Policy.

Seán Haughey

Question:

224 Mr. Haughey asked the Minister for Transport if his policies in relation to public transport will result in a lack of co-ordination and integration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18535/04]

An Agreed Programme for Government contains a commitment to implement an integrated transport policy designed as far as possible to overcome existing bottlenecks and congestion and to provide alternative choice by alternative modes of transport. Significant progress is being made in delivering a sustainable, safe, appropriately regulated and integrated transport system.

This is being achieved through delivering major programmes of investment to increase the capacity of our public transport system, adoption of measures to reform the sector to achieve greater efficiency and value for money and measures to integrate all of these activities.

Under the national development plan, the capacity of our mainline and suburban rail system has been significantly expanded, the capacity of the bus fleets of Bus Éireann and Dublin Bus has been renewed and expanded significantly, the Luas system will become operational next week, and increased priority is being offered to buses through an expanded quality bus corridor network in Dublin and in other urban areas. Greater facility for interchanging between modes of public transport will be possible with the coming into service of Luas which connects Connolly Station, Busarus and Heuston Station while smart cards are being introduced to facilitate integrated ticketing.

These developments, together with my proposals to reform public transport over the coming period involving the establishment of an independent regulatory process, will I believe introduce a more integrated and efficient public transport system than we have seen previously, with greater travel options and choice available to the consumer. My proposals to establish an independent regulator for public transport will ensure continued co-ordination and integration in public transport.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joe Higgins

Question:

225 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport the number of jobs in Bus Éireann head office that have been marked for decentralisation to Mitchelstown. [18577/04]

Joe Higgins

Question:

226 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport the number of workers in Bus Éireann head office that have agreed to relocate to Mitchelstown. [18578/04]

Joe Higgins

Question:

227 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport the number of workers in Bus Éireann head office that would have to agree to relocate to Mitchelstown before this decentralisation could be viable. [18579/04]

Joe Higgins

Question:

228 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Minister for Transport if Bus Éireann workers who would not be in a position to relocate to Mitchelstown will maintain the same rights and promotion possibilities as before. [18580/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 225 to 228, inclusive, together.

All of the posts in Bus Éireann headquarters are due to be decentralised to Mitchelstown. It is not possible to state the number of workers in Bus Éireann head office who have expressed an interest in relocation as results are not yet available from the Central applications Facility.

Implementation of decentralisation will have to be managed in a way which makes the process viable. With regard to rights and promotion possibilities, the Minister for Finance has indicated that decentralisation will inevitably change the way in which the public service will operate in the future. The present position in this regard is outlined in the reply of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, to a parliamentary question answered on Tuesday, 17 February, 2004.

Rail Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

229 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Transport his views on the dreadful situation as described in a recent newspaper report as the train journey from hell (details supplied). [18581/04]

While problems on particular train services are an operational matter for Iarnród Éireann, I understand from the company that, on the service in question, a number of different situations led to the problems raised. First, the delayed departure of the train was caused by a points failure which occurred at Connolly Station. In addition, a technical problem occurred with the air-conditioning units on some of the individual carriages of this particular train, which compounded the discomfort experienced by Iarnród Éireann's customers on the delayed train on this particularly hot day.

Iarnród Éireann is conducting a full examination of all of the newly-acquired diesel railcars over the next few days to ensure that there is no recurrence of the problem. It apologised to its customers for the delays that evening and is working to ensure that such occurrences are avoided in the future.

European Refugee Fund.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

230 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the percentage of money that went to non-governmental organisations, statutory services and ethnic minority-led organisations in the first two rounds of funding from the reception and integration agency in distributing the European Refugee Fund. [18289/04]

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

231 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the percentage of money that went into the reception, integration and repatriation for refugees and asylum seekers in the first two rounds of funding from the reception and integration agency in distributing the European Refugee Fund. [18290/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 230 and 231 together.

The European Refugee Fund 2000-2004, ERF, was established by way of a European Council decision of 28 September 2000. The responsible authority for the fund in Ireland is the reception and integration agency of my Department.

The percentage of available funds that was distributed to NGOs statutory services and ethnic minority-led organisations during the first two rounds of the ERF was as follows:

NGOs

Statutory Services

Ethnic Minority-Led Organisations

%

%

%

2000/2001

89.1

10.9

0

2002

88.7

0

12.3

The selection of projects for the first two rounds of funding was carried out by selection committees comprising representatives from both governmental and non-governmental organisations on the basis of criteria specified in the European Council Decision 2000/596/EC which established the fund.

While not specifically "ethnic minority-led", many of the NGO projects which received funding in the first two rounds of the ERF employed the services of people from ethnic minorities, either on a voluntary basis or as salaried employees, to manage and carry out the proposed actions of those projects.

Distribution of the available funds across the three measures, reception, integration and voluntary return during the first two rounds of the ERF was as follows:

Reception

Integration

Voluntary Return *

%

%

%

2000/2001*

45.7

54.3

0

2002

27.5

62.4

10.1

*As the fund was only established in the latter half of the first year that it covered, applications for funding for both 2000 and 2001 were taken together and are therefore regarded as a single round of funding.

Annual Reports.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

232 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the reception and integration agency has published and distributed an annual report. [18291/04]

Information on the operational activities of the reception and integration agency, which is non-statutory and operates as an executive office of my Department, is contained in the annual report of my Department.

Private Security Services Authority.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

233 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the private security authority will be put in place and representatives appointed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18298/04]

The Private Security Services Act 2004 was signed into law on 4 May of this year. The Act allows for,inter alia, the establishment of a private security authority to control and supervise persons providing security services and maintain and improve standards in the provision by them of those services.

The Act provides that the authority shall consist of not more than 11 members who will be appointed by me as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The legislation is specific in terms of the background of those to be appointed as members, outlining that the members of the authority shall include the following: at least one person who is a practising barrister, or practising solicitor, of not less than five years' standing; two persons each of whom the Minister considers to be representative of private security employers; two persons each of whom the Minister considers to be representative of employees of such employers; the Commissioner of the Garda Síochána or such other member of the Garda Síochána not below the rank of assistant commissioner as the Commissioner may nominate in that behalf; an officer of the Minister; a representative of any other Minister of the Government who, in the opinion of the Minister, is directly concerned with or responsible for activities relevant to the functions of the authority; and one member of the staff of the authority.

I intend to invite nominations to establish the authority shortly. In the meantime the necessary preliminary arrangements are being made on staffing matters, including the arrangements necessary for the recruitment of a chief executive.

Child Care Services.

Gay Mitchell

Question:

234 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when an application for a capital equipment grant will be decided on for a project (details supplied) in Dublin 8; the reason for the delays in this decision being taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18325/04]

I understand from inquiries I have made that, in December 2003, the group submitted a further application for capital grant assistance under the EOCP towards the provision of equipment. The group in question was awarded capital grant assistance of more than €1.7 million in February 2002 under the equal opportunities child care programme 2000 — 2006. This funding enabled the group to construct a purpose built childcare facility. In addition, in October 2001, the group received a grant towards its staffing costs amounting to €361,875 over three years. It is now seeking further capital funding of about €250,000 for the purchase of equipment for the new service.

The day-to-day administration of the EOCP is undertaken by ADM Limited, which has been engaged by my Department to carry out thorough assessments against the programme criteria of all applications for grant assistance under the programme, on my behalf. On completion of the assessment process, applications are considered by the programme appraisal committee, chaired by my Department, which makes a funding recommendation to me before I make a final decision on the matter. I understand that this grant application is in the final stages of assessment and a decision will be made shortly. In the interim, it would be premature of me to comment further on this application for additional capital grant assistance.

Employment Support Services.

Cecilia Keaveney

Question:

235 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the opportunities available for persons (details supplied) in County Donegal with disabilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18336/04]

The details supplied concern employment and therefore this question should be addressed to the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Garda Deployment.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

236 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make special resources available to the gardaí in Tallaght, Dublin 24, to allow them deal with the serious problems of vandalism at a school (details supplied) in Tallaght, Dublin 24; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this school has been attacked several times in recent weeks and is causing serious distress to the local community and to the need for action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18347/04]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that gardaí at Tallaght are aware of a number of reported break-ins at the school in question. A number of steps have been taken to apprehend the offenders. The divisional crime prevention sergeant visited the school on 14 June 2004 and has forwarded a number of recommendations to the school principal concerning physical changes which may assist in preventing further attacks.

I am further informed that the personnel strength of Tallaght Garda station as at 17 June 2004 was 164, all ranks. The personnel strength of Tallaght Garda station as at 1 January 1998 was 133, all ranks. This represents an increase of 31, or 23.3%, in the number of personnel allocated to Tallaght Garda station since 1 January 1998.

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

Irish Prison Service.

Tony Gregory

Question:

237 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take to ensure that the negotiated and agreed criteria for compassionate parole is fully adhered to when requests are received from the autonomous republic prisoners unit based on the two main landings at Portlaoise Prison; if confusion on this issue will be clarified with the prisoners concerned; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18459/04]

The Deputy's question contains a number of assumptions which are incorrect. For the purpose of clarity the factual position is as follows. No Irish Government has ever negotiated or agreed compassionate parole criteria with any group of prisoners or with representatives or emissaries acting on behalf of any group of prisoners. It is vital to stress that there has never been any automatic entitlement to temporary release for any prisoner for any reason, regardless of whether he or she belongs to a particular grouping of prisoners. The facts of the matter are that each application for temporary release on compassionate grounds is judged on its merits.

I am at a loss as to what the Deputy means by the phrase "autonomous republic prisoners unit". There are no autonomous units within Irish prisons. All prisons and places of detention managed by the Irish Prison Service are subject to the rules for the government of prisons.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

238 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the details of the cost of affording telephone call facilities to prisoners in each place of detention in the year 1 January to 31 December 2003; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18496/04]

The following is an estimate of the cost to the Irish Prison Service of telephone calls made by prisoners for the period January to December 2003, to the nearest €1,000 and excluding VAT. A significant proportion of these calls relate to contact with prisoners legal advisers as they prepare to face upcoming criminal trials.

The importance of prisoners maintaining contact with family and friends in the community must also be taken into account. Telephone facilities for prisoners have been consistently recommended by experts as a measure to assist in rehabilitation and prevent suicide and self-injury generally.

Prison

2003

Mountjoy Prison (Male)

65,000

Mountjoy Female Prison (Dóchas Centre)

12,000

St. Patrick’s Institution

29,000

Training Unit Place of Detention

12,000

Cloverhill Prison

102,000

Wheatfield Prison

102,000

Cork Prison

56,000

Limerick Prison

36,000

Fort Mitchell Place of Detention

17,000

Midlands Prison

123,000

Curragh Place of Detention

5,000

Portlaoise Prison

23,000

Castlerea Prison

16,000

Loughan House Place of Detention

6,000

Shelton Abbey Place of Detention

3,000

Arbour Hill Prison

3,000

Total Estimated Cost (ex. VAT)

610,000

Departmental Reports.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

239 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of reports submitted to his Department to date since January 2001, which have not been published or laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas; the title of such reports; the reason publication has not taken place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18497/04]

In the time available for answering parliamentary questions it has not been possible to compile the detailed information requested by the Deputy. The information sought is being compiled at present and I will forward it to the Deputy shortly.

Liquor Licensing Laws.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

240 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount expended on the enforcement of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18498/04]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the detailed breakdown requested on the amount expended on the enforcement of the Intoxicating Liquor Acts in 2004 is not readily available. There is no specific budget allocation in the Garda Vote for the enforcement of these Acts. Such enforcement forms part of normal operational policing. The cost incurred could only be obtained by the expenditure of a disproportionate amount of Garda time and resources.

Proposed Legislation.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

241 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will give consideration to publishing in draft form, the regulations he proposes to make under the Garda Bill upon its enactment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18499/04]

The Garda Síochána Bill 2004 is on Committee Stage before the Seanad at present. It contains a large number of regulation-making provisions relating to, for example, management, discipline and security and it provides that, when enacted, different provisions may be brought into effect on different days. In that context it is premature, at this point, to consider the regulations that may be required to give effect to the various proposals contained in the Bill. Generally speaking, however, it is not the practice to publish proposed regulations in draft form but the matter can be considered further at the appropriate time.

Garda Recruitment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

242 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the requirement for all Garda recruits to be competent in the Irish language is a necessary requirement for eligibility for consideration; if he has given consideration to relaxing this rule in general or limited circumstances; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18500/04]

Entry to the Garda Síochána is governed by the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) Regulations 1988, as amended by the Garda Síochána (Admissions and Appointments) (Amendment) Regulations 1997.

The academic requirements, including Irish, for admission to the Garda Síochána are outlined in regulation 3 of the 1997 regulations which,inter alia, states:

the Commissioner shall not admit a person as a trainee unless the person has, before the 1st day of September in the year in which the said advertisement was so published, obtained:

(i) In the Leaving Certificate examination of the Department of Education and Science or the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme Examination of that Department—

(1) A grade not lower than C3 at foundation level, or a grade not lower than D3 at a level other than foundation level, in Irish,

(2) A grade not lower than B3 at foundation level, or a grade not lower than D3 at a level other than foundation level, in Mathematics, and

(3) A grade not lower than D3 in at least three other subjects, (including English, or

(ii) A grade not lower than the merit grade in the Leaving Certificate Applied of the Department of Education and Science, or

(iii) Grades in at least five subjects (including Irish, Mathematics and English) in another examination of a kind that is in the opinion of the Minister, of a standard not lower than the standard of either of the examinations referred to in clause (i) of this subparagraph, the grades aforesaid being grades that are in the opinion of the Minister, equivalent to the grades specified in the said clause (i), or

(iv) A grade in another assessment of a kind that includes Irish, Mathematics and English and is, in the opinion of the Minister, of a standard not lower than the standard of the assessment referred to in clause (ii) of this subparagraph, the grade aforesaid being a grade that is, in the opinion of the Minister equivalent to the grade specified in the said clause (ii).

These are the statutory regulations and the Commissioner is precluded from admitting to the organisation a candidate who does not comply with the regulations.

While I have no general plans to alter the educational requirements for entry to the Garda Síochána, I will be keeping under review the case for changes to the required qualifications.

Garda Equipment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

243 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the information technology systems which are in use by the Garda Síochána; the extent to which they are in use; if these systems are used for operations; if he will report on the use and efficiency of the PULSE system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18501/04]

The Garda Síochána makes use of a range of information technology systems to support operational and other functions. These include the PULSE system, the automated fingerprint investigation system, AFIS, and the Garda national immigration system which are used to support the day-to-day operations of the force. There are also some smaller niche systems, including support systems, in use in the force. Access to Garda IT systems and data are limited to those members of the Garda Síochána and civilian personnel who require access to discharge their particular duties.

The operation of the PULSE system has provided the Garda Síochána with unprecedented support in its operational and strategic roles. PULSE provides a co-ordinated system which replaced a range of older computer and paper-based systems to enable on-line access to information thereby maximising its use throughout the Garda organisation. The final release of the system has been rolled out to the Garda organisation over recent months and is now complete. This release provides new functionality in a number of areas, including warrants, driver licence and insurance production, bail sign-on, electoral register, crime victim notifications and domestic violence orders.

It is to be expected that there will be intermittent technical challenges to be addressed and resolved in an IT enabled change initiative on the scale of PULSE. That said, I am informed by the Garda authorities that nearly all the performance targets for the system have been met and that further improvements can be expected when a technology upgrade takes place later this year.

Consultancy Contracts.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

244 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the details of information technology organisations or consultants which his Department has engaged on an ongoing basis; the number of staff in the Garda information technology unit or section; the amount which has been spent to date on each information technology system in use by the Garda Síochána; the cost of ownership of each system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18502/04]

I can inform the Deputy that details of the information technology organisations and consultants which have been engaged by my Department since 1 January 1997 are listed below. I should mention to the Deputy that consultants engaged on network security matters are omitted from the list for security reasons. The asterisk denotes those organisations or consultants which are currently engaged in providing services.

4 Corners Ltd

A & L Electrical Ltd

Accenture Access Media Ltd

Advanced Recognition Ltd

AllNet *

Auditware Systems Ltd

Baker Consultants Ltd *

Bearing Point (formally KPMG Consulting)

Bic Systems (Irl) Ltd

Big Picture Software

Biometrics Consultants

Blue Wave Technology *

BPRO Ltd

Calyx Training Ltd *

Campus IT

Cara Data Processing Ltd *

Citrix *

Clear System Solutions Ltd

Commercial Wireless *

Compaq (Ireland) Ltd

Computer Associates

Computer Learning Centre

Computer Media Products Ltd *

Computer Productivity (BS) Ltd *

Connect Business Solutions Ltd

Convention Organizing Office

Coopers and Lybrand

Core Computer Consultants Ltd

Cybernet Software Systems Inc *

Cygnite Ltd *

Data Direct 2000 Limited

Dell Computers Irl Ltd

Digital Equipment Ireland Ltd

E P S Computer Systems e-blana *

Electronic Recycling Ltd Entropy *

EPS Computer Systems Ergoservices Ltd *

Everyman Computers Ltd *

Exselan

Eyecom Technologies

Fitzwilliam Computer Services

Flexitime Ltd *

Galaxy Computers Ltd *

Gartner Ireland Limited *

Gartner Group UK Ltd

Getronics Ireland Limited

Global Knowledge Network Ltd

Helm Corporation

Hewlett Packard Ireland Ltd

Horwath Clark Whitehill

IBM Ireland Ltd

Icl Computers (Irl) Ltd

Imecom U.K Limited *

International Technology Intertech Ireland Ltd *

Itelis Knowledge Pool Ltd.

LAN Communications Ltd

Learning tree international

Lendac Data Systems Ltd

Lotus Matrix Networking Ltd *

Microsoft *

Mount Pleasant Consultancies

Netiq Corporation *

Network International Cargo

Noetix Corporation UK

Novara Technology Group *

Ntl Business Ltd

Ontrack Data Recovery Europe Ltd

Open Interface

Oracle EMEA

Oracle Consulting

Parallell Information Technology

Parity Solutions (Dublin) Ltd

Percussion Software Ltd *

PostGem

Pricewaterhouse Coopers LLP *

Priority Data Systems

Professional Development Associates

Progressive Systems Enterprise Ltd

Quest Software Ireland Ltd

RITS Siemens Ltd *

SIRSI SoftCo Ltd

Softworks Computing Limited *

Sphinx CST

Suir Engineering Limited

Sureskills. Com *

System Dynamics Solutions Ltd *

Systems & Software Training Ltd *

Teamstudio Europe Ltd

Terry Lawlor

Thaddeus Computing Inc

Trigraph

Unipower Systems Limited

Unitech Systems Ltd

Wang Ireland Ltd

Waterford Technologies *

Work Stations Training

Workplace technologies (Irl) Ltd

In the time available for answering parliamentary questions, it has not been possible to compile the detailed information requested by the Deputy in relation to the Garda Síochána as the information sought is not readily available. The information requested is still being sought and I will write to the Deputy on this matter in due course.

Garda Equipment.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

245 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the details of areas of Garda Síochána activity which have not yet been information technology enabled; the reason he does not advocate the use of such systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18503/04]

With regard to the provision of information technology systems to the Garda organisation, in recent years the Garda authorities have concentrated their activities principally on implementing the PULSE system and, more recently, on the development of the fixed charge processing system, FCPS. Indeed the final phase of PULSE has recently been rolled out to the force and work is continuing on the FCPS to bring it into full operation.

The PULSE system is developed to meet the core operational requirements of the force. With the completion of the system, my Department has recently given sanction to the Garda authorities to carry out a new information and communications technology strategy to cover the period 2004 to 2009. This strategy will identify and prioritise the system areas which will build on the work already done and maximise the efficiency of the Garda organisation going forward.

Visa Applications.

John McGuinness

Question:

246 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of a visa application in the name of a person (details supplied); and if a decision in the case will be expedited. [18536/04]

The visa application in question relates to a six year old minor non-EEA national, to enable her to reside with her mother and step-father in the State. The application was refused because it had not been established that the child's father had consented to her travelling to the State. It is open to the person in question to appeal against the refusal of the visa by writing to the visa appeals officer in my Department.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

247 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department has received an application from persons (details supplied) to travel here to be with their father; the date the application was received; the progress that has been made on the application; when a decision will be made on the application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18573/04]

Visa applications from the two persons in question, both 16 year old non-EEA nationals, were received in my Department on 27 May 2004. They named their father as their reference in Ireland and he submitted documentation in support of the applications. While the purpose of their journey to the State was stated as for studying in their applications, their father indicated that they would be coming to reside with him. Their father arrived in the State in February 1998 and made an unsuccessful asylum application. He subsequently applied for permission to remain on the basis of parentage of a child born in the State on 29 October 1999. This permission was granted in October 2000.

Following the decision of the Supreme Court in the cases of L&O, the separate procedure which then existed to enable persons to apply to reside in the State on the sole basis of parentage of an Irish-born child ended on 19 February 2003. The Government also decided that the general policy of allowing such parents to be joined in the State by other family members would no longer apply. Accordingly, the immigration division of my Department does not generally approve visas in respect of such visa applications.

Legal Aid Service.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

248 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the ratio of men to women receiving free legal aid in family law cases. [18621/04]

The Legal Aid Board provided legal services to 8,565 persons in family law cases in 2003. Records are not maintained in a way which would readily identify the number of persons by reference to gender who availed of legal aid and that the information sought could be compiled only by the diversion of staff from other important work.

Visa Applications.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

249 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason a holiday visa was refused to a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18651/04]

The person in question, a 16 year old non-EEA national, made a visa application for the stated purpose of visiting his mother who is employed in the State under the work permit scheme. A worker employed under this scheme may be joined by his or her their spouse and minor children after the worker has been in the State for one year and has been offered a contract for a further year. The worker must also be able to fully support the family members in question without the need to have recourse to public funds.

It is noted that the applicant stated on his visa application form that his intention was to visit his mother. However, my Department's experience is that in many cases, although the person in question arrives in the State on a visit visa, they then seek to remain in the State.

The application in question was refused because it had not been established that the child's father had consented to him travelling to the State, and because the supporting documentation did not show that the worker was in a position to fully support her son. It is open to the applicant to appeal against the refusal by writing to the visa appeals officer in my Department, enclosing up-to-date pay slips or a P60 as evidence of the worker's income. A copy of his mother's passport should also be submitted in support of the appeal.

Departmental Funding.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Question:

250 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason funding was withdrawn from a group (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18652/04]

In June 2001, the Castlecove women's group was awarded funding of approximately €173,000 under the equality for women measure of the national development plan. A year later, the project still had not commenced activity. In November 2002, due to ongoing difficulties with the management of the project, my Department directed that the group suspend activity pending a review to be carried out by the independent technical support service responsible for the management of the measure.

The technical support service submitted its report to my Department in December 2002. Having considered the report, I decided in March 2003 to scale back the group's original proposal to a budget of €51,883 for delivery within a six-month period.

Following discussions between my Department and the project promoters, a revised action plan was drawn up by the group and a supplementary agreement was signed by both parties, effective from 16 June 2003. The project concluded its activity on 15 December 2003 and a final report was submitted by the group in March 2004.

Registration of Title.

Michael Noonan

Question:

251 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of the application to the Land Registry for the transfer of land to persons (details supplied) in County Limerick; and when the matter will be finalised. [18718/04]

: I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that this is an application under section 49, that is, acquisition of title by virtue of long possession, of the Registration of Titles Act 1964 which was lodged on 28 January 2004. Dealing Number D2004PS001871Q refers.

I understand that due to their complicated nature, applications under section 49, which require detailed examination of claims for registration as owners, can take some time to process. Accordingly it is not possible to estimate a completion date at this stage.

I am further informed that queries issued on 18 June 2004 and that the application cannot proceed until these queries have been satisfactorily resolved. However, on receipt of a satisfactory reply, the matter will receive further attention in the Land Registry.

Visa Applications.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Question:

252 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department has received the supporting documentation requested for the visa applications of persons (details supplied); if further documentation will be required; and when a decision will be taken in the matter. [18722/04]

The immigration division of my Department has no record of any further documentation having been received to date in relation to the visa applications in question. Further documentation should be sent to the visa appeals officer in the immigration division of my Department, which is situated in 13-14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2.

Vehicle Emissions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

253 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has received reports from the EPA or the various health boards regarding levels of air pollution in the greater Dublin area; the actions required arising from same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18635/04]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 34, 45 and 73 of 2 June 2004.

All national monitoring data from EPA reports to date, and the latest data from Dublin City Council and Kildare County Council for their respective functional areas, indicate that ambient air quality is good, with emissions from road traffic being the main challenge to the maintenance and improvement of this situation in heavily trafficked urban areas. The previous reply sets out the relevant policies being pursued to reduce traffic-sourced air pollution.

Electoral Procedures.

Finian McGrath

Question:

254 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if persons with Down’s syndrome aged 18 years and over are eligible to vote in all elections and referendums; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18263/04]

Persons whose names are on the register of electors are generally entitled to vote at elections and at a referendum according to their citizenship. Detailed requirements in relation to registration, the right to vote and the procedure for voting are set out in electoral law. The implementation of these is a matter for local registration authorities and returning officers, as appropriate.

Finian McGrath

Question:

255 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will reconsider the way in which the word “Independent” is excluded from ballot papers in all elections; and if Independent candidates will be recognised as such in all elections. [18270/04]

Electoral law sets out a procedure for the nomination of candidates including a provision enabling a candidate to include on his or her nomination paper, and which subsequently appears on the ballot paper, a reference to the registered political party of which he or she is a candidate. Persons who are not members of a political party may enter on the nomination paper the expression "Non-Party" or may leave the space on a ballot paper blank. Current legislation is based on the premise that the expression "Non-Party" indicates adequately that a person does not belong to a political party, and any change in this matter would require an amendment of the legislation.

Homeless Persons.

Bernard Allen

Question:

256 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if, in view of the fact that there are an estimated 500 persons homeless in the Cork area, he will fund a plan (details supplied) to address the issue at a cost of €21 million; and if he will consent to a request for funding of €14 million. [18276/04]

As part of the Government's integrated strategy on homelessness, local authorities, together with health boards and other statutory and voluntary bodies, were required to draw up local action plans to tackle homelessness in their areas. With regard to the action plan for Cork city, the plan for 2001-03 has been completed and I understand that the plan for 2004-06 is at present being finalised by the relevant agencies.

The Government is committed to continuing to support local statutory and voluntary bodies in tackling the issue of homelessness. I am satisfied that significant progress has been made in addressing the issue in Cork since the publication of the homeless strategies. My Department's provision for the recoupment to local authorities of 90% of the cost of providing accommodation and related services for homeless persons in 2004 is €51 million. This brings to €190.6 million the total provided for this purpose since 2000. Further funding is provided by the local authorities and, in the case of care related services, by the health boards. In 2003, the Simon Community in Cork received €861,300 for its accommodation related homeless services and I understand, €780,000 from the Southern Health Board for the care related costs of its projects.

Should the Cork Simon Community wish to seek additional funding for an extension of its activities under its community plan 2004-07, the application should, in the first instance, be made to the local statutory authorities. It is vital that all applications and proposals are considered and routed through the Cork City Homeless Forum to ensure that they are consistent with the homeless action plan, that optimum use is made of available funding and to avoid unnecessary duplication of services.

Ciarán Cuffe

Question:

257 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will consider introducing tri-annual funding to agencies dealing with homelessness to ensure a continuity of funding and give more certainty to the agencies’ plans. [18287/04]

My Department recoups to local authorities 90% of expenditure incurred in the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons. It was not considered appropriate to initiate a system of multi-annual funding for this sector in view of the initial difficulties in establishing baseline expenditure figures when the integrated strategy on homelessness was launched in 2000. Since then, the requirements for these services have been assessed on an annual basis and funding has been allocated accordingly. This has resulted in funding for accommodation and related services increasing substantially from €12.5 million in 1999 to €50 million in 2003. This year, €51 million has been allocated for this purpose. This has ensured continued and sustained funding at local authority level of existing projects in addition to the establishment of new projects.

The need for greater security of funding on the part of service providers is, however, acknowledged and among the initiatives being taken in this context is the establishment, in the Dublin area, of a system of three-year contracts between the statutory and voluntary agencies. The possibility of introducing a similar system will be pursued with other local authorities and the issue of multi-annual funding will be kept under continuing review.

Register of Electors.

Paul McGrath

Question:

258 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason persons who were born in Northern Ireland and who are now resident here could not vote in the recent referendum to amend the Constitution despite the previous constitutional guarantees that persons from Northern Ireland would be considered to be citizens of the State. [18292/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

266 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a person born in Northern Ireland who registers to vote in this State is entitled to vote in all elections and referenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18537/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

267 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a person born in Northern Ireland who is registered to vote in the State should have a D before the name on the Register of Electors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18538/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

268 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the letter D is placed before a person’s name on the Register of Electors; if it can be clearly demonstrated that this is in error, if the matter can be rectified on the day of the voting on a referendum in order that the person can vote; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18539/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258 and 266 to 268, inclusive, together.

The compilation of a register of electors is a matter for the appropriate registration authority in accordance with electoral law. In order to vote, a person's name must be entered on the register for the locality in which the person ordinarily resides and the person's citizenship determines the polls at which he or she is entitled to vote. Irish citizens may vote at all polls, British citizens may vote at Dáil, European and local elections EU citizens, other than Irish and UK citizens, may vote at European and local elections and non-EU citizens may vote at local elections only. Electors are entered on the register according to their eligibility to vote based on information furnished by them to the registration authority; Irish citizens are shown on the register with no letter after their names; UK citizens have D after their names; EU citizens an E; and non-EU citizens have L after their names.

Members of the public are encouraged to examine the draft register of electors, which is published on 1 November annually, to ensure that their details are correctly entered on the register and to request their registration authority to rectify any errors, including inaccuracies in their voting entitlements. If a person is not included in the register, he or she may apply for entry in a supplement to the register which is published prior to polling day at each election and referendum. It would not be feasible to provide for a correction facility on polling day given the principal need to ensure the smooth running of the poll or polls. The compilation and maintenance of the register of elections is the responsibility of the registration authority while the responsibility for conducting a poll or polls rests with the relevant returning officer. Responsibility for ensuring that one's details are correctly entered in the register of electors rests with the individual.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

259 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the Innishannon water supply scheme (details supplied) can now proceed; and the estimated cost and commencement date. [18295/04]

The Innishannon water supply scheme has been approved for funding in my Department's water services investment programme 2004-06 under the rural towns and villages initiative, at an estimated cost of €6.4 million.

Additional information has been requested by my Department from Cork County Council to facilitate further consideration of the revised preliminary report, supplementary report and water pricing report for the scheme submitted by the council in April 2004.

Local Authority Staff.

Paul McGrath

Question:

260 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will outline per local authority, the number of councillors who are full-time employees of the local authority in which they are members; the grades of those persons; if they complied with regulations under the Local Government Act 2001 when first becoming members of each authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18316/04]

Paul McGrath

Question:

261 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will detail, per local authority, the persons who are employees of the local authority for which they have been elected to that local authority; the grade of those employees; and if any special protocols or regulations will be required to ensure that senior officials of local authorities who are councillors in same act impartially. [18317/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 and 261 together.

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 355, 356 and 358 of 1 June 2004. Under the Local Government Act 2001 — section 161 — order 2004, more senior employees of local authorities may not become councillors, therefore, the need for special protocols for such employees, as referred to in Question No. 261, does not arise

Refuse Charges.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

262 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on whether there is an anomaly in that pensioners and others who would normally be entitled to either total or partial waiver in respect of refuse charges are unable to obtain same when the local authority has contracted out the collection system to a private operator; and if the regulations will be amended in order that this anomaly can be removed. [18318/04]

The provision by a local authority of a waiver in respect of all or part of a charge in respect of the provision of a waste service by, or on behalf of, that authority is solely a matter for the local authority concerned. Nevertheless, inconsistencies in the availability of waivers and related issues connected with waste charges have been brought to my attention in discussions with the social partners in the context of the Sustaining Progress special initiatives. I have indicated that the matter would be given further consideration, in conjunction with the Department of Social and Family Affairs, and an examination of the issues involved is now under way.

Rented Dwellings Register.

Bernard Allen

Question:

263 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has had contact with local authorities regarding landlords complying with regulations regarding registration of rented dwellings; and if the numbers registered as rented dwellings with local authorities are in line with the number of rented dwellings as established by the last census. [18319/04]

There has been regular contact between my Department and local authorities in relation to their functions under the regulations applying to the private rented sector. Local authorities have been urged in this connection to be proactive in carrying out their statutory obligation to enforce the regulations.

The current level of compliance by landlords with the registration regulations is low. This is evidenced by the fact that on 31 December 2003 there were 26,982 units registered by 17,445 landlords with local authorities, whereas the 2002 census indicates that there are 141,459 private rented dwellings in the State. I am confident that there will be a very significant improvement in enforcement under the new tenancy registration system provided for in the Residential Tenancies Bill 2003.

When the Private Residential Tenancies Bill is enacted, the 1996 registration regulations will be repealed and landlords will be required to register details of their tenancies with the Private Residential Tenancies Board, which will proactively pursue compliance. One way in which unregistered accommodation will come to the attention of the board will be if the tenants refer disputes pertaining to such tenancies to the board. Unlike tenants, landlords must be registered to avail of the board's dispute resolution service.

A double fee will apply to late registrations and penalties for convictions for non-registration are being increased. Conviction for an offence under the legislation, including contravention of the registration requirements, will carry a fine of up to €3,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both, along with a daily fine, of up to €250 for continuing non-compliance.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Seán Crowe

Question:

264 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the funding available to local residents, their representatives or South Dublin County Council for sewage or water schemes in the Brittas area of Dublin. [18328/04]

Details of approved water and sewerage schemes in the South Dublin County Council area are set out in my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2004 — 2006 which was published in May and a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library. The schemes included in the programme are derived from the priorities identified by South Dublin County Council in response to my Department's request to all local authorities last year to undertake a fresh assessment of the need for capital water services works in their areas and to prioritise their proposals on the basis of the assessments. As proposals for the Brittas area were not put forward in this context, the investment programme does not include a rebate for this area.

Local Authority Housing.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

265 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to provide additional local authority housing in Tallaght, Dublin 24; if he will discuss the needs with South Dublin County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18469/04]

My Department has allocated €55 million to South Dublin County Council this year for its local authority housing programme. It is a matter for the county council to identify the individual locations for the construction-acquisition of housing on the basis of the particular needs of an area. It is the case that the council proposes to start in excess of 500 housing starts in its area in 2004. Officials of my Department are in regular contact with the authority in relation to its housing programme.

Since 2000 local authorities have operated their housing construction programmes on the basis of a four year multi-annual programme of house starts for the period 2000-03. A new multi-annual programme is now being introduced for the period 2004-06 in the context of the preparation of action plans for social and affordable housing by local authorities. I consider that the preparation of these action plans will be beneficial to local authorities in identifying priorities over the coming years for the provision of local authority houses in areas where there are identified needs.

Questions Nos. 266 to 268, inclusive, answered with Question No. 258.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Paddy McHugh

Question:

269 Mr. McHugh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his Department has received the revised preliminary report for Gort regional water scheme from Galway County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18551/04]

The Gort regional water supply scheme is included in my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2004 — 2006 to commence construction in 2005. In February 2004, I approved Galway County Council's tender recommendation in respect of an advance section of the scheme. My Department now awaits the submission by the council of a revised preliminary report for the main element of the scheme, estimated to cost €15.45 million.

Housing Grants.

Denis Naughten

Question:

270 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government further to Question No. 210 of 20 May 2004 the current status of this application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18567/04]

Wastewater Treatment Systems.

Paul Kehoe

Question:

271 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has plans to introduce standards to replace the current non-mandatory recommendations to ensure effective compliance with building and other regulations for the design, construction or installation of septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems; and if he will set standards to control the quality of effluent discharges from septic tanks and wastewater treatment units with regard to nitrates, phosphates and other hazardous contaminants. [18619/04]

Septic tanks installed on or after 1 June 1992 must comply with part H of the national building regulations. The relevant technical guidance document, TGD, H — Drainage and Waste Water Disposal — calls up the following standards: septic tanks serving single houses — Irish standard recommendations SR6 of 1991 for domestic effluent treatment and disposal from single dwellings, issued by the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI; and septic tanks serving groups of houses — British standard BS 6297: 1983, incorporating amendment No. 1 of 1990, a code of practice for the design and installation of small sewage treatment works, issued by the British Standards Institution, BSI.

The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, is developing a revised manual on wastewater treatment systems serving single houses. It is understood that the EPA manual will supersede SR6: 1991, which will be withdrawn by the NSAI. My Department plans to amend TGD-H to call up the EPA manual as soon as it is published.

Primary responsibility for protecting water against pollution caused by discharges from a septic tank rests with the owner and operator of a septic tank. The Water Services Bill will impose a duty of care on occupiers-owners of premises to ensure that septic tanks are kept so as not to cause nuisance or risk to human health or the environment.

Under the Local Government (Water) Pollution Acts, it is an offence for a person to cause or permit polluting matter to enter waters directly or indirectly. Enforcement of this legislation is a matter for the relevant local authority.

Fire Stations.

John Deasy

Question:

272 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he expects work to commence on the provision of a new fire station at Ardmore, County Waterford. [18645/04]

On 30 April 2004 my Department approved Waterford County Council's tender proposal for the construction of a new fire station at Ardmore at an estimated all-in cost of €780,000. I would hope that work can commence shortly, subject to completion of contract arrangements between the council and the recommended contractors.

Departmental Funding.

Seán Crowe

Question:

273 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the dilemma of the management and staff of the Carmichael Centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7 which is due to be closed in early July 2004 for want of €300,000 to fund it for the next three years; if he will match the €150,000 which the Department of Health and Children appears to be seriously considering providing; and if he will act upon this matter swiftly in view of the fact that the centre hosts a large number of very valuable projects, community employment schemes and so on which directly employ in the region of 55 workers, who all face unemployment in less than a month from now unless measures are taken to secure funding. [18734/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

274 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the proposals he has to provide €300,000 per annum on an ongoing basis for Carmichael Centre (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18945/04]

Brian O'Shea

Question:

275 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the proposals he has to prevent Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups closing on 9 July 2004 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18944/04]

Olivia Mitchell

Question:

276 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will grant annual core funding for the operation of Carmichael House in Brunswick Street; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18265/04]

Enda Kenny

Question:

278 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the funding which was given to the Carmichael Centre, North Brunswick Street, by his Department in 2003 and the allocations given for 2004; if his attention has been drawn to the current financial crisis facing the centre; if he intends to give funding to the centre to ensure its survival; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18355/04]

Fergus O'Dowd

Question:

279 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the funding which was given to the Carmichael Centre, North Brunswick Street by his Department in 2003 and the allocations given for 2004; if his attention has been drawn to the current financial crisis facing the centre; if he intends to give funding to the centre to ensure its survival; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18356/04]

Tony Gregory

Question:

280 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs his views on the funding crisis at the Carmichael Centre (details supplied) in Dublin 7; his further views on the services provided by the centre; the level of funding his Department can make available to help ensure that the centre does not close or the staff be let go; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18464/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 273 to 276, inclusive, and Questions Nos. 278 to 280, inclusive, together.

The Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups is seeking State core-funding of €300,000 per annum to remain open. The centre has an annual income in excess of €600,000, not including the recent commitment of €150,000 from the Department of Health and Children, mainly coming from State sources.

The buildings used by the Carmichael Centre are provided rent and rates-free by the State to that organisation. The member groups or tenants of the Carmichael Centre enjoy rent-free accommodation in the buildings.

The demand from the centre that the State provide €300,000 per annum in core-funding appears to arise from the need to replace funds from philanthropic sources which ceased in September 2003. That such funding was finite and would cease on a given date could not have come as a surprise to the centre. Many organisations in the sector receive such funding from time to time but do not operate with a built-in assumption that the State will replace it when it runs out. State resources are limited and organisations in every sector must present a solid case for State support built on sound argument and prudent management. The Carmichael Centre must be subject to a critical appraisal of its activities in order that its income and expenditure be brought into a more realistic balance.

In consultation with the Minister for Health and Children, I will shortly invite representatives of the Carmichael Centre to discussions on this matter. We will be prepared, if necessary, to look at alternative arrangements to allow the buildings to continue to be available to the sector.

The Government will not allow the closure of the buildings as a resource for the sector and they will continue to be made available by the State to accommodate voluntary groups and organisations. Community employment/social economy jobs will continue to be an integral part of any future arrangements.

Funding provided by my Department to Carmichael Centre in 2003 was as follows: €75,000 to assist the centre with ongoing costs; and €5,500 under the scheme of grants for locally-based community and voluntary organisations in respect of refurbishment costs at the centre. In addition, an allocation of €120,000 —€40,000 per annum over three years — was approved in 2003 under the scheme of training and supports for the community and voluntary sector. The first tranche of €40,000 was paid earlier this year.

Community Employment Schemes.

Michael Ring

Question:

277 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if a person has completed three years on a community employment scheme, if they qualify for inclusion in the rural social scheme announced by his Department once they fill the criteria. [18303/04]

To be eligible to apply to participate on the rural social scheme, subject to places being available, a person, including those who have completed three years in a community employment scheme, must be in receipt of farm assist or have a herd number and be in receipt of one of the following long-term social welfare payments, unemployment assistance or unemployment benefit, if previously on community employment or disability allowance.

Questions Nos. 278 to 280, inclusive, answered with Question No. 273.

Departmental Programmes.

Charlie O'Connor

Question:

281 Mr. O’Connor asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the position regarding the delivery of the RAPID programme in the Tallaght West area, Dublin 24; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18466/04]

As I stated previously, I envisage that in future the RAPID programme will operate on a number of levels in tandem. In the first instance there are many small-scale proposals from RAPID plans that could be dealt with more effectively at local level. In light of this, I have introduced a new delivery mechanism, supported by a dedicated fund of €4.5 million in 2004, to progress these proposals. These proposals will be co-funded by the relevant Department or local agency under a number of categories, with broad levels of funding agreed at national level.

A total of €2 million is being provided for the local authority housing estate enhancement scheme. This scheme will be operated by local authorities and will be funded on a euro by euro basis —€1 million from my Department and €1 million from the local authorities through the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. Each of the three RAPID areas in Tallaght received a total allocation of €60,000 under this scheme.

Funding of €3 million is being provided for the current year to support the development of playgrounds in RAPID areas, €1.5 million from my Department and €1.5 million from the Department of Health and Children. Each of the three RAPID areas in Tallaght received a total allocation of €72,000 under this scheme. For both of these schemes, the local authority, in consultation with the relevant area implementation team, AIT, will select projects to be supported.

I expect to announce the details of top-up funding under the sports capital programme shortly. A total of €1.5 million has been set aside to top-up funding for successful projects from RAPID areas under this programme.

As regards the larger projects from RAPID plans that have already been submitted to Departments, these will continue to be considered for funding within existing funding streams in each Department. However, I expect that Departments will now be dealing with a smaller number of projects and will therefore be in a better position to prioritise projects and set out timescales for further actions. Work on improving integration and co-ordination of service delivery at local level will continue as this is a key component of the RAPID programme.

Security of the Elderly.

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

282 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if assistance towards the annual personal alarm monitoring fee (details supplied) for the elderly can be approved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18473/04]

Under the terms of the scheme of community support for older people, grant aid is available towards the once-off costs of purchase and/or installation of small-scale physical security equipment, including window and door locks, door chains and security lighting, and socially-monitored alarm systems. Assistance with annual monitoring or maintenance fees associated with socially-monitored alarm systems is not provided under the scheme. Currently there are no plans to include such assistance.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Seán Crowe

Question:

283 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the application to the dormant accounts fund from a project (details supplied) to purchase a bus; if the required funding will be made available; and if so, if it will be procured in the near future before the bus has been sold. [18517/04]

Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are a matter for the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board has engaged Area Development Management Limited, ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf which will involve the disbursement of up to €30 million from the fund.

I understand that an application from the group concerned has been received by ADM. All applications received will be evaluated by ADM against the criteria set out in the published guidelines and recommendations made to the dormant accounts board for decision. The group concerned will be advised of the outcome in due course.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Question:

284 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if there is a grant aid available from his Department or State agencies dealing with Gaeltacht areas for the replacement of machinery for a business (details supplied); if such schemes have been run in the past for same and if so, the payments which were issued and the persons to whom they were issued. [18527/04]

As the Deputy is aware, Údarás na Gaeltachta provides a range of financial incentives for new or existing businesses and industries in Gaeltacht areas, in line with European Union regional aid guidelines and training aid guidelines. I understand that Údarás has in the past assisted the type of activity referred to by the Deputy. However, the current European Union regional aid guidelines for initial investment specifically preclude state aid for the replacement or upgrading of the type of machinery in question.

Information on relation to grant assistance made to persons or companies is published by Údarás in its annual reports, which are available in the Oireachtas Library. However, I understand from Údarás that the specific and detailed information requested by the Deputy would not be readily identifiable in such annual reports and that it would take an inordinate amount of time to extricate it from the records of grants paid that are held by Údarás. If, however, the Deputy has any particular cases in mind, I will be glad to request further information from Údarás on receipt of additional information from him.

Michael Ring

Question:

285 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if there are grants available for businesses within Gaeltacht areas; and if there are grants available from Údarás or other State agencies dealing with Gaeltacht areas. [18528/04]

The primary responsibility to assist businesses and industries in Gaeltacht areas rests with Údarás na Gaeltachta. As the regional development agency charged with promoting the economic, social and cultural development of Gaeltacht regions, Údarás promotes productive schemes of employment through the development of local natural resources, skills and entrepreneurial abilities and the attraction of mobile investment to the Gaeltacht. In this context, Údarás provides a range of financial incentives for new or existing businesses and industries in Gaeltacht areas, in line with European Union regional aid guidelines and training aid guidelines. Full details in this regard are available directly from Údarás.

Small businesses in Gaeltacht areas may also apply for assistance to the relevant leader company, that is, Meitheal Forbartha na Gaeltachta, Comhar leader Iorrais Teoranta or, in the case of Gaeltacht islands, Comhdháil Oileáin na hÉireann. In addition, assistance for small-scale local initiatives which focus on social inclusion and equality may be available from Area Development Management Limited.

Dormant Accounts Fund.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

286 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the amount of money currently in the dormant accounts fund; the amount allocated from the fund; the amount paid out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18617/04]

The current value of the dormant accounts fund is in the region of €225 million. This figure includes amounts transferred to the fund in 2003, €196 million, and in 2004, €56 million. Since the fund was established in May 2003, approximately €31 million has been reclaimed and €4 million earned in interest. The total amount in the fund includes a reserve, which must be maintained to meet claims for repayment and various costs associated with administering the scheme.

Decisions on the disbursement of funds from dormant accounts moneys are currently a matter for the Dormant Accounts Fund Disbursements Board, an independent body established under the Dormant Accounts Acts. The board has engaged Area Development Management Limited, ADM, to administer the initial round of funding on its behalf which will involve the disbursement of up to €30 million from the fund.

To date, the board has approved 56 projects for funding totalling approximately €5.6 million. The drawdown of funding for the projects approved is subject to the satisfactory completion of legal contracts between the individual groups and the board. In this regard, contracts have been issued to 46 of the approved groups and as soon as these contracts are signed and returned, individual groups will be in a position to draw down funds. With regard to the remaining ten projects which were approved by the board at its meeting last Tuesday, 15 June 2004, contracts are currently being finalised and will issue within the next week.

Proposed Legislation.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

287 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the issues that will be addressed in the Udarás na Gaeltachta (Amendment) Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [18618/04]

My Department is considering the necessity for draft legislation to clarify and update issues relating to the functions of Údarás na Gaeltachta. These matters are currently under discussion between Údarás and officials from my Department and I will bring any proposals arising to Government at the appropriate time.

Decentralisation Programme.

Brian O'Shea

Question:

288 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs further to Question No. 2 of 3 June 2004, the progress which has been made in the matter of securing the agreement of the North-South Ministerial Council for the proposed decentralisation of Foras na Gaeilge to Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal. [18624/04]

As the Deputy is aware, progress on the proposed decentralisation of staff of Foras na Gaeilge to Gaoth Dobhair, County Donegal, is subject to and awaits the agreement of the North-South Ministerial Council.

I met Minister Angela Smith, MP, who has co-responsibility for the North-South Language Body, on 12 May 2004. One of the matters discussed was the proposed decentralisation and it was agreed that the ongoing process of assessment in this regard should be brought forward by our respective Departments, in consultation with Foras na Gaeilge. Matters in this regard are ongoing. I met the board of Foras na Gaeilge yesterday to discuss a range of issues of current mutual interest, including decentralisation.

Social Welfare Fraud.

John Bruton

Question:

289 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the action she is taking on foot of the recent Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on control activity on fraud and other forms of wrong or mistaken claims against her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17508/04]

John Bruton

Question:

290 Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if, as recommended by the Comptroller and Auditor General, she will assess scheme risks of each scheme administered by her Department and the lessons to be learnt from over-payments detected, in regard to all new and existing schemes; and the steps she has taken in this matter since receipt of the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on the matter in February 2004. [17518/04]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 289 and 290 together.

The report in question examined my Department's existing fraud and abuse control activity, and the extent to which that activity is related to an assessment of the risks of fraud and error attaching to the different schemes. It also looked at the effectiveness of performance in the control area generally.

One of the main lessons emerging from the report is the need for control activity to be based on a risk assessment and risk management approach and this is an area which my Department will be progressing in the period ahead. This approach was also recommended in the report of a working group on the accountability of Secretaries General and accounting officers published in 2003.

The Comptroller and Auditor General's report acknowledges the emphasis which my Department's revised control strategy places on risk analysis of schemes to identify and prioritise areas of the highest risk of fraud and abuse. The risk analysis process commenced in late 2003 and action plans are currently being prepared in the light of the findings.

As part of the review and in consultation with the Comptroller and Auditor General's office my Department carried out a survey of the unemployment and one-parent family payment schemes in an attempt to assess underlying levels of fraud and error. Surveys of this kind will in future form an integral part of my Department's control strategy, with one such survey having commenced in May 2004 in one scheme area and a further two planned for later this year.

The report also includes an examination of detected overpayments and found that fraud accounted for 48% of all overpayments detected. The report emphasises that analysis of detected overpayments and their cause is a valuable pointer to areas where action needs to be taken either to implement new controls or modify existing procedures so as to reduce the level and value of overpayments occurring.

Currently, plans are being put in place for a new computerised central overpayments and debt management system within my Department. When fully operational, this will provide a facility to enhance the targeting of control work, make overpayment recovery more effective and provide better and more up-to-date information on the main types of fraud and error occurring within schemes.

The report also emphasises the use of prosecutions as a deterrent against fraud. The Department's policy is to consider all cases of fraud and abuse for prosecution and revised prosecution guidelines issued to staff in February 2003. In this regard, 482 cases were sent to the Central Prosecutions Service within my Department in 2003 and of these 405 have been referred for prosecution.

The report also suggests that in addition to prosecutions, it may be worth considering a greater array of sanctions such as administrative penalties. My Department has already done some work in this area and is in consultation with the Attorney General's office in the matter.

Overall the Comptroller and Auditor General's report has provided a very worthwhile assessment of control activity in the Department and raised a number of issues which will be taken on board in the context of implementing my Department's control strategy. In 2003, my Department realised total savings of €306.16 million in combating fraud and abuse involving 320,000 claim reviews and 7,600 employer inspections.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Barry Andrews

Question:

291 Mr. Andrews asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the savings expected on foot of the decisions not to award child benefit to incoming asylum seekers as and from 1 May 2004. [18264/04]

Since 1 May 2004 all new applicants for child benefit payments, irrespective of nationality, must satisfy the condition of being habitually resident in the State before payment can be made.

It is too early to make accurate estimates of savings in child benefit payments to asylum seekers arising from the introduction of a habitual residence condition. As the Deputy will be aware, the number of people claiming asylum in Ireland has fallen sharply over the last year and a half.

Furthermore, asylum seekers who are granted refugee status or humanitarian leave to remain in the State may qualify for child benefit as they are regarded as satisfying the habitual residence condition on being granted either refugee status or humanitarian leave to remain.

Eamon Gilmore

Question:

292 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason her Department claims that a person (details supplied) would not be eligible for the back to education allowance, when this person, an Irish citizen, has been in receipt of a rent allowance for the past four years from their community welfare officer, holds a current medical card and has been accepted on a course of study by the Ballyfermot college for further education to complete a higher national diploma in professional traditional music; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [18575/04]

Eligibility for back to education allowance is dependent on the claimant being in receipt of a qualifying social welfare payment. The person concerned is not currently in receipt of a payment from my Department, or of rent supplement and he is not entitled to payment of back to education allowance under the rules of this scheme. As his means have not been reviewed for some time, however, I have arranged for his circumstances to be examined to establish whether he would now be entitled to a payment from my Department which would count for qualification for back to education allowance.